A collage of images from different games under the headline New & In The News: Updates & New games.

2019 may have only just begun, but we’ve already seen several promising new releases and updates in the world of nature games, and even more seem to be on the horizon. It seems like a great year for nature games, and as the year goes on and more games and updates release we’ll be covering those too. But for now, let’s take a look at some of the new features and games that have just released or will be arriving soon!

A large, striped bear stares intimidatingly down at a horned Nicheling

Just Released: Niche 1.1.5 Beta

Since its initial release into early access in September 2016, Niche has pioneered a new genre of game centered on adaptation. Its central species demonstrates the adaptation process, showing how different genetics can impact a creature’s ability to survive in different environments. Creatures must adapt to different food sources, enemies, and ambient conditions in order to survive– or risk going extinct. As the game has developed over the past three years, each update has introduced new challenges, biomes, and game mechanics, and the 1.1.5-7 beta is no different, introducing both new mechanics and new NPCs and adding to the already diverse ecosystem of the world.

Perhaps the biggest addition to this update is a new food source– insects. New genes have been added that give the creature the ability to prey on insects, be it the swarms of swamp bugs that transmit the nasty sleeping sickness, or the all-new termites that reside in the savanna. These genes, modeled after bats and anteaters respectively, allow creatures to take advantage of these new food sources– and to finally do something about those pesky swamp bugs.

A bat-headed, bat-winged Nicheling sits among a group of other Nichelings.
Noctus (center) rocks the new bat head gene, along with its matching wings. You can also see Roku II (far left) sporting the new savanna horn gene.

But these new head types aren’t the only new genes that have been added to the game. There is also a new type of wings to match the bat head (you guessed it, bat wings), and some new horns from the savanna which resemble a gazelle’s horns. The former seems to be a cosmetic variant to the existing bird-like wings, but may also have different unlock conditions/spawning areas, and the latter are easier to unlock in the savanna (as opposed to antlers, which are tied to the mountains).

Two new NPCs have also been added to the game– the defender bear and the peaceful bear. The defender bear hates seeing conflict, and the peaceful bear likes to stare creepily at your tribe from within the grass. No, seriously. This thing is kinda terrifying.

A mossy green bear stares creepily at an unsuspecting Nicheling
He sees you when you’re sleeping…

There are also a number of new “quality of life” changes. Many new options have been added to the sandbox mode, which let you customize spawning creatures, change lifespan and damage settings, and more. There’s also a new exhibiton mode, meant mostly so the team can easily demonstrate the game at conventions. And in addition to these new features, a number of bug and balance fixes have also been implemented.

The 1.1.7 version (released a few days after 1.1.5 with additional improvements) is already available to play on the testing branch of the game, but hasn’t yet been pushed to the main public branch. If you’d like to participate in the beta or read about the new features, you can find more information on the official forum thread here.

A wolf chases a sheep through a grassland in Equilinox

Coming Soon: Equilinox Swamp Update

Equilinox is rather new to the world of nature games, having released in December 2018, but it’s already making a name for itself. Despite its simplistic graphical style, it serves as a detailed simulator that teaches well the importance of a balanced ecosystem– while at the same time letting you cover your hills in pink sheep if you so desire. Its developer, ThinMatrix, updates the game frequently and vlogs about his progress while doing so. His latest endeavor focuses on the swamp biome, adding two new species to the game: the fly and the carnivorous plant.

A carnivorous plant snags a fly with its long tongue in Equilinox
Two new species have been confirmed to be added to the game

Flies are a new type of insect that he’s adding to the game, to inhabit the swamp biome and probably some others as well (let’s face it, flies are everywhere!). The carnivorous plant bears resemblance to real-world pitcher plants, though rather than catching insects which slip and fall into a vat full of liquid, Equilinox’s carnivorous plant snags them out of the air with a long, froglike tongue. It’s quite unlike anything else we’ve seen in the game thus far, and should make a unique addition to the ecosystem!

A group of pitcher plants.  Photo taken by Noah Elhardt, under the CC 2.5 License (as seen on Wikipedia)
The game’s carnivorous plants aren’t quite a copy of real ones, but the resemblance is strong!
Photo taken by Noah Elhardt, under the CC 2.5 License (as seen on Wikipedia)

In addition to the carnivorous plant and fly, ThinMatrix has also confirmed that he’s adding a damage multiplier to the animals which are able to attack. Being able to adjust this multiplier should help address issues such as goats being too strong in comparison to wolves, resulting in the wolves dying too frequently while trying to hunt. We don’t have an ETA for this update, but given how quickly we’ve seen past updates roll out, I can’t imagine it’s too far away. In the meantime, you can always pass the time by catching up on ThinMatrix’s weekly dev logs!

A brown wolf with a radio collar trots through an open meadow with woods in the background (WolfQuest).

Coming Soon: WolfQuest 3

WolfQuest has long been leading the charge when it comes to realistic animal simulators, but its upcoming total overhaul WolfQuest 3 (or WolfQuest Anniversary Edition) has taken realism to a whole new level. Though both center on the concept of playing as a wild wolf in Yellowstone, WolfQuest 3 springs ahead of its predecessor by leaps and bounds. Between its detailed ecosystem simulation and nearly photorealistic graphics, WolfQuest 3 seems about to set an all-new standard for realism in animal games.

We’ve been hearing about WolfQuest 3 for a while now– a bit more than a year, in fact– but this highly anticipated title is finally nearing completion. Though it didn’t quite meet its hopeful end of 2018 release, each week the dev logs show additional progress. The game is truly coming together, and as it’s now in a private beta testing stage, it’s likely that it won’t be much longer before we see it hit early access.

So what’s so new about WolfQuest 3? Well, for starters, pretty much everything is bigger and better. The maps have been expanded from a 2x2km square to a 7x7km area– over 12 times bigger than their predecessors. Instead of static animals that spawn in and out as needed, animals will now dynamically traverse the game world, creating a wilder, less predictable feel that much more closely mirrors nature. Hunting and fighting have become much more complex– it’s now possible to avoid attacks, and the location of your bites now matters when it comes to bringing down prey. Even the graphics are significantly better, and now practically border on photorealism.

A large herd of elk runs down a slope with a brown wolf in pursuit, heading toward the treeline. (WolfQuest)
WolfQuest 3’s new elk herds are bigger and better than ever!

There are new elements to gameplay as well, such as roaming stranger wolf packs which will attack you if you trespass into their territory, different types of prey to hunt (stronger, slower elk vs. weaker, faster mule deer), and much more. Predators and competitors have been given an overhaul too, making even the coyotes a bigger threat in this version of the game. Even the player wolf has gotten some new features, like a “tiredness” meter which influences your wolf’s stamina depending on when they last slept, and the long-requested ability to get a drink from different bodies of water– which comes just in time, as we’ll finally be able to explore the rivers of Amethyst Mountain and the Lamar Valley too.

A black wolf drinks from a rocky mountain stream. (WolfQuest)
This mountain stream provides a long-awaited drink for a thirsty wolf!

The courtship mission is also getting a big overhaul, and stepping away from the static, turn-based social arena. Now, social interaction will take place in real time, as only part of a multi-phase courtship experience. Not only will friendly social interaction be required, but you’ll also have to prove to your potential mate that you can hunt well– and vice versus! And with dispersal wolves now free-roaming around the map, tracking one down may prove to be a challenge in its own right.

A grey wolf licks a brown wolf in a clearing in the woods. (WolfQuest)
A familiar sight seen in a new light

There’s still no confirmed release date for the new game, but the team shows their hard work and progress through their weekly dev logs. If you’re not caught up, they’re a great way to keep up with the team’s progress and pass the time while you wait for the new game to hit early access. Every week the game looks just that extra bit more complete, so it seems likely that we’ll finally see an early access release within the near future.

Early 2019 has been an exciting time for the world of nature games, and with many big releases still on the horizon, it seems likely that the rest of the year will follow suit. Niche has already pushed out a new update, and several other games seem ready to do the same. There’s a lot to look forward to when it comes to nature games, and I know I’m excited to see what the rest of the year has in store.

Game images provided from my own gameplay or official promotional material (i.e. dev logs)