Video games can be a very powerful art form because of their interactive storytelling. We love playing them because they help us escape from real-world problems, and experience the life of a superhero, a tough survivor, or a deep and interesting character. But when they tackle real problems and emotions, they can be the best teachers of empathy; When we put ourselves in the place of a protagonist, face their challenges and hard decisions, and experience their struggles, we learn and grow as human beings.

This is what Endling does. It lets us experience the life of a fox amidst environmental destructions brought upon her habitat by humans. Developed by Herobeat Studios and published by Handygames, Endling delivers an important message through charming gameplay, gorgeous visuals, and a heartbreaking story. I’m just gonna come out and say it, everyone should play this game. But let’s discuss why.

Endling starts with a devastating environmental disaster; A forest fire. We play as a fox, and we need to escape. We learn the basic mechanics of the game and escape the 2.5D platformer section. From the very beginning, the visuals of Endling are outstanding. The burning forest, the ominous lighting, the character arts, and the animations are beautiful. We make it to the edge of a cliff. We are hesitant to jump, but a scared deer running for its life bumps us off the cliff. It saves us in the process, but in a tragic scene, the deer itself doesn’t make it.

A fox running through a burning forest
At the start of the game, we have to escape this beautiful and horrific scenery.

We eventually find shelter far away from the fire and give birth to four little cubs. We get to choose the cubs’ fur color in the cutest scene where they are cuddling their mother, a scene that we are blessed with many times in Endling. With these scenes and other emotional interactions, Endling lets us develop an empathetic connection to this family of foxes. We are invested in their survival and their well-being. It’s actually hurtful when the fox walks into a trap or gets attacked by a furrier. We could imagine the pain in her leg when she limped after an accident.

Endling is a survival game at its core. We explore the three-dimensional world through shorter 2D sidescroller paths that connect to each other, allowing us to explore the whole map. The premise is simple; We need to find food for our cubs and stay out of sight of furriers and hunters. The gameplay is easy to learn, with simple tutorials for each new mechanic, and through the emotional connection we develop with the fox, we are highly motivated to succeed.

There are many challenges and enemies that we might face in the game. From predator animals to getting our heads stuck in garbage bags, Endling creates a realistic experience of a fox’s life. We go out at night, search for food, and then we should try and come back before daylight. For most of my playthrough, I managed to get to the lair before sunrise. I was so engulfed by the experience that I didn’t even question why we shouldn’t be outside during the day. The game introduces the mechanic in a way that it almost feels like instinct. I knew that daytime was dangerous, without needing to experience the danger myself.

A fox and her cubs in snow
The snowfields, like everything else in Endling, look beautiful. Diving into piles of snow to hunt small animals is really fun!

The gameplay loop of Endling is actually quite fun, and every few nights we are introduced to a new mechanic that adds another layer of complexity. The map is really big, and we can only explore a little each night, so we start to plan out our paths each night to try and find new sources of food, locate possible lairs, and recognize the dangerous areas we need to avoid. Being chased by furriers is thrilling, and the music is really fitting in the stressful moments of the game.

On the first day, a furrier lures one of our cubs out of the lair and captures them. From now on, we have a second objective. We need to feed our three cubs and search for our missing baby. On certain nights, we pick up the scent of our stolen cub, and we can follow it to discover clues about what happened to them. These clues are depicted as purple projections of the furrier, his daughter, and our cub. Through our search, we experience their story alongside other events in the world around us.

One of the most amazing aspects of Endling is its ever-changing world. Humans are cutting down the trees around our new home, and each day the world looks a little bit different. Finding food becomes a little bit harder, and eventually, the world changes so much, that we have to find a new home. Our cubs start growing and following us in our exploration, and this adds the challenge of protecting them against other predators, carrying them through challenging paths and teaching them new skills.

A fox examining purple projections of past events
You can move and rotate around these projections which creates captivating visual storytelling.

Humans are mostly depicted as evil predators, but we eventually do find kind-hearted people who offer us food. When deforestation gets out of hand, and we find ourselves in an overly industrialized area, we start to see environmental protesters. We can see them huddled around fires, with their signs laying around. “Oxygen is a right”. “No Water No Life”. Endling introduces many different environmental issues, and it does an amazing job of showing both sides. Yes, humans are destroying nature, but as the game says, there are still kind souls among them. It just makes us wish there were more of them.

I don’t want to spoil the story of Endling, but it is masterfully told through visual storytelling, with beautiful music and sound design. One of the most impressive aspects of the game’s music, was whenever we were around kind people. They were usually humming or playing guitars or singing, creating a soothing atmosphere that let us know it was safe to approach. There is no dialogue, but there is no shortage of deep and emotional scenes for us to experience within the world of Endling.

Endling is not without flaws. There were some weird glitches where one of the cubs would get stuck in certain locations and the only way to move them was to pick them up. The loading screen gave some helpful gameplay tips as well, but if the tip was longer than one line, the second line would go out of bounds and become unreadable. But most of these flaws can be fixed with small patches, and none of them actually hindered the overall experience of the game.

A young girl hugging a fox
As the game says, “Despite everything, there are still kind people.”

Endling is a beautiful and heartbreaking game. It’s a crucial environmental message and a necessary lesson in empathy. Its most valuable achievement is letting the player live the life of a fox struggling to survive and keep her cubs safe. If everyone goes through this experience, our world would be a better place. Please, try to be more mindful of the environment, try to reduce your carbon footprint, and be kinder to nature and animals. Because extinction is forever.

Nima played Endling on PC with a code provided by the publisher. Endling is also available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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