Way of the Hunter

Besides playing video games, I love to be in the outdoors. I grew up hunting and fishing with my Dad and Grandfather. Unfortunately, due to a car accident almost 30 years ago, my mobility is not what it used to be. This means less time on the stream and in the woods. Luckily, there are video games that can scratch that itch a lot better than in the past. THQ Nordic recently released a new hunting game from Nine Rocks Games. Way of the Hunter is a deeply immersive hunting simulation that allows you to grab your gun and head out for the hunt of a lifetime, or just a regular Tuesday.

You play as River Knox, a young man taking over his grandfathers hunting lodge while he is recovering from an illness. But this is not your ordinary lodge. They have entered to niche, but booming market of field to table cuisine. They are supplying local restaurants with duck, pheasant, deer, and more. It is up to you to fill the special orders that come in, maintain a healthy animal population and continue to watch the lodge flourish. Or you can just hunt what you want and fill the lodge with trophy animals, it is up to you.

Let me start off by saying that if you are looking to bag tons of trophy deer in a short amount of time, this is not the game for you. The game is a fairly accurate representation of what it is like to go hunting. By exploration, or in game tips, you will find where animals drink, eat and sleep. You will have to consult the in-game encyclopedia to find out when they use those specific areas. You will have to then be watching those areas, at the appointed times in hopes of bagging your elusive prey. But if the wind is not in your favor, they will sense you and stay clear. If you drive or try running to the area, the noise you make will spook them away. If you are hunting mule deer, but decide to shoot at a wandering badger, the report from the gun will send animals scurrying for hundreds of meters.

Gameplay is very simple and is explained through a series of tutorial missions. These missions will give you the sense that the hunting is a bit easier than it actually is. You will learn the basics and will have to fine tune your style for best results. Once you get the hang of it, you will be bagging the big bucks with little issue. You even have a Hunters Sense that will help you find those animals and make sure you have on target shots.

Your Hunter Sense is activated at the press of a button and can be used as much as you want. It narrows your field of view by darkening and blurring the sides of your screen. It will cause animal signs like tracks, need zones and blood trails to flash so they are more visible. If you are looking through your binoculars, where have a built-in range finder, and see an animal it will give you information on it. You can quickly learn species, sex, age, size and point range. This is especially helpful when you are trying to complete specific jobs. If you are aiming your gun, you will see the range to your target, which is helpful to make sure that you weapon is zeroed into the correct distance.

You start out with access to your grandfathers’ lever action rifle, but you can soon buy other weapons that will aid in your hunts. The game has several lever action or bolt action rifles, and a few shotguns. There are no handguns or bows that are available. You can add different scopes to the guns if you have the money to purchase them. You also have the ability to carry to firearms at the same time, so you can switch from big game to waterfowl without having to return to camp. And unlike other games, you don’t have to micromanage your ammunition. You can only carry a limited amount of ammo, but every time you return to the lodge you will get a free refill for each weapon you are carrying. Besides weapons, you can also purchase animal calls. Many calls have multiple uses, but you must unlock them via the Perk System.

The Perk System seems slightly broken at the moment, but not in a bad way. Perks allow you to hold your breath longer, have less recoil, aim quicker, and more. The weapon perks are broken down by weapon (lever action, bolt action, and break action shotgun) and require you to complete specific tasks to unlock them. The highest being to “Hit heart / either lung / artery 100 times with” a specific weapon. But at the moment, the progress is increasing for all weapons no matter which one you are using. This is pretty helpful and will reduce the total number of hunts you will have to complete. There are also Perks that increase your speed, decrease you visibility, and decrease the noise you make. These are progressed by traversing the map by either walking, crouching, crawling or jeep. To unlock the extra features of animal calls you must harvest animals that you have called in.

The map that you begin with is quite large, but not all areas are huntable. There are 5 landowners that you must get permission to hunt on their land. This is done by paying a fee. But each owner will have jobs that you can do to earn money, so it is a win-win proposition. If you do wander onto their land, you will see a notification that you need permission to hunt in that area. If you do shoot an animal on their property before you have permission, the animal will be seized by the owner, and you will not get any credit for your hard work. With that being said, you can hunt the main area of the lodge for a while and find most species that you need.

I have been playing Way of the Hunter on Xbox Series X, with the game installed on the internal hard drive. The graphics are amazing when you are walking through the map or in a stand. The trees sway in the wind and the weather effects are very realistic. Even crawling you see the grass bend down in front of you as you move. Unfortunately, once you start running or driving the scenery loses some of its luster and will blur from time to time. This pulls you from the realism of the game, but isn’t enough to make you want to quit playing.

One of the things that I truly find magical about hunting is the sound of the woods. The symphony of the wind through the trees, the chirping of birds, a stream babbling, bugs zipping by and of course the animals crashing through the undergrowth. This game captures that soundscape perfectly. Even the way sound will echo in certain terrain. There is a downside to the sound effects. The sounds can be too calming at times. There have been a few times while playing that the sound has been so relaxing, I have had to catch myself before I fell asleep. This has happened when I have been out hunting in real life as well, so I see this as a plus to the realism. I do recommend playing with headphones because many time you will hear the animals walking through the woods before you can actually see them.
This hunting game boasts realism and delivers on most fronts. From partnerships with gun makers to accurate bullet drop and even showing you the power you bullet has as it leaves your gun, hits your target and brings them down. Some of the Hunters Sense information is something you would never be able to determine out in the field, but it does help progress the game. The central message of the title is to hunt ethically and as humanely as possible and enjoying nature in all its beauty. You won’t be punished if you don’t follow these practices, so it doesn’t really enforce them. The only time you can’t claim an animal you have killed and tracked is if you hunt on private property or hit it with your car. The 2nd one will happen more than you think.

Way of the Hunter is available now on Xbox, Playstation and PC. With a cost of $40 for the basic version, with a season pass also available for another $20. The basic game has 2 areas with a total of 110 square smiles to hunt over a dozen species. The DLC / Season Pass has 2 more areas to hunt, adding 128 square kilometers of hunting land and even more species to hunt. If you are looking for a quick hunting fix that will have you bagging trophies in minutes, this is not a title for you. But if you want a hunting simulator that will challenge your abilities and feel as close to hunting without donning your camo, I highly recommend this title.