Dino-survival: Hands-on with Beasts of Prey's early access alpha

Beasts of Prey
When I first dived into the horror-survival genre, I knew there would be zombies, but I never expected dinosaurs. You don't get much bigger than a T-Rex stomping around your neighborhood (though I am still waiting for an underwater survival game that randomly has blue whales unintentionally ruining your kelp fort as they hunt for krill). When dinosaurs started to replace zombies, I knew that my inner child would drag me in, even if I once again had to pay for alpha.

It's this very idea of "paid alpha" that inspired me to tackle not one but two titles from the newly spawned dino-survival based genre. Apologists will say that it's just alpha, but the reality is that you get only one launch, and to me, launch is you start letting people buy your game and don't hold them under an NDA. With this in mind, I decided to try my hand at both Beasts of Prey and The Stomping Land to see which, if either, feels the most deserving of my time (and money). Today, I'll start with BoP.

When first I logged into the game, I thought it was like Rust on steroids. While the starter experience on the official server is similar to the experience on custom servers (go hit rocks and trees to build stuff), the unmodded game doesn't have sleepers, doesn't require you to eat food, and seems to have a very vague requirement for getting rest. While Rust is trying to redo some code and add in things like stealing for those of us who don't kill everything that moves, the problem for me has still been having a world to live in, not just die in. However, I figured giant dinosaurs probably shouldn't be a solo kill, so perhaps the game would require some grouping with my fellow players.

The single official server is supposed to eventually grow based on population but is rather small for now. Players have complained the server gets reset a lot, which I found to be the case. During my first login, I couldn't attack other players, didn't lose items on death, and couldn't find any dinosaurs. The next time I logged in, my bags were empty, as were other people's. PvP certainly was fixed, but I still didn't lose anything on death. I play during Japanese prime time, so the server was understandably less populated by players, and I expected to be able to find plenty of dinosaurs to hunt. But they were quite rare, and nothing I found was small enough for me to kill as a new player.

I was, however, murdered several times by a pair of players who refused to respond to my attempts to communicate, which I attempted for the sake of experiment. Let's just say that I've yet to make any new friends in any survival game.

But eventually, I realized that the game is more about PvE than PvP. Yes, you can kill people, but death is even less harsh than in World of Warcraft because there's no durability on gear (at least for now). You can attack people's forts, but aside from breaking walls for access to different machines or player built bridges, the time involved in destroying didn't feel worth it, though I feel building up is much faster and entertaining than with Rust. It certainly feels deeper, what with the construction of oil wells, light towers to illuminate the night, and perches that should make hunting dinos easier, assuming one actually attacked my base.

A decent starter guide helped me along with advanced crafting, like needing the right table to use blueprints. The lack of descriptions on many items makes puzzling out their use and construction difficult. For example, to kill a big dino, I knew I needed to make a big gun and some ammo and find a target, all after making a defensible home. Home construction in BoP feels faster than in Rust, and in the current game, I feel safer at home than I did in Rust too. After that, I made blueprints for my gun, pounded my head and keyboard trying to figure out how to turn blueprints into a gun, spent time running around the ruins of another base and to experiment with the machines, finally crafted the gun, and then spent 30 more minutes searching for a target before killing my first T-Rex with a mixture of fear, excitement, and a little disappointment.

In spite of death's current lack of bite, the game felt survivory enough that I wanted to live. Dinos are easy enough to find with their stomping sound effect, so I don't have to worry about the ninja bears that plagued my Darkfall experience. Just the same, dinos are creatures that kill very quickly. Even with my awesome rifle, ammo, plan, and rumors that a lone player could kill the King, I was nervous. I found my target, took aim, and unloaded... possibly a bit into my survival pants because this particular Rex hadn't died from the single clip of ammo as I'd seen in a video. Luckily, I'd crafted more, but I was bleeding, I was low on stamina, and I needed to reload. Desperately fixing some of those issues while being chased by a house-sized killing machine didn't help my nervousness, but I turned around to finish the job. I must admit that I may have used a lot more ammo than needed due to its death animation, but damn, it was scary.

In a future patch, the noise of my adventure probably would have attracted a lot of players. The size and color of my target would have made my location very obvious. Weak from battle and out of ammo, I was an easy target. The kill was doable alone, but it didn't feel right. I felt vulnerable for a few moments and expected my two "neighbors" to once again find and murder me.

But this is alpha. I made my kill, looted it, then proceeded to play with the body to check out the game's physics. And that was it. I probably could have gone home, made more ammo, and continued to search for dinos to kill, or maybe get a car (blueprint) to cruise around the tiny island I called home, but I felt done. I felt as if I had already beaten the game, and it's not a feeling I've ever felt about an MMO so early on, even when getting server firsts or defeating large PvP alliances.

The game did feel more comfortable than Rust at least. Claim zones having coordinates create a social atmosphere, and had I played with a partner, meeting up would have been easier. The lack of this system just makes other survival games almost feel anti-social, especially without any sort of guild label attached to characters or customization options to help you identify your friends (or potential enemies). While I could be peaceful with other players, no one seemed to want to trust anyone who wasn't speaking in general chat or friends from other games. I got my Steam sale value out of it, but for a survival game, it just felt more like a PvE game with free-for-all PvP turned on.

Stay tuned for the second part of this look at upcoming dino-survival MMOs; we'll be peeking into The Stomping Land!

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.