Although my experience with strategy RPGs is minimal at best, after seeing The Bearded Ladies newest game Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, I was immediately interested based on the game’s appeal alone. I mean, a post-apocalyptic SRPG with free-roaming adventure elements, and a talking duck? Count me in.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden brings so many new elements of design to the SRPG genre that it could have easily bogged the player down with countless tutorials, mindless quests, and bad design. Thankfully, that’s not what I found at all after my time with the game and instead gained new found confidence in my SRPG skills.
The first couple hours of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden left me pleased with the options that I had when it came to approaching combat. The game offers the ability to divide up your three-man party and tackle a group of enemies based on the preference of the player before launching it into a traditional turn-based gird battle, which makes it feel not only fresh but ripe with potential. However, every night during my review of the game, I was left stuck and frustrated due to the aggressive enemy AI and the game’s inconsistencies in difficulty.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden opens with a duo of mutants named Dux and Bormin, both humanoid versions of a duck and boar respectively, as they traverse a post-apocalyptic landscape after the “ancients” brought the world to ruin by ignoring changing climate and disease. This led people to a place known as the Ark, a town suspended over the wasteland as the last haven for society to thrive. But when supplies are low, they sent out mutants like Dux and Bormin as Stalkers of the Ark to collect rations since they are immune to the harsh environment of the wasteland. Evidentally, leader of the Ark, The Elder, requires the assistance of the creator of the Ark, Harmon, to make repairs, but he’s missing. So Dux and Bormin must venture further into the wasteland to find him.
The characters in Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden are unique and are definitely the stars in a setting that is a typical post-apocalyptic story about recusing the last hope for humanity. Listening to Dux and Bormin stumbling on a boombox speaker and arguing about what it is, was delightful. As the voices and writing are done well enough to see each of the character’s perspective of the world following its downfall.
As you progress through the story, you meet more mutants, like Selma who seems human, but with her mutations, she can leap to high places and contort her body. Then there’s Magnus, another human who can shoot lightning from his hands and use mind control skills on enemies. Each ally has distinguishable characteristics and personality that made it hard to decide who I wanted to take with me, especially since during travel they will make remarks about artifacts or the current lay of the land that had me wishing I had Dux in the party to hear if he had any sly remarks about what a washing machine is.
Out in the wasteland, levels are divided into sections of a larger world to travel between. The sections are varied in land and time of day. Meaning its possible to see dense dark forests, bright white snowy mountains, or creepy long road tunnels all of which show signs the grimy rot that has been left behind by the previous civilization.
Collecting scraps, broken weapon parts, and artifacts are nicely plentiful but scarce in the amount that you get to trade in. Using materials found in the world can be used to acquire medipacks or upgrades for your weapon. This heavily encourages you to look through every nook and cranny of the map to get what you can following combat or abandoned structure because you’re really gonna need it.
Combat in Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden has been the most interesting feature in the game by far. The ability to sneak up on enemies to get the drop in on them could only be executed with the game’s blending of real-time combat and exploration gameplay. As you go through the levels, enemies are patrolling areas. This means that I had to keep an eye out for other Stalkers roaming around. During exploration, the player will see a ring surrounding foes indicating their visibility to the player. As long as the Mutants don’t get caught during sneaking, players can initiate the battle on command to get critical hits. Match that with the ability to split up the team for a multi-angle attack, you should be allowed to tackle a problem any way they want, except you can’t really.
That’s because difficulty in Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is rough around the edges. This isn’t due to the combat’s learning curve or that the game has a weird quirk with its hit detection. No, It’s more because the game’s AI is so aggressive to the point that players aren’t allowed to color outside the lines when it comes to finding creative ways to take out your opposition. While there are enemies types like melee attackers, long rangers and powerful specialty types. Almost all of them will either rush you or stand back while engaging the “overwatch” command, allowing the AI to fire as you move in their line of sight. The problem with that is instead of the game’s mechanics creating a challenge, it just adds pressure. When an actual challenge could be an enemies type that buffs their own stats or enemies purposely staying away from their ally to discourage group damage.
What’s left for Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is an “if you see this, then do this” scenario. Such as, If you see a medi-bot, you have to throw an EMP grenade to disable it, or if you see a Tank, you have to Hog Rush him to knock him out and skip his turns. However, the biggest offense is that it’s always better to thin out the number of foes through stealth. Whenever I thought it was a good idea to throw a grenade to kill a group in one go, it only did little damage and just ended up with reinforcements being called, peppering bullets at me in every which way. It was just better to reload my last checkpoint and take the time to stay in stealth.
Although the option of staying in stealth can still be thwarted. I’m not knocking against being caught with a missed shot that didn’t have a 100% chance of hitting. It was just easy to be annoyed when bullets fired would visibility go through a character model and register as a miss. There were even moments when a bullet would shoot out at a ridiculous angle for the sake of announcing a miss. I’m completely okay with a game systematically registering attacks as misses but it is dishearting to spend extra time to have a plan of attack just to have a bullet physically flying in and out of a grunt that will take half your health in one strike.
When I think about an important characteristic that video games should have to be “good”, I can always judge it for the fun it provides and Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a very fun video game. Players that enjoy the SRPG genre will most likely have the same sentiment, but I can’t help but warn that this game will not play as expected to those who come in new to the genre. Instead of Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden being a combat game with choices, it plays more like a puzzle game that demands to be played in the way the given situation calls for.
Due to the high amounts of AI aggression and rate of damage, experimenting with tactics almost never rewards the risk. In the end, the game does have a Duck named Dux and I simply wanted to get past all the battles just to hear what sassy thing he has to say next.
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