It may come as a surprise that Sons of The Forest – a survival/crafting horror game – is one of my most anticipated games of 2023, as I can recall many hours of hijinks (and scares) from its predecessor: The Forest. Since Sons of The Forest hit Early Access in Steam this February and I have yet to experience the complete game, much of what I mention might be subject to change. Which is a good thing! While the game has lots of potential, there are definitely some areas where gameplay can be improved.
New Forest, New You
In SoTF, Eric LeBlanc does not return as the main character nor do we make a return to the original forest. This time it’s a completely new, albeit eerily familiar, island to explore along with a new protagonist. Once left to my own devices after crash landing, seemingly the only proper way to begin in these games, it was common for me to just stop and observe the forest around me. The trees, the sounds, and the foliage all received a breathtaking visual update as well as improvements to rain and the addition of thunderstorms. The visual updates are important since the map is also much larger than the first game; trekking from one end of the island to the other is now a serious excursion, and along the way it’s easy to get lost in admiring the forest around you while walking along forest paths. As long as you aren’t being chased by crazed cannibals, which are also seemingly native to this island. Without the occasional guttural scream, it just wouldn’t feel like home.
Along with a new map means new caves and, like mentioned above, new local residents to encounter. The caves follow a similar format as the first game: explore the cave and find new tools/weapons to progress the game or lore items such as notebook pages to progress the story. So far there are some caves that reward items at the end, but most caves that I have explored so far have been dead ends with only a small area containing items such as food or crafting material. In addition to caves, there are underground bunkers throughout the island that can be found once you find the shovel located in one of the caves. You can enter the bunkers by digging in certain locations to find maintenance hatches. These bunkers are a great place to pick up materials, some weapons, and lore items, as well as accessing a 3D Printer! This is a new addition to the game and allows you to print arrows and armor as well as other useful tools.
New Crafting System and Weapons
Part of the fun in survival/crafting games is, of course, the tools and the crafting! In SoTF, there are many new and returning weapons hidden around the island for players to discover. There are the old reliables, such as crafted spears or a variety of axes (and eventually a chainsaw,) but also new firearms and even a golf club to find. Starting out in the game there was really only one weapon on my mind: the Katana. I’m happy to say it makes its return, and it is just as glorious as I remembered.
Crafting is also using a new and more open system where players can create any size log cabin or structure they can envision. There are select structures and furniture that use the original way of placing a blueprint of pre-determined size, but the big update with crafting is all about being able to place logs wherever you want and as many as you want, as long as you can chop down enough trees. I have conflicted thoughts about this change; on the one hand, it allows players to be more creative, but on the other hand it seems sort of clunky. Is it easier to place a blueprint for a simple campfire and add sticks to it, or open the inventory and equip a stick, then snap it in two and place on the ground and light? The Forest’s original crafting system, I thought, was fantastic and had many different types of buildings and traps to craft. I’ll have spend more time crafting the new way to see if I like it.
Best Friend Simulator
SoTF introduces two new NPC characters who roam the island with you: Kelvin and Virginia. They were placed into the game for solo players as a way to not feel so alone, and they also help with gathering resources and fending off enemies. While I have rarely played The Forest or Sons of The Forest alone – I use the buddy system when exploring caves – I think both characters area genius addition for solo players. Unfortunately though Kelvin and Virginia can die permanently if you aren’t able to revive them and don’t respawn at a nearby cannibal camp like the player. Of the two, Kelvin is my clear favorite as he’s always willing to help with a smile on his face and watching him relax by a campfire is adorable. While Virginia is able to carry two guns and is effective at cannibal extermination, Kelvin is great at collecting logs. Therefore, Kelvin is to be protected at all costs.
The Lore So Far
While I have completed the main story available in early access thus far, the game is still being worked on and I’ll be sure to play through the game again at full launch. Currently, the story is disjointed and confusing and the ending provides no explanation on how any of t he lore tidbits collected in game are related. In fact, the cinematic at the end of the game might be the most confusing part of all. While The Forest was not centered around its story, it still contained an intriguing mystery sprinkled throughout the game for players to unravel. Everything made sense, for the most part, and every piece of the puzzle lent itself to the final cinematic and conclusion of the game. It was not perfect, which is fine because The Forest and SoTF are all about the crafting and survival.
In its current state, players pick up some magazine clippings and books and watch a couple cinematics, then get thrust into the finale of the game, with no answers. It has a long way to go, but I’m still excited to try out the story again on full release since new updates are steadily being added. Again, the game is in an unfinished state and if anything I can’t wait to see how the story fits together.
It’s hard to talk about a game that is still being worked on because of just that: it’s still in development and buying the game in early access through Steam essentially allows players to experience a paid beta test. Nothing is final, most things at this point are probably still subject to change. But what I have played so far is fun and, like I mentioned above, has lots of potential. I’m not sure that this sequel will be able to capture my same feelings of dread and curiosity when exploring the forests and caves of the island simply because I have played The Forest so much, but I really enjoy this game series and especially when playing with friends.
I’ll hold my final thoughts and opinions until full release, but so far I have been enjoying my time in this new forest with its prettier graphics and updated weather effects. The game even has seasons and features an annoying winter where the protagonist is cold all the time – just like real life! The cannibals themselves are just as I remember from the first game, and the crafting system is similar yet free-building will take some time to get used to and I hope all the structures from the first game will be added. I’m loving the radios, which can be found randomly on the island and in caves and feature music composed for the game. There are other things I don’t love, such as how your character has an animation when using any item in your inventory, but the inventory itself is nice and big compared to the first game. I’m sure that the game will undergo many improvements and updates before release, and until then I will be excitedly awaiting them.