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Endling: Extinction Is Forever - title

In a Nutshell


  • Story about ecology and environmentalism
  • Criticism of corporate capitalism
  • Cute little foxes
  • Environment changes over time
  • Playspace organically expands as food is exhausted
  • Clever use of locks
  • Aesthetic style
  • Compulsion to play "one more night"


  • Sometimes disorienting
  • Keeping cubs fed is not particularly difficult
  • Gut-punch downer of an ending

Overall Impression : B+
Survival isn't as challenging as it's made out to be

Endling: Extinction Is Forever - cover

Herobeat Studios

Handy Games

PC (via Steam, GoG, or Epic Store),
PlayStation 4|5 < (via PSN digital download),
XBox One|S|X (via XBox Live digital download),
Nintendo Switch (via digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)


Original release date:
19 July 2022

survival, action

single player

Play time:
5 hours

ESRB Rating: T (for Teen) for:
blood, fantasy violence

Official site:

Hey! I finally actually downloaded and played one of the PSN free monthly games for a change! Endling: Extinction Is Forever has been on my Steam wishlist for a while, but I passed on buying it during this summer sale because I instead spent most of my summer sale money on vintage Star Trek games as research for an upcoming video essay. Well, I got lucky because a week or 2 later, Endling showed up, for free, on the PSN!

Endling: Extinction Is Forever may look like a cutesy little indie game featuring a cute little fox taking care of her cute little fox babies in a beautiful, lush, vibrantly-animated forest. But as the game's title should hopefully suggest, this game is not nearly as cute and pastoral as the thumbnail suggests. Endling is actually quite a bleak and depressing game that addresses ecological collapse, species extinction, corporate greed, the cruelty of humans when they're desperate, and other similar themes.

It has sparks of optimism. There are opportunities to show compassion and to cooperate with other animals and humans. But they are fleeting, and often punctuate tragedy anyway.

There are brief flickers of compassion and optimism, but Endling is an overall bleak game.

So yes, if you download this game, you will get cute, cartoon foxes frolicking in vibrantly-colored woods. And they are adorable and charming. But then again, Bambi and The Land Before Time were also colorfully-animated movies about cute woodland critters, and ... well ...

Motherly instinct

The game begins with the player controlling a fox escaping a raging forest fire. She reaches her den and it is revealed that she is pregnant, and she immediately gives birth to four little fox pups, which the player can customize with different colors to add your own personal touch to the game. But before you can even get around to naming them, a monstrous human hunter reaches into the den, grabs one of the pups, and kidnaps it. You now have 3 little fox pups who are wholly dependent on you, and it is your job to keep them fed and safe.

The gameplay loop consists of leaving the den each night to explore the forest and scavenge or hunt for food to feed your remaining pups, while also, occasionally picking up the trail of the human hunter who kidnapped your fourth pup. Then you must return to your den before the sun comes up, or else the forest will become populated with human hunters and trappers who will relentlessly pursue you and your pups for your meat and skins. And if you fail to find enough food in a given day, one of the cubs will starve to death.

As the game progresses, the humans destroy more and more of the ecosystem.

As you explore, your cubs may also learn various survival skills of their own, which allows them to reach new places, or access food that the mother fox cannot reach. There are some skills that all the pups can learn, but most skills can only be learned by a single pup in a given playthrough, which means that using that pup's skill to access a hard-to-reach place will mean leaving the other cubs behind.

Criss-crossing side-scroller

The game is largely played as a side-scroller, but the foxes can transfer between different criss-crossing paths at places where they intersect. This turns the play-space into an almost maze-like network of paths, and creates a degree of planning and strategy. You must plan out a route to explore for new food, as well as for how you will get back, while avoiding unnecessary risk.

The playspace will organically expand, forcing the player to venture further and further out into the environment as you consume all the food in one area, or as the humans cut down all the trees and clear out the underbrush. It's also carefully paced, such that finding new clues to the whereabouts of your missing cub often leads you to a new den and hunting ground, right as food in the previous area is starting to feel really scarce.

The map is a maze of paths, with occasional locks and story events.

Yes, there are also some hard progress locks that are opened as the game progresses. But these also open up in response to the actions of the humans, and in ways that communicate story. The locks will also occasionally, cleverly, re-lock, closing out access to certain areas or safe routes for periods of time. This can force the player to have to find alternate routes, which may put you at risk of running into a hunter or predator, and which also gently guides the player towards key events.

All of this is clearly marked on the map, so you're never going to waste time wandering into a place that's locked down anyway. And I did have to check the map frequently. The constant re-orientation of the camera whenever I switched paths did prove to be quite disorienting.

Full bellies

I think that the biggest weakness of Endling is that keeping the cubs fed is not particularly difficulty. At least, not until the latest stages of the game. I rarely, felt any stress or pressure to find food quickly, and often just ate whatever I happened to find, without having to put too much thought into where I was going or what I was eating. I never felt like my cubs were at much risk of starving.

I did have one cub starve to death once, at the very end of the game because I poorly timed my pounces on the rats and pigeons that I was trying to hunt. But because of the short nature of the nights, and the fact that the game checkpoints the player every time you sleep at the den, I was able to just run around till I found a human hunter, let it kill me, and restarted the day with all my cubs back alive. On the retry, I made it through the day without problem, and finished the game with all cubs alive (even though the hunger meter was very depleted by the time I went back to the den for the last time).

I was almost never at risk of a cub starving to death.

Part of the reason for the game being easy for me might have been my own play style. I often emphasized exploring new areas instead of necessarily checking out the events that would periodically spawn on the map. If I could get to an event, I would go for it. But if an event seemed out of the way, or I knew a hunter or the Furier would be in the way, I would often just skip the event. This did cause me to miss out on a few of the cub abilities and also on getting marginally better ending (well, I guess it would be more appropriate to say "marginally less bad ending", since none of the endings are actually "good"). I could see somebody who is making an effort to see every story event and acquire every skill might struggle a bit more because you have to go a bit further out of your way to get all that stuff. But I got through the first playthrough with all my cubs still alive, so clearly the abilities that I missed weren't particularly critical to finishing the game.

Like, maybe there could have been a period later in the game in which the mother fox is temporarily injured, and the cubs have to fend for themselves for a little bit. At this point, the skills that they had learned would determine whether they all survive. This would emphasize the idea of parenthood being a process of preparing your children for being out on their own, rather than just being about making sure they don't die as babies.

Each cub can learn different abilities that allow them to find food.

I feel like this game is missing just a bit of extra challenge to make the better less bad endings feel more earned. I'm thinking that simply preventing the cubs from starving should not have been enough. There should also maybe be an additional threshold of sustenance that keeps them healthy. Perhaps each night that they return to the den below that healthy threshold, the cubs become progressively slower and weaker, which might also affect their likelihood of surviving the endgame.

I was also kind of surprised that all the cubs shared a single hunger meter. Considering that each cub learns different abilities over the course of the game, and therefore different cubs can access different areas of the map, the game could have tracked the hunger level of each cub individually. If a particular cub is able to use a learned ability to access hard-to-reach food, then it could potentially eat more than the others. This way, balancing the hunger meter of each cub would require a lot more planning, strategy, and a certain degree of luck, as some of the cubs might be a bit more independent than the others. The player would have to either find food that all the cubs can share, or prioritize bringing food to the weakest cub in order to keep it from starving, while letting the other cubs use their own abilities to find their own food.

This would increase the risk to each individual cub, and make it considerably harder to keep them all alive -- especially if they get progressively weaker by not being properly fed. The poorer-fed cubs would also be slower, and it would be harder for them to keep up, evade traps, or escape the Furier and other predators. The player could also maybe be allowed to find the fourth cub earlier, which could then make the game more challenging because now you have an additional mouth to feed.

When the hunger meter is depleted, one random cub goes into "starvation mode", and becomes weaker and slower.

Instead, when the meter depletes, the game seems to chose a random cub to go into "starvation mode". The player, thus, has no influence on which cub ability(ies) you may lose if that cub starves to death. On the one hand, this arbitrariness takes control and strategy away from the player. On the other hand, I guess it imposes a narrative constraint that the mother fox does not "play favorites" with her babies. She tries to keep all her cubs equally fed because they are all equally important to her, regardless of which cub (and its associated ability(ies)) may be more important to the player.

Tragedy of the commons

Endling is a great example of how the human destruction of the environment is a "tragedy of the commons". Not only does the wildlife of the forest (including the player and her cubs) suffer from corporations deforesting and polluting the ecosystem, but the human characters suffer as well. The corporation is apparently staffed by climate refugees who set up camp wherever the corporation's clear-cutting apparatus goes. Those humans are suffering from malnutrition from lack of food, and also from illness that seems linked to the pollution that the corporation creates.

Everybody (animal and human alike) is suffering from the deforestation and pollution.

Because one greedy corporation comes through and consumes all the natural resources, everybody has to suffer.

This is the most bleak and nihilistic message that the game presents. The destruction of the environment is depicted as an unstoppable force. Everybody knows that it's harmful, but those who are hurt most by it are powerless to do anything, while those who work within the corporation won't do anything because it would require them to sacrifice their own standard of living.

I think this message could maybe have been improved by more explicitly presenting a symbiotic relationship between the environment and the people. Obviously, the natural ecosystem is valuable to the animals that live in it, but as it stands, the natural ecosystem is not really presented as providing any value to humans as is. Yes, food becomes more scarce and lower quality as the humans destroy more of the ecosystem, but the environment doesn't really seem to offer much benefit to the humans to begin with. The humans are suffering from malnutrition and illness from pollution to the air and water, sure, but the game never really makes a point that the humans need the natural ecosystem.

Illness and malnutrition is running rampant, but the natural ecosystem doesn't provide any solutions.

Perhaps the game could have been more explicit about the forest providing a medication or cure for the diseases afflicting the people, and specifically the Scavenger's daughter. Maybe it comes from a mushroom or berry that grows in the forest, or from the sap of a tree, or whatever. And maybe the foxes are able to find it, like a pig sniffing for truffles. That would be a motivation for the Scavenger to kidnap the fox pup to begin with, and could also be a source of conflict between the Scavenger and the Furier. But at some point, that medicinal plant could be destroyed when the section of the forest is clear-cut. This would lead the Scavenger (and perhaps other human refugees) to become increasingly desperate, leading to violence and conflict between them.

Or maybe it could have been more abstract. Maybe, in addition to hunters and trappers and factory workers, we could occasionally see people out birdwatching or fishing recreationally. This would emphasize that nature has inherent value to people beyond just the material that we can extract from it.

Then again, we shouldn't feel obligated to preserve nature because it benefits us anyway. Nature is a home for countless wild animals, and it is worth preserving for the sake of those animals. Playing a game from the point of view of a wild animal does emphasize that the Earth doesn't only exist for us humans, and that all life has a fundamental right to exist.

Cute and colorful, but so very bleak

Don't take my criticisms the wrong way. I really loved Endling (up to the very end, anyway). It's a creative concept that is very well-executed. I love the idea of playing as woodland creatures just trying to survive, and the environments, animals, and human characters are all beautifully drawn and animated. I also love the open hostility that the game shows towards corporate consumerism. It just has a few nagging flaws and limitations that hold it back from being an all-time indie classic.

Feel free to stop reading now if you want to avoid spoilers.

Nature is inherently valuable, and worth preserving. If not for us, then for the animals that live there.

Damn that ending is such a frustrating downer! Yes, the whole game is rather bleak, and the ending is perfectly in-line with that overall bleak tone. But this game also maintains a slight bit of optimism with the promise that you can potentially save your missing cub and that the humans will eventually move on, and you'll have what's left of the forest to yourself again. But then they go and pull a double-fakeout ending that comes off as heavy-handed and outright cruel. It's like the designers couldn't decide if they wanted the cubs to get Land Before Time-d or Bambi-d, so they decided to do both, and add salt to the wound by giving the player that little flicker of hope in the meantime.

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