Fear the Wolves Interview – Radioactive Battle Royale
While Battle Royale might be one of the newest genres in the market, it's also one of the most saturated already. With dozens of games hoping to cash in on the popularity of Fortnite and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, it can be hard to imagine how another game could break into the market. But Vostok Games are trying. Just released on Steam Early Access, Fear the Wolves is a brand new Battle Royale that hopes to find a home amongst the titans of the genre. With a lot of the core team made up of former STALKER developers, they’re hoping to add some of the iconic atmosphere, setting and gunplay into the genre.
At Gamescom, I caught up with Tom Butler, Product Manager at Focus Home Interactive (the game's publisher), who talked me through exactly what the studio is hoping to achieve with the game, and how they are hoping to do it. As a reminder, Fear the Wolves is also due to debut on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One next year.
What do you think makes it stand out from the other BR games?
Obviously, when we’re making a Battle Royale game we know people are just going to look at it and say ‘Oh its just a PUBG clone and they’re just cash grabbing’ but what really makes it stand out is the expertise behind the team. Because its Stalker they’ve brought the atmosphere and because its Cherbobyl, you’ve got the iconic setting too.
I think the underlining philosophy of the game is that players are going to encounter these hard decisions they’re going to have to make and it shapes the situation in the end game, through the PvE elements. Which is one of the big differences.
Did you struggle to balance the PvE in Fear the Wolves?
I won’t say struggle. What we see with the PvE is that there is always a way to anticipate what’s going to happen and to get around it so like the wolves aren’t just randomly placed. At the beginning of the game, the map is dotted with these golden locations. These are the only areas wolves will spawn. They’re also the only areas that high-grade loot will spawn too.
The hazards are more difficult to balance because one of the things we’ve seen in this game is that some players go into Fear the Wolves and think they’ll be able to play it just like PUBG, but the successful players have to play in a completely different way. One of the biggest streamers in the game plays in a super aggressive way, always going for the anti-radiation gear, running into the zone to flank other players and generally playing really smart and aggressive.
Why did you introduce gear that lets you survive in outside the play space?
Most Battle Royale games have the circle and you go outside the circle you’re going to take a load of damage and then die and in this one, we’ve created something a little bit more organic. So for Fear the Wolves the map is divided into these 100m squares and over time they’re going to become hazardous in stages. The first stage is wolves, when they spot a player they howl which might attract other wolves or other players and then they’ll start hunting them down. The second stage is these anomalies, which are these shimmering domes above the ground, which give you heavy radiation damage if you get to close. After that, you’ve got various levels of radiation including one where you have to sprint to avoid damage.
Most BR games you have tier one, tier two and tier three armour, and we’ve got that as well but we also have this branching path of investing in protection against or players or protection against the environment. So you’ve got hazmat suits and gas masks that protect you from radiation but it even comes done to your choice of backpack. The backpack will give you more slots and a lot more inventory space but the oxygen tanks give you complete protection against radiation until the oxygen runs out.
There’s always these trade-offs that the players have to make. For example if you’re confronted with a pack of wolves, do you want to fire your weapon at them which uses up ammunition – ammo is a lot more scarce in this game than most BR – and you’re also going to make a lot of noise, so doing that could put you at a huge disadvantage. You could try and outrun them and hope they give up which they do after a while but you might die trying. Or you could look at the map and look for a place where you can hide – wolves can’t open doors.
Did you toy with the idea of enabling third person view for Fear the Wolves?
Pretty much everything has been under discussion but we decided that this is game where we’re very squarely focused on the player that wants to play in first person only. Like the guys that are aware of the Stalker franchise and have been playing shooters for a long time. So its been built from the ground up as a first person shooter game by a team that is experienced in building first person shooter games.
How have the team injected STALKER DNA into Fear the Wolves?
The most obvious thing is the aesthetic. One of the nicest feedbacks we had from the beta is that the map has a lot of personality so you have these unmarked locations that almost tell a story by the weird stuff scattered around them.
It takes place in Chernobyl and there’s nothing more stalker then that, you’ve got the aesthetic of the hazmat gear and gas masks, the weapons aren’t squeaky clean military grade stuff. And then you’ve got the anomalies and there are more things planned for the future. There’s going to be more mutants coming. We haven’t finalised the details yet but there’s a good chance that there will be an update during the early access.
In a Battle Royale, just like in a stalker game there are moments of downtime and paranoia and tension followed by short punctuations of violence. The time to kill in this game is incredibly low as well unless you’re incredibly armoured.
We also have a new weather type coming. There’s a weather system in Fear the Wolves where the weather will dynamically change over the course of a game. The observing players on Twitch will get to decide what the next voting type will be. So, for example, you have rain which not only masks footsteps but makes the vehicle handling more difficult. We’ve got wind which makes a sound but also makes long range shots move off course.
But we also want to add an anomalous storm. You’ll probably only see it every one in three games, it won’t be possible to see it in all of them. But this is going to be a highly destructive, localised event that will spread throughout the map. It’ll leave total destruction in its wake and if you’re in the middle of it you’re totally screwed. If you’re in a fully sealed house with no windows smashed and all the doors closed you’re totally protected; but if you see a player run into one you can shoot at the windows and that player is going to take a lot more damage.
There are rumors you plan on adding a second game mode, what can you say about that?
There’s only going to be one game mode at launch. There are two win conditions though. Of course, you’ve got to be the last man standing, but you also have the option of trying to evacuate. During the final safe zone, a helicopter is going to fly in. Every player can see its position and know where it's going to be. After hovering a while the helicopter is going to drop a line of rope as well as some red smoke to cover the position, which adds an incredibly different meta to the end game.
We’ve found in a lot of the Battle Royale games you can have very tense final moments with players trying to outlast each other, but by adding in this option it again forces players to make tough decisions, like figuring out how to adapt to the situation.
It's particularly cool in squads because you only need one of your team to evacuate to win the game. In the beta, we saw some really interesting strategies. Some squads would give all the best armour to one guy and he’d be the one to try and evacuate while the rest would be running around the ring of smoke or covering him with a sniper.
Even in solo, you have this sort of Mexican stand-off situation. By the time the rope drops there's normally only about five players left and they’ll all be sat there wondering if they should go for it. Eventually, one guy will decide to try it. When you’re being pulled into the helicopter you’ve got maybe ten seconds while you’re dangling in the air, where you can fire back. But everyone on the ground is watching and they don’t want to be the one to fire and reveal their position. Sometimes we’ve even seen them leave it to long and the guy on the rope ends up winning.
So when will the other game mode be avaialble in Fear the Wolves?
We considered launching the ultimate game mode with the early access but I don’t think that’s going to happen. It could be late in the pipeline for early access or maybe held until the full launch but in the end, the team saw the importance of making sure the fundamentals are solid.
This game mode is still being finalised, so the details could change but it takes a lot more inspiration from the STALKER series and takes a little step away from the battle royale genre.
Thank you for your time.