Scavengers is fine. That’s a weird sentiment to come away with from a game, especially in this profession. It’s not that I don’t have things I liked or disliked about it — I certainly do — but at the end of the day, the strongest impression I had for the new PvEvP, free-to-play, battle royale-ish experience was — yeah, this is fine. In its current state, I can see several directions where the game could become good, even great, but it doesn’t ever register that hard on the dial. And since our preview session with the developers earlier this week, I’ve been trying to figure out why.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where most of humanity is mutated, dead, or living aboard a space station, you and a team of two other Explorers dive down into the frozen wastelands of Earth to recover data and resources to help kickstart the revival of humanity. Except, for some reason, the AI commanding you all pits you against each other. There’s also apparently cloning. The lore is a bit of an unclear jumble at the moment, but the cast themselves are likable enough, myself leaning on shotgun tank Valora and the EMP-blasting, revolver-toting Letty.
As you can imagine, Scavengers sells itself in pretty much every trailer with its combat. There’s a lot of fighting going on, all over the place, and Midwinter Entertainment and Improbable really want you to know that you and your team of three players need to beat out the competition to make it to the finish line. The only problem is that player-versus-player combat is easily the least fun sort of fight you can get caught up in.
Fighting AI opponents feels great, with solid recoil animations, destruction of armor, and stumbling wild mutant animals. In contrast, human players just brush it off until their shields burst, which in the endgame minutes can take so long that it doesn’t even feel worth it to put up a fight. Earlier on there’s some genuine risk, but, at least in our play session, it didn’t really feel like an optimal tactic. Plus, it’s hard to make out which enemies are AI and which are players at first, as they currently display player names in white text against a mostly white, snowy backdrop. You can see how that might be a problem.
Otherwise, players only really interact when taking on boss fights together, before turning on each other in the aftermath. It’s a great concept, though the randomized objective placement during our session meant that predicting the boss spawn locations was not straightforward. There’s also only one type of objective besides hunting priority targets, which is clearing a campsite of enemies and looting it for either scrap or data points.
This is pretty much all of what you’ll do in Scavengers whenever not engaged with enemy players. Just kill a ton of things, grab more loot, spend your crafting resources to fix up a ride or build better equipment for yourself — rinse and repeat. While in theory there are a variety of tasks, in practice, there’s just not a lot going on.
Enemy variety isn’t bad, and the weapons all feel great — though melee is a bit ill-advised against human players — but it’s just the same sort of thing. There’s no quick exploration puzzle to unlock a cache, or reconnecting nodes to engage a relay, or bigger-gamble, multi-step objectives that might take time but can lift you to the top of the leaderboard. Instead, just shoot everything. There isn’t even hunting, outside of taking out animals for additional food to refill your stamina meter.
That said, the survival elements in place are great. Managing frostbite that trims down your health, keeping yourself fed, ensuring your whole team has healing items — these are excellent elements that make the eternal winter setting of Scavengers feel purposeful and tangible. I just would love for them to matter a bit more. For instance, there are dynamic ice tornado storms, but they blow through so quickly that they’re more a momentary pause in battle rather than the game-changer that I suspect they’re supposed to be.
This odd hesitance even translates to how each character plays. Swapping gear takes longer than you’d expect, dodging even more so. It’s faster to sprint and slide than to just tap the dodge button due to how slow and unresponsive the animation currently is. If your character were more responsive, PvP would likely feel at least a tad more engaging. Instead, you’ll often feel more like a Lego minifigure than a trained survivalist.
There are hints at expanding the meta beyond just upgrading shields in order to tank. Proximity mines, certain character abilities, and the layout of levels beg for some Home Alone ambush antics, but the current objective types and heroes available discourage you from trying that. It’s all very at odds with itself — some of which is natural for an in-progress game, but it troubles me how conflicted key parts feel.
All this hesitation is a shame, as Scavengers has a solid setup for regular content updates. The Explorers leave plenty of room to expand while offering a solid lineup of options for players now. Any gear you unlock at higher levels requires additional resources, ensuring master players can’t pubstomp with impunity. The randomized nature of the map means that introducing new features like new enemies or mission types down the road is quite possible. After our preview, the developers even expressed that they would be open to tinkering with some sort of purely cooperative tutorial mode in addition to the game’s current solo tutorial.
On paper, Scavengers is doing a lot of things right as a live-service game. It’s the “game” part that I’m most worried about. While never bad, it doesn’t feel fully realized as a distinct spin on the battle royale genre, even in the realm of PvEvP. Most of my excitement during the preview came from worrying about experiencing as broad a spectrum of gameplay as possible in the time frame given and evading being knocked out of the match too early.
At the end of the day, what might be Scavengers’ saving grace over the competition is its level of polished presentation. The pure moment-to-moment gameplay feels great, and everything looks gorgeous, bolstered by solid art direction that’s a comfortable compromise between stylized and realistic. Sound and music are just as fantastic, making you feel the intensity when they kick in. It’s never that Scavengers is unpleasant to play, but it needs a clear hook and direction forward if the team at Midwinter Entertainment wants to make it last. I hope they can achieve that, because Scavengers has all the right bones to build a great game.
Scavengers is in closed beta starting Dec. 10 on PC, with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One ports planned later down the road with cross-play support.