Somewhere in the ruins of the Old World, lies the Ark. The last bastion of humanity in a world destroyed by nuclear fire. Here the remnants of humanity survive and thrive despite seemingly impossible odds. What sets this fortress apart from other clans of the wastes is that it is protected by the Stalkers. Mutants in every sense of the word, these brave souls are the only ones capable of entering the irradiated zones unharmed. More importantly, they willingly volunteer for missions that would otherwise kill any normal humans. The Ark relies on the Stalkers to scout the Wasteland, looking for scrap to keep the lights on and to eliminate any encroaching threats.
Without them, the Ark is lost. And with it, the last embers of the human race die as well. Or so the Elder tells us.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Developer: The Bearded Ladies Consulting
Release Date: December 4, 2018
Review code provided by Funcom.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a tactical adventure game that combines stealth, exploration, and tactical combat. With a combat system that is heavily inspired by XCOM, this exploration / tactical squad-based shooter looks to impress beyond its narrative appeal and impressive visuals. Players first take control of Bormin and Dux, two mutants whose sole job is to keep the Ark safe from outside elements. Eventually, they meet and befriend 3 other mutants while on a mission to save an important member of the Ark. Together the company sets out on a quest that ends with the saving of the Ark and the last remaining free peoples of the Wasteland.
Gameplay and Features:
At the start of any map, the group must sneak through the battlefield, collecting scrap, gun parts, and gathering information on enemy movements. From there, the player chooses to either clear the entire map of enemies or to sneak past them by making a bee line towards the exit. Fights against large groups are usually a one sided affairs that result in instant death. By observing enemy movements, the player gets a chance to pick off isolated enemies with silenced weapons. Potentially improving their odds. When combat cannot be avoided, the game immediately switches to the combat state. But compared to an ambush, where the player takes action first, it is the enemy that makes the first move.
Combat is as XCOM as it gets – complete with percentages and covers. What sets it apart is the player’s ability to set mutations and gear on the fly to suit the kind of encounter they want to commit to. Fighting on the player’s terms is the best way to walk out of an engagement with minimal losses. The odds are heavily stacked against you, it is best to know as much of the enemy as possible before the fighting starts.
There is a decent amount of variety in terms of weapons, armor, mods, and enemy types. The game’s main enemies are ghouls – humans twisted and warped by the wastes until there is nothing left but rage within them. A fanatical group of ghouls calling themselves the Nova Sect have plans to cleanse the world a second time with atomic fire and usher in the return of the Ancients. There are also mechanic units, essentially leftovers of the protectors of the Old World. Doomed to forever protect the bones of the Ancient Ones. Outside of humanoid threats, zone dogs roam the map in packs seeking out prey. They are relentless in their attacks.
At the heart of the map, lies the Ark. A safe harbor in the ruins of the old world. It is here that the player can upgrade their weapons and swap out mods. Going to the bar allows the player to trade their artifacts for useful perks that ease many aspects of gameplay. Iridia’s shop is the place to go for supplies and weapons in exchange for scrap. Be careful though, scrap may be hard to come by and it may not be the best idea to use up your reserves for a bunch of medkits. The final place in the Ark is the Elder’s room. There, the elder will shed more light surrounding the mysteries of the Ancient Ones as well as talking our ears off with cautionary tales meant to keep us alive.
The Good and the Bad:
The story of the Arc and the Wasteland is nothing new. What stuck a cord with me is how the story was presented. The dark undertones set up for some interesting plot points. Additionally, it’s one of the few times where mutants are not the enemies that need to be destroyed. They are an integral part of the continuation of the Ark’s existence. Exploration plays a large role in the overall experience, as scrap and gun parts are essentials in limited commodities. You can go through start to finish without straying too far from the critical path, and you wouldn’t be the lesser. It’s still interesting to know how much the world changed since the world ended. There is more of a connection to the Old World here than in any place in Fallout’s Wasteland.
For those not used to games like XCOM and the like, Mutant Year Zero may seem like the Dark Souls of Squad-based Tactics games. And I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that. It was only in the late game did I appreciate each and every skill that the Stalkers possessed. Granted, by the end of the game, Bormin was a literal walking tank and Farrow can almost one clip anything. But that’s beside the point. To get the most out of every encounter, I had to mix and match mutations to suit the kind of encounter I was going for. And with the way skills are set up, I can either choose to have an ambush advantage or a high ground advantage. I can’t have both mutations active at the same time.
There are definite balance issues that need to be addressed before anything else. For instance, there are certain types of throwables that are more useful than others. Grenades do burst damage over an area, with the potential of destroying cover. While Molotov cocktails force enemies out of cover while doing damage over time. It’s the support grenades that find the least use. Smoke grenades reduces visibility to zero, rendering enemy attacks useless, but at the same time, your units cannot shoot while inside the smoke. It’s so sad. It’s only good function is just to put out fires to clear a path for repositioning units. Neon light sticks are only effective if the enemy stays in the radius. Works well in taking out a single unit, but it’s near useless against multiple enemies.
Another gripe I have with this game is that everything runs on a 25% success differential. You can clearly see the 2 adjacent tiles where the chance of hitting an enemy is either going to be 25% or 50%. It’s annoying, to say the least. Also, hunters have an unusually high hit rate chance. I can almost expect a guaranteed hit while they are on Overwatch. While my guys have a chance of missing an ambush target with 75% chance of hitting. I know it’s all random numbers, but come on! The guy is standing still and unaware of our presence! And my guy still misses the shot.
All the balance issues currently in the game do not compare to the numerous bugs that pop up from time to time. There are times when I would try to eliminate an isolated groups of enemies, only to find out that a random enemy heard us from across the map… and he’s not even reacting to the current battle. He’s just being idle. In other words, the encounter will not end until we deal with him, and the 5 others he is with. It’s a good thing I keep multiple save slots just for situations like this.
And we’re just getting to the good stuff. I’ve had encounters where the enemy takes shots a floor below with no line of sight on my guys, and the times when a tank charges through a lower floor and suddenly teleports beside one of my guys. I should consider myself lucky that I’ve only had to restart the application only 4 times in my entire playthrough of the game.
A lot of work went into this game, and it shows. It is just so unfortunate that the game launched with many unresolved issues and bugs. I’m sure with enough time, each issue will get the attention it deserves. Until then, it’s best to stay up to date and consider whether or not this game is something you would like to play. The game can be harsh at times and punishes lazy plays, but it proves to be an intense experience from wire to wire. And though I cannot recommend this game for everyone, it is a must-play for players who enjoy a good challenge.