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Endling - Extinction Is Forever generates empathy through familiarity

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Endling: Extinction is Forever is about surviving the end of a small world. More straightforwardly, it’s a survival game with light stealth elements developed by Herobeat Studios, where you play as a mother fox trying to protect her babies as their home is deforested and turned into a landfill. When one of your cubs is lured away and stolen by a hunter, you have to follow a series of randomly-appearing scent trails that lead you around the map to piece together the mystery of where they’ve been taken.

If there’s anything incongruent about the tale’s dismal tone, it’s that the injuries sustained by the fox are mostly temporary — so long as you don’t get injured too frequently. Even the fox’s death will simply result in a do-over from the beginning of the day (though the loss of your pups is still irreversible). As a result, death can sometimes become a way to get out of a sticky situation, such as when you’ve wandered too far from your lair, toward dangers too tedious to overcome. It’s one aspect of the game that could have benefited from a more traditional roguelike structure, in which you’re forced to start a new run when the fox meets her demise.

The ever-changing environment keeps you firmly on your toes and is Herobeat’s way of saying 'don’t get too comfortable'. The pups learn new skills like jumping, digging, hunting, and climbing, which makes scavenging easier, but it’s balanced out with a world that's slowly becoming more dangerous as time goes on.

Endling generates empathy through familiarity. The map you’re working within slowly grows larger, and your cubs begin to come with you on your hunts. You have to do a lot of backtracking to reach new areas, and new traps, animals, and roadblocks will appear in places you previously found safe. It’s easy to get turned around, and I used the map very often to note where I needed to go and where predators were, like the Scavenger, a flashlighted enemy who can kill you in one hit. Eventually, I knew enough about the area around my den that I only needed to check the map occasionally. Until this happened, though, navigating could be confusing, and given that a lot of the game takes place in low light, it was easy to miss a ledge or a detour that I needed to take.

And yet, “Endling’s” overarching sense of doom is abated by small but genuine moments of joy and compassion. You can watch your pups experience winter for the first time, delighted by the blanket of snow around them. You can look on with pride as your pups grow from their harrowing experiences, as they learn to traverse high walls, leap over holes in the terrain and squeeze into small spaces to scour for more food. And located at parts of the map is a young refugee named Molly, who offers your pups some food and respite from the harsh realities of surviving in “Endling.” When everything seems so unbearably hellish, seeing a friendly, outstretched hand is a welcome reprieve.

As I mentioned earlier, Endling is not the ruthless survival game I was expecting, but it does a great job of creating tension between the caretaking of your cubs and the dangerous world you need to protect them from. The daily routine of finding food, avoiding danger and returning to your den can feel like you're going through the motions sometimes, but the constantly changing landscape and mix of tender and tense story moments conjure a survival tale that’ll be sure to wrench your heartstrings.

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