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Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden Review

Edited by: Tiffany Lillie

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is the first game from new developers The Bearded Ladies. Inspired by the Mutant tabletop RPG, this turn-based strategy game has you taking out bands of roving bandits and collecting scrap to support humanity's last functioning outpost, The Ark. Spend collected resources to upgrade your weapons, purchase crucial supplies, and trade “ancient artifacts” (e.g., an iPod) to grant your group passive buffs. Combat blends familiarity with freshness; seasoned XCOM fans will be right at home navigating the turn/grid-based combat system. But Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden also shakes things up by allowing players to stealthily pick off roaming enemies, thinning the herd before jumping into large-scale engagements.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mutated World

Humanity as we know it has ended. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden clearly lays out in the intro that the world has gone to pieces, and it’s no accident. The ice caps melted, war and disease have ravaged humanity, and those left behind struggle to survive. But things aren’t all bad. Some of those left can leap thirty feet in the air, or charge through stone walls. This brings us to the heroes: the mutated misfits charged with scavenging the world for anything useful. You control a rotating group of three Mutants, each with unique skills and abilities. From the tusked-tank Bormin, to the high-flying Dux, each Mutant has a unique feel, making them perfectly suited for certain tasks.

As your Mutants grow in skill, they gain points you can spend to further customize them. Unlock active abilities — like the ability to charge into an enemy and knock them over for a couple turns — or purchase the ever-useful passive upgrades, such as increased health. Lastly, customize your troops even further with different weapons, gear, and grenades you’ll find littered around the world. Loving a gun but finding it’s not as accurate or deadly as you would like? Simple: Head back to The Ark and upgrade it or attach a new scope for increased accuracy.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden boasts an impressive number of discrete areas for you to pillage and explore. At the center of these different areas lies The Ark. The Ark acts as your base of operations, where you will go to upgrade weapons and purchase consumables between exploring areas. It’s a crucial space that you will revisit often, and as such it’s nice that you can navigate The Ark quickly and easily. That said, The Ark won’t change too dramatically throughout your playthrough. While it’s nice that the inventory of some vendors changes as you progress, it would have been nice to invest scrap into The Ark to upgrade different parts, or decide what other groups spend their time doing.

Criticals are King

Thankfully, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden sticks to the XCOM formula enough to make combat easy to pick up and intuitive to navigate. Cover comes in two varieties (half and full) and provides protection accordingly. Weapons have a certain percentage chance to hit and chance to crit. Teammates who are downed can be revived with medical packs to get them back into the action. If you’ve played XCOM or similarly-styled games, you will feel right at home. However, where Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden really sings is where it’s decided to do things differently.

For example, once you’ve scoped out an area and made note of its various enemies, you will notice that some will begin to wander. You can take advantage of these wandering enemies by picking them off with silenced weapons. Enemies that are picked off silently and outside the view of other enemies will not alert the whole group. This can significantly turn the tide in your favor, and becomes crucial at higher difficulties. Also, at higher difficulties you will desperately need to consistently perform critical hits on enemies. Luckily, equipping the right combination of gear/mutations/weapons can make this a lot easier. For example, you naturally get a bonus to crit chance for being at a height advantage. Place Dux on a platform above an enemy, equip him with a certain top-hat, crossbow, and the “Alpinist” mutation,  and boom — an almost guaranteed critical hit.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden also does something neat and a bit unique when it comes to its characters’ abilities. While many abilities are passive and work on their own, each character comes with a number of activatable abilities. As mentioned before, these range from being able to quickly relocate your character with a huge jump, or pacify an enemy with a stampeding charge. What makes these abilities unique is that they recharge after your group has taken out a certain number of enemies. This can cause you to rethink upcoming encounters when certain abilities are on cooldown. It can also allow you to further exploit the stealth system. For example, instead of trying to down a single enemy with a crossbow bolt, you can have Bormin knock him down first, then turn your enemy into a pincushion.

Criticisms

Overall, I have to say I was very pleased with Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. That said, I certainly had some gripes. First off, while I found the stealth system to be great, I would have liked to have seen more chances for stealth, or similar opportunities to reward approaching combat in a unique way (such as triggering traps, avoiding combat through dialogue, etc.). Also, sometimes encounters seemed impossible, even after taking out wandering enemies — but please note that I played with the difficulty setting on “Very Hard.” Often, I had to replay an encounter several times after being steamrolled by a group that was supposedly the same level as me, or muscle through an encounter while one or two teammates were bleeding out. (Thankfully, there’s no permadeath, and using a medpack out of combat fully heals a teammate.) Lastly, I would have liked to have seen a bit more variety with character skill trees because a couple characters have similar skills, which cuts down on their uniqueness.

8

The Verdict: Excellent

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a treat to play and a refreshing take on the genre. I really enjoyed its world, attention to detail, and old-meets-new approach to turn-based combat. While I would have liked some more depth in some areas, and for the experience to be a bit longer, I take those complaints mainly to mean I loved it just wanted more. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a no-brainer for RPG and turn-based fans alike. Here’s hoping this is the first in a long line of great games from The Bearded Ladies.

Matthew Watson
Written by
Friday, 21 December 2018 16:52
Published in Strategy

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Matt finds himself thinking about gaming most of the day. If he's not glued to his PC searching for the next great indie game; he's likely explaining the rules to some complex board game he's talked his friends into. Matt graduated from Marymount University in Arlington,VA with a Bachelor of Arts. Originally from Maryland, Matt currently lives in Austin,TX where he provides customer support for Electronic Arts. As such, Matt will not be reviewing any EA games we happen to get our hands on.

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