Scavengers Closed Beta Preview – A royale mash-up of survival and competition

How do you go about describing a game like Scavengers? It’s a game where you have to lean on buzzwords and caveated comparisons to genre blockbusters in order to get across the blur of gameplay mechanics. So here goes: Scavengers is like a team-based battle royale mixed with a survival game.

I’m not sure that quite does it justice, but the good news is that it doesn’t have to. Tonight at The Game Awards, Midwinter Entertainment have announced and opened up their Closed Beta, with 50,000 slots for new players and everyone from previous testing phases thrown into the mix as well. Head here to sign up.

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The game is set in a dark future where an asteroid hit and shattered the moon. It was a cataclysmic event that saw a shard of moon hitting the planet, debris blotting out the Sun, and even had a virus piggyback on the Asteroid and eliminate much of the life on the planet, mutating what was left into the Scourge. I don’t want to jinx it, but 2020 hasn’t been quite that bad.

An Explorer Programme was hastily set up to put people in suspended animation into an orbital sanctuary where an AI ‘Mother’ looked after them. Now, years and years later, Mother is creating and sending clones down to the planet to collect samples for analysis. Given that this cloned life is apparently very cheap, you’ll find you won’t be working in harmony, but rather competing to bring home as many samples, no matter the cost. It certainly feels like a background story designed to fit the gameplay, rather than the other way round, but for a live game like this, story isn’t really the focus.

Scavengers sees 60 players, split into 20 teams of 3, dropping into a broad 3x3km2 map called Cascade Springs. With the sun blocked out, the world is blanketed in snow and ravaged by freezing tornadoes, while the city-like structures that dot the map are ruined or converted structures out of ruins. It’s not just other players that you need to be aware of, but the aforementioned Scourge and cannibalistic Outlanders who have set up camp in various places, hoarding resources. You’ll also have to simply survive the elements. Hunger is represented by a gradually shrinking stamina bar, so you might see fit to hunt deer if you spot them bounding across the map, and the frigid map and roaming blizzards will mean you want to find fires to warm up or use thermal packs to refill your maximum health. Bullets can also feel rather scarce unless you’re sharing what weapons you have and ammo types you need with your buddies.

Immediately, you can see the battle royale influence as you want to quickly grab whatever starting weapons you can find when you spawn in, before checking the map, finding a point of interest and trekking across the landscape. The points of interest provide much more focus than they do in a game like Fortnite or Apex Legends, though. These aren’t simply locations where you might find other teams and/or some loot, but often have AI camped out at them guarding the data points that you’ll be eager to collect that make up your score at the end of a round. Of course, battling with them, chasing after boss-like characters that roam the map, and battling with some of the wildlife that roams around will all help you level up through the match – Oh yeah, did I mention the slight MOBA vibe yet?

While you’ll be scrounging around for guns, a key factor in your survival is also going to be levelling up your character. There’s a decent selection of hero characters to choose from, leaning into various archetypes – Halden has a healing aura that can revive teammates, Callie can go invisible for a time when not attacking, Letty’s EMP will cancel out abilities and boop nearby enemies away – and they all have a signature weapon. Levelling up, you can spend points that you’ve earned through the round to unlock increased armour, buy your signature gun (which will equate to some of the rarer guns you can find from looting), or other items that you’ve researched in the overarching metagame.

While you are pushed together by an encroaching storm as a match progresses, it’s a different kind of pressure to the final moments of a battle royale. Instead of having a final fight for survival and victory in the “final circle”, the storm is pushing you toward a dropship where you can escape with all your data points. A countdown to the dropship’s departure gives a hard deadline for you to either be on that ship or lose everything, and the competitive edge comes to the fore here as teams can try to pick off others and steal their points before the ship can leave.

Encounters with other teams of players do feel more forgiving here, thanks in part to how easy it is to return to a match even if you’ve been killed off. So long as one of your trio can survive and escape, any downed played will simply respawn back in. It’s this that led to a fantastic comeback in one of the matches we played. With another team seemingly hunting after us, using vehicles to get around and haunt our headphones, we were dropped to just one player not once, but twice as we ran into other groups of players. We were plumb last on the leaderboard with practically no data points, but clung on, respawned and just about managed to get away.

Then we could turn the tables, skirting the edge of the shrinking circle and getting ahead of two fighting teams who weren’t quite so wary of the match situation, setting up at a ramshackle AI camp and catching them as they struggled out of the freezing blizzard. It felt great to turn it around like that, and we snatched up their points and some others as we raced to the dropship, gunning down some stragglers behind us.

It was quite different to a previous match where we were ambushed at a point of interest on the map by two teams at once, our last player being offed as a blizzard rolled in not by human players… but by a bear that decided it really didn’t like the look of us!

There’s some really nice emergent moments like that, as you balance a desire to fight other people with wanting to grab your points and get out alive to progress your metagame research. It’s that research that leaves me scratching my head a little, though. For one thing, the work in progress UI is not particularly intuitive, and for another, you’re coming out of matches with resource bundles that give you such exciting things as Acid Salt, Petroleum, Fuel Cell, Rare Earth Magnets. You need certain resources in order to research new items that you can add to your character’s loadouts, but it just feels both convoluted and a bit pedestrian right now.

Still, there’s real potential here. The comparisons to certain other games will be inevitable, but Scavengers is looking to carve out its own niche genre, with PvEvP battles for resources and survival.

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