Back in 2015 when Experiment 101 was established as a studio, the open-world genre was in a very different place. Seven years later, as Biomutant receives an Xbox Series X|S update, the genre has moved on substantially. Has anything been added to this kung-fu open-world to bring it up to date?
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the animals have become sentient, bipedal and having grown a healthy penchant for kung-fu. You get to create your own resident of this world thanks to a character creation that offers a lot of variation, ensuring you can design your own unique animal.
The world itself is overshadowed by the Tree of Life. However, it is dying. To further compound this, the main roots of the tree that stretch out across the world have a huge behemoth slowly chewing away at them. These Worldeaters should be your biggest concern. Many of the main story quests, collectibles and more all feed into the necessity to defeat these larger-than-life monsters.
As well as these, six tribes have sprouted up throughout the world, each one with a different view on how to solve the Tree of Life problem. Alongside a morality system, these tribes allow you to play out Biomutant to your preferred choice. Do you unite the tribes or conquer them? Do you let the Tree of Life die off, or try and save it? These choices are completely down to you.
The tribes and the Worldeaters form the backbone of Biomutant’s main narrative. You will meet plenty of other NPCs on your journey that will be only too happy to ask you for a favour. Despite a fairly linear path throughout the main story, you will quickly rack up side quests from exploration or meeting new people. These do unfortunately boil down to a lot of fetch quests for the various individuals, but they can send you to areas you otherwise wouldn’t explore. And in these, there is usually some good loot to be found.
Your journey and choices are accompanied by a narrator throughout. As advanced as these animals have become, the King’s English still escapes them. Their grunts and noises are interpreted by the narrator for you to make sense of what they’re saying. However, I kind of wish he wasn’t there. He has a habit of droning on for far too long and even when he offers interjections whilst exploring, these are far too frequent. Even on the lowest setting he pops up far too often, and it wasn’t long before I turned him off completely.
Also the wording used is a bit too childish for my liking. Biomutant tries to signify that it is a world set long after we – as humans – destroyed it ourselves, and relics of the past are seen as a novelty. For example, a telephone booth is called a pling-plong-booth and a microwave is called a fry-sparker. It tries to inject humour but just comes off as immature.
Now sans-narrator, I was able to explore this world in peaceful leisure. In Biomutant, your animal can engage in melee or ranged combat and is equally ruthless in both. You can unlock new abilities as you wish in the rather confusing Character menu, with various different upgrade points. You can also unlock Mutations which give your character some useful and unique abilities separate from shooting and slashing away. Think of these like magic abilities and you get the idea. Some of these are locked behind your moral standings until you reach a high enough dark or light aura.
Biomutant is intensive in its loot gathering, so those base weapons and armor you start with will quickly become obsolete. You can then choose to trade them for money or scrap them for resources to craft new items.
As you can see, none of these ideas are exactly breaking new ground for the open-world genre, and that is exactly how Biomutant feels when you are playing. It is a culmination of ideas that are now tried and tested mechanics in gaming, without ever really pushing the boat out. On the flipside, if you have played open-world games before, Biomutant doesn’t require much thinking to play, and can easily help pass the time if you zone out for a bit.
The combat is quite good fun however, and Biomutant is perhaps at its best when you are taking over tribe outposts. You could simply run-in guns blazing, but there are other solutions too. On one occasion I managed to move out the opposing tribe using moth nests hidden underground; another time, I simply threatened them with what would happen if they didn’t leave and that was enough.
For the Xbox Series X|S versions of Biomutant, the only new features come in the form of a now-standard graphics mode option. For Xbox Series X these are: Quality, Performance and Quality Unleashed. Quality mode is Native 4K capped at 30fps and Performance mode is 2K at a stable 60fps. These are nothing new. Quality Unleashed is the anomaly here and allows Native 4K at up to 60fps. Almost two years into the life of the new consoles, it finally feels like the shackles are coming off. I put it on Quality Unleashed and haven’t looked back since. You certainly get more than 30fps constantly, to the point where it must be nearly at 60 thanks to the smoothness of it. But I haven’t noticed any major frame rate drop either. Quality Unleashed mode works, and it works very well too.
And Biomutant is a pretty game anyways. There is a slightly cartoonish vibe to the creatures, but the biomes are all very well designed. In 4K, these only look better than in the original release.
Biomutant on Xbox Series X|S remains a very basic open-world action RPG even with a next-gen upgrade. The only thing the update has added are some new graphical options. Quality Unleashed works excellently though and should be seen as a marker by other developers to not shackle their games on these new pieces of hardware. It makes Biomutant a very pretty game to play, but one that really lacks any innovations or something to differentiate it from any other open-world game.
Biomutant on Xbox Series X|S is available from the Xbox Store