Now Available on Steam
Developed by Might and Delight
When Shelter first released in 2013 it took players by surprise with its melancholy tale of maternal struggle in the animal kingdom, told through incredibly vibrant picture-book styling and riddled with heart-wrenching moments. With the appearance of a long teased sequel, evolution has taken place and the series makes a daring leap from the confined and contained linear path of the first into much wider and open-ended horizons. Shelter 2 brings us back on a trip through the shifting of the seasons in a natural landscape that breathes with life, ditching the more narrative driven path for an open adventure that encourages free exploration of the many plains, rivers, and forests of this habitat.
The shift into an open-world style of gameplay feels as natural in Shelter 2 as the setting itself, and puts a higher emphasis on the previous hunting mechanics from before for our carnivorous Lynx family. Starting out on small prey such as rabbits and other critters then working your way up to large and powerful deer when your cubs are large enough which must be brought down with a well placed jump, the bounty of the forests reaches far and wide as you search through snowy woods, swamps thick with reeds, and rocky plains with little vegetation.
The astounding hand-painted style that had fans in awe from the first game really shines now with an open approach to level design from the colorful stretches of leaves, grass, and winding blue rivers reaching out miles before you leading to mesmerizing patches of intricately colored trees and mountains. Ever bit of natural detail and lush wonder of the previous title is transcribed gorgeously into this new, ambitious foray into a massive land with little in the way of boundaries or limitations.
Given the open-ended nature and longer progression Shelter 2 is a slow-burning gem compared to its predecessor which shined bright and fast like a shooting star. Instead of shorter scenes the player is now free to roam the wide and open land at their own accord with very little in the way of limits or stress on time. Aside from keeping your four lynx cubs alive and healthy by paying attention to their behavior and the vividness of their color, your goal is simply to exist and explore being a part of the ecosystem around you.
The only threat you face in the game comes in the form of surprise attacks in the dead of night from packs of rabid wolves, which admittedly caught me by surprise and got my heart racing as I feared for the life of the cubs I had just spent so much of my time doting on. Only the swiftest of Lynx mothers will be able to avoid these attacks and carry their cubs to safety, mostly ending with the harrowing realization that one of your cubs has disappeared while trailing behind you in the chase.
Swedish musicmakers Retro Family make their triumphant return with another effective soundtrack of fitting folk tunes. Just as before there's a wide variety of melodies here to accompany the different areas of the game and the range of emotions fitting each one, acting as a huge driving force to this wordless story. With uplifting acoustics in the brightness of the spring to the heavy and ominous percussion in the cold dead of winter where wolves loom in the dark, the music is what really crafts the atmosphere surrounding Shelter 2.
Might and Delight themselves come from humble beginnings, from smaller indie games that place a higher value on artistic design than anything else and work from a considerably lower budget than most.. and what they did with Shelter 2 should impress the pants off of anybody, effectively taking all of the fantasies and all of the "what-ifs" players presented while playing the first game and turning them into an open-world reality. While most smaller indie studios would scoff at the idea of turning their artistic pet project into an open-world experience with serviceable hunting mechanics, Might and Delight went for it and actually pulled out with very satisfactory results.
In the end the imagery and the message is much more positive than before, with a concluding scene that is much less about death and more about life, creation, and thriving as living beings. The openness of the world and lack of "game-y" objective might linger a bit longer than previous players anticipate, but with a real appreciation for the art, the music, and the positive message being portrayed Shelter 2 is rewarding in the end and the kind of experience you remember in the same way you do a childhood picture book.