Ten years ago, WolfQuest broke ground in the world of video games by bringing a new genre of games to the light. Placing players in the role of a wild wolf in Yellowstone National park, where they must hunt, find a mate, and raise their pups, it paved the way for many other animal simulators to follow in its footsteps. But WolfQuest isn’t just one of the first animal simulators– in my opinion, it’s also one of the best. It combines solid gameplay with realistic wolf behavior, all while remaining fairly family-friendly and free of excessive gore or adult content. WolfQuest has set a high bar in the world of realistic animal simulators, and throughout the course of its ongoing development, the dev team continues to push this bar higher and higher.
WolfQuest players start out by creating a wolf avatar to represent them in-game. They can choose from a variety of different pelt colors and patterns, adjust its tint and shade, and even apply additional customizations such as notched or bent ears and even radio tracking collars. They can adjust their wolf’s stats to make them faster or stronger, and even customize the sound of their howl. These customizations offer a great deal of freedom for players to create unique characters, without straying into the realm of unrealism (no purple wolves to be found here, folks).
Once the player has created their avatar, they will spawn in on the slopes of Amethyst Mountain, an in-game recreation of the actual site in Yellowstone. There, taking the role of a young wolf that has left its birth pack to find a mate and start its own, they must learn to hunt elk to survive, fend off predators and competitors such as grizzly bears and coyotes, and eventually find another lone wolf to take as a mate and start their own pack with. Once they’ve found a mate, the player can continue on to Slough Creek, another recreated real-world site from elsewhere in the park, to choose a den, claim a territory, and raise their pups. The player will have to defend their pups from predators, including rival wolf packs, and make sure they have enough to eat. They’ll even have to escort their pups to the pack’s summer hunting grounds. The 2.7 version of the game ends upon their arrival, but future updates are planned to continue the story, where the player will help teach their pups to hunt.
The 2.7 version of the game also includes a bonus map, set in a fictional region called Lost River. This map isn’t part of the main storyline, but [Spoilers!] allows players to explore a human ghost town. There are no people to be found in Lost River, but they can explore the remains of a city that is being slowly reclaimed by nature. This adds an extra bit of intrigue to the game, and a more free-form region where the player can simply explore without additional objectives. It is possible to find a mate in Lost River, but there is no way to continue on to the Slough Creek mission from there.
WolfQuest 2.7 also includes multiplayer gameplay. Here, the player can play and chat with their fellow players, work together with their pack to take down more difficult prey like bull elk or moose, roleplay, or just hang out. Much of the storyline is absent from the multiplayer game, but players can still choose to raise pups as a pack if they so wish. This adds a cooperative element to the game for those who desire it.
Controls and Gameplay: 7/10
For the most part, WolfQuest’s controls are solid and intuitive. The game uses WASD/arrow keys to move, like most other nature simulators. Unlike most modern games, however, WolfQuest doesn’t use the shift or control keys for changing speed, but instead uses Q to toggle between walking and running. The other controls are also fairly intuitive, and relatively easy to pick up on.
However, although the controls themselves are fairly easy to learn there are two notable flaws that bear mentioning– the first of which is that the wolf’s turning radius can be problematic at its default. The wolf turns so slowly in place that it can be tough to keep up with enemies running head-on at you– a problem that becomes more evident in the Slough Creek stage, when quick moves can make the difference between a pup’s death or survival. This can be adjusted, and I’ve also found that it helps to turn while backing up, so that one can run forward at the proper angle rather than trying to turn right in front of a predator. However, this can still be frustrating when trying to make tight maneuvers.
This also brings us to our second problem– the bite key is the same as the key used to pick up a pup. This can cause problems in predator confrontations, as they often occur in very close quarters, where both predator and pups are within range of the player. The game seems to prefer picking up pups to biting predators, and this can create situations where the player stops to pick up a pup instead of biting the predator, leaving them vulnerable to a significant amount of damage from the predator while the rather slow animation plays. This can be somewhat mitigated by confronting predators before they get too close to the pups, but sometimes that can be difficult to achieve.
Aside from these two control issues, most of the rest of the gameplay is intuitive and engaging. The game doesn’t suffer from too many major bugs, and most of the ones that do pop up are rare and unlikely to cause problems in most circumstances. The gameplay provides enough variety to be entertaining for several playthroughs, and potentially more depending on the player’s desire to complete everything (i.e. achievements, etc.). Different difficulty settings add to the replay value of the game, as the player can opt to turn up the difficulty if they feel too confident on the current setting. All in all, most players will probably find themselves entertained for several hours at least, if not far more (I’ve logged a few hundred hours in the game myself).
For a game about real-world predators, WolfQuest does a pretty good job of keeping things from getting too violent. Though players must hunt and kill elk, hares, and/or moose to survive, and must face off against various predators to defend their pack and territory, these confrontations are fairly bloodless (though npcs and/or the player can die in non-graphic ways). Elk and moose carcasses do show moderate semi-realistic gore, but there’s really nothing worse than what you might see in a nature documentary. It was never enough to bother my younger self (I’ve been playing WolfQuest since age 9), but I also did grow up watching nature documentaries and Animal Planet. If you’re uncertain, I’d recommend watching some gameplay videos to see how bad it is. You can find a link to my long-running playthrough at the end of the article if you’d like to start there.
WolfQuest does also allow players to find an NPC mate and raise puppies with them, however the game implies little and shows even less. Players find and bond with their mate in the first arc with simple displays of affection such as sniffing noses and licking each other– much like behaviors seen in domestic dogs. There is no reference to actual mating, and players are simply informed with a popup when the pups have been born.
It is worth noting that the multiplayer side of the game can be somewhat less family friendly. The game rules forbid any “mate or mate-related” interaction (i.e. roleplaying as mates, etc.), but that doesn’t stop some players from breaking the rules. The WolfQuest team actively punishes this behavior as it is reported, but as with any multiplayer interaction, there is a chance that players may encounter rule-breakers in multiplayer games before they can be reported. There are also some players who just don’t like to play nice, and may try and sabotage gameplay by intentionally letting pups die, etc., however these players seem to be a minority (and again, can face serious consequences if they are caught). Much of the WolfQuest player base is a great community, but I do recommend that any parents with concerns supervise their childrens’ multiplayer interactions in case some bad apples do pop up.
Realism & Educational Value: 8/10
In the world of nature games, it’s tough to strike a balance between realistic animal behavior and engaging gameplay. WolfQuest does its best to tackle this problem, and in many ways they did manage to succeed. The game illustrates a wolf’s difficult struggle to survive and protect its pack, but without becoming frustrating in the process. The game reinforces many realistic behaviors throughout its storyline, and steers away from many common misconceptions about wolves.
WolfQuest has worked hard to dispel the “alpha-beta-omega” ranking system that was once thought to be an accurate depiction of pack structure. Instead, it showcases the more typical structure of a bonded pair (the leaders) and their offspring (the subordinates). The game also illustrates the difficult and dangerous nature of hunts, as it’s no easy feat to bring down prey– players are likely to take quite a bit of damage in the process, and must plan ahead and consider targeting weaker animals that will be easier to bring down. It shows how wolves are territorial and defend their homes from intruders– both of their own species and of others. It’s clear that the dev team spent a great deal of time researching, and in most ways, the game does provide a clear representation of wolf life and its hazards.
However, in the balance of gameplay and realism, sometimes sacrifices do have to be made, and perhaps the greatest area where this comes into play in WolfQuest is in the hunting system as a whole. Although individual hunts feel fairly well balanced, the game’s experience system does encourage players to mass hunt for experience points. This is a difficult problem to avoid in a game, where players need some sort of incentive to reward them for their actions, but it does detract from the realism of the game. Real wolves will hunt what they need when they’re ready to eat– they won’t bring down a whole herd of elk just because they can. Such an action wouldn’t benefit them in the long run, as carcasses would decay or be scavenged before the wolves had the chance to use them, and since hunts can be dangerous, and sometimes even lethal, unnecessary hunting would put a wolf’s survival at risk.
Unfortunately, the inclination in WolfQuest can be to hunt as much as possible all at once, to earn experience and ensure there will be plenty of prey later on. Carcasses don’t deplete quickly in-game, because if they did it would cause struggles at different points of the game (i.e. raising pups), but this can lead players to mass-kill elk and produce a surplus amount of carcasses.
However, the game more than makes up for this issue with its outstanding realism in other areas, and in the grand scheme of things it still shines as one of the most accurate nature simulators when it comes to properly representing animal behavior. The team takes pains to make WolfQuest as scientifically correct as possible, and in most areas, they’ve done a stunning job of it.
Price worthiness: 10/10
WolfQuest 2.7 may well be one of the best nature games on the market, but at just $10 it’s also one of the cheapest. In fact, you could probably consider it underpriced, as many games in its caliber run at upwards of $15-20! There is also a free demo in case you want to try the game before buying it, which comes with the first mission arc (Amethyst Mountain, where you can find a mate) and basic customizations. Multiplayer, the new map, new customizations, and the second arc (Slough Creek, where you can raise pups) are restricted to the paid version of the game.
I’m talking specifically about the PC version of the game here, but there is also a mobile version available. Here, the full game costs only $3.99, but the new customization packs are sold separately ($2.99 each or $4.99 for both).
The 2.5 version is still available as a free download, however that version is much buggier and doesn’t have as many features. It can still be a fun play, but the 2.7 version is a significant improvement.
In addition, the WolfQuest team is currently working on WolfQuest 3– a full remake of the original game. The game boasts improvements pretty much everywhere, with larger maps and even more realistic animals and behaviors. The game is slated for release in the near future, and will be provided as a free update to those who own WolfQuest 2.7– so if you’re thinking about purchasing the game, now is a great time to do so.
Of all the games I’ve played, WolfQuest is definitely one of my favorites. The development team has poured their love and care into this game, and it really shows. WolfQuest has solid gameplay, and is one of the most (if not the most) realistic animal simulators I’ve ever played. Despite focusing on a major wild predator, the game manages to stay fairly family-friendly, and what’s more it retails at a very low price. I would unhesitatingly recommend WolfQuest to any nature lovers looking for a new game to get their paws on, especially with the release of WolfQuest 3 on the horizon.