Meadow, the latest game from indie developers Might and Delight, has flown under the radar. Like the Shelter games the studio is famous for, Meadow has you controlling an animal, exploring a lo-fi wilderness. Unlike Shelter, Meadow is an MMO.
Starting life in Meadow is confusing. Having read nothing about the game, I dived into the European server. I was suddenly a small badger, in a field, alone. I quickly worked out the controls available to me: walk, run, jump, smell, speak and emote -- actually many, many emotes.
After five minutes or so of bounding around and chittering to myself, I heard an almost-guttural bleating coming from ... somewhere. I called out again with the whiny chitter that only a badger could make. The deep bleat drew closer. I gently made my way down a cliff face toward a pair of antlers in the distance.
I wandered, cautiously, toward the figure, unsure if it was friend or foe (or even if the game has the concept of friends and foes). A circular emote appeared above its head -- a smiling deer face. I returned a similarly happy symbol and jumped up and down with excitement. The deer then began displaying a complex series of arrows, circles and dotted lines. I retorted with a steady supply of question marks.
Perhaps growing tired of my inexperience, the deer darted off, and I gave chase, bouncing around her feet every time I caught up. After a while, I realized that I wasn't chasing her -- she was taking me somewhere. The deer led me up a hillside, toward a couple of small bundles of color, which when I passed over them made a noise that suggested they were collectible items. What exactly I was collecting, I was unsure.
After a hill climb and a brief stop while I got lost, my deer companion and I met with a huge group of animals. Bunnies, badgers, frogs, deer, lynx and even a bear cub, all sporting different coats and communicating through emotes. Was this my new tribe? Without warning, the pack set off, running at pace across rolling countryside, occasionally crossing a river. The deer and lynx were leading the procession: a pair at the front and a pair at the back, shepherding the smaller animals to various landmarks.
We climbed a mountain. We traversed rivers. We met what I can only assume was another tribe, and traveled as one giant herd, maybe 30 animals in all, across the world. Every once in a while we'd stop, and the larger animals would break a strange obelisk into colorful pieces, the younglings gratefully lapping up these apparently collectible shards.
After a while, I was informed a skin had unlocked, and I put on my new fur coat, wearing it with pride. These colorful shards, an unlabeled menu had now informed me, were indeed collectible. You break apart the obelisks by having the right animals in your tribe, and amass the pieces within to unlock skins, emotes and animals.
I spent maybe another 30 minutes with the herd, unlocking another emote (a suspicious-looking side-eye) and a new animal -- a frog. Approaching another mountain, the smaller animals spotted a cave. Buzzing with nervous excitement, we tentatively wandered over, occasionally looking back to the lynx and deer for approval.
As we entered the shallow grotto, one of the lynx joined us, and lit a fire. I searched my response list for "wide-eyed with wonder," but couldn't find an appropriate emote to express how surprised I was by the advent of fire to this world. I instead resorted to bounding up and down, exuding that same shrill chitter that first charmed my deer mentor.
Rather than responding, the lynx simply sprawled out next to the fire. After some consternation -- I kept wandering over to the fire while trying to work out how to lie down, which didn't hurt, but was rather embarrassing -- my badger followed suit. Soon, a large part of the tribe was gathered in this tiny cave. And there were several fires. And it was peaceful. And then I logged off the server, and went back to work.
'Meadow' is available now on Steam for PC, Mac and Linux, priced at $2.99.