Mood Gaming Snippets: Life Lessons From theHunter: Call of the Wild

Been doing it again in late March, gummi bear bouncing from game to game so fast anyone else would get whiplash.

Going to try and reconstruct some bits and pieces of that journey in order to have something to write about and reflect on.

March 24

79 min of taking a virtual walk in the woods.

Popped in on theHunter: Call of the Wild on a whim, hoping to bag some deer. Tried out the Parque Fernando DLC I bought on sale some time back. Beautiful steppe landscape, pretty much nada on any animals or indeed, any tracks.

Felt a little down, but accepted that sometimes hunts go this way, and well, this is a hunt simulation. Suspected that this is a harder park than the standard maps, which might go some way towards explaining the several Steam reviews that bitch about the lack of any animals.

(Yeah, well, if one tromps around in open country, making a ton of noise and with wind blowing scent every which way, little wonder why one sees absolutely zero animals.)

Got desperate enough to pitch some ground blinds near some tracks by a lake and sit there for a good 20 minutes, mostly reading an iPad book in real life. Saw -one- deer, but the angle was wrong and it was obscured by too many trees. It scarpered off. Went back to mildly frustrated reading, before feeling distinctly foolish – was I taking a hunt simulation a bit too far? Decided to quit, turn off the computer and just read the book instead.

April 2-3

72 min – Fri midnight eating into Sat wee morning hours.

Came into theHunter with the mindset that I just wanted some meditative exposure to virtual nature, given the more curtailed real life movements through the whole pandemic year.

Bet you know what happened next.

HERDS of deer. Finally stumbled across a lake following a whole herd of mule deer tracks, and while I barely saw any mule deer, or the axis deer or blackbuck species that the main story quest wanted me to hunt, I wound up across two separate herds of red deer, one or two males and 7-8 females all clumping together.

Shot two males in rapid succession, scoring silver ratings. Figured I’d used all my luck and was ready to quit the game session…

…then I saw him.

Yes, MYTHICAL rating.

My word, those antlers.

So I gave it a go. And got him.

First gold rating, Steam achievement popped. Oh, that sweet euphoria.

Also spent about a third of my savings taxidermying it in preparation for one day picking up a trophy lodge DLC. (I can only hope the game doesn’t forget. Still, I have screenshots. Can’t take that away from me.)

Some days you get nothing.

Some days, three deer in a row.

April 5

108 mins.

I want to blog about theHunter, I said.

Let me just pop in for a quickie to get some screenshots for the blog, I said.

Just as I’d finished taking some scenic photos and was going to head out, what did I hear call but a blackbuck that was a target of the quest I’d been trying to finish for ages?

Well, no harm just walking in that direction to check it out and hope for the best, right?

Somehow, it turned into a walk following old deer trails for miles.

Just as I’d want to quit, I’d look through the binoculars and see something like this just taunting me from way too far away.

So I’d try to creep in a little closer, but knowing very well I was approaching from the wrong wind direction, to the point where I’d see absolutely nothing at all by the time I got a little nearer.

The mindset was wrong. I was too impatient for a proper hunt. I wanted to be blogging. My mind was on other things. This was not properly meditative. I knew it felt wrong. I just couldn’t quite let go enough to quit.

Eventually wound up by another lake, looking around flustered at a huge scattering of deer trails (red deer, blackbuck, axis deer) by a drinking spot and no actual deer at all.

Bout to finally quit again, when I hear a mating call, and look through the binocs to see… this teeny little thing.

Not an axis deer. A female blackbuck. But it’s also a quest target!

I was 60% impatient. I went for the shot. Would have served me right if I missed.

Fortune smiled, and I did not.

It staggered a few metres away and then collapsed.

Not my proudest shot ever, but hey, it got the quest done.

After that, the next quest was to go hang the blackbuck in a shed about 1.8km away. Wow.

Perhaps it’s pay-to-win, but I did pick up the ATV in one sale or another.

I did not know that I would enjoy the sensation of speeding along high dirt trails, while on both sides the landscape rolled by, as much as I did. A bit of unexpected serendipity, that.

Perhaps I should scan my games library for any scenic racing games… though the introduction of other cars and a competitive element might ruin it.

Another odd bit of serendipity. On the way to the quest destination, there was a landmark and a bridge.

The landmark pretty much summed up the whole theme of this blog post:

Then I was left facing the bridge. On an ATV that looked way too wide to fit on the bridge. (I suppose the DLC was not factored into its design.) I could dismount and walk. But after I crossed, that would mean a long walk to the waypoint as well.

Oh, what the heck. It’s a game. Let’s do this wrong.

So very very wrong.

Chalk this one up to Things You Will Never See Me Do In Real Life.

Then I drove to the shed, ticked off the quest, unlocked the camp waypoint and decided this would be a great stopping point.

Until next time. Whenever I get in the mood for another virtual walk in the woods.

Tapas All The Things

Over at Time to Loot, Naithin penned a post about Genre Burnout. It’s something I’ve been idly pondering over recent months.

On one hand, it’s undeniable that I’m off MMOs as a concept, possibly for good.

Nearly 5 years ago, I wondered what would come out the other side of playing a Guild Wars 2 (now with NEW raids included!) after bitterly railing about the toxic divide that introducing raids would cause.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can answer that question. Frustration, definitely. Sometimes at the game, sometimes at myself, sometimes at other people. Mostly the annoyance of having been proven Cassandra-like correct at the gaping social divide amongst players.

Fortunately, drama was mostly averted, save for one incident where boundaries were trod upon and some workplace skills in mediation, crystal clear communication and compromise had to be hastily yanked out and practiced. Players, by and large, do this really poorly, which feeds into the frustration above.

I’d like to think I avoided most elitist prick-ism, but I confess to being reluctant to join public encounters that exceed a certain level of challenge, on the assumption that the average player group is -not- going to succeed at it, or if I do give it a try, I’ll do the silent “drop out without a word” maneuver after a few failed and obviously-not-going-to-make-it attempts. I’ve watched others be far more elitist than me and simply been silent witness or just quietly thankful that I made it past the ‘barely acceptable’ threshold because I know without a doubt that I’m not investing the time and effort to ‘git gud’ to the point which would make these other people deliriously happy.

Burnout? I’m still raiding twice weekly without fail, barring the odd RL engagement. By any dev metric, surely that is not burnout.

But I feel like I’ve lost my rose-colored glasses on what GW2 could have been, and have accepted that it just wanted to blend into the MMO crowd and appeal to the whole spectrum of MMO players, raid-lovers included. That it is just one MMO among many. That traditional MMO gameplay doesn’t actually do much for me, in terms of being a forever game or tick many of my boxes. (If it did, I’d probably already have been playing Everquest, or World of Warcraft, or Final Fantasy XIV, or The Elder Scrolls or … whatever.)

Been there, done that.

With the last couple years of GW2, been there, done that -again-.

I’m done with main games, primary MMOs, or the one virtual world to rule them all.

I cannot conceive of ever starting over in some brave new world (pun intentional.) What would be the point? To get bigger numbers? To ‘win’ over someone else? To make friends and play with others? To collect all the things and show others that you did?

I’m not sure I ever much had that great enjoyment or use out of Multiplayer, and if the former doesn’t quite do it for me, I think we can safely dispense with the Massively prefix as well.

On the other hand, I am still occasionally finding reasonable levels of amusement playing parts of individual MMOs.

The actual beat-by-beat combat of fighting a raid boss with a character I’m comfortable playing is smooth and relaxing flow.

There was a certain level of RNG lottery fun in joining random PUG strike missions at various timezones during the first two weeks of the Eye of the North introduction – sometimes you luck into a really smooth competent party, sometimes it’s rougher but still manageable, and sometimes it’s utter carnage that is best left wordlessly.

The act of deciding on a small, achievable goal and then following through on it to completion is always going to have a certain ‘click’ of satisfaction at ticking a checkbox, regardless of the game I do it in.

And the same ‘what’s the point?’ argument could be made for singleplayer games as well. Does any progress or learning in a game matter? Is it just about the journey and the experience? One could also have a journey and probably -multiple- experiences in a multiplayer game too.

It’s becoming all equivalent, as I mentioned in my last (now ancient) post four months ago.

I am behind in Warframe. I am always behind. I play it solo singleplayer and like it that way. I have not made a Railjack; I have not yet played Scarlet Spear. I’ll get to it when I get to it.

Instead, I have been chasing the mini goals of relic grinding and building Prime warframes, because I couldn’t be bothered going for ‘lesser’ versions when a Prime one is available. I am super slow because I do it all by my lonesome and never join others in relic sharing missions. I get my Primes anyway, in the end, some gazillion relic farms later. Oberon Prime and Ivara Prime have been on my to-do list for the last month or two, and I just finished popping the last piece today. Now there’s Titania Prime to go.

Path of Exile Delirium League is out and I am not actually playing it. I missed the start because I was busy doing something else, then in the middle, I thought, maybe I’ll give it a go, and somehow I got diverted down the track of attempting to solo self farm an Oni-Goroshi unique.

For those not in the know, this mostly means repeat farming the very first map, Twilight Strand, over and over with multiple characters. I idly thought that this reminded me of Guild Wars 1’s Ascalon Defender achievement where one stayed in Pre-Searing Ascalon, and decided to try it once, just for the experience.

Two level 7 characters and one level 8 later, it’s turned into a sort of begrudging grudge match in slow motion. I -refuse- to do anything else but try to pop the sword, and because I’m not actually insane, I don’t farm for more than half an hour at a time. Lately, it’s been just try a few runs and then quit and play another game. The league might end before it drops. So be it.

My Steam recently played games looks like this:

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All the red X’s I marked are stuff I’ve not even installed, let alone played. Mostly they are last month’s Humble Bundle Choice games and a free game.

One green tick games are stuff I played a bit.

At my level of no-discernable-skill, Dota Underlords is an amusing RNG gamble that I mess around with Hardcore difficulty bots. It offers me the ability to learn how to recognize various DOTA heroes and what they vaguely do, and the relaxation of letting AI beat on each other. It gives me the realization that it makes no difference to me whether I wind up in sixth place, fifth place, third, second or even, rarely, first. Should it matter? Win some, lose some, it’s a game, it’s fun for a few rounds, and then I put it down.

Ever so slowly, I have been attempting to finish SOMA. I’d like to complete it, and then delete it off my hard disk because that’s 9gb of valuable disk space I’d like to reclaim, and someone, somewhere, said it was a classic game worth the playthrough.

Honestly, it’s one of those games that is not really doing it for me. It’s a slooow as molasses walking simulator that utilizes a bunch of horror tropes (which I don’t really scare or react easily to, or feel much about). I turned off all the actual danger because the one thing that would make me ragequit without ever completing it would be dying repeatedly to some dumbass monster because I didn’t have the patience to hide in shadows until it went away.

I end up wandering in circles because navigating in murky water is not my forte and it is not scary, it is just frustrating and makes me pull up a walkthrough trying to match my steps with the instructions until I’ve figured out where the game wants me to go next. My game session progress is measured in walkthrough pages. I’m about 50% into sunk cost and I’ll get around to a little more progress someday… just not today.

Battlechasers Nightwar is a fun enough JRPG-like game, if a little slowly paced. Played it for a couple hours, then had enough. Eliza was an interesting visual novel experience that I played for a session, then put down and never quite got back to.

Every now and again, when I crave a walk in the woods, I go back to comfort game theHunter: Call of the Wild and tromp around slowly, hoping to bag a virtual deer.

Two green tick games are games I deep dived into:

Stardew Valley – made a new character and played nonstop until Year 3 and grandpa’s ghost came along to tell me I did a fantastic job. Then lost steam because the next couple of goalposts were far away in terms of money and would clean out the bank. So it goes. Maybe someday I’ll get back to it.

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Don’t Starve – got into Shipwrecked obsession for a while. A nomadic explorer lifestyle is not really me in survival games. I love to bunker down in a base. Shipwrecked almost explicitly disrupts this playstyle. Kept dying of some cause or another before making it into the next season. Going for yet another roguelike run gets addictive, until one day, they are suddenly not.

Risk of Rain 2 has no ticks. It’s on current free weekend trial. So I trialed. Not quite for me. The difficulty is a little beyond me, and I can’t quite get my head around the scavenge-all-the-items-and-hope-for-good-RNG playstyle. Maybe it’s a carry over from Battle Royales. Maybe it’s why I could never really get good at Binding of Isaac.

Unreal World has been a current tapas game poison of choice. I think I’m getting back into turn-based roguelikes – might veer back to Angband and TOME next.

Unreal World is very simulationist, you play an Iron Age Finn and mostly try to live a low tech lifestyle without dying from one thing or another.

My current run lucked into a bear very early on, which I somewhat foolishly chucked a javelin at. That wound up with the bear charging me and a duel to the death of mad dodging and stabbing.

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It broke one arm, which left me crippled on doing various activities for many days until the fracture healed, but hey, I lived, and it died!

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Set up a little log cabin before winter set in. I love the bunkering playstyle in survival games, I may have mentioned.

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Doing well through winter. A reindeer actually blundered into the pit trap that surrounded my log cabin, something that felt really lucky. I usually spend days checking on all the traps I’ve set up with no returns.

So it goes. I’ll play it till it gets boring or I get distracted, and then I’ll move on to something else.

Ever since mentioning Master of Magic to Syp in a comment, I’ve been thinking of giving that a replay at some point.

My Epic Games list is filling with free games. This months Humble Choice Bundle has arrived. Super Adventure Box is coming. Who has time to play just one game?

Who has time to play -all- the games?

I’ll set a goal, play one game a little. Set another goal, play another game a little. Don’t bother with a goal at all and play yet another game for a while on a whim. Rinse and repeat.

theHunter: Call of the Wild

Yours truly is a product of the urban jungle, having grown up and lived for decades in a place much closer to Asian cyberpunk than medieval countryside.

The weather here is hot and humid and muggy, the actual rainforest jungle full of secondary undergrowth (and snakes), not to mention potentially disease-carrying biting insects (or other creepy-crawlies), and god forbid it rains and turns the whole place into a slick muddy uncomfortable (and still stiflingly warm) canopy of misery.

As such, most sane people who can afford creature comforts do all they can to stay within safe climate-controlled air-conditioned entirely man-made cool zones of underground or mall environs.

Actual camping experience: Close to nil, mostly unvoluntary.

Actual hunting experience: Nada.

Actual desire to expend that much physical effort or risk getting seriously injured or slain by a wild animal (those stingrays are dangerous, man): None.

That said, there is something rather captivating about the romanticized aspect of hunting, as described in books like The Hunter’s Way by Craig Raleigh or humorously alluded to in Bill Heavey’s essay collections.

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It’s the idea that hunting is 95% about getting touch with nature, meditatively flowing back in tune with the old animal rhythms in our bones or planning, practicing, anticipating without seeing a living creature, 4% actual animal encounter of which one may never get the opportunity to press a trigger, and 1% or less all-factors-line-up-just-right-for-a-gun-shot-to-ring-out and if and only if everything was planned and prepared well, will you have the satisfaction of seeing the animal drop and have venison for dinner.

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(We will skip over the messy butchery parts and the required preliminary practice to realistically fire a gun so that it doesn’t kill anything – including yourself – that you don’t intend it to, and all the study involved in being able to track and find real life deer and navigate in countryside without being lost forever and dying of exposure.)

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TheHunter: Call of the Wild captures the essence of the romanticized notion remarkably well.

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So well that I’ve been essentially addicted to a virtual walk in the woods these last few days.

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Quests come in via your cell phone, if you choose to heed them. Else you can just roam around as you will. Or deliberately set up somewhere in anticipation of animals traveling to a rest area, or somewhere to eat or drink.

If you’re more inclined to moving about like I am, you might come across animal tracks, or hear an animal calling, or detect some movement or sound. Binoculars help to locate said creature (don’t ask how long it took for me to discover the zoom function.)

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Then begins the slow and deliberate stalk, crouching or going prone and endeavoring to approach as close as possible for a good shot, without spooking the target. And yes, they have a sense of smell, so don’t be upwind of them.

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Once you determine that you’re close enough, up come your gun sights, complete with breath wobble and you need to hold and still your breath long enough to steady your aim and shoot well.

My first tutorial deer was not at all great. (I did say that I had no clue for days that one could zoom, right?)

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Once you pick up the dead animal, it will actually tell you where your shot landed. It hit a shoulder bone, despite my prior vague knowledge from watching a Youtube Let’s Play roughly where the deer heart was located.

Shot placement still is a work in progress and mostly luck. I suppose the starter gun and bullet’s accuracy and recoil, potential game bugginess, and whatever wind or bullet trajectory simulation is in play all do not help.

Still, there is something immensely satisfying when a gun shot shatters the previous silence of the woods and the animal you’re aiming for drops in its tracks, as opposed to bleeding and running and forcing you to follow its trail until it drops dead from blood loss. (The kindness of the game is such that you can usually follow it until it dies, so there are no wounded virtual animals left in the virtual woods to die a slow death from a lingering injury from bad aim.)

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My first such shot broke the neck (completely inadvertently, of course.)

Such moments are few and far between.

One’s enjoyment of theHunter: Call of the Wild is primarily the immensely immersive experience of a walking simulator, set in some of the most realistic environments I’ve ever seen in a video game, complete with ambient sounds like crickets and leaves and rocks crunching underfoot.

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In an almost GW2-like fashion, there are lookout points that act like combination vistas and scouts that point out nearby landmarks.

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The act of visiting each landmark by foot allows you the chance to stumble across local wildlife, if any, and go haring off your intended point A to point B destination to follow deer and boar and fox trails.

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A fox regards me warily from a ways off.

There are also unmarked landmarks to stumble across and just admire.

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This circular ruin feels transposed right out of a fantasy game.

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One has not experimented with night hunting much. Given the amount of verisimilitude the game has, it seems fairly implausible. Tracks can only be seen if you use a helmet lamp, and somehow, I have a feeling that most animals are going to startle and flee at the sight of a bright light pointed straight at their faces (or even stumbling around in the woods at a distance.)

The downside of theHunter is that many conveniences come as DLC, and the Midweek Madness sale on Steam is now over. I refuse to pay full price for anything, especially not DLC that has had mixed reviews from players indignant that such features are buy-for-convenience and not bundled into the full game, and some reporting that the sold DLC features are also somewhat buggy.

The many roads suggest and hint that one should go get an ATV to zip around in and travel from locale to locale – except that vehicles also apparently scare off animals and aren’t very responsive, getting stuck in terrain and all that. It’s okay, I can walk for added immersion until stuff goes on sale.

I would love to have a tent to add to my simulation experience of traveling cross-country, then settling down for the night to have a sleep in, then waking up and beginning from that locale. Except that you apparently still have to pay in-game money earned from hunting animals to own more than one tent, after paying for the DLC. So er, I’m not buying that until it goes on sale too.

Instead, I have to break my immersion and just use a fast travel option back to an Outpost, where one can sleep for the night… or I have to break my immersion and just walk on with no rest through the night until enough time passes for it to be daytime. Either way, immersion doesn’t win here, though gameplay-wise, either is fine.

There are three other reserves that come as DLC, and those seem perfectly fine to pay for eventually, if ideally at a sale price. An African savanna, a snowy wilds and what seems like a South American park of some kind. The base game comes with two reserves, one European and one North American, and given the amount of gameplay I’m getting out of the one European zone, I think those will last me for a bit.

Bugs-wise, there are a few. Some folk are pretty annoyed about this on the Steam reviews, given that this game has been out for two years now. For instance, the waypoint placement on the map is fairly infuriating in its inaccuracy. I’ve been settling for getting a waypoint in the general vicinity as a direction finder and map navigating.

Then there was the time I heard a noise and found a fox dashing around in furious circles in a grass field, completely ignoring me as I approached.

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I presume something went wrong with its AI and pathfinding.

(Heck, I stood in its path and it just shoved me aside and continued in its merry circular way. Classic bot-like behavior. Not at all simulation fox-like.)

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My lore justification is that it was rabid, and thus I put it out of its misery.

Then there was the time I heard this mad and LOUD continuous rustling of bushes. I approached, binoculars-out, wondering as to the source of the sound and saw a deer bouncing vertically up and down in the air, next to an overhanging tree. (WTF? Is this some sort of strange programmed deer antler rubbing behavior?!)

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Turns out, as I got a lot closer, with no right to be up this close, that the deer had gotten stuck in some scenery, despite it madly attempting to run, presumably from me being up this close.

Lore justification for this one was pretty easy. I just Googled “deer stuck in a tree” and found a decent number of instances of real life deer getting their antlers (not to mention whole body) tangled up in a tree, and ethical kind-hearted humans helping them out to live another day.

In this case, since I was roleplaying a hunter, I think this one is a little too stupid to let live and be allowed to breed the next generation. So it got two bullets at almost point blank range, at which point the game managed to free it, and a third bullet right through its fleeing rear and it eventually died and contributed to my xp.

At other times though, the AI feels spot on.

I shot a wild boar at a distance, and while the rest of the herd fled, there was one individual who seemed like it refused to leave the dead female, yet stayed warily far from me. It kept a healthy distance from me, seemed to stare and call plaintively to the boar that I had dropped with a shot that went through lungs and heart, trying to get it to move and come and follow.

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As I walked up, it fled into the surrounding bushes and stared out some more, hanging around for a good two or three minutes, while my heart broke and I guiltily felt like I might have killed his mom or something. I half-decided I would go into the bushes and put it out of its misery if it refused to leave, but it was a rather half-hearted attempt, and my tromping around finally encouraged it to leave.

My most recent stretch goal is to take down a red deer. These fellows seem mightily elusive and skittish, staying mostly out of sight and keeping super healthily distances from anything vaguely human.

It was with some amazement that I watched a gigantic (8 or 9 individuals) herd of them run across the road from my right to left, and race up the ridge in the below picture, naturally, too fast to even consider a shot.

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Can’t see ’em above? Me neither. Here, have a zoomed in view through the binoculars.

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I’ve been patiently tracking them all across creation in this region and they seem to have some kind of migratory pattern to food and drink and eventually to a rest area. I might consider a stake out using the nearby hunting structure, which one purchases with in-game currency to put up.

In case all this talk of killing virtual animals raises your hackles and seems terribly unsavory, theHunter: Call of the Wild also has a camera mode in place of a gun.

So it does seem also pretty viable to roleplay as a nature photojournalist and do all the nature-walking and stalking hunter behaviors, and finish with a snapshot instead of a gun shot.

This side quest teaches you pretty early on about the camera, which eventually clued me in to the zoom functions on -everything-. I had a devil of a time trying to get a photo that counted for the quest, scaring off a herd multiple times by getting too close.

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Much to my chagrin, zooming in was so much easier and it immediately checked the quest off as done.

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Overall, I find the game amazingly relaxing. It checks off a great many of the boxes I like from my games. Immersiveness, the awe of beautiful surroundings, meditative, rewards exploration and a little care and planning.

No regrets. Now to wait for a DLC sale.

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