The world of Might and Delight’s Shelter 2 is barren but beautiful. Unlike its predecessor, Shelter, the open world set-up creates a stark and unforgiving landscape, where the possibility that anything could happen, might happen.
In the first game of this series, Shelter, it was very much about the experience of survival and parenthood in a world where everything is a threat. Its linear corridors that wind you – mother Badger – down a scripted set of events helped reinforce the brutality of nature, and the struggle that life faces against it.
Shelter 2 took the successful aspects of the first game – the intent to survive, and successfully raise a whole new generation who would endure all the hardships you yourself have faced – and built upon it further. The idea broke open into a fully realised world, where you – as a new mother Lynx – could traverse where you wished in a barren landscape. Unlike Shelter, Shelter 2 felt as if every decision you made decided on the fate of your kittens. If you head out into an open expanse, only to find food scarce there, you risk your kittens dying of starvation. If you wander too deep into the unknown of the forest, you risk loosing one of your offspring to the darkness. If you migrate over to the ice plains, in search of the herds of deer your mother before you used to hunt, you risk being hunted down by a pack of wolves.
It’s this sense of desolation in the Shelter 2’s world that leads to moments of sheer desperation. You abandon your kits in a mad dash to catch a rabbit. You are led too far, you don’t catch it, and you’ve run out of breath. You have been separated from your kits. And one of them doesn’t come when you call. By the time you reach it, without food, it dies.
The urgency the gameplay forces you into is its strongest feature. You understand that survival sometimes depends on risk, and can come at great cost if it doesn’t pay off. This is where the first DLC for this game – Mountains – comes into play. Suddenly, you find your largely barren world populated with even more threats, and unlike before, they are not location specific. Bears, foxes and birds of prey are now randomised throughout the world, and the distinction between prey and predator becomes blurred. Foxes will make off with your young whilst your back’s turned. If you catch and kill it in time, you have the opportunity to save your taken kit. The same rules applies to birds of prey, which appear without notice, and dive down towards you. You have to attack to prevent it from taking off with another infant.
The world still feels similarly desolate – and food is still a limited resource – but now, more than ever, you are forced to constantly look back to where your kits are trailing behind in fear that something is attempting to creep up and snatch one. You call out to them far more than you used to, so that you can keep them closer. You fear risking a mad dash at a herd of deer even more than you did before, because a bird, or a fox, could take one, and you’d be too far away to prevent it – or even give chase.
Bears are an equally terrifying encounter. They can knock you unconscious, and whilst you’re out cold, you kits can slowly starve. In one such instance, when I came around, all four were close to death. If rabbits hadn’t been close by, I’m certain would have lost more than just one.
New weather features have also been added. Thunder and lightening have become more threatening, and immediate, with strikes hitting the ground by you and surrounding trees. Rain also makes an appearance, driving down onto you and your kits, and which you can’t – ironically – really take shelter from.
Overall, Mountains is a strong addition to the overall gameplay of Shelter 2. Usually, I’d hesitate to say that a particular DLC is a necessity to a game as games should be a complete package; but I feel that Mountains is such a brilliant addition to a game that – a couple of generations down the line – can become a little too predictable. The new enemies added aren’t escapable, like the wolves on the ice plains are, and their ability to randomly appear anywhere in the world only adds to the overall atmosphere of survival being a mixture of parental care and dumb luck. The unpredictability this adds only serves to enhance the experience – and the message – the developers intended when creating the game. My only criticism of this DLC is that, as it is such a good addition to the game itself – slotting in perfectly with the rest of the game so much its as if it has always been there – it does make me wonder why this was not included in the original base game.
Regardless, as it is good addition – which DLC should be – and strengthens the base game further, I give Shelter 2 Mountains: