Darwin Project: A Great Concept, Dead on Arrival

Jade Roth, Staff Writer

Darwin Project was a battle royale game released in early access on March 9, 2018. It was fully released on January 14, 2020, and in May of the same year, news broke out that the game would be dead by 2021. But how could a game flop so horribly? I have played the game since early access, and while I cannot speak for every single person who has played Darwin Project, I can recount the history of changes the game went through and identify when the downfall began.

On March 9, 2018, Darwin Project was released to the public in an early-access version. The version we have now, which is still available, and this first iteration are completely different from one another, but the objectives remain the same: be the only one remaining. The methods in which you achieved this are similar to other battle royal games: outlast the other players.

Unlike with Fortnite and Apex Legends, however, the main way of inflicting damage is using a melee weapon: the axe. You have to get “up and personal” with your opponent, especially if you don’t want to waste precious arrows from your bow. This type of gameplay, with a focus on melee, is unique to the battle royale genre.

The game also has unique ways of restricting the server’s available land. In other battle royales, such as Fortnite and Apex Legends, where you have available land reduced to a single circle, Darwin Project has a map consisting of seven hexagons. Reducing the map size often results in one or more hexagons going frozen (or nuclear, in some cases), pushing players out. Players who remain in forbidden hexagons won’t lose health, but they will have a massive increase in their freezing bar. (Staying in nuclear zones when the bomb goes off, however, will definitely end your chances.)

Darwin Project has a stronger focus on the “survival” aspect of things. Your weapons are the simple axe and bow, after all. Therefore, if you were forced to play in a land with Canadian weather, you’d get cold, too, right? Darwin Project introduces a temperature meter, which, when it reaches zero, begins to take a toll on the player. While your temperature meter naturally goes down throughout the match, the meter goes down exceedingly fast in a forbidden zone.

As an added notion for the survival aspect, the main way of progressing to better armor is gathering items and using them to get better powers, better armor, a campfire to fill your heat meter, and anything else you might need. While basic supplies (such as wood) can be gathered just about anywhere, other items may require you to venture to more dangerous and populated areas. Be warned, however, as crafting or gathering anything leaves a mark which can be tracked by any player, revealing your position for a short period of time (though, in my experience, the target is often all the way across the map from you). 

In the current version of the game, there are only two collectibles: wood and Darwinnium. Back in the earlier versions, there were three: wood, cloth, and electronics. Wood and cloth were easier to collect, but electronics could only be gathered at summonable areas (making them more dangerous, as other players would probably be heading towards them). Both cloth and electronics have been replaced by Darwinnium.

With all these unique features, how could a game like Darwin Project fail? It seems to be so interesting! And while it is, the game didn’t flop because of the features I’ve already mentioned; it flopped because of a complete change in customization. Back in the early-access days, you could customize your play very well. Wanted to be stealthy? There was a ninja layout with armor stats high in movement and tracking abilities. Wanted to be a tank? There was a battle layout built in max health and damage increases. Didn’t like any of the game-provided presets? You could customize your own. These helped to diversify the gameplay and gave the player base its own way to play.

The newest version has reduced the customization to only three specific item powers–with two sharing the same sub-abilities. The only other part of the customization is in the specific trap you would like to be able to craft for the game.

When the game died out, I believe it was because of the change from a diverse and varied range of customization to the three powers. You could no longer have a “rabbit” build for running away fast; you could now only rely on your standard item’s sub-ability to get you distance. This lack of customization diet turned off players and eroded a fan base that was already small.

Darwin Project is small. It will never be updated again, as the development team has stated. But this game is a breath of fresh air. I enjoy playing it and not having to rely on my very poor aiming abilities. The game is free, and I suggest testing it out, if only for a little while.