War MMO players battle against impossible odds for 48 real hours, build a religion around a corpse pile, then crash the server

foxhole inferno update
(Image credit: Siege Camp)

Foxhole is a sandbox-style war MMO and, while it officially released last year, it's been available in early access since 2017. Its schtick is one persistent and gigantic war game where thousands of players simultaneously battle for one of two factions, both seeking domination over a gigantic map, but with the twist that, as in a real conflict, the logistics, resource and supply side of the armies is just as important, if not more so, than the soldiers firing guns and piloting vehicles. 

PCG's own Morgan Park will tell you that Foxhole is an RPG "in the literal roleplaying sense, not in the stat grinding sense" and that "like the best social games, great stories happen as a matter of course." This past weekend saw one such story: a 48-hour long battle between an isolated island called Silver, cut-off from all logistics support and supplies, facing down an overwhelming and endless invasion force.

What happened next was so extreme and remarkable, even by MMO standards, it has instantly birthed two new rallying cries for players of the game: "praise the pile", referring to a mass of corpses that both became essential and revered, and the more self-explanatory "Silver stands!"

To set the stage: Foxhole's two factions are called the Colonials and the Wardens, and in this case the Colonials held Silver island, part of a larger area called The Oarbreakers Isles. The Wardens held the territory around Silver island, including four much larger islands, and controlled the waters to boot. This meant that not only were the Colonials on Silver island screwed, but double-screwed: They were facing far superior numbers from an army that could constantly resupply itself, while being cut off from their own supply lines and limited to whatever gear was on the island. No more respawns, no medical equipment to save wounded soldiers, no extra ammo.

The attacking Wardens had everything and more, but Silver island's layout has a silver lining. The only access point from the water is a 50-metre long stretch of beach, which allowed the defenders to set up a choke point for any incoming attackers. The defending Colonials had two other factors working in their favour, the first being robust medical triage: four field hospitals, which can turn six critically wounded soldiers into six "shirts", Foxhole's version of respawn tickets. The second was the ability to create sandbags and barbed wire.

As subsequently recorded by Foxhole players including xRudyTudyx on TikTok and the Press Corps Foxhole Desk, the Warden attack began with a withering hail of blind fire (Foxhole has fog of war, so the defenders were firing into darkness), and troops that landed on the beach quickly ran into "the sandcastle". This was a winding, interconnected mess of sandbags and barbed wire granting the defending troops positional advantage that, over the next 48 hours, would be destroyed and rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt. 

But numbers matter and, despite the defending advantage, Warden attackers kept on pouring in despite casualties. This had two unforeseen consequences. First and most prosaic was that the beach was left littered with Warden corpses, which were looted to just about keep the defenders' ammo reserves intact. Second was that the defenders, who had no medical supplies to treat their wounded, began to worship "the pile".

The pile lay outside those four field hospitals. As all wounded would eventually die, the Colonial players decided on a collective course of action: all wounded soldiers were to be fatally wounded, in the hope they would instead become "critically wounded soldiers", which would then be added to the pile. Field hospitals would turn some of these critically wounded soldiers into new soldier supplies, giving the embattled defenders a trickle of respawns to their ranks as the battle went on. In the next quotes, "collies" are the defending Colonial troops.

"I had a dying collie on my boat," says Warden player Kirbaez, "his last wishes were to be brought back, so I did and put him on the ground, the first thing the collies did after getting back a POW is fucking kill him and when they saw a [critically wounded soldier] they sent toward someone to collect him screaming 'for the pile!' As the gremlin scooped the corpse off my barge, I didn’t even tell my crew to return fire: I was just in awe."

"They can't take on us," says Colonial InfamousInitiative18, "we are holding the Island with pistols and faith on the sacred Pile."

As the battle raged over 48 real-world hours, the defenders pushed back the attacking boats again and again, retreating and regrouping where necessary, rebuilding what they could of "the sandcastle", looting the enemy dead, and most importantly keeping the pile as high as they could.

The battle went on so long and achieved such scale that at one point it crashed the server. When this was fixed, Foxhole announces it to players with a countdown that, in this case, was used as a battlecry for the defenders: when the timer hit 0, the Colonials charged from their solid defensive position towards the shocked attackers. Which added yet more corpses to the pile.

The engagement became so drawn-out and unusual, even for Foxhole, that it led to unexpected moments of camaraderie. The commander of one warden battle barge says this was his finest moment as, mid-battle, the island defenders begin waving at the boat. "You can probably tell the moment I gave the order to ceasefire," says SaltyScallywag. "I couldn’t let such a precious moment of waving collies go to waste, so I told my crew to wave back.

"It was a short break to remind ourselves that we are all just players, also the clip made it seem like my crew opened fire at you without reason, a collie shot at me so I gave the order to return fire, only for my guy to miss and hit you, I’m sorry but don’t worry he was made to walk the plank."

SaltyScallywag's barge survived the entire encounter, and he claims to have destroyed 29 battle barges and stole three during the battle (despite the odds, the Colonials sent many boats on suicide missions to try and get supplies to the beleaguered Silver island; a handful even made it through). 

After two days, the inevitable finally happened. Outgunned and outnumbered, though never outfought, the last Colonial defenses fell. Even the dead defenders stayed to spectate the remaining few who fought to the last, until the Silver island was in Warden hands. Their stout and unflinching resistance in the face of impossible odds led to frequent comparisons to the Warhammer 40K planet Cadia, doomed by Chaos but defended to the last, and a simple-if-inaccurate battle roar repeated constantly by the Colonials:

"The Server broke before the Guard did! Silver Stands!"

The Wardens won this battle. But Foxhole's war continues with a freshly reset server, alongside the release of its newest update that, funny enough, adds loads of new naval warfare options.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."