A ragtag bunch of mutants search for the last bastion of humanity.
The last few years have seen the rise of the turn-based tactical game once more, a genre that seemed all but abandoned by the triple-A segment of the industry. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a glorious return to the classic formula that turned so many players into loyal genre followers over the years with a heaping helping of slick polish and exciting new mechanics.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is actually based on a tabletop role-playing game played with pen and paper. Set in a post-apocalyptic universe, humanity has all but destroyed itself, with every last shred of resources having been shorn from the earth. The world left behind is teeming with dangerous ghouls, food shortages, and an irradiated wasteland that struggles to support even the few beings left on the battered planet.
There are a handful of humans left who spend their remaining days in a settlement safe zone known as the Ark. Humans cannot venture outside of the Ark to gather required resources to keep the Ark up and running alone, so they send the half-human, half-animal beings known as mutants to reap whatever they can find from the dangerous Zone area and keep the humans going on for another day. The elders of the human tribes guide said mutants toward helping the humans as what they refer to as “Stalkers.”
Meet the mutants you’ll be spending most of your time with: Bormin and Dux, two Stalkers heading out to seek resources and finally stumble upon the Eden, a settlement that may or may not exist where humans can live in peace without having to worry about scavenging for resources each day. They set off on a harrowing journey (later adding a female to their ranks in the form of Selma), looking to make sense of the world around them. It’s easy to be sympathetic to the plot with the apocalypse setting, and the characters are instantly likeable. The story is easy to connect with, and the personalities on offer here are hilarious while simultaneously human – despite the fact that they’re mutants.
Where Mutant Year Zero truly shines is its insistence on remaining a stalwart RPG that incorporates elements of strategy and tactical games. As players explore various areas throughout the game, they control one of their three squad members as they take a look at everything the Zone has to offer. Resources, including weapon parts, scrap, and other various items need to be gathered, while enemies need to be felled. Unless you’re walking around and keeping your flashlight totally off, chances are you’ll run into several enemies. The enemies’ field of vision is seen on-screen like any other stealth title, and you have to pay very close attention to it if you want to survive. Even something like the sound of one of your party members firing off a weapon can bring a ton of bad guys running to their fallen comrades’ aid.
There are a ton of enemies and not all of your team can do any real damage. That means you have to be quite discerning with what you do with your time and action points. Both you and the enemies take your turns to move, attack, and perform other actions, with two action points per turn. If you move to attack, the turn will end even with additional AP available. Following a battle, you’ll be granted experience points so you can level up and earn Mutation Points. Mutation Points unlock Combat Mutations, which can drastically change the flow of battle once applied to characters.
Mutations are especially important since they come in all different forms, whether they’re major, minor, or passive skills. With this in mind, you can customize your party how you see fit by building one character up with powerful offensive abilities, while another can be your defensive genius instead. There are many different ways to approach several situations, which is one of the reasons that Mutant Year Zero will appeal to a wide variety of audiences. You truly have control over the way your characters are shaped throughout the game, which can be a breath of fresh air when it comes to this genre, particularly.
Further, you can always head to the Ark to “fuel up,” so to speak, before returning to battle. You can use relics found in the Zone to earn special abilities, buy more equipment, upgrade weapons and other items, and catch up on all the latest gossip here. This ability isn’t unlocked until later in the game, but it’s certainly a welcome addition to the gameplay loop when it is, forcing you to think on your toes before you have the luxury of kitting out your team properly.
The only real weak link in the game is its somewhat erratic difficulty level. Sometimes, you’ll come across gaggles of enemies that can eat you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Other times, you’ll breeze through an area even when you seem severely under-leveled. It often feels like a crapshoot, though much of it may be due to the fact that the particular mutations you choose to unlock and at what time could be a contributing factor.
Overall, Mutant Year Zero is an engaging and challenging offering that’s well worth the time you put into it. If you enjoy adventures like Wasteland or XCOM, you’ll find plenty to love here as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. With roots in the tabletop RPG kingdom, Mutant Year Zero was bound to be addictive, after all.
[Reviewed on PC]
Brittany has been covering games and tech for over a decade for the likes of G4, Popular Science, IGN, Empire, Kotaku, Rolling Stone and GameSpot – as well as appearing as a speaker at video game conventions such as PAX East. When she’s not writing or gaming, she’s looking for the next great visual novel.