Review: Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
The Bearded Ladies delivers my surprise game of the year with a brisk tactical tale of mutants and the apocalyptic world left behind by man’s hubris.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is the latest game to come out from publisher Funcom. It’s developed by The Bearded Ladies Consulting and is described as a tactical RPG set in the Mutant universe. The Mutant is a Swedish pen-and-paper RPG that started off in the 80’s. It may not have the brand recognition of D&D or Warhammer, but it has had a long life span and numerous novels, spin-offs and expansions over the years.
In Mutant Year Zero, players spend their time exploring a post-apocalyptic wasteland as two mutants, Dux and Borhmin. As you may have guessed, they are respectively an anthropomorphic duck and boar wearing post-apocalyptic gear. They operate out of the last known cradle of humanity, The Ark. They are Stalkers – scavengers who travel outside the safety of The Ark to see what useful things they can bring back to their home above the wasteland.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden has a strong premise, and the narration that kicks off the adventure is appropriately muted, setting the table for the next 15 hours of tactical exploration the player will embark upon.
The story line is sparse but consistent throughout. Outside of the hub area of The Ark, most of the story comes from banter between your party members as they discuss artifacts left behind by the ancients, such as the boom box or the telescope. One of my favorite aspects of MYZ is your group’s disdain for humans and how they lived their lives. Most post-apocalyptic games are obsessed with humans and the amazing wonders they built. Dux and Borhmin have a much more cynical and jaded “appreciation” of the humans that came before, and it’s refreshing to hear them criticize us, the player, and the way we currently live.
Overall the story is satisfying, despite an ending that doesn’t quite live up to its promise. If the voice acting was poorly written or acted the sparse storytelling would fall apart, but instead I was eager to hear the party converse about any numbers of topics. It was a pretty big motivation to keep going and explore deeper into The Zone on the titular Road to Eden.
The game itself is a unique blend of open exploration, stealth, and a healthy dose of tactical turn-based combat. To say it’s X-COM influenced would be putting it lightly; there are similar cover mechanics, overwatch, hit percentages and even abilities, which work very much like Enemy Unknown.
That is, however, where the similarities start and end. Unlike X-COM, or many other turn-based tactical games that have followed, you don’t have an open-ended game with an endless array of randomly generated soldiers. Instead, you move around a map, then enter larger “zones” where your small, set cast of characters will walk around exploring for loot and stealthily picking off enemies.
It provides a nice change of pace and is a pretty decent gameplay loop. If it seems pretty straightforward that’s because it is. Throughout the entire playtime the gameplay never really changes. You should immediately be able to tell if the style it offers is for you or not.
The gameplay is backed by a leveling and gear system. While offering a bit of diversity and options, they are about as lean as the core gameplay itself. Just enough to get your feet wet but nothing that will have you taking out a DPS sheet and calculating numbers. This may have its root in pen-and-paper RPGs, but it’s a pretty simplistic take on tactics, RPG mechanics and gear.
I didn’t find it to be too big of an issue as I completed the game at around the 16-hour mark. If it dragged on any longer that simplicity could have grown stale, but the game doesn’t overstay its welcome.
You have a clear goal, and your progression is nice and tight for the entire journey. Some battles near the end can drag as the enemy count constantly grows, despite your party limit remaining at three (out of five total playable characters). That can be frustrating, but the AI in larger fights can be exposed as most battles involved me standing on some high ground while allowing enemies to slowly maneuver into my optimal range so I could obliterate them one-by-one until the battle was over.
The game also has a finite amount of medkits and resources to level up weapons, so make sure to conserve medpacks and hold off on gun upgrades until you’re absolutely sure you like a weapon enough to upgrade it.
Mutant Year Zero is not without problems, but it’s refreshing take on turn-based, tactical RPGs and its unique approach to the wasteland setting so many games rely on left a strong impression.
The Bearded Ladies delivers my surprise game of the year with a brisk tactical tale of mutants and the apocalyptic world left behind by man’s hubris. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a stellar debut from a promising studio, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in the future.