Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden
Mutant was one of my most anticipated games of this year. I love the aesthetic and the turn-based strategy, similar to X-COM and Fallout 1 & 2. Mutant Year Zero takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which there's only one known settlement of “civilized” humanity survivors, known as the Ark. You play as a Stalker (Sounds bad) going out into the wasteland to scavenge necessities for the Ark. Soon after returning you get embroiled in a bit of mystery, subterfuge, discovery, and hard-fought battles.
Being a Stalker isn’t an easy life, they go out into the wasteland where there are murderous bandits and mutated monsters. Typically working in teams, Stalkers pick their battles carefully attempting to go over, around, and through obstacles, and survive in the face of overwhelming odds. When the Stalkers return to the Ark with their goods they are rewarded as handsomely as possible. You can trade scrap in for upgrades and gear and old technology can be traded for bonuses. Bormin and Dux are the team that you take control of and quickly their lives take an unexpected turn. The leader of the Ark, The Elder, asks you to investigate what happened to one of the Ark’s leaders and his Stalker team.
As you go through the story, you will pick up many other characters along the way. Each has their own strengths and abilities. Luckily, each of your Stalkers are mutants that can be altered when they level up. Each level gives them points to upgrade or add abilities through mutations. You can add wings or strong legs to get to places previously inaccessible, or there's an ability to attack twice or eat people to regain health. It’s amazing how many fun mutations there are and it really helps specialize your units. Aside from mutations you can find weapons, upgrades, and armor laying all over the world. There are some funny pieces of gear you can pick up. One of the first ones was a money counter’s visor, aptly described as “Military-grade” that “reduces glare, granting its wearer a range bonus.” There are hockey pads that offer light padding and were used by the ancients in their “gladiatorial stick-fighting tournaments” where they played on “ice to increase participants chance of injury or death.”
Using abilities and gear, you still must plan everything strategically to survive your encounters with the butchers in the wasteland. When I say you must plan carefully that is an understatement. One error can lead to your demise. Mutant Year Zero is like the Dark Souls of turn-based strategy. It lulls you a little during the first couple of fights by making it seem difficult but not hard but beware because the difficulty curve is steep. I started this on hard because the description said if you have played turn-based games before start here, but by the time I was at the opening of the 3rd or 4th battle I turned the difficulty down to normal. That’s how hard it was. If you get discovered before eliminating every straggler and finding exactly where the medi-bot or boss is then you better be prepared to restart. I yelled at the game multiple times when a straggler I had missed came charging in to ruin the day.
There are little problems with moving around your whole group because if one of your members is following and gets caught the whole team is now engaged which can be frustrating because each member follows you and if you hide it immediately selects the next in line and sometimes they will have been doing something stupid and it ruins your whole sneaking approach. I suggest saving before every engagement because if you die, you start from the beginning of the map and some of the levels are big and you move rather slowly. This is a rather minor gripe compared to my complaint on how you can’t move vertically easily if you are not in combat. Even with characters who can jump up to wherever they want, if you aren’t in combat you cannot use those abilities. This really cuts down on your tactical abilities in some really difficult situations. It’s a frustrating oversight but you can circumvent it by entering combat and moving them to where you want them then exiting again. It's just annoying because if you happen to hit the wrong thing the whole plan can go sideways.
Struggling through all of that is worth it. The story, while stereotypical, is well written. It reminded me of something from the old Obsidian days. It’s irreverent, clever, and interactions between characters feels real. Your dialogue changes over time and the more and more time the characters spend together the more like a family they seem. The weapons, armor, and items have great descriptions and some will make you laugh or reflect on the current state of things. The graphics are a great dichotomy of comic book art, with a little cuteness, and a lot more realism when it comes to death and destruction. Its little touches like this that make Mutant Year Zero something fun and special.
I really enjoyed Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, and continually came back to it when I could. I really enjoy the commentary, imagery, upgrades, and story. So, if you are looking for something difficult and rewarding that is easy to pick up and put down then I would suggest picking it up or at least checking it out on Game Pass.