After playing Scavengers for a couple of hours, I felt cold. Like, to the bone. I'd frozen to death a few times from an impromptu storm that had caught my teammates and I on our heels. My character, arms wrapped tightly around themselves as I ran as fast as my limited stamina would let me to what I hoped was shelter, simply couldn't take the cold any more, and died. We were inches away from a fire. Such is the harsh world of this new game.
Scavengers, from Seattle-based studio Midwinter Entertainment, is a PvEvP third-person shooter survival game with elements of battle royale. You are thrust onto the frozen wasteland that is future Earth in a team of three and charged with capturing more datapoints than any other team. You must then exfil the planet on a dropship with those datapoints in tow to win.
You begin with nothing. You then, as the name of the game suggests, scavenge for loot - weapons, items, resources, things you use to kill stuff and things you use to keep yourself alive. Your maximum stamina depletes over the course of a match as you perform actions such as sprinting, but you can regain it by eating food. Other items give you brief respite against the cold. You'll need them.
Sprinkled on the map are objectives, each presenting an opportunity for more loot and resources, but each with its own associated risk. There may be a Scourge Growth (Scourge are horrible diseased monsters that have emerged on the Earth). There may be an Outlanders outpost (Outlanders are the cannibalistic remnants of human life on Earth). There may be a roaming boss for you to consider. Elsewhere, there are tactical stashes that contain important items, such as ammo, food, health and scrap. Discarded vehicles are salvageable. Strategic sites offer supply drops and the chance to "bank" your datapoints. There's a lot to consider, a lot to think about before you even get to the point of shooting someone in the face.
In classic battle royale fashion, the map does shrink over time as a large border storm collapses inward. But it doesn't collapse to the point where players are crammed into a tiny area at the end. Really, Scavengers feels big, and I think that has less to do with the size of the map, and more to do with the 60-player count limit. Encounters with enemy players are rare for the majority of the match. Certainly in the early to mid-game, the focus is instead on fighting the AI and scavenging for enough resources to be able to upgrade things like your shield, and then craft your signature weapon. Each character has a different signature weapon, for example a hand cannon, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, that kind of thing. I'm not sure this is how matches will play out after the game comes out, but in my preview the early focus was on racing to level up my character so I could upgrade my shield and craft my signature weapon. Only then did my team switch to focus on gathering datapoints.
All the while, you need to plan your steps carefully, simply because getting caught in a storm can have such a devastating effect. Do you go for that uplink to bank your datapoints? You can see why this is a popular strategy - uploaded datapoints can't be stolen by enemies who kill you. But uplinks in use cast a bright beam of light into the sky. Everyone will know you're there.
Scavengers' dynamic weather system is perhaps the best thing about the game. You can see the storms, which have various categories of intensity, in the distance as you're playing, and on the map as white circles. They are not static. Rather, they move about the map, affected by the direction of the wind. And when you're caught in one they proper mess things up. For a start they obscure your vision (and some players will no doubt use that to their advantage). They cause a hell of a racket, so you can't hear what's going on. They also drain you of your warmth. You can see your temperature declining in a meter on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, as the game warns you to get to shelter. Quick!
Stand next to a fire and your temperature meter will refill, but the cold is always a concern. Expire your temperature meter and your health meter will begin to freeze over. Eventually, your entire health meter will be encased in ice, and then you're dead. The cold kills you in this game, and you really do feel it.
Thrown into the mix are all the other teams. Scavengers doesn't feel like it wants you to run into enemy players a lot of the time. It wants PvP encounters to be meaningful. If you do spot an enemy team, there's a debate to be had. Perhaps they're taking on an AI-controlled outpost. Is it worth the risk to try to kill them while they're attention is focused on killing computer-controlled cannibals? Maybe it would be better to leave them to it?
On one occasion, my team got greedy. We'd already eliminated another enemy team who we'd managed to get the jump on, and, I suppose, we'd felt emboldened by that. So, when we stumbled upon another enemy team fussing over an enemy encampment in the distance, we approached in the hope we'd score some easy kills - and loot their datapoints (datapoints determine who emerges victorious at the end of a match, remember). But we underestimated our opponents, who were able to react quickly enough and kill us. Pretty embarrassing play, to be honest.
The ebb and flow of Scavengers involves a lot of travelling, too. And you need to be fast to outrun the cold. There are vehicles you can pile into, but I found myself having to sprint - a lot. Here, I discovered an interesting special power I think is worth mentioning. Scavengers characters, dubbed Explorers, each have a unique ultimate, as you'd expect of a game like this. One character can cast a healing bubble that also revives downed enemies. Another can cast a shield that deflects enemy fire and lets you shoot from within it. So far, so standard.
The power I liked the most, however, helped my team run faster. My teammate cast a speed boost that let me sprint as fast as them as long as I ran directly behind in a slipstream. This doesn't sound like a particularly flashy or aggressive ability, but in Scavengers, where you often find yourself having to outrun a lot of horrible stuff, or desperately get to shelter, it was invaluable.
And then there's Scavengers' slide. This game's slide is fantastic. It defies the laws of physics - you're able to slide down snow-drenched hillsides for ages, and then, at the bottom of your slide, leap up for a nicely-animated jump boost. It's just a huge amount of fun to slide in the snow all over the place in Scavengers. The developers have done a great job of making it feel intuitive, and I can see myself using it a fair bit. You can shoot while you're sliding, too - even as you jump out of a slide. I can see Scavengers' slide being one of the more advanced combat mobility options, and it'll be incredibly satisfying to down enemies while using it.
Scavengers is, for the bulk of a match, a tense, chilling survival game. You spend a lot of time looting, crafting and leveling up. You weigh up objectives on the map that are, essentially, opportunities for progression. You kill a lot of horrible mutant enemies, a lot of human enemies. Occasionally you see other players. Sometimes you fight them. Sometimes you don't.
It's at endgame where Scavengers gets more action-packed - and occasionally descends into chaos. Here, a drop pod lands on the map, and players need to be on it as it leaves in order to win the game. With players congregating on the drop pod, there's a lot of PvP to be had, and it can be tough to survive long enough to get on the ship. As the countdown nears zero, things get frantic. If a team is leading the datapoint count, you can always try to kill them, which can make for a dramatic overtake. Unlike a typical battle royale, Scavengers isn't about the last team standing. It's about being the team with the most datapoints who also manages to escape.
A portion of the game is devoted to what happens between matches. Here you can research more recipes to add to your loadout, and unlock new characters to use out in the field. Scavengers is a free-to-play game, and there will be microtransactions. But developer Midwinter promises that everything you can buy in the game you can also earn through playing the game.
So, what can you buy? Cosmetics, as you'd expect. You can also buy characters. Three characters are free-to-play off the bat, with four others who can either be earned or purchased. (Midwinter will add more characters over time.) Every time you level up your account you get a virtual currency called chips, and eventually you'll be able to buy chips with real-world money.
I'm a little concerned about the prospect of being able to pay to unlock characters, since characters come with their own unique ultimate and signature weapon. It'll be interesting to see how Midwinter tunes the grind to unlock characters through gameplay alone. It's worth noting that Scavengers launches into Early Access without any real-money transactions at all. Transactions will be enabled later, after an account wipe.
I reckon Scavengers has enough about it to warrant a shot when it launches in Early Access form later this week (on 28th April). It feels a little janky in places, and I don't think the shooting is anything special, but there are interesting choices to be made as you balance the lethality of the frozen world with the need to obtain enough resources to be in contention to win at the end of a match.
Scavengers launches on PC in Early Access on 28th April. A full release is set for later in 2021. A console version is planned.