Survival sandbox games are usually known for more free-form gameplay, but over the past several years, many titles have presented the same while also offering complex narratives. Subnautica, Darkwood and The Forest are prime examples, and Endnight Games is looking to continue this trend with Sons of the Forest. Releasing on February 23rd for PC, the sequel features more lush environments, complex mechanics and a bustling sandbox while presenting a compelling mystery with plenty of body horror. Here’s what you need to know before you buy.
Story and Setting
Set on a remote island, Sons of the Forest sees players venturing there to rescue a billionaire who has gone missing. It’s not long before you crash land on the island and face cannibals, wildlife and mutated horrors. Based on previews, the story seems to unfold at a normal rate, as you interact with and explore the world, unearthing fragments and trying to understand the island.
What’s going on, and whether the sequel ties directly into the original is unknown. Don’t expect overly long cutscenes – developer Endnight Games told us in a previous interview that they’re “not fans of big long cutscenes, so the ones we do have are short, visual and straight to the point.”
Of course, you don’t have to pursue the story at all (that billionaire is probably fine on his lonesome anyway). Despite such a terrifying environment, the series can be very chill when building structures, crafting weapons, hunting for food, and taking in the environment. It’s a sandbox-style game where you determine what happens next when you feel like it.
Four Times the Original’s World Size
Compared to The Forest, the island is four times larger, which casts doubts as to whether it’s really the same as the first game. The environment is still very much Pacific Northwest, but there’s a greater variety of plants, trees, flowers, and much more that make each area feel unique. There are also various bunkers and villages to explore, not to mention the return of the ominous…
The Underground is where the mutated creatures like to reside, making it all the more harrowing to venture into the dark. Upon exploring this deep network of caves, you can unwittingly unleash them, following which they’ll war with the cannibals. The Forest’s caverns were a location for many key items and story elements, so it remains to be seen if the sequel will follow suit. Nevertheless, be prepared when venturing Underground – you never know what other threats lay in wait.
One of the newer features in the sequel is the changing of seasons. As time passes, the seasons will dynamically shift, which can affect all kinds of things. Food that may be easier to gather in the Summer, for instance, is harder to come by in the Winter. You’ll need to have enough food in the warmer months to survive and store enough to last through the Winter. Of course, food is also a priority for other people and creatures, so you’ll need to watch out.
Just as the ecosystem reacts depending on the season, so can it change depending on the threats. Culling the cannibals causes the mutants to increase in number, and they’ll be spotted more commonly outside of the caves. On the other hand, kill enough mutants, and the cannibals will become more common. As noted in the example before, you can use this to your advantage to disrupt either or both sides.
Cannibals and mutants are some of the biggest threats you’ll encounter on the island. The former can attack with sticks, spears, fire, and their bare hands. The “muddies” return and they’re relatively weak but will shadow you and sneak around. Some cannibals, the so-called leader types, deal more damage while directing others. As for the mutants, one is almost like a caterpillar and is 10 feet tall, so that’s appropriately terrifying.
Combat has improved over The Forest, presenting more opportunities to overcome foes. You have axes, pistols, knives, crossbows, and tasers, but you can also craft spears, slingshots, bows and arrows, and clubs from materials. Fashion armor out of bones to increase defense or decapitate an enemy and display its head to others, frightening them off.
Enemy AI Improvements
Don’t underestimate your foes, though. The cannibals may not attack right away and showcase more complex decision-making. If a particular skirmish is going badly, they may opt to retreat, and you can see them later tending to their wounded. Sometimes, they’ll avoid a head-on attack and instead try to sabotage your base. Their leaders can even have unique ideologies that the rest will follow.
Crafting has also been changed and feels more organic. When making spears, your character will actually sharpen a stick. To place a skull on a stick for a wooden club, your character will actually place it on. It’s more grounded and realistic, and pairs extremely well with the overhauled building mechanics.
In the first game, you had blueprints. They’d appear as outlines, and you’d feed resources into them to create structures. Sons of the Forest takes a more intuitive approach to building. Take your basic campsite, for example. You’ll now anchor different points to a stick to create a tent. Wood is now realistically chopped. If you’re building walls, it’s possible to shape the top and create spikes. With magnetic and snapping tools, resources are seamlessly placed in any direction. Don’t worry, though – you can still use the old blueprint system if it’s preferable.
If you’re not keen on playing online, then good news – there are AI companions. You start with Kelvin, who can’t speak due to a head injury but can still understand written commands (written through quick prompts). He can gather wood and other resources and even fight alongside you.
Kelvin also gets tired and requires food and water. If you don’t treat him well, his productivity will suffer. As time passes, you can recruit other companions like Virginia, the woman with multiple limbs seen in trailers thus far. Though scared at first, she can eventually join you and has a unique personality.
If you prefer to be alone and don’t want Kelvin around, you can shoot him in the head, and he’s gone for that playthrough.
Co-op has been confirmed for Sons of the Forest, allowing for some chaos with friends. However, it’s not confirmed whether the PC version will support eight players online, like in the previous game. It seems a given that you’ll be able to attack and kill your friends, either intentionally or accidentally, so that should be something to look forward to.
Measuring how long an average playthrough would take is tricky because it’s all up to the player. The developer has indicated that the story may be completed in ten hours, but if you’re focused on building, survival, exploration and experimenting with everything, it could take much longer. It’s all on you, and the sandbox has enough to keep you occupied, whether it’s in the amount of items to craft or secrets to discover.