Evolve: Stage 2 sacrifices complexity for more fun

Evolve is back, free, and easier to get into than ever. There are a ton of changes in Evolve: Stage 2’s free-to-play beta, and many of them encourage faster, more aggressive matches thanks to more powerful monsters and helpful new abilities for the hunters. Match times have also dropped from 20 minutes to 12 and the available maps have been redesigned to accommodate Evolve’s new priorities.

The changes are big, but aren’t necessarily permanent or complete—Turtle Rock Studios is reworking Evolve from the ground up. But one change is more transformative than the others: the Orbital Arena, essentially the mousetrap in Evolve’s game of cats-and-giant-mouse, is no longer the sole responsibility of the Trapper class.

Now the dome is a shared ability, meaning anyone on the team can deploy it at any time, so long as it’s not on cooldown. The dome also automatically centers on the monster, making it a much harder ability to botch. This tweak has fundamentally changed Evolve, gutting most of the hunting phase in favor of more frequent and focused combat encounters.

The hunting nerf

The thrill of the hunt isn’t completely gone in Evolve: Stage 2, it’s just far less involved. For hunters, there’s less focus on individual roles while searching for the monster. Health regenerates, the HP of wildlife has been halved, and the Trapper has a new ability called Planet Scanner that points out the general direction of the monster no matter where they’re at. With a 30 second cooldown, it can’t be abused, but it also boosts the Trapper’s speed for a short time. It turns the Trapper from a methodical hunter into an eager hound, forcing the monster to stay mobile.

For the hunters, Evolve is now more about damaging the monster whenever possible, even if the shared dome’s five-minute cooldown is still a distant dream. Previously, shooting the monster on the run gave it a temporary speed boost with no immediate benefit for the hunters. Now, while the dome is inactive, for every 4% of damage to the monster’s health, the dome cooldown decreases in 60 second increments in tandem. It’s encouragement for the hunters to be aggressive and opportunistic, but also gives them more chances to screw up and separate from their team.

As a monster, you have more armor and health, your armor regenerates quicker, and your starting stamina pool is much bigger, enabling them to leap away from pursuing hunters and pop abilities more often. It’s empowering to be more mobile and reactive, to feel like a super predator capable of outpacing my opponents, but the new Trapper ability and shared bullseye dome makes it harder to outwit them. Sure, the meta has yet to shake out, especially for the stealthy monster classes like the Gorgon and Wraith since they’re not in the F2P rotation right now, but I worry that Evolve’s quieter moments have gone the way of the dinosaurs for the sake of accessibility.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m having a lot of fun with Evolve: Stage 2. But I’m not having the fun the original concept shot for.

I enjoyed long periods of quiet with no clue where the monster was, only to spot a trampled patch of foliage, a fresh carcass, then deduce where they might be. Finding and trapping the monster was a significant challenge. Now, finding the monster is only a matter of using Planet Scanner a few times and making sure your team knows how to safely split up and corner the beast. I appreciate that matches have more momentum, but the core of what made Evolve special to me—the hunters’ necessary mastery of their specific roles and senses, the monster’s personality expressed through the player as a cunning predator or a stompy, chompy murder train, and the slow burn narrative of every match. It’s all gone, or at least taking on a new shape. And that new shape? Asymmetrical, character-based deathmatch.   

Fight, fight, fight

To compensate for all that extra fighting, monsters have a faster out-of-combat armor regeneration speed and increased armor, health, and stamina. They’re much more powerful, which is great, conceptually. I want the monsters to feel like monsters—furious and powerful envoys for mother nature. And combat as the monster feels great. Abilities recharge much quicker and the larger health and armor pool makes you a much greater threat right from the get-go, especially under the dome. If the hunters don’t damage the monster for a few seconds while the dome is up, the monster’s armor will recharge an extra rapid rate, allowing the fight to reset yet again.

Because the monster is so much more dangerous, even letting them get to stage two is a death knell for new players. In all of my 15 or so matches, I didn’t see a monster get beyond stage two or last for more than 10 minutes. The dome’s ease of use forces and focuses confrontation, turning matches into prolonged and chaotic battles with little downtime. Rest when you’re dead, which will be quite often.  

Don’t get me wrong. I’m having a lot of fun with Evolve: Stage 2. I’ve been playing it daily, but I’m not having the fun the original concept shot for. The shared dome ability means it’s no longer a hunting game with quiet stretches of tension hiding as the monster or Sherlocking where they might be as the hunters. But Evolve’s broader changes make for a more accessible game, one that doesn’t require intense knowledge of a specific character or team composition to enjoy, and if it gets more people playing for a long time, I’m happy with where we’re going. Evolve: Stage 2 may not be what I originally hoped for, but it’s still a fun and fairly unique asymmetrical multiplayer game with plenty of room to mature.