Shelter 3 is the newest installment in the Shelter series by indie studio Might and Delight. The Swedish developers have made the series stand out with heartfelt narratives from the perspective of wildlife. They have found success in their first two games and earned a loyal following for their work. The Shelter formula has worked before in stories about badgers and lynxes – will the newest offering go as big as its newest subject: the elephant?
Shelter 3 is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
Story – An Elephant Never Forgets
The story of Shelter 3 is simple. You step into the hooves of an elephant herd’s matriarch, trying to get everyone to their destination by following the wisdom of the elephant elder. From point to point, you will make decisions about where to head next, and how to reach their promised home with the entire herd intact.
The themes of family and survival are strongly presented. You are initially accompanied by the elder who gives you words of wisdom, three middle-aged, two children, and a calf. During the whole game, you need to take care of them by feeding them fruit from trees and gathering them when they have walked astray. The journey swung between moments of peace and of peril. I think that these moments were effectively communicated and gave players a dynamic experience.
While this mechanic was interesting, even with everything myself and the surviving herd went through, I felt no emotional connection with the rest of the elephants. As I lost some of my herd to unfortunate circumstances like starvation or tigers, I would be disheartened only because my numbers have dwindled, and that I might get a bad ending. I know I am playing the matriarch, but it would have been nice to have some personality and unique interactions with the herd. Maybe there could be one elephant who tends to walk off alone or another elephant who picks up every yellow flower it sees. A bit more character would have been helpful to connect the player to the elephant family, beyond asking for milk or fruit.
The story is very straightforward. To unravel it, you must go from point A to point B. Each checkpoint is marked with a new memory and some advice from the elder elephant. Every time, you visit a cosmic place between space and time. These sections just consist of walking up to the elder and choosing a path. They do not make a difference in the game and they feel like strange bookmarks between the chapters. Perhaps if we were given some visual cues or feedback about how our decisions shape our journey, these parts would have made more impact.
In terms of the environment, Shelter 3 seems to be a step backward in the series. The previous titles included varying interactions with wildlife and changing seasons. In this game, the other animals just stare at you as you journey through their personal spaces. Only the flamingos, tigers, and alligators seem to be aware of your presence in the world. As beautiful as its world is, it fell flat in terms of character.
Gameplay – A Herd Walking Simulator
The game’s caretaking challenge starts off easy but ramps up with the pressures of hunger, hunters, and navigation. The controls are easy enough to get used to and I never came across an issue. However, the monotony of what you are doing – walk slowly to the next checkpoint, ram into trees, and gather your herd – took a toll on the overall enjoyment of the experience.
I did appreciate the interesting hints that you are given by the elder elephant in order to reach your destination. While of course there is the navigation system that gives you a waypoint to your next goal, trying to figure it out and familiarize yourself with the area is satisfying.
I had a frustrating experience with some events. In one, I was on the verge of going hungry, but I finally found a fruit tree to ram into and finally feed the elephants. Unfortunately, the elephants kinda stared around the area for a bit and one died in front of my eyes. I may have been just unlucky, but it bites. Another is the fact that the tigers just come out of nowhere and grab at your herd. Your character has no way to fight back, but all I ever hear is the roar of the tiger, and I assume it’s behind me all the time as I never see any coming. I just see them devouring one of my herd and then they disappear again. Is their camouflage that good?
As a wildlife walking sim, Shelter 3 did its job well. I would have liked it more if it had an enjoyable pace. Toggling the run feature does make you run out of energy, and you run the risk of starving one of your kin, which makes you very conscious of using it. Unfortunately, the walking is dragged on a bit too long – I guess they wanted to keep some realism to the speed of a traveling elephant herd and make you feel the weight of the journey? If so, the experience became more discouraging than inspiring. Despite its slow pace, it’s a short game. You can finish it within an hour.
Audio and Graphics – Solace and Survival
Shelter 3 has one of the most relaxing environments I have ever experienced in a video game – which is strange because it’s ultimately a stressful story about survival.
Despite my earlier gripes with encountered wildlife and the fact that the landscape remains largely the same – lovely blue-green and yellow foliage – there are visual landmarks that make the place come alive. The bamboo groves, rock formations, coastline give life to the map and don’t make you feel like you are going around in circles. You feel like your journey is progressing, thanks to how well-built the world is through art and design. Despite its minimalistic take on a forest, it’s still a sight to behold.
The music served the appropriate scenes very well. You got to experience the subtle environmental noise of the forest. The moments of peace and calm as you stomp through your journey were accompanied by light, comforting tunes. The areas of danger didn’t just flash red, they also added agitating music that raised the stakes and warned you of the danger that is coming.
Save for a few clipping issues here and there, Shelter 3 still provides a gorgeous landscape to roam and enjoy.
Shelter 3 was reviewed on PC via Steam, with a key provided by Evolve PR.