Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden isn’t a traditional turn based strategy game. Nor is it a role-playing game following the isometric party based formula of the late 90s and early 2000s. It’s a game that sits somewhere in between. Developer The Bearded Ladies and publisher Funcom call it Tactical-Adventure. Whilst it’s something of a hybrid MYZ adds enough of its own elements to set it apart from these genres and, for me, envisions how I’ve thought a tabletop rpg should be transferred to the screen.
Mutant Year Zero is based on the tabletop rpg of the same name and its expansion GenLab Alpha. It’s set in the future after environmental, economic and human caused catastrophe. Its pure dystopian fantasy yet has a grounding in the near present day. You play as a squad of Stalkers, Mutants sent out into the world to collect resources for the Ark, the last bastion of human civilisation that you know of. The Zone, as everything around the Ark is called, is full of danger and only a few venture out. After the games well explained tutorial your team of Bormin, a down to earth anthropomorphic Pig, and Dux, a wise cracking anthropomorphic Duck, are given a mission. Head North to find an engineer and his team of Stalkers who’ve been out longer than they should. It’s a simple premise that expands as you play, as most good adventure campaigns do. Traversing this world is the first way MYZ differentiates itself from its closest strategy genre comparison ‘Xcom’. Rather than exploring a zone looking for the combat encounter to then finish and be taken back to a hub you’re encouraged to move to the next zone. Your goal may be a few zones away and you can string together clearing out those zones on your journey without heading back to the Arc. The Arc does act as a hub when needed. It’s somewhere to buy equipment and upgrade weapons but character progression can be done whilst out and about. This rpg basis really pushes that tabletop, adventure feel.
This makes encounters you have with friend and foe, whilst at scripted locations, feel more dynamic and part of the adventure. I’m not getting a sudden communication that I need to be somewhere whilst on downtime or waiting for a clock to reset before I head out again. To combat being away from the Ark for too long the developer has built-in the ability to fast travel. By using the map you can quickly move between locations. Whilst this may pull away from the rpg feel slightly its a good quality of life addition which I’ve appreciated.
I’m not familiar with Mutant as a tabletop rpg. I have, however, played a lot of DnD and I enjoy turn based strategy games and rpgs alike so have experience with all of these. The genre crossover is where I think Mutant really shines. As explained you begin by being able to free roam around the environment. You explore, pick up scrap and scout out why the enemy is set up. The free roaming allows you to switch between a fast walk with a torch to light the way and a crouched, slow sneaking stealth mode. Stealth mode is key when you encounter enemies. Each enemy has a red ring around them signifying when they would notice you. It’s key to sneak, which reduces the ring, get in close and take out the enemy. Combining stealth and silenced weapons can really help you thin the herd and make sure when things get loud you’re not quickly outnumbered.
Combat changes things up to a grid set, turn based system. This style of combat has always worked well for that tabletop feel. Movement is limited and each character gets two actions per turn. If your familiar with Xcom, or a game board based DnD you’ll instantly click with it and known what to do. For those who aren’t the tutorial does a good job of explaining it. The key to combat is positioning and patience. If an enemy patrols an area move there and hide along their path. Then wait for the enemy to get near you. The closer you are the more chance you’ll have of hitting when firing, this hit chance includes lots of other factors too like cover. It feels natural that Stalkers are using stealth to their advantage. But after trying to stay stealthy and reloading a save state multiple times I embraced the action side of combat. Shotguns are my friend. Sometimes stealth won’t be the answer and when needed the different weapons pack a punch. When pairing them with the Stalkers mutations you can quickly gain the upper hand. It’s both tense and a thrill to take on a group larger than your squad and defeat them through carefully thought out tactics and positioning. Combat overall is super satisfying. The game also gives a wide range of difficulties. These can change the amount of life you recover between encounters and other key points that will dramatically change how you approach combat. This is great for newcomers and purists alike.
The world itself is an interesting place to traverse and explore along with looking beautiful. The Bearded Ladies have done a great job of creating somewhere which feels desolate yet full of life at the same time. Much of the world is overgrown with the remnants of present day scattered everywhere. Your squad will often comment on buildings or items that have been left behind. This exposition is at times as much funny as it is dark and will change based on your party leader. They also make comments in combat, especially Farrow who seems to say something every time she shoots, shouting half way across the map even when she’s meant to be hidden. The characters personalities and the state of the society they live in show in these exchanges and comments. Bormin is really put front and centre for the well animated, comic style narrative scenes as he narrates the situation and gives his thoughts on events. He, like the other characters, is well written and I find myself laughing or oftentimes reflecting on what he thinks. Unlike an rpg you don’t make your own character, the group of characters you can choose from are always the same. This is perhaps down to that narrative control and wanting the personality of the well realised characters to come through. It would be interesting to see how they could incorporate a create your character and the different mutation paths you could pursue in a sequel.
I do have a few issues with the game but they’re not anything that’s stopped my enjoyment. The first is that the game struggles after loading. Audio cuts out and textures take a little time to load. This can be frustrating when you enter a new area and your characters comments are only half heard. It’s also a little jarring when those textures fade in especially when you’re at the Ark and enter a building. The character facing you can seem flat without those textures and look as if my graphical settings are turned down. The load times are not long and if the game took a moment longer to load to sort these issues out it wouldn’t be an issue. I played on PS4 so I’m unsure if this affects other platforms. Secondly, I’ve encountered an issue with weapon and grenade selection. There are a few bugs but currently, this is the most egregious. Whilst in combat and switching between equipment a character has occasionally used the wrong thing, even if the item you want to use looks selected. Trying to stay hidden and using a silenced weapon only to make a load of noise with a shotgun is frustrating and has caused me to load a previous save (the save states, however, are very forgiving). This does seem to have stopped happening in the last day or two so I’m unsure if it’s been patched out or only happened in certain areas. Finally, and this is completely a personal issue, I’d like the camera to be at a slightly different angle. I’m not sure on the exact angle chosen or if this is similar to other games but I constantly feel like I want to see a little more. If the camera was zoomed out slightly or tilted a little more towards the horizon I think I’d be a little happier. None of these are reasons to stay away from MYZ and of course, bugs can be fixed.
Mutant Year Zero is a fantastic example of how a video game can feel like a tabletop rpg. I’m really enjoying this game and can see myself having a second play through focusing on a different squad of characters to mix up abilities and play styles. Its mix of free roaming and combat finds a great balance to keep it interesting, along with its well written characters and world building. It’s a well thought through evolution of both the strategy and rpg genres and a mix I’d like to see more of as well as what can be done with it next. Apart from a few minor issues, the game feels fluid from presentation to game play.
Should you play it? Yes, definitely
Why? Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a must play for anyone who enjoys tactics style games and tabletop experiences. It’s humorous, charming, satisfying and compelling to play. For those who aren’t familiar with the genres, it’s an innovative mix that won’t push you too much one way.
But… It’s a little buggy. I, however, don’t think that’s a reason to pass this game by.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4. Review code supplied by Funcom through Evolve PR