Game name: Biomutant
Release date: May 25, 2021
Available on: Steam
Genre: Open world action RPG
Developer: Experiment 101
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Back when Biomutant was first revealed, open world action RPGs were starting to become a mainstay in the portfolio of all major publishers, but they weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today. Since then, three mainline Assassin’s Creed titles have been released (all of them going hard for The Witcher 3 style action RPG adventures) and the market for the genre has become a bit crowded. Can this title about adorable animals surviving in the post post-apocalypse thrive in such a world? Will Experiment 101‘s debut title become a household name, or go the way of humanity in their game? I don’t really have answers for any of those questions, but what I can do is share what I thought about Biomutant after playing more than forty hours over the past few weeks. Join me in this adventure by reading this review, dear reader!
The basic premise for this title is quite simple (and scary, considering the plausibility of some of its elements). Humanity contaminated the planet with countless oil spills, toxic leaks and whatever else you can imagine, leaving it in a state unfit to support human life. Out of the toxic wastelands of this new world rose intelligent animals, who then proceeded to make the wastes mostly habitable, building settlements, and creating a society split in different tribes. Of course, every RPG needs a bit of conflict, so when we start the game we’ll learn that things didn’t go exactly as planned and the adorable critters that populate the post post-apocalypse are in mortal peril of a new extinction event that will destroy what remains of our poor battered planet. It’s up to us to decide whether we wish to give Earth yet another shot at redemption, or just accelerate the catastrophe and watch the world burn. The story won’t win any awards, and it’s a scenario we’ve seen in countless other titles. I did enjoy the bits where the characters sort of acknowledge this fact and wink at the player’s actions talking about heroes and their deeds (it’s a very Fable thing). Speaking of Fable comparisons, Biomutant features a narrator that reminded me of that series’ Guildmaster and I’m pretty sure that this is going to be a very divisive addition, since it’s hard to get him to shut up while exploring (though the game has a slider that gets from zero to 100, in my experience zero does not mean zero). The narrator translates everything other characters say into English (as the NPCs talk in made up languages) and also comments on our adventure, sometimes giving advice, and sometimes just repeating the same line we’ve heard a hundred times for the one hundredth and one time.
The world itself is very interesting and a lot of fun to explore. This is a recognizable yet alien place, where remains of human settlements can share a space with the lush greenery of the environment and the utter devastation of the man-made wasteland a the same time without feeling incongruent. At one minute we might be exploring what’s left of a quaint little town, and at the next we’ll be navigating our way through a gorgeously rendered waterway, or fighting for air in the blasted hellscapes created by humanity’s greed. The animals that have taken over the world following its destruction are also agents of change who have built their own cities, which vary depending on the tribe that controls them. Countless vistas greet the sun as it rises each morning, some incredibly colorful and vibrant, others bleak and apocalyptic, as if predicting the end. It’s a world that always feels like it has something new to offer at the next corner, and while that something isn’t always rewarding, the joy of discovery makes it all seem worth it.
Our character is also a product of this new world, having been forced to flee a terrible threat in their youth, and now coming back older and wiser, as a loner who can go between the warring tribes and perhaps lead them to unity (or their total destruction). This is represented in the hero’s appearance (the eye patch wearing loner is a tired trope, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective) and while we are on that subject, I’d be remiss to not mention that the character creation system also features a visual representation of our skills, with a higher Intellect stat leading to a bigger head size, etc. It’s a neat system that can lead to some amusing characters, but it definitely fits the game.
Going back to character creation, all the usual suspects can be found here. We can choose a class (which gives us different starting equipment and abilities depending on the one we choose, as well as a specific perk), level up stats (which affect the equipment we can equip, as well as making us tougher, faster, letting us deal more damage, etc.) and learn perks and bio/psi powers that act as magic in other titles. Once we’ve spent some time playing, we’ll also start using some of these upgrade points to unlock Wung-Fu moves which add special attacks to the different weapons we’ll use during the adventure (or to our bare fists, if that’s the path we choose). It’s a very streamlined system, and from my experience, you can be a jack of all trades without any real drawbacks (certain powers require a specific amount of light or dark Aura, which is the game’s equivalent to karma, but because of the way the game works, this is also something that can be quite easily achieved without ruining a “good guy” or “bad guy” playthrough). Completionists will probably be thrilled at this prospect, as it makes achievement hunting a lot easier than other games where the player is forced into a specific playstyle.
While we are on the subject of the Aura system, this will be instantly recognizable for anyone who’s played Lionhead‘s Fable trilogy, as it works similarly, with the exception that there are no visual changes to our character’s appearance. Otherwise, having a high enough Aura on either side will elicit different reactions from NPCs, with some being more comfortable with Dark Aura players, and others congratulating us on choosing the Light path. This system also seems to influence the Tribe War questline, with Light-aligned characters being more interested in uniting the warring tribes, and Dark path characters focusing on total domination by violent means. Of course, the ending is affected by our alignment, so there is some incentive to replay there as well.
The tribe war storyline starts out feeling like a very cool addition (depending on your allegiance you can even be barred from entering certain outposts unless you conquer them, and there are areas where you can find your allies battling enemy tribesmen) but it gradually devolves into a very basic “go there, take that outpost, repeat” quest line. I did enjoy the addition of non-combat ways of dealing with some of the encounters (which depend on your stats and your previous actions during the war) but overall, it was a missed opportunity. Most side quests are very simplistic in nature, sending us to find something, fix something, or kill something (there is even an entire questline about finding and rescuing prisoners, which literally boils down to getting into places, defeating a bunch of bad guys, opening a cage, choosing whether to punch or let go the prisoner, and then repeat a bunch of times). I do wish to commend the game on its lack of instant fail stealth segments or horrible escort missions, however, as far too many titles add those activities and I don’t think anyone in their right mind enjoys them.
The combat system is rather open ended, as we can use our bio/psi powers and other abilities freely during battle (though of course there is a stamina meter that depletes as we use them, and we must wait for it to replenish). Right from the start, we can combine ranged attacks with melee blows (guns have infinite ammo, though they need to be reloaded from time to time) and each weapon type can get Wung-Fu moves that look flashy and have an instant effect on enemies. Sadly, the enemy hit reactions are very lackluster and it’s hard to feel like you are doing too much damage unless you look at the numbers that come off every attack (or the comic-inspired written sound effects for certain hits). This is an issue that’s present for the duration of the game, and it makes the combat feel a lot less fluid and weighty than it actually is. Another issue I had is that there’s no manual lock on system, so we must instead rely on an automatic system that can target enemies we didn’t wish to hit from time to time. Still, the use of different abilities, and the way they impact the battlefield can make most fights fun, even if the hit feedback isn’t there. For instance, there’s a skill that creates a frozen area of effect, which not only affects enemies caught in the blast area, but also applies an ice coating to the floor, creating comical moments where enemies try to charge the player and end up just sliding around like fools. It’s these moments, coupled with some of the more over the top Wung-Fu moves that ended up saving the combat system in my eyes, in spite of its other failings.
Another thing that influences combat in a very positive way is the crafting system. Biomutant features tons of loot (and thankfully, the protagonist can carry everything that isn’t nailed down to the ground without feeling even the slightest hint of discomfort) and that loot can be customized in a myriad of ways. Most weapons can be turned into something completely different if we have the right parts, and if that’s not our thing, we can always build a new one from scratch. The amount of customization options available is truly staggering, and I had a ton of fun experimenting with different builds. Of course, shops are also a thing, so if we haven’t looted the perfect item yet we could very well purchase it. Going from a basic sword/pistol combo to an electric shotgun/freezing bat in the first hours felt like a huge improvement, but the game also features unique weapons that can’t be customized, but in turn, come with their own Wung-Fu moves and elemental damage. Most armor pieces can also be customized (though we can’t create new ones from scratch) and there is a neat Outfits system where we can save a complete armor set and quickly switch to it when necessary (for instance, if we need radiation resistant gear, we can equip an anti radiation suit from there, and go back to our normal combat clothing once we are out of the danger zone). This is a feature that I wish was standard for action RPGs, so I was very happy to see it here.
Since we’ve just mentioned radiation resistance, I figured this would be a good moment to mention how exploration works in Biomutant. Our character can go to most areas right from the start, but we might end up facing seemingly unsurmountable odds if we go to far, which stem not only from high level enemies, but also from parts of the map that have their own hazards, which require us to own a specific vehicle, have a high enough resistance rating, or to equip a protective suit. This system works pretty well from my experience, and it adds more variety to the simple act of exploring the world. Aside from that, we’ll find tons of hidden bunkers full with precious loot, and all noteworthy areas have checklists with the stuff we can find there, so once again, completionists will probably be very happy here. Different mounts can be collected as we explore the world, and I finished the game with a sizable stable at my disposal. The vehicles I’ve just mentioned can’t be used everywhere, but they can be customized with parts we’ll find if we choose to follow their specific side quests (some of them are cosmetic, others are real upgrades that add even more utility to our vehicles). Aside from mounts and vehicles, we can also use some of our bio/psi powers to reach certain areas (for instance, using Levitation to traverse gaps that are too long to glide across them, or using a bio ability that summons giant mushrooms that can launch our character higher than a normal jump).
There is a full day/night system, and some puzzles only work during the day, adding a bit of variety to the proceedings (sadly, the puzzles themselves are all very similar, and after doing one or two, you will have seen all the game has to offer on that front). Rain will also show up from time to time, and it looks quite good, though not up to the level of something like Days Gone (which is sort of an unfair comparison, considering the difference in team sizes and budget).
When it comes to graphics and performance, this is an excellent showcase of the power of the PC platform, as it looks stunning and performs admirably, at least on my hardware (playing at 1440p on a Ryzen 5 5600x, 32GB RAM, RTX 3070 my framerates hovered on the 100fps number 90% of the time). Over my forty hours plus adventure, I experienced zero crashes, and even though I was playing pre-release code, I can’t say I’ve found any noticeable bugs that weren’t visual oddities.
So, what do I think of Experiment 101‘s debut release? Biomutant is a monumental achievement considering the size of the team that made it, but it suffers from uneven combat and lackluster mission variety. Does that mean I don’t recommend it? On the contrary, this is still one of the most fun titles I’ve played all year. Just don’t go into it expecting the next The Witcher 3, because it’s definitely not on that level.
8/10 (Very good)