Based upon a 1980’s Swedish tabletop RPG, known back then with the shorter moniker ‘Mutant’, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden adapts to change into a turn-based strategy game for consoles; one that offers a superb mix of combat and exploration, as well as being rather gorgeous to look at.
Mutant Year Zero tells the story of a group known as Stalkers, who must travel into the world outside of their safe haven of the Ark and retrieve various components to continue their existence. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where previous human civilisations are referred to as Ancients, MYZ focusses on two Stalkers in particular – Dux and Bormin.
These two Stalkers are returning to the Ark after gathering supplies when the leader of the Ark – the Elder – informs them of another group who have gone missing, asking Dux and Bormin to go investigate. Those missing Stalkers have gone off in search of a place known as Eden, but others are sceptical this place even exists.
Everyone/everything that resides in the Ark is mutant – aside from the Elder – and Dux and Bormin are no exceptions. Both are anthropomorphised but whereas Dux is a duck (and conveniently named), Bormin is a pig with a huge scar down his face. Both are haggard from the world around them, but their humanity and humour remain intact. These are so wonderfully written characters that I just wish there were more interactions to really show them off.
Another aspect that feels slightly lacking with Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is the combat. There doesn’t feel enough of it for a couple of reasons, firstly, because the turn-based strategy is a lot of fun. It isn’t too taxing to figure out the intricacies, yet feels tactical enough that every single decision matters.
The second reason is to address the level spikes that occur every now and then. When a group of enemies are defeated they do not return to the map, so there is a finite number to defeat and when defeating all of them in the various areas and still finding yourself noticeably under levelled for the next area, it makes the difficulty feel cheap. The challenge should come from the tactical side of things, not just because the party is under levelled.
Combat itself is just one of two main phases of the game. Players will explore each area searching for scrap to take back to The Ark, or enemies – known as Ghouls – to defeat. These enemies are usually in groups accompanied by a whole manner more, including Medbots, vicious dogs, and cult leaders with special abilities. It is essential to pick them off one by one.
Finding an enemy or group sees a simple tap of the X button initiating combat, providing at least you are in a safe position. It is best to make sure your characters are hidden behind cover before initiating the fight, and especially when only targeting one opponent as any left standing after your combat phase will alert other enemies in their vicinity. Take on large groups of enemies head on and you will quickly see your HP disappear.
When not in turn-based combat, Road to Eden effortlessly switches to real-time exploration. This is the time to salvage whatever you can, picking up scrap to be used as currency, or weapon parts to upgrade your guns. There are also notes and artefacts for collectibles; the latter of these are old world electrical items that also come with a post-apocalyptic tongue-in-cheek guess at what they were used for. Artefacts can be traded in at the Ark for unique special abilities which are not available for use through any other method.
There are also chests to find that house new weapons, and helmets and armor to boost your characters stats. Best of all, anything you equip will show up on your character model; so that pork pie hat reading ‘Kiss Me Quick’ around the brim – and comically known as a Fertility Crown in-game – looks great on any of the mutants.
Another way to boost stats is through the more traditional method of levelling up. Each increment in levels offers a skill point to each mutant – even those not in your active party – that can unlock Mutations. Each mutant can have one minor mutation, one major and one passive active at any one time. There are also stat boosts to unlock that offer additional HP, movement and throwing range. These run separate to the mutations but require the same skill points.
Exploring Mutant Year Zero is where you can fully appreciate the world that has been created. It is lush and dense with foliage but spotted with ruined buildings and strange machines begging to be investigated. Birds and rodents litter the maps but will quickly scarper once you are near them. If it wasn’t for the copious groups of enemies, this would be a very pretty game to wander round in, especially with the isometric view giving you the best look at everything.
One area though that cannot be explored is the Ark itself. Instead this is just a screen where you move the cursor to highlight which shops you wish to visit. You can see and hear the hustle and bustle of all the mutants living in there, but I miss the opportunity to get involved with that and wish for a bit more interactivity between the inhabitants.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden on Xbox One comes with no less than 36 achievements and, when coupled with the already high game difficulty, means this isn’t an easy completion. You will be required to utilise many different abilities for the mutants in your playthroughs, and then be able to complete the game on the highest difficulty with Iron Mutant enabled. Iron Mutant disables manual saves – meaning you cannot save part way through skirmishes and re-load if things don’t go your way – but also enables permadeath. If your team gets wiped, it’s Game Over.
For fans of XCOM and turn-based gaming in general then Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is definitely worth a look, especially if you are an Xbox Game Pass owner. The combat is satisfying and even though it isn’t you pulling the trigger directly, you can feel the impact each one makes. It does need a little bit more interaction across all characters and NPCs, but coupled with the exploration, the salvaging and the underlying humour, it creates a great mix of genres that hopefully allows Road to Eden to get the attention it deserves.