Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is yet another game that heavily borrows from XCOM, but differently from the likes of Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics and Phantom Doctrine, Road to Eden adds some exciting twists to the formula successfully, which coupled with great world-building and a charismatic cast, makes for one of my favorite games to come out this late in 2018.
Taking place in a post-apocalyptic Earth where humanity’s basically wiped itself out with nuclear weapons after a deadly outbreak, the Zone, the wasteland that’s left behind, is controlled by the Ghouls, the very last group of what could be called men, twisted by the ruin of civilization. A bastion of hope lies somewhere in that world known as the Ark, where mutants live in harmony with the last bit of rational humans. These mutants work as stalkers, a group of scavengers that continuously explore what’s left of the world in search of supplies. Legend grows of an apparent safe haven, a paradise referred to as Eden, and after one of the oldest tinkerers from the Ark goes missing, it’s up to two of its most hardy explorers to go to his rescue.
You start out the game with only two party members, Bromin, a warthog mutant who hits targets like a truck and has enough of a bad humor to do as much damage or even more, and Dux, a walking duck who’s a crack shot with a crossbow, and as you explore the wasteland, three other party members join your group, allowing you to make a host of different three unit party compositions. Each character has its own unique talent tree where you can spend skill points on as you level up. One of Dux’s initial skills, for instance, gives him moth wings that can be put to use and elevate him, triggering his high ground precision skill shots even if he’s in the middle of a field. Bromin’s charge tackle proved to be my far favorite, though, since it plays extremely well with the way Mutant Year Zero’s progression works.
The big thing that sets this game apart from modern XCOM is that aside from having the ability to directly move your characters as you explore the world before combat, you’re also incentivized to be stealthy, meaning that you can pick off patrolling enemies and thin out the crowd before jumping into the fray. As a fan of Commandos and the recent Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, I always have a blast tearing through stealth-oriented tactic games, especially when they turn out so well like the aforementioned and, of course, Mutant Year Zero. As with any game that bases its shots on dice rolls, you’re bound to scratch your head on some of the ridiculous misses that go down in XCOM, and things are no different here. But the overall experience is just so fun that even you won’t mind when shot percentages start risking dwindling away what might remain of your sanity.
The Zone is split in a number of different areas that are connected to each other and can be accessed from the map at any time after you discover them. It’s a good idea to thoroughly explore each and every one of them in search of scrap and weapon parts you can put to good use and upgrade your gear, as well as buy new one from the shop at the Ark. There are also unique items you can find that can be traded in order to unlock permanent group buffs that give you an edge during combat. And by exploring, you naturally fight and gain levels, which comes into play when having to tackle stronger enemies that make a stand as you get closer to the game’s end goal at around the fifteen hour mark. That estimate can vary wildly given the difficulty options that Mutant Year Zero throws your way at the beginning of your game, even to the point of having an ‘iron man’ mode like XCOM’s. I played through most of Road to Eden on the second tier, but eventually turned it down to normal, but considering the amount of experience and skills I accrued by the time I beat the game, I’m sure I could’ve stood my ground if I weren’t in the hurry to finish it in order to get this review done on time.
I really appreciate the length that The Bearded Ladies, a group of ex-IO Interactive devs, went to build an entertaining world for Mutant Year Zero to take place in. Given that the lore and characters come from a series of comics I had never heard of before, it’s particularly cool to see such a cool premise being turned into this good of a game.
The mutations that come into play the further you get into the game really help inject a decent amount of gameplay depth, even though by the time I had broken out and gotten just about all of the skills for my entire squad, I had already settled on a reliable team setup that saw little to no change from mid to endgame. Still, if you’re a nut about specializing teams for particular engagements in your games, there’s plenty of variety to be found here — it’s just my damn fault for liking to play this sort of game the way I end up playing them, very slowly and methodically.
Sure, I could’ve done with fewer bugs, such as having to switch back to the default game language each time I booted it up, or the fact that the enemy A.I can act erractly sometimes, moving back and forth during their turn. Not to mention the overall lack of visual variety for environments, but given that it takes place decades or even centuries after the apocalypse, it’s understandable that a lot of urban areas would look similarly run down and overgrown by nature. It’s easy to see the scope that the team behind Mutant Year Zero limited themselves into, and for as samey as most of the areas might look, the way that they come together works out, even if the enemy placement tends to get a little repetitive when you get to the end of the campaign.
It’s always such a joy to see a project turn out this well after months of anticipation. I kept an eye out for Mutant Year Zero ever since it was announced a couple of months before E3, and man, it most certainly paid off. I’m keen to see what’s next for the franchise. Considering that the ending left me with more questions than answers, here’s hoping this will do well enough to warrant a sequel. I’m more than ready for another go.