CotW and thC – a comparison

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MonacoSteve
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CotW and thC – a comparison

Postby MonacoSteve » May 14th, 2017, 2:16 am

April/May 2017

Preface

Based on my background of being a player for theHunterClassics (tHC) since the very first day, and additionally now having the current max. level (=60) in theHunter Call of the Wild (CotW) as well, I feel somehow qualified for a comparative analysis of both games. They are produced by the same company, Expansive Worlds (EW, a subsidy of Avalanche), and both titles are offering virtual hunting experience but meant to “complement” each other rather than to compete.

Regarding that latter aspect I would say that despite EW's claim (or hope) it is rather unrealistic to assume that the two games will not rival for a highly overlapping player group. Whoever is seriously interested in hunting simulations will probably want to see and play both games, and all others will ignore both, more or less. And all of us who are forced by real life to limit their playing time sometimes will at least have to set a preference for one or the other title, sooner or later. Whether CotW can also attract new players that so far completely hesitated to play a hunting game (or at least to play thC) remains unclear. I personally doubt that this can amount to a significant number of the overall (or new) CotW customers. CotW has most likely recruited the vast majority of its players from the already existing thC community, and many will – at least temporarily – play both games. As I do.

Now, how much do these two titles really differ, and what do they have in common?

General remarks

First and foremost, it is obvious that tHC can look back to over 8 years of successful existence with a steady and nearly uninterrupted extension of its content which is remarkable and unprecedented for the sim-hunting market. The thC player community has grown over the years significantly, together with the title, and seems to represent a reasonable big, pretty stable group of supporters that allow EW to write black numbers and to invest into continued game development (which probably also included the creation of new games like “theHunter Primal” and, most recently, CotW). CotW now is a completely fresh title of the “tH family”. How well it will be accepted on the long run and can motivate more people buying it, only time will tell. A mild concept for further extension is announced for CotW, but at the moment it is a one-time purchase title with additional, occasional DLCs. Alone this completely different business model (the one-time purchase with DLC add-ons versus a constant membership renewal requirement plus microtransitions for thC) shows that EW is probably able to stop investing into CotW more easily if the game does not provide the expected long-term revenue, and leave it - as “Primal” - more or less unchanged as a standalone.

Let’s also look shortly at the technical basis: thC runs under a nearly 10 years old Avalanche engine (from JustCause 2) which clearly limits certain possibilities (e.g. to increase the object render distances and the number of animals moving in a herd together, or the overall number of animals roaming in parallel on the map; and it also obviously limits certain animation possibilities like true hit or dying reactions of shot animals, etc.). Furthermore, thC cannot be simply transferred to the new engine with a reasonable investment of time and resources – which is probably one reason why EW decided to start a new game from scratch. Given these very basic restrictions for thC, it is more than amazing how well it has managed to dwell and extend for nearly a decade now without losing attractiveness. It can be safely said that, on the contrary, the overall tHC quality – in addition to all added new content – has been well maintained or even increased over the years, demonstrating impressively how much the team is able to squeeze out of their old technique every day again. It looks as if that route can be successfully followed for quite some more years. -- CotW, however, enjoys the advantage to be based on latest Avalanche technology (Apex), so from that point of view it should be significantly superior regarding quality and versatility right away. One must be fair enough to admit that CotW has only come into existence recently and thus received by far less development time, but at the same time it would also be naïve to ignore that – after all – it’s the very same company that works with both games, so CotW could directly profit from the many years of thC experience in EW.

The most obvious first similarity of both games is their shared sandbox concept. Players can freely move around on all reserves without any confinement (except some inaccessible map areas by design) and without being “guided/forced” along a certain paths or routes. Thus, both games offer an unrestricted “discovery feeling”. The CotW reserves are significantly larger in overall size (= one advantage of the new engine) than the thC maps, but my personal impression is that this is not such a “quantum leap” as some may think. Comparing only plain physical data is not doing full justice because the in-game scaling of distances and objects between these two games seems to be somewhat different. By subjective criteria (how long it e.g. takes to cover certain distances) a CotW reserves feels roughly 3-4 times larger than an average thC map.

The Reserves

If we continue our comparison with some details of the maps (called “reserves”), the first obvious difference is their number. tHC has 10 different reserves meanwhile (being all located on one single big “world” but with no walking connections between them), while CotW started with two different, fully separate maps. Given that thC went online and lived with just a single map (“Whitehart Island”) over a year when it started, this is not bad for CotW. Since, tHC has added roughly 1 new map per year; and what CotW can offer in that respect remains to be seen. In both games, each reserve consists of a very individual landscape (with exception of the first 3 thC maps which are pretty similar in their “ecotype”), inspired by a real-world landscape. Both areas of the Old and New World are represented in both games in order to allow players from many continents to feel “at home”. Players can freely chose via the launcher (thC) or the map menu (CotW) whatever landscape they like to join, and thus can enjoy a noticeable variation of different hunting grounds – one of the biggest assets of the EW hunting games in general.

One of the major expectations when CotW was announced was a further improved optical map quality. (Note: I am making this comparison under highest graphics settings for both games). Here, I personally was not completely satisfied. Being used to the crystal-clear optics of the thC reserves, I was surprised to find the CotW landscapes, for some reason, always looking a bit as if you watch them through a soft focus lens – and this even after subtracting all the fog, dust, and rain effects which they temporarily have in addition. In general, the tHC landscapes have absolutely clear air, and the objects on them appear more filigreed. For this, we pay a well-known and often criticized price, namely the rather short render distance in thC. But given that CotW runs on the latest engine of Avalanche, I had expected a similar sharp and fine-tuned picture in its landscapes, even when taking into account the truly amazing (probably 3 x larger) render distance. But maybe that’s a just my personal (dis)liking, and other players may even appreciate the nearly constant small “blur” in the CotW reserves.

By this I also do not want to say that the objects on the CotW maps are created with less care. In contrast, they are at least evenly well-made. In particular the flora (vegetation) is great, consists of a nice variety of different plants that are mixed well, never feel obviously repetitive, and provide generally very believable and extremely natural looking arrangements. The same is true for thC, too, but thC suffers from the fact that a lot of the smaller ground objects stop to render already in medium distances, resulting in parts of landscapes that look totally different depending on the magnification by which they are observed. It also results in the - paradox - situation that you can see distantly roaming thC animals often better than when they are closer (or when magnified through a scope/binocular) because then they become unexpectedly hidden by the closer rendering objects. CotW, due to the superior engine, has this problem much less (but cannot avoid it totally either). I also appreciate that the CotW makers managed to create really dense vegetation patches with very naturally looking mixtures of larger and smaller trees, bushes, and a lot of underbrush that offers true cover for the animals, while the thC vegetation often looks a bit “thinned out”, in particular the larger woods. CotW’s big render distance also allows the existence of really huge open clearings, meadows, and fields with an unprecedented wide view, while thC landscapes tend to be influenced by the obvious attempt to conceal the limits of render space by restricting wider views via additional mounds and embankments, resulting in sometimes too “bumpy” landscapes.

The animation of plant and tree movements is clearly more convincing in CotW than in thC (although I still admit the wonderful swaying grass “waves” in the wind on the thC meadows!). CotW trees do not shake in the wind with their whole trunk anymore but only with their tips, with intensities perfectly matching wind strength – this is an amazing new detail! The same is true for the animation of rain. While in both games the weather is strictly controlled by the game, the thC rain always suffers from way too fast onset (often virtually “out of the blue sky”), from rather little variation in intensity, and from a simple graphical realization which even has no true “physical” connection to the rest of the map. This is completely different in CotW where you have not only very nicely developing weather changes and different rain intensities with believable transitions, but also more “interaction” of the rain droplets with other map elements and structures - right up to a visible wetting of certain parts of the ground, trails, and roads. This is a real milestone! (Only the CotW water surfaces surprisingly seem to be pretty unaffected by rain). Another stunning CotW novelty can be admired in the simulated interaction of the player – and even of the animals – with the lower plants, grass, and herbs on the ground which are touched during their movement. This is only very rudimentary realized in thC, while CotW offers an amazingly rich and also more sustained “feedback”, providing the immersive impression that the plant cover on the ground is really affected when somebody or something passes through. Wonderful!

Surface water seems to be a somewhat critical issue in both games. Apparently, it always can only be located on the same (lowest) map height level, and thus no small creeks are running down a slope, and no rivers are really visibly flowing from higher to lower map areas. Overcoming this deficit is apparently still an unsolved challenge for the Avalanche landscapes. The water surface texture and animation is also not extraordinarily well made (I know better simulated ones, where e.g. all objects also are truly mirrored, and water ripples are affected by wind, etc.), but is acceptable given that the player focuses attention on the land anyway, most of the time. Neither the animals (with exception of the unique polar bear in thC) nor the player avatar can swim in both games. Crossing rivers therefore requires the existence of fords, which also means that even longer and bigger “streams” are frequently interrupted by unnatural flat parts to avoid too long insurmountable barriers for the animals. The animals, although they are in both games supposed to visit drinking areas during their daily activity cycle, are not really using the water realistically. Despite some animated drinking movements they rarely truly “drink” directly at or in water, but mostly on the adjacent dry ground, which always gives me some head-scratching when I see it.

Roads and trails in CotW are very well integrated into the landscape and look much less artificial than their tHC counterparts. This is a great improvement given that many players will probably walk a lot along these structures. Only when moving in crouched position, one can see that also CotW roads consist of an additional texture layer that sometimes does not completely fit to the underground below (and then you find yourself sunk between these two layers).

Many reserves of both games contain some inaccessible areas (in particular if they have mountain regions), or at least areas that are very difficult to reach. Only in CotW the player can overcome smaller hurdles and not extremely steep slopes by “jumping”, while thC players either have to use a rather tricky “climbing” feature that must be bought extra (only available for one reserve, “Val de Bois”, and not very much liked there either) or need to find a sometimes possible other way around if they want to visit such areas. However, in my experience most of these remote places are hardly worth all the efforts as they rarely contain animals, anyway.

CotW’s huge map sizes theoretically had offered the developers, more than any thC reserve before, the chance to create a few big, clearly different “geo-zones” on each map, generously put together, with smooth and large transition zones between them. However, I found this only partly realized in the new game. In most of the “districts” into which the maps are subdivided, I find the same, sometimes pretty frequent repetition of both “high” and “low” landscape types – actually this is even truer on “Layton Lake” than on “Hirschfelden”. Although all the CotW districts obviously have been planned to represent an own landscape character (and partly also do, at least on a bigger scale), they are not really unique, and you find similar landscape patterns in all of them. This is completely reasonable to some extent (after all, they represent a coherent major landscape type), but it could have been done better in the detail. The main different landscape elements of a CotW map alternate internally still a bit too often, creating an unnecessary dense patchwork of recurring structures. You also find the same combination of ground objects on each CotW map repeating all over from north to south. The structures as such that define a swamp, meadow, bushland, wood, field, mountain slope etc. are well made, no doubt about this, and there is also a very well designed mechanism in place which merges them without artificially looking borders. And admittedly, the two big CotW maps are in fact significantly different from each other, too. But both are in danger to become a bit boring after longer game-play, because you start to “see everything again no matter where you are”. The CotW reserve “Hirschfelden” is somewhat better in that respect than “Layton Lake”, IMHO, because it can “play” with more man-made structures, and varies nicely between cultivated and non-cultivated areas connected by trails and roads. “Layton Lake” must deal with mostly uninhabited wild land, and looks overall to me as if less time has been invested to create it. -- thC, in contrast, clearly profits from its high number of smaller, but extremely individual maps (with only few exceptions) representing both convincing and basically different ”parts of the world", with a highly typical own flora and own structures. Additionally, all 4 seasons from spring over summer to fall and winter can be found in (different) thC reserves, while both CotW maps are designed as fall landscapes. So, regarding landscape variety, the point goes to thC. CotW may catch up with adding new, unique maps on the longer run, perhaps.

A hunting day on a thC reserve always starts at 5 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. The player can extend a session to the next day, but this comes together with some internal game re-settings, so there is no true continuation in longer hunts. -- CotW does not know such limitations; here you have complete 24-hour cycles that continue to the next one without any interruption, and you can hunt day and night, as long and often as you want. This is a major asset of the new game, actually. The very naturally changing map illumination that accompanies the progressig daytimes is already a big selling point for thC, and CotW has continued this remarkable EW tradition very nicely. Sun- and moonrises, sun-rays sparkling through tree leaves, and many other very natural light effects provide a truly natural - sometimes even stunning! - illumination in both titles, with CotW (with e.g. the new headlamp light effect in the night!) having - expectedly - added some more little features which even deepen the light-associated immersion. But in general I wouldn’t say that one game is massively dominating the other in that respect a lot. Both are great.


Sounds

In both games, sound plays an essential role, and contributes a lot to create an immersive hunting experience. This reaches from the animal calls and footstep sounds over player-generated sounds (including gun and bow shots) to the overall acoustic background of the landscape. This is not – and never was – bad in thC, but CotW has clearly set a new quality mark in that respect. CotW animals are much more vocal and in particular now provide not only idle “mating calls” but even frequent “warning calls” in reaction to possible threat, which is both realistic and also helpful in localizing them. Wind and rain sounds are great and variable, accompanying the “physical” events and their diversity very well. The sound that the CotW player creates while moving through the landscape is very nicely (and nearly always 100% correctly) reflecting the different surface structures which are passed. I particularly like the sound feedback when moving through underbrush– a “noise” that even can be perceived by the animals as potential danger, and to which they react. Such fine-tuned reactions are far less pronounced in thC. The rustling that CotW animals elicit when walking through underbrush is also great. Only stepping on a piece of wood still results in always the same wrong acoustical feedback (actually copied 1:1 from thC to CotW) - no matter which kind of wood you touch – a root, a tree trunk, a platform – the “hollow” repercussion always sounds as if you walk over planks. I wonder why that age-old acoustical glitch was not improved in CotW, at least.
All other ambient sounds, birdsongs etc., are very well and naturally integrated into the landscapes, both regarding daytime and landscape type. thC has a very good sound background already, but I would dare to say that in CotW we experience clearly further improved quality and an even more pleasing acoustical variety, which can only be applauded as being a great achievement of the sound engineering team.
The weapon sounds (shots, reloading) are rich and full in both games, and I do not see – pardon: hear - a significant difference. But CotW has also implemented some additional special “idle” sounds of the player while e.g. walking while holding a gun, or even while waiting in a tower, and this adds very positively to the overall immersion that the acoustical setting of the new game delivers.

Gameplay

Before I finally come to the animals (no worry, I will not forget them!), I want to touch the general gameplay first. This is the point where the two titles differ most and very significantly, aside from their above-mentioned common basic “sandbox” principle. thC, to start with, is characterized not only by a continuous addition of new game elements like reserves, animals (up to now close to 40 different species!), weapons (over 100 different types) and other useful and fancy equipment which allows the players to constantly buy and try new things. This clearly is a big factor in eliciting ongoing player motivation. The same is true for the numerous standard mission series (for each map, each animal, many weapons) and an already very rich standard competition calendar (with both single- and multiplayer options) that offers a lot of different, regularly repeating challenges with the possibility to earn trophies and in-game money. In addition, thC also runs regular special events (Easter, Christmas, Halloween…) consisting of unique missions and tournaments. A lot of development effort goes into all these activities, and without any doubt the community loves and uses these possibilities very much. Worldwide leaderboards based on a general “HunterScore”, and top player “ladders” for each animal that are re-set in given intervals of a “season” complete the picture of a highly intense, steadily expanding and renewed set of challenges that can keep any interested thC player constantly on his heels. Besides that there is also plenty room for those who just want to enjoy – on their own or together with a few friends - an immersive idle hunting experience– nobody is forced to do anything. This broad mixture of offers to the community and the wide variety of possibilities how to play this game is probably one of the main assets for thC’s ongoing attractiveness. It is also this setting – among other things - that always keeps the developing team close to its community, and there is a lot of lively interaction. I should not withhold, however, that there is also one major, apparently never truly solved problem, namely the often-criticized steep learning curve in thC. In fact, despite there is a forum, a very well-made WiKi, and a couple of little in-game tutorials, thC is not a game that can be mastered within a few days. It requires significant patience before a player has learned the basics so well that he can really enjoy it and profit from all the many offers. But it is possible, as the existing big community proves. Nevertheless, it is also obvious that many more who might be potentially interested never really jump upon thC to become regular users (or even members) because they are too easily frustrated or bored at the beginning. Yes, it takes time to learn how to track animals, how to find and lure them, and how to make a successful shot and harvest. thC is by no means a simple “brute-force shooter game". It never was, and never will be.

Obviously, CotW started with the ambition to make the entry for new players much easier and smoother, and to make the whole gameplay faster. This is seen already after the very first start of the game – you immediately get an introduction (popping up info-boxes, human voices explaining some basics) – and continues throughout the subsequent gameplay with a lot of in-game hints and a constantly displayed “hud”. Even the so important and frequent animal calls are also graphically displayed in the reserve. This is helpful but clearly also one reason why CotW immediately raises the impression of being a much more “arcadic” title than thC – something that initially may disappoint many genuine thC players. In fact, this impression is not completely wrong. Although a lot of the implemented in-game helpers can theoretically be toggled off to create a more “hardcore” situation, the game as a whole encourages the players to be played in a rather fast style. It is probably fair to say that newcomers are by far most successful if they decide to go for a non-compromise “running and gunning” playstyle right away. The animals’ provoked warning calls provide the by far best orientation for finding, luring and shooting them, because most CotW animals (at least the lower scoring ones) do neither flee so easily nor so far as in thC, and they also calm down very fast after being spooked, and arrive very fast at a luring spot (while the latter can take very long in tHC). Thus, in contrast to its very realistic landscapes and sounds, the way CotW can be played is not supportive for being viewed as a real hunting simulation – but this may well be intended by EW.

CotW offers also a rather elaborated “mission tree” which is – in contrast to thC where you chose and activate your missions freely via the launcher - directly embedded into the ongoing gameplay. Players are free to accept or refuse the mission offers but would actually be well advised to play them because completing missions provides several additional benefits (gain of extra XP and in-game cash). Unlike in thC, the player can only chose between a given small set of missions, though. As long not completed, the player will get no new ones. Expectedly, also their difficulty rises – but sometimes too fast. Thus, often sooner than later, players will get stuck for quite a long time with certain uncompleted missions. Aside from solved missions, CotW players earn their XP, weapon points, and in-game currency mainly by harvesting animals, and by this they level up and earn cash to afford more weapons and equipment. All equipment (except a basic free starter set) is stepwise unlocked and offered in the shop, and must be purchased with in-game cash. Skill and perk points granted for reaching certain achievements (missions, leveling up, etc.) allow to shape the player profile individually to some extent (but eventually also along defined “trees”), and to improve the hunting possibilities. In that sense, CotW is, much more than thC, designed for pursuing a leveling strategy along with the hunting. The thC HunterScore also offers certain promotions, but develops slower and also has much less direct impact on gameplay.

CotW contains a prominent “discovery element” aside from hunting. At game start, neither the whole reserves nor all the fixed structures on them (lodges, hunting stands and tents, landmarks, other points of interest) are immediately accessible and available; they need to be stepwise uncovered or unlocked. This probably should motivate the player to start an extended discovering tour. In that respect, CotW differs a lot from thC which offers on each new reserve a fully unrestricted, open landscape right away, and only very few point of interest on them. While the CotW player is not forced to any action or moving route either, he is thus still much more directed and guided by the need to detect the landscape, and in particular new starting points (“lodges”). Another major difference is that the CotW maps only recently started to become a bit customizable by offering (rather expensive) start tents and ground blinds that the player can install himself. The vast majority of CotW map objects is already in fixed locations (including even the collectibles); only the animals seem to spawn as (semi-) random as the thC animals do. That predetermined object setting has the serious disadvantage that, after a player has uncovered, collected, installed, and unlocked everything, there is not much else to do in that respect any more. Except the new starting tents (as in thC) and ground blinds, no other possibility exist to “individualize” the reserves. thC, in contrast has a much more elaborated system in that respect which in fact one of the other really big selling points here. Players can buy many things (stands, blinds, decoys, feeders, new start points…) that can be freely installed on their maps (and which subsequently permanently remain there), thus allowing to shape their hunting grounds very individually. There are nearly unlimited possibilities to customize a thC reserve.

Multiplayer (MP) has a completely different importance in the two games. Both do offer a MP option (up to 8 players can join a session together) but only in thC, MP provides really long-term fun because players can e.g. show their individual settings to each other, and use them together. thC also has regular MP tournaments. In CotW, also several players can hunt together, and in MP sessions limited in-game competition possibilities are implemented but they have no outreach beyond a session. A big disadvantage is that missions are switched off in CotW MP sessions for all participants, so – unlike in thC - nobody can help another person with a mission. So, in CotW, the MP option seem to be a rather small, superimposed add-on with not much more outreach than offering the possibility to hunt together with friends occasionally, while in thC MP is a well-integrated, central part of the whole game, and contributes significantly to the ongoing attractiveness. CotW is thus fostering an individual player development, while thC clearly supports player interaction and competition. Consequently, thC has a very vivid and colorful community life while CotW players appear to play much more on their own. Whether CotW can also set up and keep a similarly motivated and persistently active community, thus remains to be seen.

A big mess in my eyes in CotW is the in-game inventory handling. Given that the CotW team has spent such remarkable effort to create a user-friendly game in so many other respects, I wonder why they significantly failed to offer an easy-to-understand system how the weapons, callers, scopes and other items are purchased and equipped. The CotW inventory that is reached via the pause menu, and the CotW store/backpack that can only be reached in-game via special access points at the lodges (and tents), are both not intuitively set up, IMHO, and even less understandably connected to each other. Once you bought your first new item, you will find yourself in no easy position to find out how to get it equipped and to use it. This starts with the bigger items (weapons, callers) and their placement in the short-key slots and gets even worse if you want to change the ammunition or the scope for a given weapon. When you finally learned that, it all even shows some logics, but I personally wonder why such a complicated system was structured here at all while thC with its rich, unrestricted “out-game” shop” and the very clear in-game inventory/backpack system would have provided such a nice example how to do it well. Reinventing the wheel can sometimes be a bad idea, in particular if that new wheel is not round…

What I really like, on the other hand, in CotW is the very consequently realized idea to implement “need zones” for the animals on the reserves, and to connect this with a “hunting pressure” effect. Both are actually also elements in Cabela’s latest title (2014) “Big Game Hunt Pro”, and in this respect CotW resembles this (otherwise much more arcade-style) hunting game. But CotW takes extra advantage of its much bigger reserves with a huge amount of such zones (many for each animal species, divided into feeding, drinking and resting zones) that are hidden there. Yes, hidden, because the zones must also be detected in each reserve (via finding respective tracks or spotting animals performing the respective activity) before they become openly visible and added to the overview map as a permanent entry. There are many potential zones, and probably every player will unlock a somewhat different, individual zone pattern. But unlocking only works in Singleplayer mode, so in MP it will not help if you find one (and are not the host). – Also thC has already added a certain daytime-dependent activity pattern for many (but probably not all) of its animals some years ago, so they do not roam in a totally random way over the reserves anymore either, but this feature has never become very elaborate or even really reliably usable. CotW, on the other hand, has perfected the need zone system. Once a player has found a significant number of such zones for a species, he can thus, in principle, predict the time-dependent animal movement (and presence) with a much higher probability. This is truly great, but my impression is also that it unfortunately takes too much time before a player can develop that feature really to full bloom. Once someone has played long enough to have uncovered a good number of need zones, he has usually also uncovered so many other elements and map parts already, and reached such a high level otherwise, that the game as a whole has come (for at least this reserve) to sort of a “steady-state” that is not offering many more challenges. And this is sad because only after uncovering a tight need-zone pattern, strategic hunting and not just “running and gunning” would make really sense.

The hunting pressure is another great effect in CotW. In principle it means that once a player starts to kill animals in a certain area, the animals react by avoiding visiting this region until the pressure has ceased again (which only happens if the area remains untouched for a while). Given the big map size, the player is never in danger to “poison” larger parts of a reserve however. Uncfortunately, the system is not very stringent in general. “Toxic” areas can still be traversed and visited by animals very often – they only do not visit their need zones anymore which is the so far single true effect of a high hunting pressure. Also, animals can still easily be lured with a caller or scent to zones under pressure. So, the nice pressure feature fails to exploit its full potential by far, and can rather easily be circumvented.

Last not least, in my section “gameplay”, I want to shortly also discuss animal tracking. The tracking is a salient feature of both EW games. The roaming animals, all over the map, whether visible to the player or not, constantly leave footprints and droppings on the map surface which can be detected and used to follow a given prey. The tracks are highlighted in both game by additional optical hints in order to be detected easier. Still, many players, in particular in thC, have a lot of difficulties with tracking. There is always some room for interpretation for each track, the possible depth in readout of a track is also a function of the achieved skill level, and individual track distances are sometimes rather big. CotW uses similar principles as thC but has made it much easier. Both the optical assistance is more evident here, and the track intervals are shorter. It is thus usually no problem to follow footprints or blood trails in CotW once one has done it a few times, and further easements via the skill tree are rather soon achievable. In thC, tracking always remains a certain challenge, also for experts (and it is for a good reason that thC meanwhile introduced beautiful scent hounds which can help and assist). The simple tracking system of CotW will therefore probably be appreciated by many players, but - at the same time - it also (inevitably) is another “immersion-reducer” due to its rather conspicuous design.

The Animals

Finally, there we are! The true stars of every hunting game: the animals. What can we say here? Obviously, like with the reserves, we should start with the point where thC has, simply due to its much longer existence, a clear edge: The number of different animals that can be hunted. thC meanwhile offers close to 40 different species with some being more related to each other than others but eventually all counting as separate prey, and each species gets its own appreciation in the leaderboards, achievement lists, missions, and competitions. Due to their sheer number, it is practically impossible in thC meanwhile that a normal player can hunt all of them with similar intensity, and thus many users develop into specialists with individual preferences and knowledge. This contributes a lot to the overall colorful player spectrum of the thC community. Clearly, CotW is simply too young to be able to compete seriously in this point. It has to be acknowledged, however, that CotW started already with 10 different species right away (thC started with just 3!), so this is not bad at all. Whether, and how many, more CotW animals may follow, remains to be seen. In thC we can probably take it more or less for granted that we will get additional new species continuously as long as the title exists.

If we compare the animal model quality between the two games, I am afraid that I have to say – at least from my view through a biologist’s glasses – that I had expected more from CotW than what is provided. Clearly, both games have more and less well-made animals, but I would say that the thC models - also older ones created many years ago already like the whitetail, for example - are in no way less convincing than their new CotW counterparts. With exception of the Fallow Deer (and to some extent the "European Bison") which is unique in thC, all CotW species can directly be compared with a corresponding thC animal, and I would not give any of the CotW species the stamp of looking more realistic. Sometimes even in contrast. As a general critique in both games, for example, female medium-sized and large deer still has too shorts necks, too short heads, and too short ears, and the bears that look (after a recent revamp) too “plump” in thC are to skinny and “human-like” (at least in some positions) in CotW (showing how difficult it is to make create a fully-convincing bear model!). Otherwise, the animal models in both games are really of good quality and serve as a convincing hunting prey. But CotW falls back with respect to intra-species variation: it has too many identical looking individuals, which is particularly noticeable when they move in bigger herds, and it also has very little variety in antler size and shape of the male deer. The highly appreciated “TruRACS” system which allows thC to provide a (semi-) random generation of many different, by and large individualized racks is not existent in CotW, which adds to the impression of the CotW animals being very often just “clones”. Yes, their scores get further randomized during the harvest process, but this is only "cosmetic mathematics", and can by no means replace the physical differences on the longer run. One should really not underestimate the impact of intra-species variation in such a game. The recent introduction of feral goats in thC with their unprecedented high individual variability resulting from a clever combination of different horn sizes and shapes with many different fur colors, and their concomitant enthusiastic reception in the thC community shows how positive (and motivating) the players perceive this variation. After all, everyone wants to harvest as many unique animals as possible to boast with them, and not essentially the same animal over and over again, which – even worse - also the neighbor has harvested 100 times already.

Rare animals exist in both games which is very good, because it significantly can motivate players to search for the “special one”, and both games also contain a graduated system that generally makes higher-scoring animals less likely to appear than lower scorers. My feeling is that the spectrum from easy to hard (and more) is not really balanced in CotW, however, while thC has done a better job. It is by no means much easier to stalk and harvest a top scoring animal in thC, but overall chances are better to find a really satisfactorily nice trophy now and then - and even to win a competition with it. The CotW top scorers are either extremely rare or extremely spooky (probably both) so that the danger is big that players simply give up on them instead of intensifying their efforts finding one. There is a "diamond" grade of animals which I even saw, even after reaching max level meanwhile.

And those lucky ones that occasionally found a true CotW trophy will immediately run into one of the biggest drawbacks of this game – the missing possibility to permanently document the individual harvest. thC has meanwhile a very good “Trophy Shot” system that allows to create in-game screenshots with nice arrangements of the hunter and his prey which can easily be shown in forums and shared in social networks by the proud player. From CotW with all its possibilities of an advanced engine, I had expected even a true trophy room, to be honest – something that over 10 years older hunting games (e.g. Deer Hunter 2004, Deer Hunter 2005) had been able to offer already. But aside from a futile harvest screen (showing an X-ray picture with the projectile trajectory - as such very intersting!), there is nothing that records a particular animal model hunted in CotW – you get only your XP, weapon points, and – if it was a really good trophy, perhaps an entry in the leaderboard that is shared with your Steam friends. This is something which I would call a serious gap for a hunting game where trophies are always such an important element.

But let’s come to a more pleasant point again. Animal animations. Here, the point goes to CotW. While the thC animals have also mostly already a very nice set of different animations that allows them to act rather believably (and not too redundant) in their environments, the CotW animals have visibly further improved. In particular, CotW has for the first time managed to spend the animals true resting animations (while in thC they all just lay down and sleep deep which is pretty wrong), and the CotW ruminants ruminate. This is a big win for the immersion when observing animals for longer. Also the walking and (idle) trotting – most thC animals only trot when being nervous – is well implemented, and in general the CotW animals walk less randomly around, have clear aims and resolutely head for them. Animals moving in herds (which in contrast to thC with its maximal 5-10 members can consist of up to 30 individuals in CotW!) look extremely natural and coordinated; this is a big achievement. It is also unprecedented that spooked and fleeing animals really search for cover in CotW now, and remain there as long as they feel threatened. Finally - the icing on the cake! - the CotW animals hit by a projectile react perfectly correct, show a different first impact reaction depending on where they are hit (kicking, jumping,) followed by falling down, jumping up again, and fleeing in different poses. Some are also directly smashed to the ground. You get really an impressive response to a hit. Also, sometimes bedding down in a wound bed at the end of a longer flight is possible. To make it short: It is hard to become tired of observing these many different great animations. thC animals react to a shot either by immediate collapse, or by a straight flight followed by bedding down or collapsing in the end. The animation spectrum is very limited here. Only in case of birds (upland birds, in particular) thC offers some short “dying” (wing flapping) animation. CotW has no birds that serve as meaningful hunting targets (yet?), so this point cannot really be compared.

Another big plus in CotW is the animal A.I.. Not only, as said before, do CotW animals “know” much better than thC animals in which part of the environment they are, and can actively chose a better environment if required. Spooked thC animals can only run away from the threat in a rather straight line, and they stop in whatever area they happen to end. CotW nearly animals always run into cover. thC animals also do hardly react really visibly to unexpected sounds (often, they simply immediately flee) but can at least already enter an “attention pose” in which they stare a while at the potential source of danger. These features are much more elaborated in CotW. Very impressively do CotW animals react to lures: this is really sophistical and realistic. Unlike lured thC animals which move towards the source in a rather direct way, only interrupted by pauses of different length, the CotW animals frequently start with some zigzag and orientation movements, and sometimes chose a rather wide circuit during their further approach. They interrupt their walk or trot more often, make clear movements of watching and hesitating, and can also even turn backwards – in short: they offer a whole spectrum of different reactions which is really great to observe – and also to some extent more challenging to predict. If I had to make a choice, I would vote for animal animations as the biggest asset in CotW.

Both titles also have, in addition to the hunting animals, some ambient creatures that mainly serve enriching the “life” in the reserves, but are otherwise just “decoration”. In thC we have several insects (butterflies, dragonflies, etc.) and some small birds. The former are very nice, but the latter consist of only very simple models (“2D-birds”) which fly around with obviously not true connection to the map, and which I personally have never liked. To my big surprise now, CotW has again implemented this sort of birds – and not even just a few: The reserves are full of them! Their models are admittedly a bit less “generic” (one can discriminate mainly crow-like and seagull-like individuals), and many apparently use to hide on the ground (in a very unnatural pose) until the player chases them up, but they are still extremely simplistic in the way they are created and animated, and thus for me only an immersion-breaker. I do not know who had the idea to put them into this advanced new game that way, but in my view this would not have been necessary at all. Such simple ambient animal representations may be perfect for insects (which also exist in CotW, and here the models are adequate) but not for birds. OK, CotW has also two other, nicely-made ambient animals, namely rabbits and squirrels. These can be found everywhere, and they are fully modeled and animated. They can even be shot, by the way, but not harvested, giving them no real purpose in this hunting game other than providing a more immersive decoration (and a target for bored hunters once in a while, maybe).

Closing remark

With this, I want to stop this extended analysis. During writing I realized that I could have said easily more, depending on the level of detail at which these two games are looked at. This would have included both additional critique and additional praise. The points I have noted here are the ones that I find the most evident ones, or at least the ones that concern me personally most. Probably, other players might have set other emphases.
In summary, it can be safely said that EW has created two unrivalled hunting games - one that is setting the mark already for nearly a decade (thC), and one that aims now to take advantage of all gained experiences but applying latest technology (CotW). No doubt that EW is, and probably will remain to be, the market leader for hunting games with its "tH family". But it is also clear for me that thC and CotW, despite all attempts to set a somewhat different focus with respect to gameplay, cannot avoid competing with each other for its players. Lucky are those who can afford enough time to always enjoy both. Anyway, we can be sure that the player community will carefully watch the future. At the moment, it is hard to make a prognosis how thC and CotW will look - and how well they will thrive - in a few years from now. But already Mark Twain knew: It is difficult to make predictions - especially about the future ;-) .
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Ringalor
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Re: CotW and thC – a comparison

Postby Ringalor » May 14th, 2017, 4:52 am

Thank you for this detailed analysis. Very informative. I am sure that for me THC will remain the number one ...
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LEFLOR
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Re: CotW and thC – a comparison

Postby LEFLOR » May 14th, 2017, 5:04 am

WOW, very good comparison of these 2 games. Great job!
For me I will add that THC is less demanding in computer power, so playable by more players while CotW will be more for players with a very good computer games (in order to enjoy the immersion).
I introduced THC to friends of IRL hunting, today some of them play THC on their "standard" computers, but they will never buy CotW because it would require a change of computer too expensive for them.
Fully agree that the free time to play is not extensible ..., unfortunately, for most of us.

P.S. : Just a small mistake (or a translation error on my part?) We have 11 reserves in THC ? not 10
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Knut
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Re: CotW and thC – a comparison

Postby Knut » November 21st, 2017, 1:45 pm

Ending with Twain in style, kudos!

Thank you for this detailed comparison, very informative! I've just played CotW for a few hours and opted for a refund with it being repellently arcade and at the time of release unbearably bug-plaqued.
From my personal point of view I can only say I wish it didn't exist and EW would rather have put the efforts into tH2, with animal models, animations and AI together with the draw distance being on par or even better than CotW. That'd be a game for me to shout out "shut up and take my money!".
But I am well aware that I do not represent the majority of this (niche) market. And others might be very pleased to have a quite realistic appearing game while still being able to follow a story line.

In these regards I also think that you might be wrong regarding the in-house competition. Yes, players might play both, dividing their time spend gaming between them, but I doubt that players that love tHc really spend less on it, just because they play CotW, too. I think a vast majority of them will just pay and play both. But on the other hand, CotW has the potential to draw players away from the more arcadey competition, aka Cabella's. A market that's been traditionally stronger.
The only true sandbox game with very limited mission tree/story line other than theHunter, was Trophy Hunter 2003. And while the Deer Hunter series was very similar, it still relied more on in-game character/abilities development.
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" ― Isaac Asimov
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baloo.the.dog
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Re: CotW and thC – a comparison

Postby baloo.the.dog » November 26th, 2017, 7:50 pm

To me the weapons sounds on cotw sound a lot more realistic than THC, they sound a lot shorter, richer, louder, flashier, and just seem more realistic. I also love all the smoke on COTW after you fire and I wish they would implement this on THC.
Give us ptarmigans on Whiterime Ridge!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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