Review – Way of the Hunter

The simulator genre has been seeing a huge boom lately, with people seeming to love taking on monotonous tasks ad nauseum. I’m no stranger to this, with a few simulators reviewed under my belt I’ve begun to see what folks like in these games. Even if it is small repeated tasks, it is the ability to accomplish something while turning the brain off and getting into a zen mode. While THQ Nordic’s Way of the Hunter doesn’t classify itself as a hunting simulator, it is definitely one of the best hunting “simulators” out there. While it tries to bridge a story within the hunting aspects, this is absolutely a hunting focused titled.

Way of the Hunter offers a story that really focuses on ethical hunting and keeping animal herds alive and healthy. It truly drives home the fact that there is a balance to the ecosystem ,and you shouldn’t be out there recklessly hunting and killing. This is a message anyone can get behind, and you don’t need to be a hunter to understand the reasoning. However, it can get a bit heavy handed with the message and ends up getting in the way of the experience.

Way of the Hunter Story

The drama and fetch quests really drag down the experience.

You play as River, who is now taking over his grandfather’s hunting lodge and therefore the land around it. You act almost like a Park Ranger in the way you will patrol the land, check the food and water supplies, as well as take care of any spreading diseases. The story does a good job introducing you to basic facts and mechanics, but once that is over it starts diving into a weird rivalry plot that basically sets up a villain. An old friend views hunting differently and doesn’t care about ethical hunting, so you will go on these quests to remove bear traps, and at one point he sends you on a scavenger hunt.

Every time Way of the Hunter stops you from hunting and sends you on some random fetch quest it really drags down the experience. This is because the actual hunting gameplay is really good. When the story focuses on hunting, or when you just want to finish a task or job for someone in town, this is when it shines. Preparing, exploring, and tracking down a kill provides a satisfying gameplay loop because of a few factors that are open for newbies and complicated enough for hunting simulator players.

Way of the Hunter Beautiful Vistas

Doesn’t this look inviting to go explore and track in?

I’ve gone on about how well the actual hunting experience is so let me start at the beginning of what would be a hunting expedition. First thing you need to do is prepare your loadout for what animal you’ll be hunting. There is a nice codex included that goes in-depth about caliber size, types of ammo, and the kinetic power (Joules) that you can achieve. It can be a lot to take in, but typically as long as you use the correct tier firearm for that tier animal, you don’t need to get into the specifics of calibers if you don’t care.

Once you get a load out set, you need to check your map to locate an area where the animal could be. The tutorial will be good enough to get you used to looking for certain things in the environment, also you can always look at the animal codex to see where they would usually dwell. When hunting for a new animal this can be tougher because the map is pretty much blank until you start exploring and finding other regions hunting lodges to unlock points of interest. Once you get into the rough area of where that animal should be, this is where the tracking comes in.

Way of the Hunter Map

Exploring and interacting with hot spots is the best way to figure out where to start.

Tracking is an important piece of the gameplay, but also the most boring since you’ll just be walking around looking for clues that animals are around. Each group of animal in a region will have hot spot areas that it will frequent throughout the day. Each animal will have a sleeping, eating, and drinking zone that it will go to and your codex can tell you what time of day the animals typically will go to these spots. It is important to explore and interact with all areas that look like they have had animals there so it logs it into your map and you can reference it later. Even if you come across a tree trunk feeding spot for Black Bears, and you’re hunting Elk, you should still interact with it to mark it.

The best way to find these items is by using your Hunter Sense. This is basically your superhero ability to highlight the above locations when you’re near them. It will also highlight foot/hoof/paw prints from trails made by the animals going to or from their grazing spots. Hunter Sense will tell you if the poop you just found along the trail is fresh or old, urine if it smells pungent or dried up, essentially, it tells you and shows you things that allows you to know if you’re close to finding the animal you’re tracking. This can be boring, and yes sometimes you will spend quite a while just trying to track down a specific animal, but the next part is when it becomes worth it.

Way of the Hunter Transylvania

Using your Jeep is the best way to get to your starting point quickly in these big maps.

The approach can be long, often frustrating, but sometimes exciting and rewarding. Essentially once you’re within 300-400 yards of an animal, you’ll need to be aware of a few things. First, start crouching and watch your walking speed. Second, try not to approach from in front of the animal. Third, if the wind is blowing towards the animal, change your position now or the animal will smell you from way out and run off. Once you’re within 200 yards, you may want to go prone and inch your way up closer. Of course depending on your firearm and scope you can safely shoot from further out than 200 yards, but the closer you are the more accurate you’ll be and the more damage you’ll do.

You may hear and animal before you see it with your Hunter Sense, and this will tell you roughly thew distance and if they’re calm or alerted. You will also want to use your binoculars to spot animals since this will give you specific details like if it’s male or female, it will also give you the star rating of the animal which is important to some missions. Nothing worse than spending an hour tracking a black bear just to kill the wrong rated one.

Hunters Sense

I don’t think I needed my Hunters Sense for this glitch.

Setting up the shot is also important, especially since Way of the Hunter encourages ethical kill. This means, take your time and make sure you hit a vital organ so the animal isn’t running a lot and suffering. Not only does accuracy matter, but also the Kinetic Force I mentioned before. Using your Hunters Sense you can see how much power your shot will have from the distance between you and the animal. If your power is lower than the recommended amount then you may not go deep enough to hit a vital organ.

Ethical kills are important to missions as well as how much you can sell that animal for. Additional pain, suffering, and long drawn out death will cause damage to the meat which means you’ll sell it for less or lose the mission. Therefore, setting up your shot is very important. Once you shoot the animal, even if it’s a vital organ (besides the brain), it still may run away for a while before dropping dead. You will be able to check the blood stains as certain colors and the amount will dictate how far the animal could go before it will die. If it’s a successful shot, you may only need to follow the blood trail for about 50 meter before finding its body.

Way of the Hunter Bullet Camera

This is a really awesome feature that gives you great feedback on your shots.

One really cool feature that Way of the Hunter has is that when you interact with the dead animal it will show your a 3D model of the animal and the bullet path. Showing you where the bullet entered at what power as well as what organs or arteries it hit going through. It’s a really cool visual showcase and it can help you adjust your next shot to hit closer to the heart. From this menu you can then sell the animal for money or taxidermy it to display it in your lodge. While it’s hard to explain through text, there is something so satisfying about this process. Especially when you spend all that time leading up to the shot, and then you nail the heart first shot. However, it can be equally annoying if you miss and scare them all away.

As you complete missions whether that be from the story or side hunting missions, or just selling the animals that you hunt, you’ll gain money to beef up your loadout. I’ve mentioned before that you’ll need to have specific tiered firearms for tiered animals, which means you’re going to need to buy additional firearms. There are multiple firearms per tier that have different calibers, but unfortunately, there are only a handful of Rifles and Shotguns. I would have liked to see at least a hunting bow as well. You can also buy additional scopes, binoculars, and animal callers to help attract that animal or that animals predator depending on what you’re looking for. Unlike Hunting Simulator 2 you won’t be able to buy any scents to help cover up yours, but you can unlock a perk that will shorten the distance your smell reaches.

Perks

Perks are a nice form of progression that will aid in your hunting… most of the time.

Perks can be unlocked by doing specific tasks and these can range from using specific weapons well, to just traveling a certain distance while on foot or in the Jeep. The specific firearm ones are helpful because they can unlock additional accuracy bonuses or being able to hold you breath longer. The physical ones will decrease visibility or the sound you make while crouched or prone. The most useful perk is being able to using Hunters Sense while walking instead of having to stop, scan, and continue. However, there is an issue with the final perk of the crouching and prone options to where it actually makes it worse. The last perk of the crouch tier increases crouch walk speed, but also increases your visibility to the animal. The prone one has an equally confusing last perk as well, and I’m wondering what is the point and why can’t I disable this perk?

Way of the Hunter is not without its issues, even if the general gameplay loop is still fun. Movement can be a bit wonky, especially when you’re crouched or prone on a mountain side. Your whole body is rendered, so there are instances where the weapon on your back will jump in front of the camera when your crouched or prone next to something. It feels a bit stiff and weird at times. There are also some animal AI issues that can cause frustrations. There are times where animals will run from me from such a far distance, or I have been able to sneak int he middle of a pack, right next to them, and kill them one-by-one as if I wasn’t even there. There have been times where blood trails have disappeared which resulted in a lost animal and time. But nothing is more annoyingly consistent of an issue as the environmental pop-in.

Jeep

Take a few steps and that grass will be poppin’ around like crazy.

I’ve never had a game where I really battled on what to score the visuals because of how good and bad they are. There are many times where Way of the Hunter can look beautiful, with its weather and environments that feel lived in. When you’re gazing out from the lodge and you spot a group of deer drinking from the river and the sun is just popping behind the trees, it can make you say wow.  However, and this is a big however, the pop-in of assets as you drive or even walk is so damn distracting that it ruins a lot of beautiful work put into the game.

Driving is definitely the worst because the pop-ins happen right next to you and more frequent because you’re moving faster. That being said, the pop-ins while trying to track is damned annoying. Trying to follow foot paths or blood trails is almost impossible since grass and other things will keep moving around. You basically need to keep Hunter Sense on all the time or else you won’t see the trails. There are some bad up close textures at times, but honestly the pop-ins make it way worse. It’s a shame, and perhaps it’s because it’s the console version, but the pop-ins really tarnish what is a really well crafted world.

Duck Hunt

here is some duck hunt, just because.

Sound design is well done and understandably simple. Obviously you aren’t going to have some sick soundtrack while you’re trying to listen for the pitter-patter of a fox, but everything else is well done. The ambient forest and river sounds are effective and even the sound of each animal is spot on. Also, directional audio is implemented properly, so you can tell which way you heard it and depending on how loud you can tell the rough distance. I never felt like the animal was right next to me when I hear it snorting or wheezing which is good for immersion. The firearms also sound correct with the right oomph and reverb when the sound travels through the valley.

Way of the Hunter is one of the best hunting simulators, not labelled as a simulator, that I have ever played. Once you move past (or just simply ignore) the story missions that can drag down the experience, you get to a hunting game that offers the right kind of ease and complexity. While there are some annoyances with movement, pop-ins, and strange perks, you have a beautiful game that offers co-op and two full maps with their own types of animals to hunt for. If you’re a hunting game fan, I recommend this one.

 

Graphics: 6.5

Visuals are a mixed bag because there are times where it shines beautifully, but then pop in and texture work drags it down hard.

Gameplay: 8.5

Mechanics are solid besides a few annoying issues with movement. Elements of hunting are all well implemented and results in an enjoyable experience.

Sound: 9.0

Sound design is limited, but fully fleshed out for a hunting game. You won’t be getting any music, rather, you’ll be listening for animals and rustling foliage.

Fun Factor: 7.0

Bugs and visual pop-in drag down the game, and while there is a story, it largely got in the way of the fantastic hunting simulation experience.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Way of the Hunter is available now on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S.

Reviewed on Xbox Series X.

A copy of Way of the Hunter was provided by the publisher.