Right from my first hour with Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, it was abundantly clear that the game isn’t your average tactical, turn-based title. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden feels like an evolution of the genre, blending real-time exploration with turn-based combat, stealth and RPG elements. This mutation of the genre works much better than I expected and when you throw in a beautiful, post-human world and extremely interesting characters, you have a recipe for success.
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Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden plays off in a post-apocalyptic world where, as far as you know, there is only one human left called The Elder. Some time has passed since the bombs dropped and wiped out humanity, but mutants emerged, leaving a place called The Ark as the last bastion of humanity. You control stalkers, mutants who head out into The Zone to scavenge for supplies just to keep The Ark going for one more day at a time. You are set on a path by The Elder, the last human, to find resources, an important mutant who is vital to the survival of the Ark but has gone missing.
It is no easy task and it shows throughout the game, as Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is one of, if not the most difficult game in the genre I have ever played. Resources are scarce even at the lowest (standard) difficulty and one wrong move can mean the death of your squad of three mutants.
I didn’t want any of my mutants to die, ever, as they all have such interesting personalities and looks that they grew on me like few other video game characters ever have.
You start off with Dux (half duck, half human) and Bormin (half pig, half human) and along the way, you meet some fantastic new characters that can join your squad, from Selma (a mutant girl with a gunshot wound in her head) and even an awesome character that reminds me of Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy, if Rocket was a girl with a British accent that is.
With these characters, I explored various regions of The Zone, which has become an overgrown landscape filled with threats, from ghouls to shamans and much more. As mentioned earlier, resources are scares and they come in three variants. Scaps is the basic currency, allowing you to purchase some new equipment for your squad. Then, there are weapon parts, used to upgrade your weapons. Last, but not least, are Artifacts.
There are 25 Artifacts scattered across the zone which you can collect and they play wonderfully well into the game’s lore. These Artifacts are actually just common items we know today, but in the distant future, they are precious and mysterious. For example, early on I can across a Boombox, which intrigued Bormin, but Dux warned that he thinks the boombox is a bomb and if the red button is pressed, it will explode. These mutants don’t know any better and discovering Artifacts makes for some great comedic relief. Just look at this awesome “Far Looker” I found and subsequently took the Ark to upgrade my squad with.
The banter between your squad of mutants fills in some gaps and exploring to find notes, or camps, or even an overgrown, “ancient” playground makes the world both familiar and uniquely interesting. Not to mention it looks absolutely gorgeous. You explore this world in real time, with the option to turn on your flashlight and run around, spotting objects you can interact with.
When an enemy is near, turning off your flashlight and going into sneak mode is probably your best bet at survival, as you need to flank and ambush enemies in order to gain the upper hand.
Gaining that upper hand (or maybe paw) is tough and you can expect to reload saves multiple times. I’ve died more times in Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden than I did in Dark Souls Remastered due to the sheer level of difficulty. However, when your plans do work out, when you ambush wandering enemies and finally take down a big pack after careful planning, it feels very rewarding. I needed to formulate plans and several contingency plans and then hope all my shots hit in the tactical, turn-based combat portion just to survive.
As is the tradition with turn-based tactical combat games, there is a bit of luck involved. Shots you have 80% chance of hitting can and will miss at the most inopportune times, resulting in a loss of a squad member. Enemies can and will also hit you sometimes when they have a very low chance, so you need those contingency plans when RGN is not on your side.
That’s why getting ahead of the enemy with some ambushes is the only answer, and you should always never forget to take cover, with high cover being the best for obvious reasons. The stealth and ambushing do work well and you can pick off multiple enemies without issue, but it does take planning. You can split up your squad to take out enemies silently, which helps greatly and was something I didn’t realize until about 4 hours into the game.
Even with well-planned attacks, I still couldn’t take out some of the enemies I encountered. Thankfully, you can sneak past them and come back when you are higher level, or when you have some shiny new outfits equipped. The game gives you the ability to fast-travel to areas you have explored and back to the Ark for some upgrades. In the gorgeous and interesting world, the Ark is probably the biggest letdown.
There is so much more that could have been incorporated into this central hub, but the Ark is simply a few shops and the Elder’s residence. You can’t even walk around and explore it, something I would have loved to do. Instead, all you can do is select a shop and get a few pieces of dialogue before doing your thing, from upgrading weapons to your squad and purchasing all-important medkits. This was a big letdown when I first made it to the Ark and although it does serve its purpose as a place to upgrade your stalkers, it simply wasn’t as interesting as the world around it.
It is that world around the Ark that really shines and where you get most of your information, as well as all your squad member interactions, from bickering about situations and even some dark humour thrown into the mix, the squad interactions and their unique personalities steal the show.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden does offer that unique story and although I don’t want to spoil too much, there are definitely some twists and turns along the way. As mentioned earlier, the game looks gorgeous as well, but this does come at a price, at least on the PS4 Pro.
During exploration and sometimes even combat, I did experience some nasty frame-rate drops. Since the combat is turn-based, these FPS drops didn’t cause me any real harm, but while exploring and moving around a pack of moving enemies, it did hurt from time to time.
These FPS drops aren’t present throughout the entire game, but I did find them quite annoying over a dozen times and it is definitely something the developer should try and fix.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a great evolution of the turn-based, tactical combat genre which throws free exploration, RPG and survival elements into the mix to create something special. The game has wonderfully interesting lore, humorous moments, and characters with personalities that shine through as you explore The Zone.
However, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden might not be for everyone, as it is extremely difficult even at the lowest difficulty level. If you are up for a challenge, however, the game even provides a permadeath mode for those crazy enough to attempt it. In the end, the game offers a great single-player experience that will take you around 20 hours to complete, or much more depending on how much you explore or die. I did experience some performance issues as well, and I feel as if the developers could have done a lot more with the Ark.
With that being said, these are small issues in an otherwise fantastic title that shouldn’t be overlooked. It delivers on multiple fronts and I just wanted to keep exploring, learning more about the world and the mutants right up until the final moments. Basically, if you aren’t allergic to turn-based combat games or a challenge, then you should play Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, especially considering the relatively low asking price.
This review was based on a code sent to us by Funcom.
Available On: PS4, Xbox One & PC | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 4 December 2018 | Price: R549