How would I describe Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden? Well, its X-COM meets Wasteland 2 in a nutshell and its great fun. There’s something quite appealing about guiding a squad containing a mutant duck with a piece of straw in its mouth, a stocky hog with a giant scare branded across its face and a fox wearing an eye patch embark on a mythical journey. The developers have really done an excellent work with the artwork, especially the character models. Before I even knew what Mutant Year Zero was, I was handing over
my hard earnt $$$ Jimmy’s hard earnt $$$ purely based on the art design- Something I never regretted.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden (let’s use the abbreviation MYZ from now on) is a stealth based tactical game that combines turn-based strategy and combat seen in X-COM and Divinity, with your traditional exploration and traditional RPG mechanics seen in Wasteland 2. MYZ focuses on the intensifying issues that plague a society consisting of outcasts and misfits. Well, sort of? MYZ actually takes place in a world where humans are largely extinct, thanks to an outbreak of the Red Plague and a Nuclear War. If The Simpsons have taught me anything over the years, its that radiation is great for mutation (the famous 3-eyed fish), and this is exactly the same theory MYZ abide by. The few remaining human survivals have mutated into… well, mutants. Human’s are scarce among the world. You’ll encounter a wide range of Human-like people along the journey, some will even join your squad. But, the one main human you’ll interact with is The Elder. The Elder is the wise old man of the Ark (A fortified settlement that separates the wasteland from civilization) and is the last remaining person with knowledge of the past. The Ark is in dire straight, a severe supply shortage threatens what humanity is left and this is where you come in. A special team of mutants (no, not X-Men) referred to as Stalkers, are called upon to head into the wasteland (known as the Zone) to gather supplies and other tasks for more important people, such as The Elder. Soon the story begins to get interesting as you discover that a myth about a fictional land of promise called Eden, actually exists.
With all the references and similarities towards X-COM, you’d expect the developers to have previously worked on one of the X-COM releases, right? Well, no. MYZ is developed by a team of Swedish developers, The Bearded Ladies. A relatively unknown company that was founded by former IO Interactive developers that includes former HITMAN leads. MYZ features the guidance of Ulf Andersson, more famously known as a designer of PAYDAY, as the game’s creative consultant. So, there’s plenty of diverse experience on-board for MYZ. But strangely enough, no connection to X-COM.
A full playthrough of MYZ consists of about 20 hours of exploring and scavenging the Zone. One activity I enjoyed far more than i should of was building an epic collection of stylish hats. Well to be truthful, these hats serve as head armor to you know, protect your head and increase your stats. But the stats were irrelevant to me, my Stalkers were all about fashion! Gameplay isn’t limited to exploration and scavenging. In fact, sneaking is a mechanic you MUST perfect in MYZ. To survive the zone, you must plan each ambush, ensuring you gain advantage over your fellow mutants, crazy humans or robotic enemies. Stealth is the difference between winning and losing, honestly it is. Using stealth, you can scout the area and identify any out of position enemies and take them out slightly before engaging the high priority enemies. Every battle you’ll be outnumbered as your party can only consist of a maximum of 3 Stalkers at any given time. So ambushing oblivious enemies, evening the numbers and then positioning your squad to ensure you can exploit the remaining enemies weaknesses is key. If you see 2 mutants having a chat about last night’s game and you run in thinking you have the numbers advantage, I can guarantee you won’t survive. As soon as you’re detected, another 10 mutants will appear and soon enough, you’ll be loading up a previous save file. Combat is very challenging, even early in the game on easier difficulty you will find yourself regretting not taking your time, surveying your area and planning your attack. This only magnifies later in the game if you’re not prepared and find yourself carrying no EMP grenades against robotic enemies, or carrying no Medikits into crucial battles.
But this is why I personally love tactical turn-based combat games, and MYZ no exception. The turn-based combat is almost a carbon-copy of X-COM. Everything from shooting from high-ground increases your percentage to hit a target, to the typical miss shot when you had 95% chance of hitting your target at point blank range. You will get special abilities, or mutations, as you level up your Stalkers throughout the game. These range from Mothwings (an ability that gives you wings that enables you to fly up and gain a high-ground advantage to increase your hit and critical hit percentage) to Stone Skin, an ability that hardens your skin to a harden stone like state, making you invincible for 1 turn. For some bizarre reason, people think its a good idea to have unlocked chests randomly throughout the Zone. These chest contain
hats armor that will increase your armor rating and stats. Hunting enemies will grant you XP and the occasional loot drop, the more enemies you kill, the quicker you level up and unlock mutations. Each Stalker has their own set of points used for unlocking minor, major and passive mutations, so you won’t have to manage your points to ensure only your favorite mutants gets the upgrade. You’ll find yourself visiting the Ark quite a bit to spend your Scrap (currency) that you discover (somewhat) hidden throughout the Zone, along with weapon parts to upgrade your Stalkers and weapons. Think of this as your HQ in X-COM, just without the upgrade and researching aspects. It would have been nice to have an easier way than to leave the area of the Zone your in to go back to upgrade your items, but quick travel makes this process slightly bearable.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I LOVE the artwork and graphics in general. Not only are the Stalkers characters well designed, the novelty of having a big, scarred hog head on a human body looks fantastic and will make anyone laugh. Aside from the character models, the world is also rather elegantly designed, from a visual aspect anyway. It’s no Divinity, don’t get me wrong, but its on par with the Wasteland seen in… well, Wasteland 2. The UI will have every turn-based strategy veteran wondering if MYZ are paying royalties to X-COM. In-game battle shortcuts are identical, Overwatch, Reload and Bunker down are all the same. This isn’t a criticism as its a proven design, but it’s rather odd how many similarities MYZ shares with X-COM.
As I’ve said in all of my reviews, Sound isn’t the strongest performer for the type of games I’ve reviewed so far, and MYZ is no exception. Strategy and simulation games pale in comparison with RPG or FPS games in regards to sound. But I still found myself enjoying the sound effects of the mutations, other than that though, the audio was very underwhelming. The music was decent, but no tracks will linger in your head for the rest of the night once you’ve logged off. This genre of games isn’t known for their sound, so its expected and not a criticism of the game.
So, in conclusion, what do I think about Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden? Well, it’s a fun game and I honestly recommend it to anyone who wants a good, turn-based strategy game that is a bit different. It lacks the depth of X-COM and especially the Divinity series, but I feel this game is aimed more at the casual strategy gamers. The story is a bit slow to take off but does being to gain momentum, this is probably the biggest criticism. Instead of drawing you into the story, MYZ takes its time and at first, you feel as if this story is actually going nowhere. But then you suddenly find yourself immersed in the story and suddenly, you’re hooked. Problem is, by now some casual gamers may of pressed Alt+F4 and returned to play Fortnite. The recent DLC drop and addition of a somewhat basic multiplayer mode- Stalker Trials (basically time trials where you time your run through the Zone and your friends attempt to beat your time) will add some sort or replayability. But once I finished my first playthrough, I found it hard to justify another attempt. There’s more DLC on the horizon in June, but it may not be enough to draw me back. Don’t let the lack or replayability discourage you though, MYZ won’t disappoint and will test even the most seasoned turn-based veterans on the hardest difficulty.
For more on Mutant Year Zero, check out our previous coverage.