Developed by The Bearded Ladies Consulting Published by Funcom Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (also available on Xbox One and Steam)
Tabletop roleplaying games are often a great way to experience a story, often by having a unique group of people to spice things up. Mutant Year Zero recently arrived on the tabletop scene and made a big splash in its European debut. Swedish developer The Bearded Ladies Consulting found passion in Mutant Year Zero and, after taking a handful of queues from strategy games like X-COM, have made something that is unique but doesn’t seem to tap the potential of the source material.
Mutant Year Zero has a strong artistic flare all of its own and Road to Eden takes full advantage of that. The world is done in an almost realistic comic book styling with each of the characters being very detailed. The world is mostly forest land and destroyed cityscapes, but then you also have the simplistic but very much alive Ark. Then you have the characters like Dux, a duck with detailed black feathers and a slab of duct tape to fix a crack in his beak. There’s an impressive variety of characters with unique designs that join your party. This includes anything from humans with different scars and oddities to humanoid foxes. However, it is disappointing that the enemy designs are lacking in variety and sadly in combat skills.
Speaking of combat, the combat in Road to Eden is as fun as it is brutal. You assemble a team of three mutants each with their own abilities. Combat has two phases: exploration/stealth and then turn based combat. When you first enter an area with enemies you have a chance to guide your team and not only gather materials, but also attempt to pick off stragglers in the enemies group. If you get caught, or fail to kill an enemy, you then switch to a grid based map and each team takes turns. Picking off individuals before engaging the group is down right necessary because not only can they outnumber you but because the unique bosses have devastatingly strong abilities. Your success will be decided by factors like team composition, tactics, and sometimes a little bit of luck. Weapons, armor, and accessories are all interchangeable, so you can choose your team based on skills and your preference. Even when taking advantage of things that will swing things in your favor like taking the high ground and use of grenades, there are still some elements of luck if you cannot get 100% guaranteed shots. I ran into situations where a missed shot messed up my whole strategy and sometimes struggled to get my momentum again.
The stealth elements that lead to this combat can be harrowing at times. If you want to pick off enemies one by one you have to make sure they are far away. There is never a clear cut distance where assassinating a straggler doesn’t attract attention. This can lead to a lot of botched attempts and then being totally overwhelmed. When you take out more than half and then wipe out the rest it does feel really damn good. Once you’ve cleaned house, you walk away with loot. Scrap works as currency to buy health packs, armor, and other supplies, while finding weapon parts allows you to upgrade your weapons. Scouring the Zone will also allow you to find artifacts that grant additional bonuses such as making healing more effective or getting item shop discounts. These artifacts play a small part in the story so scouring for them is worth the effort.
The game starts out as a simple scrap collection mission, but upon returning to The Ark, your mutants’ home base, you learn that the person who maintains the place has gone missing and needs to be brought back ASAP. Your starting party of Dux and Bormin clearly have some history as they they have some great back and forth banter. The other characters are equally quirky and really add some distinction. The writing for the major plot lines aren’t especially deep, just a reason to make your way across a different part of the map. The writing for the characters and NPCs is by and large hysterical. While the shop keeps and elder are more serious and give a bit in the way of exposition, they do flesh out the world and are all likable in their own way.
The Ghouls are chock full of aggressive, often time hilarious personality. They very rarely get along well but the insults they hurl at each never failed to get a laugh out of me. They work as a vicious team when you trigger combat so be aware because without proper tactics you will be in for a really rough time. The top level enemies that works as the group’s boss may sometimes have traits like psychic powers and they play that up with grandiose speeches and domineering attitude. It makes the bleak nature of the apocalypse a little less grim. The game is also supported by a decent voice cast that makes all of the characters really stand out. The game also has an awesome 80’s styled synth soundtrack that really kicks in when exploring and oddly enough it’s very relaxing when not in combat.
There are a couple of weird things I did encounter while playing. I experienced two crashes that happened and my save file corrupted about halfway through the game. There were a few instances where the frame rate seemed to dip heavily at random points and a handful of audio delays. These issues were not terribly frequent but they were noticeable. The game runs very well otherwise and I’m sure these can be patched out easily enough. I had a very good time with Road to Eden between exploring the end of the world and challenging stealth and turn based combat. The game is built with a strong lore and some fun characters. I definitely would like to pick up a copy of the source book to try and run a game.