Evolve Stage 2 - Life Returns to Shear

Evolve is an incredibly unique shooter released by Turtle Rock Studios,the minds behind the original Left 4 Dead. Released in February of 2015, I was incredibly invested with the title for a few months. Sadly, due to long lobby times waiting for players, not a ton of content and having no friends to play with, I stopped playing around summer time. I was happy to see Evolve slowly release DLC hunters and even monsters to improve on the game's semi-limited content over the year following it's release, despite this, the Evolve player base tracked by steam continued to plummet. Reaching an all time low in May of 2016, with a world wide player base of 360ish players (on Steam), it seemed Evolve was over with. However, Turtle Rock Studios brought Evolve back from the shadow realm with the announcement of "Evolve: Stage 2". With it's BETA release, the player base has sky rocketed to over 50,000 players, and the planet of Shear is populated once more. Turtle Rock approached the revival of their monster hunting shooter in a relatively unique way.                        

To anyone unfamiliar with Evolve, it is best described as a 4v1 online survival shooter. One player is tasked with playing 1 of 5 monsters of their choice, and must complete an objective or defeat the enemy team. The remaining 4 players play "hunters" tasked with defending the same objective or defeating the monster. There are currently 25 hunters, 5 monsters and 19 maps, making for an incredible variation between games. Hunters are grouped into one of 4 classes, Assault, Medic, Trapper and Support, which have abilities and weaponry pretty centered around their role in the team. Monsters were equipped with 4 abilities and passives to help move around the map. Monsters also have the ability to consume wildlife in the map to level up and "evolve" becoming a stronger version of themselves. Hunters could also slay the same neutral wildlife to get buffs. Players had to unlock new hunters/monsters and skins through progression or from down loading directly from the shop. Overall, Evolve was a very well thought out and unique experience. It's hard to say what specifically about Evolve caused the game to fail originally. I loved Evolve, but I could see how frustrating the game could be sometimes. Hunter's needed to work together towards a common goal and frequently half of your squad seemed to have no idea what was going on. On the contrary, sometimes I would find myself with an INSANELY coordinated group of hunters, which made the game seem incredibly unfair to monsters. I think the Evolve community was unwilling to grind through the incredibly difficult learning curve. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "There is no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth".

The first decision Turtle Rock made was to make their title free. We've seen the F2P model work wonders in today's modern industry with titles like League of Legends, Warframe and Hearthstone. Any "Legacy" Evolve players will keep all unlocks they have earned and become "Founders." Founders are rewarded with unique skins, badges, a chunk of the new in game currency and even more swag. This isn't a bad move on the studios part. One of the main complaints with "Legacy" Evolve was lack on content for it's price tag, so Turtle Rock directly attacked this complaint, and clearly it has had an effect. While Stage 2 is still in Beta, new players cannot spend money to acquire cosmetics or characters (like RP in League of Legends) but Turtle Rock has said the game will allow players to purchase content in the next 2-6 weeks as opposed to earning in game currency(IP in League of Legends). Possibly the biggest changes to Evolve: Stage 2 is in it's gameplay.

In Legacy Evolve, there were typically 2 stages of a match, Hunting and Combat. Hunting was a slow and patient test of using information like sound and visuals to track down the monster player. This included tracking footprints, listening for sounds, seeing snapped trees and even neutral wildlife carcasses. Meanwhile, the monster would move through the wilds as efficiently as possible, feeding on wildlife to become strong enough to Evolve to the next level. Level 1 evolutions were incredibly weak, Level 2 was better and Level 3 evolutions were forces to be reckoned with.  When the monster was finally tracked down, the Hunter team's "Tracker" would deploy a mobile arena to trap the Monster and combat would begin. The mobile arena was pretty big, so based on placement the monster could still run and utilize movement to avoid the hunters until the dome dropped. This style of gameplay usually meant for 20-25 minute games. Personally I absolutely loved this structure of games, hunting was intense and nerve wracking, while combat was hype and chaotic. However this structure made for a typical meta of games that veteran Evolve players dubbed "Flee to 3." Experienced Monsters would simply outwit the hunters using movement and mind games until they became Level 3, then they simply trashed the Hunter team. IT was a common occurrence at the end of Legacy Evolve's life. Stage 2 has made changes to drop the average game length to about 15 minutes. In Evolve: Stage 2's current state, Trackers no longer have the Orbital Arena ability, it is a shared ability for all the hunters. Tracker's new ability is titled "Planet Scanner" which uses a satellite to point out the general location of the monster. The shared dome ability carries it's five minute cooldown from Legacy, but now dealing damage to the monster on the run lowers the cooldown by a full 60 seconds when 4% of the monsters health is taken. This allows hunters to be much more aggressive and attempt to corner the monster a lot earlier. However, this new change of any Hunter being allowed to drop the orbital arena allows for way funnier botches and for hunters to get hero syndrome and get caught out alone. To compensate for all these combat phases, monsters have a hugely increase health pool and stamina regeneration, as well as a faster out of combat armor regeneration. Thanks to these buffs, monsters become a very difficult foe at only Stage 2, but it takes a very skilled monster to get there.

Evolve Stage: 2 has abandoned some of it's identity to become more accessible to the masses. I am not bitter towards Turtle Rock by any means, their game deserves attention and it simply wasn't getting it. In a weird way I feel like Turtle Rock presented the masses with a very special gift and we let them down by not accepting it. Legacy Evolve is a gaming experience I'll remember for the rest of my life, but Stage 2 is promising. Forcing more combat and less sherlocking has allowed their title to be a lot more accessible. With 70,000 players on steam hunting away as I currently write these words, Turtle Rock made the right decision. I'm stoked to see the world of Shear populated once again. As special as Legacy Evolve was, sometimes game developers are simply forced to evolve.     


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