When I was seven I saw a book with a picture of a wolf on it in my school’s library. It was a headshot with snow gently falling around it, and the creature’s golden eyes stared intently out at me. As if mesmerized I grabbed the book and checked it out. With that one action I began an obsession that would last for the rest of my life. Soon I had exhausted not only all the wolf books at school, but all the ones in the children’s sections of two public libraries. By eleven I was reading the books in the adult non fiction sections, including The Wolves of Mount McKinley by Adolf Murray. L. David Mech became something of my idol as I vowed to someday be a wolf behaviorist. This dream stayed with me until I went to high school where it occurred to me that my hatred for cold climates and bugs might not go well with this desire to spend weeks at a time in the Alaskan wilderness. I decided being a writer might just be the better course of action. But that didn’t end my love for those beautiful creatures, oh heavens no. Every time I see or hear anything related to wolves I get ridiculously excited. So you can probably imagine the freak out that ensued when I happened upon a video game about wolves: Wolf Quest.
Oh yes, all of my dreams had come true. Well, not quite, but looking at other wolf related games, this was pretty much a miracle. How had I not known of its existence before?!?!? Wolf Quest is a free to play game made by the Minnesota Zoo and Eduweb and I have so many good things to say about it.
First, it’s an educational game, but not in the cheesy, bore your brains out way most educational games are. I feel as though the only ones that really exist are mostly aimed at toddlers or elementary school kids (as though no one else could ever have need of learning something new!) Given the misunderstood nature of wolves, the Minnesota Zoo sought a way to educate the public on what wolves are really like by putting you into their shoes. It has its issues (it’s a freaking free game, so don’t expect much from the graphics or engine), but the spirit is what gives it an A for me. You know how I always say I believe games are capable of being so much more? Well, Wolf Quest is a perfect example. It’s a pretty enjoyable game and it teaches you stuff too!
So let’s get into it, shall we?
You’re playing as a displaced lone wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Why you’ve been displaced is unknown, but you’re on a quest to find a mate and start a pack of your own.
I played as a lovely black wolf named Nox, a two year old female who makes up for her lack of strength with her speed.
In the upper left you’ll notice there is a character icon. The red bar is your health, the green is your stamina. If you run out of either you die. Stamina is only depleted by running and it replenishes fairly quickly. You take hits to your health whenever you get kicked in the face by an elk, by fighting with other wolves, or as you gain hunger throughout the day. Something I took issue with concerning the game was how quickly your health would go down just while traveling. Nox was constantly getting hungry which just didn’t make sense. Wolves often go days without food then gorge themselves when they have a successful hunt. It almost felt like having to manage needs in the Sims. I kept thinking I’d have to find a nice place to pee before long…
To combat your ever growing hunger you can hunt and eat hares and elk. But half of the time there was very little need. The map was COVERED in elk corpses. Why did they die? Who knows, maybe the grass is spoiled. All I know is it severely ruined the immersion when, rather than hunt, you would just stumble upon a dead cow and enjoy a free meal. There are also bears in Wolf Quest and I think they are supposed to be there to discourage you from eating the long dead elk, but I didn’t see very many and they never gave me any trouble.
Now, I get it, this was meant to just be an educational game to teach conservation. They didn’t want to make it so difficult that people would give up and miss the important information. That’s also why it was free. But boy, actually needing to hunt would have definitely made things a bit more exciting.
Speaking of hunting it was pretty straight forward. On the map you could easily find where the elk herds (and established wolf pack territories) were located. All you had to do was make your way to a herd, find the cow with the least health, and go after her. Be sure to eat up in advance though, because you’re going to need all of your health (counterproductive much?)
While hunting is only there for a bit of fun, to continue your game you must find a mate to start a pack with. This, I admit, took me far longer than it should have, though in my defense it really didn’t make much sense. The first time I played through I went to each territory looking for a potential mate. Each time I found a male I would attempt to buddy up to him only to have him nearly kill me and run me off. Confused, I eventually just looked it up. To my surprise it turned out that to find your mate you must go to each territory, kill or drive off one of the pack’s wolves, and then go to Amethyst Mountain where the displaced wolf would spawn.
What? Why on earth would I, as a lone wolf, go traveling into other wolves’ territories and get into fights with their packmates? That doesn’t sound like a deathwish….
With this knowledge I tried again and things went much more smoothly. To interact with a wolf one merely walks up to him or her. You then get a set of dialogue options. You can choose to submit, run away, wait for a response, or try to establish yourself as dominant.
Some wolves will put up quite a fight before ultimately fleeing. Others will almost immediately submit and run.
And some will fight it out to the death. I was so shocked when this fellow keeled over that I just sat there for a minute going, No, no! Re-do! I would have run if I’d known you were going to die! As I tried to come to terms with my terrible crime, a bolt of lighting struck the tree in front of me as though even nature had disapproved.
Once you’ve “defeated” these other wolves it’s time to find your mate. This was pretty simple, just choose the correct dialogue options and you’ll get along wonderfully.
After successfully finding a mate you fast-forward to winter. Since most of the other good den sites have been taken you’ve traveled across the river and now find yourself in a new zone. A new map appears showing you current territories, elk herds, and possible den locations. Your aim is to find a den near to food and far from other wolf packs. Once you find one you like you must travel around its perimeter “marking your territory” and howling to warn away other wolves. Then it’s time for puppies.
The snow melts away and the sun illuminates your den with your four happy healthy pups. From this point on you must ensure your pups don’t wander from the den, keep them fed, and chase off any coyotes that might attempt to make a quick snack of them. Additionally you have to continue marking your territory lest lone wolves attempt to take over. Once your pups reach a certain size you will be required to leave your home and head to the summer rendezvous and end the game.
Wolf Quest is a short, simple game that gives you a glimpse into the life of a wolf. It does a brilliant job showing you how wolves communicate when you are interacting with other wolves. The emphasis on non-verbal is done perfectly, and their positions are spot on. I personally had a blast with it, but if you’re in it more for the education you might not be quite as impressed.
I will say though that I was horribly disappointed when it ended. I was looking forward to my pups becoming adult members of the pack so the six of us could go hunting together, but such was not the case. Wolf Quest is meant to be more of a brief look into raising puppies rather than an actual RPG which is what I had initially believed it to be.
Despite my disappointment, this got me interested in other fun and immersive animal based games and I’m now acutely aware of the lack of such titles. Surely I’m not alone in my boredom of playing only humanoid creatures? I’m ready to explore a world as a four legged creature, complete with animal based interactions.
Ultimately I would highly suggest this game. If you like wolves, you will have a great time. If you don’t, play it anyway because you might be the genius who figures out how to make it into an MMORPG. And who knows, you might learn something interesting. 😉
I would score Wolf Quest with a 9 out of 10. It did what it aimed to do very well, but I honestly would prefer a purchasable version with more options and longevity.