Fear the Wolves battle royale beta is in rough shape but has a great endgame

Fear the Wolves is a mashup of Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl and battle royale from Vostok Games, developer of Survarium. On day one of its closed beta, with a Steam Early Access release just a week away, it's in very, veryf rough shape. There are matchmaking and server outage issues, glitches, massive frame rate spikes and poor optimization, surprisingly bullet-spongey players, mushy mouse controls, and other issues in its current state.

But! If you can get into a match and make it to the end it's got a big silver lining: a fun finale, where the remaining few players attempt to be the sole occupant of a rescue chopper. You can see a couple minutes of the end of a match it in the video above (though I expire in 3rd place and have to spectate the ending).

On your way to the finale, however, I'd advise running, not driving:

The start of a round of Fear the Wolves is what I guess we can now call standard battle royale. Wait on a menu screen for a couple minutes for some matchmaking, then get plopped in a lobby where people run around punching each other out of boredom while you wait another few minutes for the actual match to start. Then you're on a chopper, flown in a straight line over a map while passengers eject, fall for a while, pull their chute (or have it auto-pulled at a certain altitude), then land and scurry into a bunch of shitty houses to start scavenging for gear. Pistols, rifles, melee weapons, grenades, healing items, helmets, pants, and so on. It is, beat for beat, H1Z1 or PUBG at this point in the match.

However, you haven't landed in Erangel or Miramar, you're in the damn Exclusion Zone, so some novelty begins to creep into Fear the Wolves once you've bolted from that first crumbling neighborhood. If you're unfamiliar with Stalker, it takes place after the meltdown of Chernobyl, which has irradiated the surrounding area, mutating animals and giving rise to anomalies: dangerous and deadly pockets of unreality. That's exactly the type of landscape you'll find in Fear the Wolves.

The anomalies do double duty as PUBG's red zones and blue circles. A square of the map will flood with an anomaly that will damage you unless you're sprinting, effectively making you stop your looting and shooting and just get the hell off that grid at top speed. Other anomalies will drag you toward them and then explode, making them physics-bending landmines of a sort. As the match goes on the Zone is soon blanketed in these anomalous squares, leaving few safe areas that the players are herded into.

And there are indeed wolves, though I only ran into a few during my matches. Once was during an incredibly inopportune moment, while I was fleeing through a sprint anomaly, unable to stop running without taking damage. The wolves appeared from behind a fence and glared at me with glowing eyes and, well, I stopped sprinting because yikes, wolves! The anomaly promptly killed me. I did indeed fear the wolves. Game title confirmed.

Another time worked out much better. Late in the match, which I'd spent basically sprinting full out for ten minutes to keep ahead of the anomalies, I'd only managed one kill (by shakily driving a vehicle over someone), and had only found a pistol. I spotted three wolves chasing a heavily geared player through the woods. By the time I reached them he'd managed to put down all three wolves, but they must have whittled his health down to nearly nothing because a quick shot from my pistol finished him off. And currently in FTW, a quick shot from a pistol finishes nearly nothing off.

It's one of the weirder parts of the game at this point: you can shoot and shoot and shoot someone, even in the face, and they don't go down. And I swear I'm not one of those people who gripe that 'I shot this guy ten times and he shot me once and I died.' Nobody goes down with one shot. I've been shot repeatedly and found myself still standing: a guy did more damage to me with a few punches than several rounds of bullets seemed to do. I'm not sure if there's reduced damage or poor hit detection (there's tons of blood, though), but it really feels like everyone is a bullet sponge at this point, odd for a game from the developers of the notoriously brutal Stalker series. I mean, there are at least two headshots in the gif below, if not three.

Most of the fighting I did, though, was with the closed beta itself. I've had several crashes requiring a manual killing of the game, servers quit halfway through matches, matchmaking that never ended, frame rate drops that left me staring at a static screen for seconds, and mouse movement that feels sluggish and imprecise.

But I do like that endgame. Spectators of the match can vote on the changes in weather, and in this match they picked a storm, perfect for a dramatic finale. With a half-dozen players left, and the map completely obscured by deadly anomalies save for a single square, a chopper flew slowly in and lowered a rope. In a way, it's a bit like extracting loot from The Division's Dark Zone—everyone is crouching in the dark near the chopper, waiting to see who is bold or stupid enough to go for the rope.

And going straight for the rope is indeed stupid. There was a big warning on the screen, telling everyone else that someone was trying to escape. Peering through my scope, I could just barely see a figure ascending through the fog, and I put a few shots into him, watching other spurts of blood as the rest of the players also popped him (repeatedly—that bullet sponge effect again). Finally, he dropped and we all waited for someone else to make an attempt. It was fun.

With Fear the Wolves entering Early Access just eight days from now, I am mostly fearing for Vostok at this point. I know it's a beta, but there's a lot of work to be done in the next week just to get the game to a level where it can be played without much hassle. I think people will put up with bugs in Early Access, but getting reliably into playable matches is important or people will quickly lose patience. An FPP-only battle royale game is a good idea, and while I'm not sure FTW does quite enough to differentiate itself from the pile of battle royale games out there, with the anomalies and mutants providing some challenging PvE and a fun endgame in place, it could have a fighting chance.