Being outdoors has slipped away from me over the years. When I was younger, I would go hunting and fishing with family, but mostly as a passenger. As I get older, I find myself drawn back to the outdoors through video games that provide hunting and fishing experiences in open world environments. When Call of the Wild: The Angler was revealed, I saw an opportunity to scratch that fishing itch as best as one can without actually going fishing. What I found was a game with a good heart and solid foundation, but one that needs a lot more work before it's fully realized.
Call of the Wild: The Angler is an open world fishing game developed by Expansive Worlds, the same studio that makes theHunter: Call of the Wild. The Angler begins with a tutorial mission that introduces players to the very basics of fishing and being in Golden Ridge Reserve’s world. You’ll learn how to cast, reel in a fish, unlock lookout towers to reveal points of interest, and you’ll meet a couple of NPCs that will give you objectives and sell you gear. Soon, you’re off on your own to go fishing and explore the map.
Reeling in the big one
Armed with the tutorial rod, the weakest fishing rod I’ve owned in my life, I set out to start unlocking some fast travel points and explore the map. I did this in the vehicle players will start with, racing around Golden Ridge to unlock lookout towers, fast travel points, and even pick up some invasive plant species the warden asked me to keep an eye out for. Of course, in true fisherman fashion, I did stop now and then to toss my line in small lakes off the beaten path, but anything more than a couple of pounds was almost impossible to reel in with this flimsy rod. Thankfully, discovering points of interest and picking up plants earned me both XP and money, so I was building up a nice little chunk of change just by going for a drive.
The moment I ditched the vehicle and went on foot, I was immediately impressed with how gorgeous The Angler is. Golden Ridge Reserve is an enormous region with everything from huge lakes and mountains to winding rivers and small ponds tucked away deep in the forest. When your bait is in the water and you’re waiting for a bite, you’ll find yourself staring at the beautiful backdrop. While there aren’t any animals in the world to lay eyes on beyond fish and birds, you can hear them as you’re walking around. It certainly adds to the atmosphere, but The Angler would benefit from a visual wildlife presence to build immersion.
The Angler features stable performance in its current state. My RTX 3080 Ti managed a range of 100 fps while utilizing a 2560x1440 resolution with every setting cranked to the max. I didn't encounter any crashes, freezing, or game-breaking bugs during my time. When I found myself in a co-op session, the other players' actions felt synchronized and I could watch them fly across the water in their boat or reel in a fish from the shore. In fact, I followed someone I have to assume is from Expansive Worlds (hi, Eric) to a nifty little pond in the middle of an island I passed by several times, which quickly became one of the spots I check when I'm on the prowl for that monster pike. Normally I'll turn co-op off by default when playing just about any game, but seeing other players in The Angler makes the world feel more alive.
All that Gold
With a pocket full of cash, I made my way back to Taylor’s Tackle and bought a new rod, reel, line, and some bait. Since I’m nowhere near a master angler, it took some figuring out for me to understand what reels worked with what line, and what hook sizes were required for specific bait. There’s depth to how you can configure your tackle, and to how you catch certain fish, but players will find they can catch plenty of big ones and earn lots of money with a few basic items. The grind to the best gear in the game is an easy one once you ditch the starter rod and reel, which won’t take long since earning money is quite easy and you’ll be paid for every fish you catch.
Locating fish varies between educated guessing and throwing your line in the water, seeing a fish jump and targeting that spot, or seeing fish below the surface and dropping your line on top of them. If you’re using the correct bait, it seems to be a guarantee that a fish within range will bite, although it’s rough to watch them move below the surface of the water because the animations are a bit clunky. Once you have a fish on the line, though, things look much better.
Reeling in a fish is exhilarating when it puts up a good fight. You’ll do lots of fighting in the first hours of the game but that mostly ends as you unlock the best gear, with only the biggest fish in Golden Ridge taking more than 30 seconds to land. I have a killer spot to get rainbow trout, and can reel in heavy, Gold-level fish in seconds, bouncing them across the surface of the water because my gear is overpowered for that spot. As time goes on, fish are either impossible to reel in without the best gear, or the fight to land them is so easy it's a non-factor. Most of the fights fall into one of these categories, so some tweaking is necessary to make the majority feel satisfying.
The silver lining to this is that when I do get a fish that falls perfectly into that zone of tough but not impossible, I know I have a good one. I’m all about landing that Diamond northern pike, so when I spot one in the water and manage to hook it, then feel it truly test my line and reel, I know I’ve got a contender. That’s a fantastic feeling and, as time went on, I was able to predict what rating a pike or rainbow trout would be before they were in my hands.
While The Angler does have a lot going for it, there’s a lot missing that I expected at launch. There are little tasks to complete while you’re moving around on land, but once those are done there’s no incentive to explore. Why would I visit a lookout tower a second time? Learning about how to catch a specific species of fish is rewarding when you finally get it on the line and reel it in, but the animation cuts when your fish is close to the boat or shore, going directly to you holding it. It's a lackluster conclusion to any good fight. There are other issues with The Angler, such as no ability to tell or pass time, check the weather, and several quests are vaguely worded and require too much trial and error. There are also too few options when creating your character, and the ones that are there aren't good.
The elephant in the room is the lack of a trophy lodge. Currently, the only way to revisit that Diamond golden trout (you’ll be landing a lot of these) is in the menu or if you take a screenshot. The problem with the screenshot option to save your Diamond catch is that it’s not satisfying to open a screenshot folder on your PC to reminisce about your best catches. I want to walk into my lodge (not load it from a menu), located somewhere on each map, and view all my saved trophies. This may be at odds with the catch and release policy in The Angler but, as it stands, I don’t feel a connection to my memorable catches whatsoever. Do I really want to invest in chasing that Diamond pike just to have a screenshot?
Diamond in the rough
It shouldn’t come as a shock to those who play theHunter that The Angler feels like a vision not fully realized. We know the development path Expansive Worlds took with their most recent hunting game, and the same should be expected here. The Angler is a piece of what it will be in two years, and it will grow bigger and better with each update. We’ll see more reserves, fish species, gameplay systems, and player-requested features with every passing DLC or patch. The issue is that there are a handful of things that needed to be better out of the box.
The Angler has a lot of soul. Every time I log in and see the (approximate) time and weather, I know exactly what spot I want to go to and what fish I’m looking for. I get excited when the conditions are just right to target that pike, and I know just the spot. The pull is there to keep me coming back. Even though it’s rough around the edges and somewhat feature-bare, you’re going to find your own spot that you don’t tell anyone about. Your own little slice of Golden Ridge heaven where you hope to one day land your Diamond.
This review is based on a PC digital download code provided by Expansive Worlds for coverage purposes. Call of the Wild: The Angler will be available as of Wednesday, August 31, 2022, on PC.
Call of the Wild: The Angler
- Golden Ridge Reserve is gorgeous
- Captures the thrill of chasing that big fish
- Easy to level up and earn money
- They feed their golden trout very well
- Easy to start fishing but hard to master
- Performance and framerate are solid
- Hidden fishing spots players will love to find
- Co-op works and fishing with friends is fun
- No option to pass time offline
- Character models aren't great
- Fish movement is wonky underwater
- This game needs trophy lodges
- Jarring cut pulling a fish into the boat