Might & Delight’s Shelter was a game that foraged off the beaten path. While other games focused on twitch-driven skill, building bases, or racing cars, Shelter took a much quieter approach, choosing to focus on the beauty and cruelty of nature by placing players in the furry little paws of a mother badger. It was up to you to look after four children, feeding and protecting them from predators across a short but beautifully-realized campaign. It was made for every skill level - the game had some rudimentary stealth elements, but gameplay was simple - but by the end I found myself wholly invested with the family I had built.
By comparison, Shelter 2 is an odd sort of beast. It abandons the linear nature of the original game entirely, opting instead for an open world experience. It also ditches the badger family as protagonists in favor a mother lynx. These changes are ambitious in theory and sound great on paper. Hunting is a more engaging mechanic than plucking carrots from the ground, after all, and with an entire world at their disposal, Might & Delight could have created some truly memorable sequences similar to the first game's flood and fire scenes, only this time in a living, breathing, and changing open world.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources or ambition, Shelter 2 delivers on none of its promise. It also abandons much of what made the first game special in its pursuit of an open world that doesn’t really add anything to the experience.
The first Shelter was short, but its length was an asset. There wasn't time to grow bored with its simple mechanics because they didn’t stick around for long. The wrinkles that Might & Delight did add with scripted events and intense predator stealth sequences made keeping your little badgers alive a point of pride. Shelter 2 begins with one such scripted event: you’re a pregnant lynx mother being hunted by wolves in the snow, and the game teaches movement controls while on the run. It’s a pretty fun moment, one that grabs you right off the bat.
After the escape from wolves, the world opens up a bit as the starry night sky stretches onward above you. It is clear from the outset that Shelter retains its crisp, distinctive look and its reverence for nature. Between the intense beginning moments, beautiful visuals, and soundtrack, Shelter 2 is rich with the promise of another touching adventure.
During the night, the mother lynx gives birth. In the morning, you can name your cubs as a means to develop a bond with them (and likely a nod to the first game's ability to name the badger cubs). At first, the cubs are too weak to leave the den. You’ll have to venture into the open world and hunt for food but don’t venture too far or too long or - as I discovered the hard way - you’ll return to an empty den. Instead, you’ll want to stick to the area nearest the den and hunt rabbits by sprinting after them. Sprinting over prey will automatically cause the lynx to chomp down on them, and can be returned to the den as food for your young.
Feed the cubs three times and they'll be strong enough to hunt with their mother. Farther from your den, you’ll find deer and other animals, as well as a variety of collectibles hidden in the environments. Loading screens separate different parts of the world, so the game doesn't offer a seamless open world, but you can still travel anywhere you want so long as you keep your cubs alive.
And that’s about it. I kept waiting for the game to open up further or reveal some sort of new mechanic, but it never did. While the first Shelter was constantly throwing wrinkles into the mix - you’re dodging flood waters, sneaking past a hungry hawk, now you’re hiding your young from predators in the darkness - Shelter 2 is nothing more than sprinting after animals until you get sick of it and turn the game off.
It’s the most ridiculously half-baked concept, and for fifteen bucks it’s a proper rip-off. The emotional bond you’ll form with your cubs is weakened by the lack of stressful scenarios to push through, and you’ll come to look at your cubs as a liability, an annoyance, instead of as a family that needs providing for. You’ll have to keep chasing down prey if you want them to grow big and strong, but it’s an annoying mechanic due to the frequency with which the game demands you do it. And it’s also the game’s only mechanic, meaning it’ll wear thin after about fifteen minutes.
Shelter was my sleeper hit of 2013, a touching reminder of the beauty and savagery of nature delivered via a singular visual presentation. Shelter 2 lacks both the wit and the emotional beauty of its predecessor, opting for an empty and lifeless open world over the enthralling scripted scenarios that brought so much life to those little badger cubs. The game’s utter lack of compelling mechanics and scenarios, combined with a dreadfully dull world, make it a laughable proposition at fifteen dollars, and the most disappointing sequel I may have ever played.