Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden PC Review

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden mixes real-time stealth and exploration with turn-based tactical battles in a way that’s fluid and fun to engage with.

By Woozie, Posted 04 Dec 2018

A duck and a boar walk through a forest. If you’ve seen any of Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden’s promotional material, you know I’m not trying to tell a joke. A trio of ghouls – horribly misshapen by post-fallout radiation – guards the path between them and their target. I had split Farrah up from the party, to scout around, only to find another ghoul patrolling nearby. The noise from the battle would inevitably draw him towards it and I don’t need an extra pipe-wielding lunatic to worry about. I regroup my squad around Farrah, sneakishly position them and wait for the proper moment to spring the ambush. Two turns later he falls without the others catching wind, courtesy of my silent weapons, and I can go loud without worrying about offscreen friends joining the fight.

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden’s blend of real-time stealth exploration and XCOM-like turn-based battles works like a charm. Instead of slowly working your way across a grid-based map from the moment you enter an area, you move your party freely. The first time I noticed how characters were controlled using WASD and mouse while exploring caught me off guard. While outside of combat, you switch between running with your flashlight turned on and sneaking. If the first is useful in covering distance quicker and finding useful scrap to trade back at the Ark, the latter comes into play when you near foes. Getting close to them reveals a red circle, which you’ll want to avoid, lest you draw unwanted attention.

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden, PC, Review, Screenshot

Surveying the area while being mindful of these circles, and the enemy’s patrol paths, lets you spot those that move further from their peers. That is when you can set up ambushes. Not only do ambushes give you the first turn but provided you’re using a silent weapon, or are just far enough from everyone else, they let you thin out the herd before attacking the main force.  It’s an exercise that requires patience and, even though it becomes a tad stale towards the end, the extra breathing room it gives you in already-intense turn-based fights down the line is always worth it. You can also, sometimes, avoid enemies entirely, although given how they’re the only source of XP to strengthen characters with, you may want to circle back later when you’re more confident about your abilities.

You won’t be able to dispatch all enemies in Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden by being sneaky, however. Enemy placement is such that their areas of awareness overlap, which will inevitably send you into turn-based mode. However, even prior to this, you can move your three Stalkers around, looking for full cover or high ground to give them an advantage. The turn-based battles make use of concepts familiar to anyone with some knowledge of XCOM. There’s less efficient low cover and more efficient high cover, both rendered useless by flanking. You can choose whether to sprint in a turn, expending both movement points to cover more ground, or do a different action, like healing, then shoot foes. Reloading and weapon swapping play their roles, as does Overwatch when it comes to locking down areas and getting some extra damage in.

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden, PC, Review, Screenshot

The enemy roster isn’t all that expansive and towards the endgame begins to repeat itself. Even the few standouts, like the Medbots who rush to revive fallen allies or the Shaman who summons extra troops from offscreen as soon as you’re spotted, get old soon. That, however doesn’t mean that there’s no challenge to them, and when mixed with handcrafted areas that lend themselves to a couple of different approaches, the tactical possibilities pull their weight, making most encounters intense, tough affairs.

Being mutants, your party of Stalkers can also use Mutations to their advantage. Bormin can charge enemies and knock them down or use his hide to become invulnerable. Dux grows moth wings, letting him hover above others or move around, at least in theory. In practice, the exact requirements for the ability to function are poorly explained, so in most cases I couldn’t really make use of it. Magnus, one of the three other stalkers, is arguably the most interesting of them all, being able to use Chain Lightning and possess enemiess. You can only use one mutation at any time in each of the three slots – major, minor and passive – but, just like your party, they can be switched around freely while outside of combat. That being said, as much flavor as they add to battles, you will find them repeating across the five playable characters’ skill trees, to the point where only Bormin and Magnus truly stand out in terms of their powers. Luckily, gear can be equipped freely, which does allow for a certain degree of customization. While Bormin was my close-quarters expert, I was rotating the other four Stalkers depending on whether I needed silent weapons, which are limited, or louder, more potent guns.

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden, PC, Review, Screenshot

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden can be ruthless. More often than not you’re outnumbered and enemies pack a wallop. Missed shots and critical hits are part of the equation as well, leading to a number of moments of frustration. When your party dies, you’re promptly asked to reload the save, but the trial and error can get a bit tiresome in a couple of the game’s encounters. Luckily, difficulty can be switched on the fly and the difference between normal and hard is very noticeable. Easy mode fully heals your party after each fight and refreshes all mutation cooldowns, alongside making the enemy less dangerous. Although doing things Rambo-style still gets you killed quickly, easy difficulty gives you a freer hand at taking out enemies using stealth prior to fights. On the flipside, Hard heals your party only up to half and doesn’t reset cooldowns after each fight, requiring kills to do so. This not only makes you less likely to abuse Bormin’s charge to pin down and clear foes before a big fight, but also turns medkits into a vital resource. I often found myself short on them and pondering whether to heal a smaller amount of health in combat or risk it and heal up completely after fights.

It’s also why I found myself often returning to The Ark. It’s there where you upgrade items, exchange scrap for supplies, further upgrade your party with special artifacts and chat with the Elder. It’s meant to act as a hub zone and can be quick travelled to, just like any other discovered location on the map, with one click. For a place that’s built up as this vital hub, the Ark feels unlived in and never surpasses the sensation of just being four separate rooms you get to visit. Returning periodically makes the NPCs reveal more about the world, but none of them are particularly memorable. The playable characters aren’t much more nuanced in terms of their personality, but they at least have the visual element going for them; it’s not every day you get to control a crossbow-wielding duck wearing a top hat.

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden, PC, Review, Screenshot

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden doesn’t do that stellar a job of building up its world either.  Taking place in a Sweden reclaimed by nature following a devastating nuclear war, its areas don’t really do a lot to differentiate themselves from each other. You’ll see a lot of the same overgrown vegetation, ruined cars and devastated buildings. Mini-stories unfold as NPCs and party members speak while travelling the zone, giving some extra context, but the breadth of information comes from talking to the Elder and the few story cutscenes that cram everything into a short space. Seeing the Mutants mislabel a combine harvester as a war machine definitely paints a picture of a certain disconnect between their lives and the ones of the “Ancients”. But as much as the game tries to acquaint one with its mythology, its efforts don’t go all the way and, feeling like it requires knowledge of its source material in order to get the full picture.

Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden’ mixes real-time stealth and exploration with turn-based tactical battles in a way that’s fluid and fun to engage with. A well-sized offering of post-apocalyptic sneaking and shooting, it requires both attention to your surroundings and approach. The ruthless but small pool of enemies that keeps you company throughout the 20-ish hours isn’t to be treated lightly and, should a fight or another become a bit too much to handle, difficulty can be switched on the fly. While its promising setting and characters feel pushed to the wayside, the additions it brings the XCOM formula, alongside its flexibility, are enough to make guiding Bormin, Dux & co. across the Zone a journey worth undertaking.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Funcom
Developer(s): The Bearded Ladies
Genres: Real-Time Strategy, Turn-based Strategy
Themes: Tactical, Post-apocalyptic, Adventure
Release Date: 2018-12-04

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