Endling – Extinction is Forever is a far more hard-hitting game than I expected it to be going in. It’s a pretty brief experience, and there’s a simplicity to everything it does, from the way it plays to the way it tells its story. But from beginning to end, it sells the bleakness and brutality of its world so thoroughly, it’s hard to separate yourself from it. It’s a harrowing experience, so it might not be the best game for you if you’re looking for more casual fun, but if you’re in the headspace for it, Endling is, without question, a game worth experiencing.
You play as a mother fox who’s just given birth to a litter of four little kits. The world you’ve brought them into is on its last legs- the environment has been polluted and decayed, forests are burning, people will try to kill you on sight more often than not. Basically almost anything you see is out to get you. Through all this, you have to constantly keep an eye on a hunger meter for your kits. Endling’s structure divides the experience into nights- each night, as soon as you come out of your den, the hunger meter starts depleting. You have until morning to go wherever you want and do whatever you want, but your primary priority is finding food to keep your kits fed and healthy. As time goes by, the kits also begin learning basic new actions to help you out with scavenging and foraging for food.
"It’s a harrowing experience, so it might not be the best game for you if you’re looking for more casual fun, but if you’re in the headspace for it, Endling is, without question, a game worth experiencing."
And that’s easier said than done. Almost right from the outset, food is a rare commodity in Endling. You hunt other animals, forage berries, dive into trash bags, and more to look for food, which you’re alerted to by brief prompts on the screen and by the fox’s ability to pick up a prey’s scent and track it. And while food is relatively easy to come by in the first few nights – at least to the extent that you don’t have to worry about your kits going to sleep on an empty stomach – scrounging up a meal quickly becomes much harder, even as you go out exploring further into new territory each night in search of more food. As the nights go by, not only does the food become harder to come by, the frequency and intensity of the threats you face – from traps to increasingly aggressive humans – increase dramatically as well.
That unrelenting, oppressive hunger is a bit of a double-edged sword for Endling. On the one hand, it’s an excellent marriage of gameplay and storytelling, perfectly reflecting the fox’s desperation, perfectly conveying the harsh nature of the world you find yourself in. At the same time, from a gameplay perspective, having to scrounge through environments in search for food while a hunger meter constantly ticks down can be a bit of a grind. The way the game is structured, with you having to make sure you’re back in a den before the night is over and then going back out exploring again the next night, can also make things feel a bit repetitive.
Props have to be given to Endling – Extinction is Forever though, because it does find a couple of other ways to make the gameplay interesting. For instance, simply moving around is a lot of fun, because of how the game is presented. Endling is technically a survival game, but its 2.5D sidescrolling perspective is an unfamiliar one for the genre. That perspective, of course, goes hand-in-hand with far more linearity and less open spaces, but Endling does still make exploration interesting with plenty of branching paths, twisting and turning trails, shortcuts, and a surprising amount of environmental variety.
"That unrelenting, oppressive hunger is a bit of a double-edged sword for Endling. On the one hand, it’s an excellent marriage of gameplay and storytelling, perfectly reflecting the fox’s desperation, perfectly conveying the harsh nature of the world you find yourself in. At the same time, from a gameplay perspective, having to scrounge through environments in search for food while a hunger meter constantly ticks down can be a bit of a grind."
Of course, Endling isn’t just about going out every night to hunt down your next meal ad nauseam. There is also a larger goal that the mother fox is working towards. Early on in Endling, one of your four kits gets stolen by a human, following which you quickly set off on his trail. Like hunting for food, this, too, involves following trails of scents, so it can add to the repetitiveness a little bit. That said, having new trail scents to track every few nights and unlocking more and more of the story of what happened to your kit after getting snatched by the human is strangely engrossing.
That, in fact, is probably one of Endling’s biggest strengths- its storytelling. While the game does stumble a little bit from a gameplay perspective, where its storytelling is concerned, it’s a far more impressive accomplishment. Endling is a completely wordless game, which means that by its very nature, it keeps things succinct and simple. But in that simplicity, it manages to find ways to really strike an emotional chord. The picture it paints of the world is bleak and oppressive, and watching the fox and her kits struggling to survive in an apocalypse that feels scarily close to home can be draining- but it’s all incredibly well done. Effectively tackling such heavy themes is never easy, but to do it completely wordlessly is even more remarkable.
It’s also worth mentioning that Endling is a gorgeous game to look at. It uses a stylized, near-impressionistic art style that suits its setting and storytelling style perfectly. The environments look great, and are made to look even better by the excellent ways the game keeps framing its scenes even during gameplay. There are a few technical hiccups here and there, and I’ve certainly experienced some dropped frames more than I would have liked, but by and large, my issues on this front were minimal.
"The environments look great, and are made to look even better by the excellent ways the game keeps framing its scenes even during gameplay."
Endling – Extinction is Forever isn’t for everyone. That’s not because it’s a particularly hard game to play or because it’s mechanically complex- no, in terms of gameplay, it’s actually really quite accessible and easy to get into. Its oppressive world and brutal story, however, might not be the sort of escapism that everyone looks for when playing a video game. If, however, you’re on the lookout for a short, well-told, uniquely captivating experience, Endling is well worth checking out. At roughly three or four hours long, its $29.99 price tag might seem a bit steep, but if you’re the sort of player that can forgive a game’s brevity because of its quality, Endling is certainly not lacking in quality.
The Xbox One version of this game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X via backward compatibility.
Establishes its world and its harsh realities very effectively; Gut-punching, emotionally draining story; Extremely effective storytelling, done completely wordlessly; Exploration can be fun thanks to the way the 2.5D sidescrolling environments are crafted; Gorgeous to look at.
The price is a bit of an issue, considering the game's length; Can feel a bit repetitive and grindy; Some minor technical issues.