It could always, as they say, be worse. 2020 may have introduced a pandemic on top of everything else we've been dealing with in the last few years, but at least… oh, I don't know, a meteor hasn't collided with the moon, sending Earth careering in a downward spiral of endless winters, fragmenting the remains of humanity into tribal packs of hunter-gatherers more than willing to kill each other just to survive. Suddenly our present dystopia doesn't seem quite so bad.
And after my recent hands-on with Scavengers, which is set in exactly that aforementioned scenario, I can readily confirm that its moon-less Earth is not a friendly place to inhabit. In fact, your main goal in Midwinter's "PvEvP" battle royale is to escape humanity's former home, outlasting the elements (AI bandits and aliens, frozen storms, enemy players… take your pick) and grabbing any resources you can before boarding an exfil to the mothership.
Those resources, whether it's craftable scrap or stamina-restoring rations, are the lifeblood of Scavengers' rhythm, underscoring every battle and risk-reward decision you make as a squad of three. But with matches set across nine square kilometers of frozen wasteland, populated by hundreds of AI enemies (and 57 other players), your journey to victory won't come without sacrifice.
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The last time I played Scavengers was back at E3 2019, and it's clear that both the game and its developer have changed a lot since then. Midwinter Entertainment has not only grown into a sizable team of over 40 employees based around the globe, but was acquired by Improbable last year – the company responsible for Scavengers' SpatialOS multiplayer platform which, the publisher believes, can offer greater scope and flexibility over traditional multiplayer servers.
That growth has resulted in a game that looks, plays, and runs much better; less like a proof-of-concept prototype and more like an Early Access product that's now entering the home stretch towards a full launch. That's not to say Scavengers is polished to a sheen; if you manage to get into its Closed Beta on PC (registration opens today), you'll likely run into a number of bugs, whether it's enemies or vehicles not appearing on the screen, or clipping issues that gets your character stuck at the worst time possible.
But those bugs are worth putting up with, because Scavengers offers true multiplayer merriment. Wisely taking a page from Apex Legends' book, you can pick from a number of characters to make up your trio, each bringing their own unique weapons, abilities, and traits to the battlefield. These combatants can synergise their skills with one another, too, such as pairing a healing aura with an energy shield to bounce back from a near-death experience. What's more, with Scavengers' extensive arsenal of weapons all feeling precise, impactful, and distinctive, its moment-to-moment gunplay is satisfying and engaging no matter who you pick.
The pace of Scavengers multiplayer sessions are also an exemplary lesson in how to build tension, and subvert player expectations of that tension via the element of surprise. You'll start off with nothing, with priorities set on collecting resources from chests and AI encounters to gain weapons, upgrade armour, and craft important tools for survival – like a thermal boost, which beefs up your character's resistance to the cold.
But as time goes on (each match lasts around thirty minutes), and the area of play gets smaller, the likelihood of running into another squad of players increases. They might show up halfway through your encounter against a horde of AI-driven Scourge nightmares, using the opportunity to strike you amidst the chaos. You might be trudging across the wasteland and catch the ominous sound of an engine in the distance, before a fully-manned hovercraft surfaces on the horizon, intent on running you down. You'll need to stay prepared for anything, basically, and it's here where Scavengers begins to sing. Do you make a run for it, knowing that you're stacked to the brim on resources, and the dropship leaves in under two minutes? Or do you fight, using an incoming ice storm to your advantage?
Given that much of your loot will only follow you out of the match if you make it to the exfil, or secure it at one of a handful of banking points on the map, mastering Scavengers' brinkmanship politics are a crucial skill for navigating its endgame skirmishes. If you die, you'll come back within 30 seconds, but only so long as one of your allies is still alive. Scavengers thus places a premium on teamwork, communication, and tactical play, anchored by ever mounting, delectable layers of real-time suspense.
Ice to meet you
With a release scheduled for PS4, Xbox One, and PC sometime next year, Scavengers is far enough removed from the familiar markings of other battle royale games to carve out an identity within the PvP space.
That said, brand new multiplayer titles – from Disintegration to Rocket Arena and Crucible, in the last year alone – have struggled to find much success, leaving Midwinter Entertainment with an uphill battle to climb in its immediate future.
Still, my first few hours with Scavengers leaves me hopeful and rooting for it to find the playerbase it needs to survive, though a certain threshold of polish still requires clearing before launch. That said, there's nothing stopping you from signing up to the closed beta as of right now: find me in the tundra if you're looking for a beat down.