Shelter launched back in 2013 as something of an oddity, and an enjoyable one at that. Its left-field gameplay was equal parts art and heart-wrenching adventure, putting the player in the paws of a mother badger as she tried to keep her cubs safe. Inevitably, as the game progressed you were liable to lose some of your offspring to other hungry wildlife. Each loss struck like a deep wound to be carried through to the game’s dramatic conclusion, but while Shelter 2 is just as gorgeous as its predecessor, it fails to deliver the same meaningful impact.
Players get a bump up from badgers, this time taking on the role of a slightly more fearsome Lynx mother with 4 cubs in tow. For all intents and purposes the gameplay is much the same as the first game, but there is one important, potentially fatal change this time around.
Might and Delight have adopted an open world approach in lieu of the first game’s linear “A to B” levels, and while that system did feel a little constrictive at times, it becomes abundantly clear in Shelter 2 that it provided vital framing for the events throughout the game. Many titles can successfully pull off a lack of structure, but with very little to do other than feeding your cubs Shelter 2 is not one of them.
The emotions that the first game could evoke are dulled by comparison in the sequel. There’s no real feeling of helplessness, or that you are being hunted by powerful creatures. Might and Delight hand you the keys to the kingdom, and put you in control of a powerful animal to boot.
It’s difficult to feel a sense of urgency either. In the first game you played as an animal hardly known for its strength, even if badgers can be vicious little bastards. Hunting enough prey to feed your young, as well as yourself, was a real challenge that could lead to beads of sweat forming on a furrowed brow when there was none to be found. You’ll rarely face such a challenge in Shelter 2. An abundance of wildlife litters each area, from skittish deer to randy rabbits, meaning you’ll always be able to provide for you and yours.
A lack of the unexpected is Shelter 2‘s other main problem. It’s almost completely sedate and twee, right through to the conclusion. The first game threw hungry eagles, wildfires and starvation at you and your badger cubs, and an ending that could bring tear drops to a glass eyeball. I wouldn’t say that the developers have intentionally gone out of their way to make the game a sterile experience, but they have stripped away the aspects that made the first game so memorable.
Writing about Shelter 2 is frustrating because it is technically superior its predecessor in almost every single way. The gorgeous patchwork art style from Shelter has been vastly improved, with new areas to feast your eyes on, controlling mother lynx feels weighty and satisfying, and retro Family’s soundtrack is absolutely stunning. But there’s something missing. A certain “je ne sais quoi” hasn’t made the transition over from the first game, which I suspect can be directly attributed to the shift from a linear gameplay approach to an open world setting.
The emotional power that Might and Delight held over players is no longer present in Shelter 2, making it a fun but ultimately forgettable sequel. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not Shelter either.