It's all-too-common in the world of video games for developers to keep creating sequels to the same old series. Perhaps that's why it's so interesting to see a developer become inspired by a game that exists outside of the electronic gaming spectrum. That's just what The Bearded Ladies has done with Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. They've created a fresh new turn-based strategy video game based on a storied tabletop franchise, and while their efforts are certainly commendable, the titular road itself seems to be remarkably short.
Realizing the Mutant Canon
Some players may not immediately recognize the Mutant namesake, which is the title of a series of tabletop games originally developed in Sweden. Without going into too much detail, the Mutant branding gives Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden an extensive lore and canon, the likes of which serve as some of the finest points of the new release. The dialog is particularly good, with lead characters sharing some very humorous and enlightening exchanges throughout the main campaign. Players will also often find various notes left around environments detailing the downfall of humanity and the current misunderstanding of mankind's previous culture.
Much of this flavor comes through the environments themselves. After the Red Plague ravaged the land, checkpoints were put up hastily, people jumped into their cars to escape major cities, and others seemed consigned to die in relative peace. Their bodies, their vehicles, and their homes lay tattered, in ruins, picked over by any who were brave enough to enter the Zone, another term for the wilds outside of the safe haven known as the Ark. Those who were willing and able to venture into the Zone became known as Stalkers, and these adventurers are the focal point of the Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden campaign.
Strategy fans and gamers with a taste for old-school CRPGs should certainly feel right at home with The Bearded Ladies' latest release. The game has a decidedly PC-oriented flavor, with battles playing out in spacious and oftentimes elaborate environments. There's no real overworld; instead, there's a map that players can use to fast-travel between distinct locations. Quest markers serve to point players in the right direction, and collectibles spread across the battlefield are highlighted with a glittery shimmer.
The home base, if it can be considered as such, is the Ark, and it houses various shops where players can buy or upgrade gear. Iridia's Shop is where weapons and weapon add-ons can be purchased using scrap, which is littered all around environments and dropped by enemies. Delta's Fix Pit serves to service weapons using weapon parts, which are found through similar means. Pripp's Place allows the heroes to trade rare collectibles for distinct bonuses, like an extra grenade slot or an increase to character bleed-out time. Finally, players can also stop by The Elder for a little bit of lore and guidance on where to go next.
As for the gameplay itself, things are remarkably simple. Movement is handled through the WASD keys on PC or through the left joystick on a gamepad, and there's an option to toggle a flashlight on or off, which is useful for spotting items in the environment when turned on or to evade enemy sight when turned off. The group can be split up, brought back together, or otherwise modified at any time outside of battle, and characters can be hidden behind cover to stay out of sight or to set up various plans of attack.
Things don't change too much in battle. Assuming players choose to ambush their foes (which they almost always will), they'll get one turn to try to take out the enemy without alerting any others. All of the battle commands are available on the bottom of the screen, including options to move, attack, reload, hide, use abilities, or employ Overwatch, which has the heroes fire a shot whenever they detect enemy movement.
Searching for Difficulty
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden puts a lot of focus on larger-scale turn-based battles, which would normally give the player cause to try to set up elaborate offensive strategies before the conflict ever begins. In this case, such planning and preparation isn't really necessary. For all the help that hiding or choosing high cover areas may provide, players can rather easily dismantle entire groups of enemies simply by eliminating any outliers or wayward patrols.
For almost the entire campaign, I was able to get past battles without having to engage with more than one enemy at a time. Given that Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden has been created with stealth-based strategies in mind, it's almost shocking how little traditional stealth plays into the mix. Nearly all battles can be conquered by killing enemies with silent weapons before they have the chance to alert others. In most cases, enemies could be dispatched right next to other enemy units who would not see their allies being shot and killed, presumably because they were just outside their ring of awareness.
Curiously, this rule didn't always seem to apply. Sometimes enemies would hear silent gunshots and go on alert — or perhaps it was the sound of a shell ripping through their friend that triggered the alarm. Other times, killing a Pyro enemy would cause a fiery explosion, and yet no one seemed to notice. Like most of the other battle plans, this particular strategy became a matter of trial-and-error, but one that relied less on the player's action and more on simple luck of the draw. With that said, it becomes clear rather quickly that line-of-sight is the primary factor in alerting other enemies: as long as the heroes don't wander into an enemy's field of vision, they're essentially invisible, no matter how much chaos they cause.
One of the main ways that Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden allows players to dominate the battlefield is through the use of Mutations. Passive, Minor, and Major Mutations are all available to all five main characters, though not every character has access to every Mutation. Dux and Farrow can use Moth Wings fly up to elevated locations, for instance, while Selma and Bormin can use Twitch Shot to fire off two rounds using only one action point. Other Mutations, like Run 'N' Gun, are available to more than two characters, and it's mutations like these that will likely be used most often.
For how unique you might imagine Mutations to be, they don't make too much of a difference in overall strategy. There are only a set number of them: each character can access just eight different Mutations, and given that two of them can be skipped on the road to the late-level Mutations, it's very likely that players will have all the abilities they need just a few short hours into the game. By that point, stat upgrades that offer extra Hit Points or extended weapon range are basically useless.
The story is the same with weapons, too. Dux starts out with a silent crossbow, while Selma joins the party with a silenced pistol. Before long, Iridia's Item Shop will start selling shotguns, which are among the most powerful weapons featured in the game. Between silenced weapons and loud damage-dealers, players have little reason to experiment with some of the more interesting future-tech offerings, particularly if they've already dumped their scrap into upgrades for other firearms. The same is true for armor — if you never get attacked, there's no need for it. As usual, the best defense is a good offense.
For all its strong points — detailed environments, crisp graphics, excellent dialog, and subtle lore — Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is held back by a lack of complexity and a remarkably short campaign. The complexity is not such a big deal: strategies need to evolve as players jump to higher difficulty levels, and those who want a serious challenge can turn on permadeath if they so choose. Still, there's nothing that can be done about the overall length. For all intents and purposes, this game has but one mission, and aside from hopping around to a few different locations, it's possible that strategy fans could blast through Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden in around six hours.
It's an odd thing to start playing a game which feels as intense as Road to Eden initially does, only to discover that just a few hours in, you've already got one of each major weapon type, your upgrade trees are nearly complete, and that you're just one fight away from the final battle. Everything that Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden gets right seems overshadowed by its general lack of depth and surprisingly short campaign. The Bearded Ladies have created solid foundation to build upon, which makes me wonder why they didn't pack in more story, more characters, more weapons, or more ways to shake up battle strategies. As it stands now, Road to Eden feels less like a full release and more like an extended demo.
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is available in retail and digital stores as of December 4, 2018.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
- Excellent presentation
- Crisp, fluid graphics and gameplay (including native ultrawide support on PC)
- Enjoyable lore and environments
- Hilarious dialog and item descriptions
- Very short campaign
- Remarkable lack of weapons, items, and general strategic depth
- Minor technical hiccups
Kevin Tucker posted a new article, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden review - Rapid arrival
Still more than worth playing.