STAFF REVIEW of Way of the Hunter (Xbox Series X)

Tuesday, August 16, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Way of the Hunter Box art Even though I grew up in a time before the internet and spent much of my childhood outdoors, I wouldn’t consider myself much of an outdoorsman by any means. Being Canadian, I’ve also only shot a gun once in my life, so I’m by no means a master hunter, hell, I’ve never even seen a moose in real life. I was quite curious about Way of the Hunter, developed by Nine Rocks Games, as I wanted to see just how authentic of an experience they could portray as my only real experience is from other similar games in the genre. Way of the Hunter aims to bring an authentic and realistic adaptation of the sport by giving you two massive areas to explore and hunt while being surrounded by a beautiful landscape and natural habitats of the wildlife. More than simply finding your target and shooting them, you’ll truly need to embody a hunter mentality, as animals can change their habits and alter their packs based on how you play.

I’ll admit, I didn’t really expect much of a narrative, because if we’re being honest, in a hunting game you come to shoot your prey without worry of much else. Surprisingly, Way of the Hunter adds not only a story, but some interesting elements that revolve around more than simply shooting specific targets. There’s a narrative here that revolves around a family hunting business and the relationships between its members. You play as River, a man who has come to his grandfather’s Bear Den Ranch to take over things while he’s away. Located within Idaho in the Nez Perce Valley, River remembers coming to the Ranch in his younger years when his grandfather taught him not only what it means to be a hunter, but specifically an ethical hunter. The Bear Den Ranch is part of the local community and takes orders from nearby restaurants that needs specific meat, which is where you’ll come in, filling in for your grandfather’s shoes.

Things won’t be easy though, as hunting specific animals isn’t always an exact science, as there’s plenty of variables you need to factor in. On top of this, there’s rumors of people getting sick when they eat the meat from the animals in the area, so is there some sort of disease spreading around? You start out with a brief tutorial that shows you the bare basics such as exploring your ranch, how to use your weapons and gear, and finally going to the range to try out your aim. It seems that the badger population nearby has been exploding, so you’ll be tasked with taking a few out, thus begins your hunting career.

Once the tutorial and a few missions are complete, you’re free to play however you wish, either following the story missions or taking on extra objectives and working on those instead. There’s even a multiplayer mode you can play with your friends, but more on that shortly. I’ll admit, I was quite overwhelmed at first, not because of the amount of objectives I was given, but the sheer amount of freedom once you realize how large the two maps actually are. To say that the maps themselves are large is a massive understatement, and I was trying to figure out a way to convey just how large they are. To put it into perspective, the world map in Red Dead Redemption was 12 square miles and Grand Theft Auto V was 49 square miles. Each of the two maps in Way of the Hunter is 55 square miles. You read that right, both maps are larger than GTA V and when you factor in that much of the gameplay takes place on foot, you really get a sense for how vast your hunting grounds truly are.

Thankfully you also have a Jeep-like vehicle to get around the map a bit quicker, though doing so will scare all the nearby wildlife away due to its loud engine of course. And yes, you can indeed hit wildlife that crosses in front of you, but you won’t get any real money or be able to taxidermy them for obvious reasons. It’s a good thing that you also can’t really damage your vehicle either, as I hit a moose going full speed, which should have destroyed my Jeep, but was completely fine afterwards. Don’t expect to really do much off-roading though, as these have surprisingly little power, making them really only road and flat valley capable. You are able to teleport back to your main lodges and campsites, and if there’s a parking sign you can then summon your vehicle back so you don’t have to walk for miles to get it when you decide to go off-trail for a few hours.

On top of a vast nature backdrop, you have a full 24 hour day and night cycle and changing weather as well. To say that there were gorgeous nature backdrops is an understatement, and thankfully there’s a photo mode for those that want to take some inspiring snapshots. The environments and animals themselves are quite well done and it can really appear like you’re in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nature which is probably its highlight. While the nature backdrop may be the most visually impressive, the animals themselves are done just as well when it comes to how detailed and realistic they can act. There may be a limited amount of actual species to hunt, but they do have realistic behaviors that can change based on how you play. Constantly hunting near their most used watering hole? Chances are they won’t come back as often. Hunting mostly females will cause the population to drop whereas hunting the low quality males will cause possibly more high quality trophy animals to appear in the future. It’s an interesting ecosystem that I can’t personally verify, but could make for some interesting long term outcomes for those that sink many hours in.

There’s a whole trophy system in place that generates antlers based on a number of factors as well, so there’s some really interesting mechanics in place to add some variety to the animals themselves over time. The more stars the trophy animal has, the more it’ll be worth if you’re able to successfully hunt it. It won’t be easy though, as you simply can’t get close to the animals without them becoming spooked and running into the distant tree line. You’ll not only need to maneuver slowly and purposely, but watch which way the wind is blowing, as they’ll pick up on your scent if they are downwind. Even though there are moose and bears included, they too will be just as scared of you and noise, so you don’t have to worry about defending yourself or being attacked.

You have Hunter Sense, almost like a concentration mode that allow you to focus to find tracks, droppings, feeding areas, watering spots and more. You have to be standing still to utilize Hunter Sense at first but it will also allow you to get a visual of sounds in the distance and even analyze blood spatter when you do make successful shots but they run off. You can customize how many indicators you want or not depending on how hardcore you want your hunting experience to be, but even with everything completely on, it’s still quite a challenge at the best of times.

Hunting isn’t as simple as waiting around for an animal to appear as you aim your shot hoping to take it down. It actually really surprised me with how much work goes into simply even tracking down your game before you can even visually confirm where they are. No lie, I’ve spent over an hour trying to track down some specific white tailed deer, so you need to have plenty of patience if you want any success.

So you manage to follow numerous tracks, droppings and other clues and finally spot some game down a field 500 meters away. You slowly creep closer, eventually making it to about a hundred meters away before lining up your shot. You aim, hold your breath and pull the trigger. The sound of the rifle is deafening and every deer starts to sprint far away as fast as it can. You watch the one you shot but it’s still running from the adrenaline. I make a visual note of the trees I last saw it and head for that area to look for some blood to begin the final chapter of my hunt.

I find the blood spatter and begin following the direction I think it went. There’s nothing to aim you in one direction or another aside from finding the next blood splatter where it dripped and following the trail. I follow the trail and note that it shows a small amount of blood and if there are air bubbles in it, denoting if I hit the lungs or not. I follow the trail for about a half hour and eventually lose the tracks. Yes, you read that right, I was following blood spatter for half an hour and eventually gave up because of frustration. Was it my fault my shot wasn’t as good as it could have been, sure, but the patience required to track an injured animal for miles simply wasn’t fun. Sure, when I made better shots it only took a few minutes to find where they eventually collapsed, but factor in that it takes a good amount of time to even get to the point of finding the game to hunt. Hunter Sense slightly highlights what it wants you to see, and I’m not asking for a glowing flare or arrows, but it’s just as easily missable with its faint outlines.

Once you find your animal you’ll be presented a screen that shows exactly how your bullet hit them, which arteries it hit and how much it’s worth to sell if you don’t want to keep it for taxidermy to showcase in your home. You can see how much energy it was hit with, which weapon was used, the distance, its weight, age, sex and more. Seeing why it died so quickly was easy to determine, like when I shot through its heart or both lungs for example. You can sell your kills which is then used for new gear, weapons and more.

When it comes to your weapons and gear, there’s a handful of choices, but not as much as you might initially expect. You start out with Grandpa’s Old Rifle (30-30 Win) but can eventually afford new and better rifles depending on your preferences. There are some real world licensed gear from Leupold, Bushnell, Overgaard, Remington, Steyr and others, but there’s only a handful of choices. A few of the rifles you can purchase is the Remington 783, Steyr Pro Hunter II, Steyr Monobloc, Steyr SM12, Steyr Zephyr II, Steyr Carbon CL II among a couple others. As for shotguns your choices are Bonser & Klein Standard, Hol-Den the Jack 1502 and Morning silence (20 Ga). That’s basically it for weapons, so you might notice the lack of bows, crossbows and pistols which might disappoint some that wanted to hunt with those.

There are only two binoculars to choose from and a handful of different scopes; Leupold VX-Freedom 2-7x33, Leupold VX-6HD 3-18x44, Leupold VX-Freedom 1.5-4x20, Overgaard Long range 3-15X50 and the Leupold VX-3HD 4.5-14X40. There are even Red Dot or Carbine Optic options but good luck getting that close to your target. For a chance to get your prey you’re going to want to invest in the different type of callers as well; Elk, Roe, Deer grunt, Red Deer, Hog, Duck, Goose, Jackrabbit Predator and Moose. You’ll notice that there’s no ammo choices, which is a bit surprising, as each gun simply get its own ammunition to use, refillable by going to your vehicle truck or at the cabin for free.

There’s a handful of perks you can earn simply by playing as well that will improve different aspects of your character. You can improve in different categories: bolt action, lever-action, break action (shotguns), hiker, outdoorsman, explorer and strategist. Some of these simply require you to walk a certain distance, hit a number of targets with specific weapon types and other objectives. Most of these will come naturally in time, but some are absolutely unreasonable, like crawling for 7 miles while prone. When you see how slow you crawl you’ll understand why this is insane. Funny enough, I had a bug that worked out in my favor and nabbed me most of the non-shooting perks instantly. I joined an online match and it did the typical falling/floating bug which then tossed me below the world. I guess the game took this as walking and crawling distance, as it instantly unlocked all these perks that would take dozens of hours to attain, not that I was complaining, but was an early taste of the amount of issues and bugs Way of the Hunter has, which I’ll delve into shortly.

Able to play in co-op mode with a friend, I was curious how different the experience would be alongside another hunter. First you pick which of the two maps you want to hunt in, the difficulty and then begin playing together. First off, you can’t progress any of your story missions or objectives when in co-op, so don’t expect to get help from a friend to take down the two white tail deer you need for that quest, which is quite a shame. There’s no character customization at all either, so both players looks exactly the same, and while he was able to get into my vehicle and we could drive together, he wasn’t able to use my Jeep as a driver. Any progress you do make from kills, selling and map explored do carry over to your single player game, which is great, but there’s only a handful of fast travel points that are locked behind missions, so expect to be getting a lot of cardio in. It’s a shame you can’t even fast travel to your co-op friend, though I could see why the limitation. Because whoever takes the shot on an animal first, there's no real reason you want to hunt side by side unless you are able to coordinate very efficiently. I've determined that there's essentially no reason to play online with a partner unless you want some company, but even then you might as well just group up in a Party Chat and play separately while talking.

This is where the experience started to fall apart for me, as there are a laundry list of issues, bugs and other problems that can’t be ignored. For a game that heavily relies on audio as a cue to take in for hints of where game may be, I’ve lost count of how many times my audio completely dropped out, forcing me to completely quit out of the game to fix. Or I’ll be running down a small creek which has some trickling water audio, then all of a sudden the volume amps up and it sounds like I’m standing beside some white rapids at a river, then it goes completely silent. There’s no consistency.

During my first mission to cull the badger population behind my Ranch I shot my target then noticed that one of the others was running away, but up in the air, eventually stopping as if it was flying. Of course I took the shoot and got a ‘free’ kill, but this wasn’t the first time. Another time I shot some ducks for a mission and as the others of the flock flew away, they reached a certain point in the air then just stopped. Their animation was still flying, but they were standing targets. Again, of course I grabbed my shotgun and took the kills, but it seriously dropped the immersion.

There are a number of graphical issues, like how my co-op partner’s hand was flipped and the wrong way when using his caller, the gun going through his head without him holding it, or the constant texture pop-in. Even on an Xbox Series X, it’s as though the game isn’t able to keep up with where you’re looking or going, made even worse when driving the Jeep. Even the dot on your scope sometimes takes a second or two to appear when aiming. Plenty of stuttering and you’ll most likely even notice the texture issues from the opening cutscene.

Way of the Hunter can be absolutely gorgeous when it wants to be, especially when you find some vistas that challenge you to not take a photo. The two maps offer so much dense nature that you’re likely to never see all of its hills, waterfalls, rivers and more. The sound of nature can be quite immersive, when it works, like hearing the mosquitos, frogs and crickets at night with some animal breaking some branches in the distance. The gunshots are loud as hell with a headset on and the echo sounds very realistic as it reverberates through the environment.

For all of the things I enjoyed about Way of the Hunter, I was constantly reminded about all of the issues and bugs along the way. There’s some great ideas here, and while it may be a bit basic with its weapon choices and handful of animals to hunt, there’s quite a feeling to be had when you finally track down your kill after spending the last hour attempting to and about to give up. With some polish and patches I could see Way of the Hunter being quite immersive and fun to play alongside friends, it’s just a shame that it’s currently held back by a plethora of issues that frustrate. I have no doubt this will improve in time, but in its current state, Way of the Hunter will absolutely reward the dedicated fans that can overlook its numerous shortcomings and have a mountain size of patience. For the rest of us, you’re going to become more than frustrated and have hours with little to no progress.

**Way of the Hunter was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 5.5 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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