Wild Souls is, perhaps surprisingly, not a soulslike game. It is instead a God Simulation game, where you play as some manner of powerful entity whose goal is to keep the small squishy life forms under your jurisdiction alive. Unlike some other God Sims, there are no humans in Wild Souls, and you are instead managing an ecosystem of wild plants and animals by using their souls as the game’s currency. (Do you get it?)
I should note before we get into this review that not only is Wild Souls an early access title, according to the Steam store page, it’s being made by a solo developer. If you’re unaware, solo game development is exponentially more difficult than it is to work in even a very small team.
Establishing Your Wilderness
Your goal in Wild Souls, as stated above, is to create and manage your very own ecosystem. You have to put down some plants so that the herbivores can eat and some predators so that the herbivores don’t eat too much. You have to keep in mind the changing seasons, because winter has a habit of wiping out all of your plants. You have to keep the weather in mind because sometimes a thunderstorm will happen, and the divine wrath of God will smite one of the animals. Or start a forest fire. I once lost half a field of flowers that way.
The game’s tutorial is very strange in a way I don’t often see in games. I suspect it’s another issue caused by this being an early access title. During the tutorial, you have the ability to personally walk around a small area in the form of a large translucent animal and even talk with an NPC, neither of which are features of the game following the tutorial’s completion. Though, that NPC claims they will see you again, so like I said, this is probably a byproduct of the game not being finished yet.
The main gimmick of Wild Souls is right there in the title: souls. In order to make lants or animals, you need to expend a certain number of souls. The fact that a moose has several times the number of souls as a rabbit raises interesting theological questions, but I know full well it’s more for economic reason. Specifically, it’s how the game encourages you to make your ecosystem thrive. Because you can only make stuff if you have enough souls, you want as many souls as you can get, within reason. You do have a maximum number that you can hold. When something dies—specifically because of natural causes or being eaten, killing them yourself doesn’t count—you gain a soul for it. And while you spend more souls than you make off of any individual animal and most plants, living beings do this thing called reproducing, and that gets you more souls to work with.
The AI in this game is not great. I once watched somewhere around four or five rabbits get slaughtered because they ran right up to two owls, and while prey are programmed to flee in terror, they aren’t programmed to flee very far, nor do they actually hide in their burrows when being chased. I also watched a fox nearly starve to death because it wasn’t willing to move very far from its own burrow. When it finally caught a rabbit, it still nearly died because it couldn’t decide if it wanted to eat the dead rabbit or catch another one first.
Predators in this game are actually really terrible about hunting any prey that doesn’t practically leap into their mouths for them. I had my entire owl family starve to death because despite giving them a nest at the center of the map, they wandered off to the furthest corner from everything else, made a new nest there, and refused to leave. But for whatever reason, none of the herbivores have this problem with eating food. Heck, I watched a buffalo eat an entire tree. I didn’t even know they could do that!
I should clarify you can micromanage your animals by picking them up and putting them somewhere else, or directly possessing them, but I feel like I should be forgiven for trusting my animals to understand the concept of ‘eat food when you’re hungry or your die,’ but I guess I had too much faith in their intelligence. It’s like high school all over again.
The AI also has a habit of constructing their own nests and dens in the weirdest places. The one that takes the cake though is that time the owls managed to build a nest outside of the map. Somehow. Not to mention that they frequently don’t need to build their own nests but will do so anyway. I have had more dens than the animals that use them before. Frequently.
I have a lot of nitpicks about this game, and I’m sure most of them are likely only because it’s an early access title. Like how instead of locking the camera when you move it too far from the map, it abruptly snaps back, or how the keyboard controls are not well suited to work alongside the mouse controls, or how it’s possible to place things in the world while simultaneously having the remove tool active. But by far my biggest complaint, and something that has no right to be a missing feature even in an early build, is that you cannot fast forward the game while you wait for plants and animals to grow and reproduce. In other words, the most efficient way to play this game is to drop a few animals and plants in and leave it running while you do something else for an hour or so. I hope I don’t need to explain why it’s a bad thing that the best way to play this game is to find another way to amuse yourself for a while.
A moment ago, I mentioned the controls, so I’ll go over them in a bit more detail. Your keyboard controls are a handful of shortcuts, all placed conveniently next to each other, as well as the arrow keys. However, most of the interactions in this game are performed via the mouse. Not only that, but those shortcuts are all on the right half of a standard QWERTY keyboard, resulting in you either using the mouse exclusively or bringing your left hand awkwardly further away from where it usually rests. Unless you have a left-handed mouse, I guess, in which case I’ve finally found the game for you.
Wild Souls is quite short in its current form. I finished all of the primary objectives in under three hours, some of which I spent having lunch while I left the game running for reasons listed above. Of course, as an ecosystem management game, the point really isn’t on following a set of linear instructions, but on, you know, managing an ecosystem. Finishing the final objective gave me several new toys to throw into my environment if I so desired.
Wild Souls has a very unique aesthetic going for it. All of the sprites feel hand drawn, but not quite the same was as, say, Hollow Knight. They animals all look more like children’s cartoon drawings from the margins of a notebook, with their spindly stick legs and simple shapes in place of feet. Of course, there is a lot more detail on the main bodies of each animal, with some level of paper doll style animation.
There are some problems with the simple animations, in my experience. For one thing it’s difficult to tell at a glance what any given animal is doing. I generally knew that a fox had eaten a rabbit because the rabbit had spontaneously turned into bones while standing right next to said fox. Speaking of which, there’s no transitional animations for when something dies or when you put something into the world. It just happens.
There’s also a very odd detail in the walk animations, where it will always play through the entire animation while you’re moving. This means that even when an animal stops moving, or moves very little, their legs will move as through they’re in full sprint for a moment before catching up to what’s actually happening.
I loaded the game once while it was winter, and the snow didn’t load in, but all of the appropriate plants and objects had snow on them.
There are some HUD and UI issues as well. Some white plants are very difficult to make out from the menu where you select plants to put into the world, for example. But by far my biggest UI issues is that it’s very difficult to know what you’re going to erase with the removal tools, especially when you want to remove something that is very close to something else that you don’t want removed. For example, if the animals start building dens in the middle of ponds again.
I would also appreciate certain UI elements scaling with the camera zoom. If you’re too zoomed out then it’s hard to read the status of any animal you click on, or to see the indicator that there’s an animal inside of a den.
There’s also the weather. More specifically, the fact that the weather is invisible. The only visual difference between a thunderstorm and a sunshiny day is that it’s slightly darker during a thunderstorm. It’s rather disconcerting to hear thunder and rain and know that lightning is possible when you can’t see any rain.
The Call of the Wild
Unless I miss my mark, all of the music and sound effects in this game are stock, royalty free sounds. This isn’t a judgement, I should clarify, this is a solo developer making an entire game from scratch. I would, however, appreciate if the animals made any noises at all.
When animals move, if you’re zoomed in, you can hear the grass rustling footstep sound, but killing an animal? Eating something? Dying? There’s no sound effect for any of these. And since you can only see so much of the world at once at any given time, not being able to hear when something is happening can lead to not being aware of something important happening.
Lightning strikes do get their own sound effects though, which is interesting to note.
The music is fine, but like I said I’m pretty sure it wasn’t made specifically for this game. That’s not necessarily a problem, per se, but music composed with this game in mind would have a stronger impact on the player’s emotions, or in the case of a game like this, set the vibe.
Wild Souls needs a lot of polish before it’s ready for a commercial release, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the main questline hasn’t even been implemented yet. That being said, the idea of a fully functioning ecosystem isn’t something you see very often within a video game, and I’m interested to see if developer Halfondarr can pull it off.