Still fairly new to the scene, Shelter 2 released in 2015 as a sequel to Shelter. This time, players take the role of a mother lynx trying to raise her cubs, and instead of being level-based like the first Shelter game, Shelter 2 is set in a large open world with three different regions– each with its own unique challenges. Between its simple, intuitive design and distinctive art style, Shelter 2 definitely stands out among its fellow animal simulators, and although it is no longer receiving updates and new content, it still holds its own as a solid title.

Shelter 2: A dark brown lynx runs through a snowy forest at night.
The opening scene of the game finds mother lynx on the run from a pack of hungry wolves.

Overview

Shelter 2 opens with action, as the mother lynx finds herself being chased through the woods by a pack of hungry wolves. This is one of the only linear portions of the storyline, where the player is given a direct path to follow and a specific means to complete their objective. It also doubles as a tutorial of sorts, teaching the player how to use the controls. It is possible to fail the tutorial, however getting caught by the wolves simply places the player back at the beginning, letting them try again until they’re able to succeed. This portion in the story is only mandatory for the first playthrough of any lineage– if the player chooses to continue the story as one of their surviving kittens (more on that later), they’ll have the option to skip straight to giving birth.

Eventually the player is able to escape the wolves by using the lynx’s impressive jumping ability to leap onto a high ledge and out of their reach. From there, they follow a trail of stars to a den, where their cubs are born. These cubs start off helpless, unable to even leave the den, and the player must venture out into the land beyond the den to hunt for food, bringing back enough hares to feed their cubs until they’re strong enough to leave the den. From there, their cubs will follow them throughout the game world, and must be fed and protected from predators as the seasons change.

Once a year has passed in-game (spring to spring), the cubs will grow up to become young adults. They can sometimes catch their own prey, but for the most part the player will still have to hunt for them. The player must care for them until fall arrives, at which point any surviving cubs will set out on their own. The player may continue to roam and explore on their own for as long as they desire, before returning to the den. From there, they’ll be able to follow the stars one final time as they’re lead on into the credits scene.

One of the most remarkable things about the Shelter franchise is the graphics. Veering from the trend of extreme realism found in most games, Shelter 2 relies instead on a simple yet beautiful graphical style. Though everything is low poly, highly detailed textures add a lot of depth to the game. Though hardly realistic, Shelter 2’s simple yet beautiful graphics make for a uniquely breathtaking visual experience.

In addition to its stunning graphical style, the game also boasts a simple legacy system– where, upon completing a playthrough, players can choose to continue as one of their cubs. This can go pretty much forever, with no sign of stopping. I’m sitting at around 25 generations currently, and still going.

Shelter 2: A white lynx stalks hares in an open field.
Hares are the player’s primary prey, but they may also catch voles, pheasants, and even deer!

Controls and Gameplay: 7/10

Overall, Shelter 2’s controls are solid and intuitive. The game uses the WASD keys for movement, and the camera rotates with the mouse. There aren’t many buttons to memorize, meaning there’s not much you have to remember while playing the game. However, this also means that some buttons share functions, and while this isn’t usually a problem, sometimes that can lead to accidentally performing the wrong action (though in Shelter 2 this rarely causes major problems). It can also be a little difficult to turn on a dime because the lynx’s movement is relative to the camera– so if you want to change directions quickly and still see where you’re going, you have to swing the camera around with your mouse.

Shelter 2 is also a fairly stable game, with few bugs and glitches. Since no updates have been released for several years, the game has been left in a completed, well-rounded state. The basic gameplay concepts are easy to master. However, the area where Shelter 2 most seems to fall short is in the amount of content within the game itself.

Shelter 2 has two downloads– the base game, and the Mountains DLC. The base game honestly doesn’t have all that much content. The biggest amount of variety is in the maps, since each have their own terrain and natural hazards. But overall, all three regions are still very similar. The biggest risk to cubs is almost always starvation, though they can also die to wolf attacks or by getting lost in the fog. But… that’s basically it. The base game relies heavily on the achievement of finding the numerous collectables scattered throughout the map, and of having a longrunning family tree. This does mean the base game affords a more casual gaming experience, which some players may enjoy more than an action-packed one, however, but those who crave more exciting gameplay may find the lack of threats to be a little dull.

One thing that can help remedy this is survival mode, which is something like a hardcore mode for the game. In survival mode, prey will stop respawning if you stay in one place for too long, meaning you’ll have to move around the map to find food. It also causes the game’s scent view (the primary means of spotting prey) to cost a (minimal) amount of stamina. This makes the game slightly more difficult, but in my opinion it doesn’t really make up for the lack of threats.

Shelter 2: A red lynx prepares to leap as an eagle attempts to fly away with her kitten.
If an eagle from the Mountains DLC snatches your kitten, you’ll have only moments to act!

Much of Shelter 2’s gameplay comes from its DLC– which does cost extra to purchase. The DLC contains a new map, three new animals, and the potential for forest fires. The Mountains map contains significantly rougher terrain. Unlike the other three maps, which tend to be fairly open, the mountains map takes place in an irregular valley with different slopes to get from area to area– making it much more difficult to get from point A to point B. This new area comes with its own collectables, further expanding that system. But its biggest impact on the gameplay comes from its new threats– bears, eagles, foxes, and forest fires.

Eagles and foxes spawn on all maps, while bears will spawn everywhere but the den area. Each of these new animals poses a threat to cubs, and their presence forces you to be much more vigilant than in the base game. They can appear at pretty much any time and, unlike dangerous events in the main game, their arrival is not announced by a darkening sky. Instead, you’ll have to listen for rustling grass (foxes), the sound of ominous drumbeats (bears), or a blood-curdling shriek from above followed by dramatic guitar music (eagles. They’re back from the previous Shelter game and they’re anything but subtle). Forest fires can also occur in many wooded regions, and although they are marked by a darkening sky, they also cause a much more widespread danger– like the fog in the base game.

The base game still is interesting and enjoyable, but it does lose replay value quite quickly, meaning it’s best to purchase the DLC as well for the most enjoyable long-term experience. This is definitely not ideal, and in my opinion does detract from the overall experience. However, with the DLC Shelter 2 gains a significant amount of replay value, making for a much more engaging experience. As such, I’d rate the base gameplay a 6/10 with the DLC bringing it up to 8/10, making for a 7/10 average.

Shelter 2: A white lynx grapples a deer to the ground.
Wrangling a deer to the ground is a jarring, but heavily stylized act

Family-Friendliness: 9/10

Shelter 2 contains minimal objectionable content, especially given its stylized and simplistic graphical style. Although some blood is visible while hunting and on carcasses, it’s so heavily stylized that it’s often barely recognizable. It took me several times of playing through to realize that there was a small blood spatter effect at all. Likewise, the carcasses have such minimal detail that on many animals the blood effect simply looks like a different part of the fur. All in all, Shelter 2 has about the same level of violence as most nature documentaries– but in such a stylized manner that it’s not as noticeable.

There’s also virtually no adult content in the game. In fact, the male lynx really doesn’t even enter the picture. In the real world, lynx will come together to mate, before parting ways again– the male to leave alone, and the female to raise their offspring by herself. Since the game picks up after the mother lynx is already pregnant, we really don’t see any interaction between her and her mate at all. The only arguable contact is the ending of the game, where the mother lynx meets another lynx in a starlit meadow. There’s no official explanation as to the identity of this newcomer, but some speculate that it could be a new potential mate– however even if this is true we still don’t see any more interaction besides the duo walking through the meadow together, so there’s still basically nothing to infer.

Shelter 2: A white lynx stands protectively over her cubs as a white wolf approaches
Should you venture to the tundra, beware of the wolf pack that calls it home!

Realism & Educational Value: 8/10

Shelter 2 may have heavily stylized graphics, but its gameplay is far less so. As a whole, it provides a reasonably accurate depiction of what we know about lynx life. It even manages to avoid the issue of spam hunting– something that’s tricky to avoid in a nature simulator. For the most part, it gives a relatively realistic picture of lynx life.

The game represents a lifestyle that is often overlooked in the animal kingdom– that of a single mother. As touching as it is to imagine animal mates sharing monogamous bonds with one another, the fact is that only a few species actually are monogamous. Male lynxes are not good fathers– they live solitary lives for the most part, and only associate with females during the breeding season. Female lynxes raise their cubs alone, and the game reflects this.

Shelter 2 also stays true to a lynx’s diet. The game doesn’t confirm what species of lynx it features, but it seems likely that the in-game lynx is based off the Eurasian lynx. This lynx eats primarily small deer, but will eat hares, rodents, birds, and foxes when deer are not available– exactly the diet we see reflected in Shelter 2. Even the lynx’s conflicts with wolves seem to be accurate, as wolves have been infrequently reported to prey on lynx when other prey is scarce.

Perhaps most impressively, the game even manages to avoid “spam hunting”– a common problem in animal simulators, where players hunt more than they need and “stockpile” excess food. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to stockpile food in Shelter 2 at all, since the kittens will eat any food they find immediately. Their hunger also decreases just about as quickly as the player can reasonably replenish it. Surplus hunting may not be the biggest unrealism many animal simulators have to offer, but it’s definitely one of the most difficult to avoid– making this a significant achievement.

Shelter 2: A white lynx looks on as her kittens eat from a deer carcass in the background
The biggest struggle in the base game is just keeping kittens fed– not facing the dangers of other predators.

However, there are a few– albeit minor– places where Shelter 2’s realism does fall shy. For one, it presents an overall simplistic view of a lynx’s life, choosing to focus mostly on the struggle of keeping kittens fed rather than the other dangers that can threaten their survival (though this problem is lessened by the DLC, which adds more predators to the game).

For another, it doesn’t fully represent an accurate timetable of kitten development. The kittens in-game remain with their mother for what appears to be about 18 months– from spring to the next year’s fall. Real (Eurasian) lynx kittens leave their mother much sooner– at around 10 months. This timetable would afford little time for actual gameplay however, so it’s understandable why the developers extended it.

Lastly, there’s the semi-ambigious scenes where the lynx follows a trail of stars to reach her destination (her den or the meadow at the end of the game). There’s not really an official answer on what this signifies (for example, it could represent her following her instincts), but in literal terms it’s really not what happens in real life. However, the scene staged in such a way as to make it clear that this is a poetic representation and not reality, so I doubt this would cause most players confusion over real lynx behavior.

Overall, the game represents a mostly accurate depiction of lynx life, though it does fall short in some areas. For the most part, however, it remains factually accurate, and gives a relatively clear picture of lynx life.

Shelter 2: A brown lynx chases a hare in the snow.
Hares may be your primary prey source, but that doesn’t make them easy to catch!

Price Worthiness: 7/10

Shelter 2 is definitely one of my top nature games, but it does run more on the pricey side. At $15 for the base game, it definitely feels a bit expensive, especially given that a significant portion of the game’s content comes from its DLC– an extra $5. It’s not a price I’d be unwilling to pay, but it does feel a bit on the high end. However, the game does seem to go on sale with reasonable frequency, so if you don’t mind waiting you can often snag both the game and the DLC for just a few dollars.

Personally I would value the base game at closer to $10. It is a great game, but about half its content comes from the DLC. If you’re not a completionist who’s going to go find all the collectables, this means you may find the base game runs out of replay value rather quickly– and with the DLC adding an extra $5, that makes it feel even less price worthy in my opinion. If you are a completionist who’s going to put in the extra time to find everything, or a storyteller who enjoys finding ways to keep the game interesting by adding your own backstory or challenges, then you’ll probably find enough value in the game to make it worth the full price. If you enjoy casual gaming, you may even prefer the base game by itself, without the added threats of the DLC. However, if you’re the sort of player who will play through the main story of a game once or twice and never come back to it, you’ll be far better off waiting for a sale.

Shelter 2: A red lynx carries a hare to her cubs waiting in the den.
From kittenhood through adolescence, your cubs will be your top priority.

Conclusion

I’ve played a lot of nature games, but Shelter 2 remains one of my favorites. It has solid gameplay, although the base game can be somewhat lacking without the additional content from the DLC. Despite its stylized graphics it remains a very realistic simulator. The game is no less family-friendly than your average nature documentary, and maybe even moreso simply because it is so stylized. It is a bit on the pricier side, but for completionists or players who don’t mind a little repetition it’s well worth the cost– and it also tends to have good sales quite frequently. I would highly recommend Shelter 2 to any gamer who enjoys a beautiful aesthetic experience and the excitement of trying to protect their young from a myriad of threats, as long as they don’t mind a little repetition.

Links

Official site (includes purchase links)

Gameplay Videos

My full Shelter 2 let’s play series