Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is itself an interesting mutation of genres. It is a hybridization of turn-based tactical combat, narrative world-building, and stealthy exploration within that world. This mutation is perhaps as beautiful as it is ugly. It is a game that trades tactical and strategic depth for witty, wise-cracking characters and a lush post-apocalyptic Earth open for the scavenging. Indeed. MYZ’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder – Let’s look into what makes this so.
MYZ takes place in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Flora and fauna have reclaimed much of what was left behind. Relics of a previous era (which is to say, our present era) are scattered throughout the world. Despite the devastation that led to this broken place, it is still wonderful to look upon. The composition of MYZ’s Earth is thoughtful, packed with detail and purpose.
The denizens of this future place can be neatly placed into two groups: Those who are on your side and those who will sniff you out, rally their cohorts and rip you to shreds. The game’s baddies consist of mutated, ferocious wildlife and mobs of pea-brained scavengers. Both play a narrative part in developing what this future Earth is. The game’s good guys are likewise humanoid and semi-humanoid-animal hybrids. They spend most of the time in the safety of the Ark, a bastion and central goodguy HQ, led by ‘The Elder’. The Elder sends off the player as an elite expedition to seek out Eden, the last place in this wild and crazy world where some semblance of sanity and good faith remain.
The player initially assumes control of Boarman, a pigman, and Dux, a… duckman. Each have their own battle perks and skillsets. As the story moves forward, a handful of additional characters are brought into the fold. MYZ then enables you to freely swap characters in and out of the 3-person lineup. Each playable character has his/her/its own distinct voicelines, attitudes, proclivities and perspectives. Boarman, for example, is jaded, grizzly and tired of Dux’s smartass quips. The playable characters add flavor and charm to an otherwise beautiful albeit dismal setting.
At this point, I would hesitate to assign the RPG label to Mutant Year Zero. Even though the playable characters are unique and witty, their individualism sort of ends there. These personalities lend more so to creating the environment than adding granularity to game play…
…And the game play is where MYZ draws the line in the sand. And here is where we get to the nitty gritty.
Movement through the world is a combination of stealth and scrounging – and it all feels dreadfully slow. Baddies are patrolling everywhere, often on multiple levels – on top of busses, scaffolding, down in quarry pits, etc. etc. While scrounging for pieces parts to facilitate gear upgrades it is up to the player to decide how to skirt about. Red line-of-sight cones make avoidance generally easy, though some area layouts put you in some tight situations! Sometimes engagements can be avoided entirely – you can readily move on to the next area and segment of the story. But you need to scrounge. You need pieces parts – this is post-apocalyptic survival, afterall! And often the best bits are in the crates well within areas of enemy control. Do you sneak or fight? Or maybe a combination of both?
Here is where I start to feel that the game breaks down. Overall, there is an issue of pacing. Being stealthy, by nature is slower. MYZ doesn’t break the mold there, which is fine. And when combat is triggered, either intentionally or not, the game transitions to its turn-based system, which is also not fast-paced.
Normally, this wouldn’t be too much to gripe about. The problem is that, should you choose to clear an area of bad guys (which, again, should be a prerogative because loots), there only seems to be a single, most optimum way of accomplishing this: Sneak, silently kill the baddies on the fringe, move in, engage from there. If you botch up a silent kill attempt or aren’t guaranteed a 100% hit your would-be victim becomes alerted and then sounds a rallying cry for EVERY other baddie in the area. And when this happens, you might as well just reload from the last save and try the plodding process again.
This brings up another number of flaws in MYZ’s combat and character build mechanics. This isn’t a matter of being outnumbered when the baddie rallying cry is made; this is an issue of the game stifling your character in more ways than one to be able to handle being in an onslaught.
Most notably, are the character mutations tree. Essentially level-up perks/skills, mutations define how a character handles combat. A rough team composition can develop from this – The keyword being ‘rough’ as you can have no more than three members on the field at once. These mutations simply not powerful enough to keep your team alive in all-out combat. What’s worse, is that some of the characters even have identical mutations in their respective trees. It’s hard to have an edge on combat when two of your three combatants have the same piddly chance-to-hit increase.
MYZ gives the player very little elbow room to adapt and improvise in combat, either through weak character leveling, strict group composition rules or diminished actions per turn. Though, to give credit where it is due, the battlefield designs are comparable and could be your only saving grace. But even then, spending your precious AP scurrying from cover to cover will only delay the inevitable.
Concerning combat, which is a major element of the MYZ experience: Something’s gotta give. More AP per turn. A fourth member on the field. Stronger mutations. More variety in eliminating bad guys. A reworked cooldown system. Fewer baddies, or at least the inability to call in the swarm. Something. Anything.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a game that trades flexible and deep tactics in order to tell a story through the experiences of the player characters. The world itself looks fantastic. The mood is noir and foreboding. The player characters, though somewhat shallow, are a joy to play, their voice lines well written and performed. But pacing problems and weak, wonky combat make this convincing world a very tiresome place to inhabit, and quickly so.