looking at Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden from the outside, you might notice a lot of similarities with the XCOM franchise. And while the influence can undoubtedly be seen in it’s gameplay, Mutant Year Zero is its own kind of Sci-Fi experience.
The story of Mutant Year Zero centers around the Ark, the very last bastion of mankind (or mutantkind to be more exact) after a global nuclear war, and the different mutants known as stalkers that venture forth from it to procure resources essential for its upkeep and survival. You take control of a few of these colorful mutants such as the Mallard Duck named DUX, the Boar Bormin, the Fox Farrow and the mostly human Selma, as they fight to protect the Ark from outside forces that mean to destroy it.
And I have to say that the game’s writing is one of its strongest aspects, if not the strongest one of them all. Each of the mutants in your party are unique and interesting characters on their own, but the witty banter that occurs between them while you roam the landscape towards the next objectives is some of the best character building I’ve seen in while. You get a real sense of their personalities and their attitudes, all without any cutscenes, and there’s genuinely smart world building that occurs through their believable reactions to items and structures you encounter in the world.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really wanted this game to have more data logs and lore entries so I could dive deeper into its well realized world. The influence from the pen and paper role-playing game that Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is based on is apparent in the world building and there’s still quite a bit here to chew on here, and even elicit a chuckle occasionally when reading about ancient Boom box relics, but it still leaves much to be desired.
The combat in Mutant Year Zero is more or less what we have previously seen in the XCOM series, and centers around a revolving turn based system where each side gets to perform actions with their units on their own designated turn. It’s a cycle of finding cover and trading bullets until one side loses all of their units, but each of the mutants under your command also have a variety of unique abilities that greatly switch up the entire experience.
These abilities are unlocked by leveling your characters up, and range from Selma’s abilities to reach elevated areas without having to make use of ladders and binding enemies with plants, to Dux’s ability to spout wings and spray hell from above.
You also have to make proper use of the game’s Action Point system that dictates how many actions a particular character can take during their own turn. Same as with XCOM, you can advance your units within their own specified range of movement which uses up one Action Point, and sprinting a greater distance uses up the other one as well. Other actions such as tossing grenades and reloading also use one Action Point.
Basically most things you do during combat use up one Action Point, except firing your weapons and using the Overwatch ability, which are different in the sense that although they only consume one point when preformed after an action such as reloading or moving, they use up both if preformed first.
One feature however that really differentiates Mutant Year Zero from the XCOM series is the game’s stealth mechanics, which allow players to set up some truly satisfying moments for themselves in the game. Before a combat encounter starts, players can move their characters around in real time in an area as much as they like, provided that they are not spotted by the enemy. This allows them to make use of silenced weapons like crossbows to pick off any wanderers quietly, and effectively thin out the herd for when the main encounter begins.
Additionally, it allows them to position each of their party members in different positions around enemy encampments before combat even begins to utilize various different strategies like pincer maneuvers to catch your foes off guard. These are incredibly satisfying to pull off, and can often times completely turn the tide of a firefight before it even starts.
It should however be noted that there are multiple times during the course of the game where the difficulty spikes unexpectedly, which is saying a lot considering this is a pretty hard game to begin with. The first time I encountered this was an hour or two into the game, immediately after Selma joined my party. The very next skirmish I saw after recruiting her featured a number of enemies who were a much higher level than my party, and two of which I had not encountered thus far that had abilities that could both summon new, and revive fallen allies.
It was an immensely difficult fight that I just narrowly survived at the expense of all of my grenades and Medkits, which stung just a bit more considering that the game has no other healing system. Health does not recover after combat ends, and neither does it recover upon returning to the Ark. This also made my next few combat encounter without health just a bit harder as well, and as mentioned above, there are multiple instances of this throughout the game.
Apart from that, I really don’t have any complaints about the game. It runs really well and looks great on consoles. The only issue I can justifiably voice is one that is also present in XCOM, and that is the way in which your characters occasionally miss shots with a 90% accuracy rating. It’s here as well, and it’s even more infuriating considering the higher difficulty.
In conclusion, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a fantastic tactical RPG adventure. The story is great, the world building is fantastic and the characters are likable. The harsh difficulty spikes are likely to be a turn off for a lot of casual players, but the satisfaction you get from triumphing over them are likely to get you hooked.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is out now on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and the PC. It was developed by The Bearded Ladies Consulting and published by Funcom. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
The review copy was provided by the publisher.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden Review
Fans of the XCOM series will get more than their money’s worth from Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. It’s a fantastic game with extremely satisfying combat, and an engaging world, but the high difficulty might not be for everyone.