Ever since I fell in love with The Forest (again), I’ve basically believed I’ll take any Early Access survival game for a spin. This isn’t always a good thing, as The Forest is an exception to the rule, and a lot of Early Access survival games aren’t the best.
That said, as a newish fan of the genre and a lover of co-op games, The Wild Eight blipped on my radar prior to its release. The prospect of up to eight players working together to survive in a hostile frozen forest sounded great on paper. But I’d been burnt before, so I kept an eye on the Steam reviews when it launched. They weren’t stellar.
A few patches later and a Steam sale somewhere in between, though, I bought the game along with a few of my mates. The Wild Eight is very much a game that’s best played with friends, and the same diligent crew, at that. What you don’t want to do is what I did initially and start out playing on the highest difficulty (Survivor) by yourself.
Perhaps that difficulty mode is something you build up to, but it quickly became less of a survival simulator—where the tension of limited resources adds to the experience—and more of a starvation simulator in fast-forward. It meant that I spent less time exploring the game world and almost all my time in the same location, fighting an uphill battle against the elements. It wasn’t the best first experience.
But then I jumped in with a couple of mates and had a fantastic time. Swallowing our pride, we put it on the easier Explorer difficulty (after one similarly painful Survivor experience), which is by no means a cakewalk, but at least is forgiving enough that you’re incentivised to explore the game world. Without giving too much away, I wasn’t expecting The Wild Eight’s frozen world to be so filled with compelling mysteries.
Developer Fntastic (not a typo) Entertainment has opted for a subtle form of storytelling, at least from what I experienced of the opening four hours of The Wild Eight. The first hour was spent figuring out the best way to survive: managing the cold with fire and clothing, and ensuring we had enough food. Exploration followed shortly after, and it didn’t take long to discover one of the game’s first big mysteries.
Again, I’m not going to ruin it, but it was an effective tool for refocusing base-building efforts and further incentivises deeper exploration into the hostile world. There are plenty of things to eat, too, especially if you’re willing to hunt. But there are also creatures that want to eat you. Wolves are the biggest threat early on, but the more we explored, the more we discovered other terrors that turned our tooled-up cockiness into shrieks.
Friendly fire is active, even on the easier difficulty, which means that your choice of crude ranged or (mostly) melee weapons make it tricky to attack foes without hitting friends. It also doesn’t help that the use button and attack button were both the same. There were times when I accidentally bludgeoned a friend while trying to save them from a tenacious wolf, and plenty of others when I inadvertently biffed them trying to pick up berries.
The Wild Eight is an Early Access game, after all, so these kinds of quirks are to be expected. That said, I was surprised at how stable the experience was, for the most part. We slowly learnt that we should pack-up our buildings and lug them with us, as a seemingly simple task of following power lines can soon lead to your team being far away from home base.
You can, however, share resources and the team operates at its best when you’re divvying up tasks among you. Depending on the survivor you pick, these roles come naturally, as you’re better off playing to your character’s strengths. But, by far, the most frantic fun is had when you’re screaming at your friends to save you from dogged wolves as you leg it, low health, back to the nearest campfire… and then they shoot you with an arrow while trying to ‘save’ you.
Thankfully, on Explorer difficulty, you keep all your skills when you respawn, and your equipment drops on your digital cadaver. If your teammates are kind enough, they won’t take the best stuff. At one point, we had five players, and it was still challenging, especially because the requirement for attack coordination goes up with the player count.
Even though The Wild Eight supports drop-in/drop-out co-op, it’s the kind of game that you’re better off playing with the same crew at the same times, as the shared experience (and character progression) is richer. The Wild Eight may have had a shaky Early Access launch, but Fntastic Entertainment has worked hard to get the game into a playable and, more importantly, recommendable state in the past few months. If you like co-op survival games and have a group to play with, The Wild Eight is definitely worth a look in its current pre-release form.