From the talented team known as The Bearded Ladies comes one of the most ambitious tactical RPGs of this genre under the name of Mutant Year Zero, which originally appeared as a pen-and-paper game. The bigger question is now should be clear. Can it live up to expectations? Let’s find out.
+A beautifully brought together world that ultimately feels as if it could actually exist
+Stealth mechanics offer a unique and beautiful twist to the Tactical RPG genre
+Each mutant offers a very unique approach to combat
+Voice acting is absolutely some of the best there is
-Difficulty escalation can – at times – be problematic and overly challenging
-Lack of post-game content can leave those looking for replayability a bit disappointed
When I first encountered Mutant Year Zero, it wasn’t formatted as a video game by any means. Instead, I first encountered the series a number of years back during my Dungeons and Dragons days as a tabletop title. It was only because of a few of my friends that I really got to experience a world where humanity had been eradicated by their own destruction. Disease, famine, and nuclear destruction – all the things you could imagine had begun to wipe out our very kind and as the world began to change.
As humanity fell into ruin, they would be replaced by something stronger and more powerful than they were before their eradication. Through multiple expansions, contextual add-ons in the formats of new guides and stories to experience, we enjoyed Mutant Year Zero for quite a few years before a small team by the name of The Bearded Ladies began to work extraordinarily hard on their game which launched last month and saw reviews release abruptly for the title following its launch.
Now, here we are, with a table-top style isometric title set in that very world. Unlike the board game its a derivative of, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a story of its own, settling itself within the very world that was created in the 80s alongside some of today’s most renowned tabletop based games. As the story begins, humanity has wiped itself out, what is left may remain unseen and the last settlement there actually is – whatever is left of them, which we do not know due to all the mutants running amuck – it’s for you to protect.
Step over Battletech and Shadowrun, you have some notes to start taking
In recent times, I’ve spent a lot of time with tabletop-turned-videogames titles ranging from titles such as Battletech and Shadowrun to more unheard of titles such as Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines. Over those years and those very games, I’ve had a few bones to pick no matter how hard they tried to translate the games over from pen and paper to a digital screen.
Some things would get lost in translation or the games would feel more scenario based rather than an actual in-depth game. Each one would take you from one board to the next in a routine manner, offering you a hand-guided tour of the worlds they designed, and in turn – stripping you of anything that felt remotely close to an adventure through those elaborately designed worlds we came to know and love through the minds of those who created the games that inspired them.
But that’s when something magical happens with the series that first came into print in the 1980s begins to unfold like a magically wrapped gift for fans of tabletop games like myself. Much like one would hope, developer The Bearded Ladies didn’t hold back with Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden as their story that focuses on a group of mutants gets underway before us.
In their debut entry, Dux, Bormin, Selma, Magnus, and a colorful cast of extras that you will get to meet through your time in the last human settlement called The Ark. Our mission seemed clear at one point or another, however, they changed as I began to explore the world that was designed as if someone had gone over it with a fine-toothed comb.
World exploration comes with a major pay off for those that prefer stealth
Once you get into Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, you aren’t just handed some long-winded intro into the world you are about to explore. Instead, you’re thrust straight into the world that The Bearded Ladies has brought to life. Just as I’ve stated before, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden came to change how we perceive games of this very type.
Almost my entire time through the Zone – or so they call it – I snuck around, very rarely using my flashlight out in the open in case an unexpected guest came to find the ground, my trio of mutants right beside me. Surprisingly enough, however, the sneaking around paid off more-often-than-not. We were constantly finding ourselves with the ability to ambush our foes, silently taking each of them out as Bormin offered up some overwatch on an as-needed basis.
Rarely did we find a reason to have our guns blazing and enemies surrounding us as they desired. We were constantly beating everything down, using the stragglers to level us up, get a few must-have supplies before carrying on. A gameplay loop that became immensely enjoyable thanks to its risk-versus-reward systems, but also its ability to let us pick and choose the fights we would have that day.
Something we weren’t really able to experience in XCom, Battletech, or even Shadowrun. In many ways, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is quite different in this aspect. It’s one where you will actively find items and equipment that can be used from the moment they are picked up by a member of your squad. But the point of getting there is something you will have to consider.
Each character has a different combat style and mutating them changes that
One of the biggest things here is how combat and experience are approached as well as earned. Just like any tactical game such as Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden or XCOM, you may already know that every situation is different and can be handled quite differently. For instance, when you start out, it won’t be a bad thing to have Dux and Bormin running about, taking out every enemy they encounter through brute-forced combat, but that changes with time.
You’ll find that upgrading Dux’s mutations and weapons that he excels in long-ranged combat whereas Bormin is a close ranged fighter. His abilities such as Stoneskin and Run ‘N’ Gun emphasize his ability to use close ranged weapons such as shotguns and cannons of sorts. The same can be said for Selma who works great as a close-range assassin with crowd-control focused abilities that help her excel at her job.
Once you get that down, you’ll find that your team is next to unstoppable, but your abilities can’t be used in every situation. Instead, abilities have a “kill requirement” in order for you to use them. Bormin, Selma, Magnus, and even Dux require enemies to be eliminated by their hand in order to trigger their mutations.
This means that abilities should be used only in times of dire need. Selma’s ability Tree Hugger is probably one of her most useful next to frog legs, which allows her to leap across entire rooms without restriction. But the cost of using these mutations does have to be considered when working your way through The Zone.
Combat is a massive challenge in its very own right
Toss in the need for stealth gameplay mechanics, bouncing around using mutations and hunting down the gear you need to survive; you’ve been left with a lot to take in already. You already know or have known about what to expect due to my mentioning of stealth ambushes on your foes and how they are effective at picking off a few stragglers here and there before getting into the meat of things.
But what you don’t really know is the depth combat actually has. Unlike games like XCOM or Battletech, combat is a lot more tactically driven than the others. You have a skeleton crew to keep alive and doing so is all about knowing who, what, where, when, and how. But it’s truly a fanfare for those that prefer to sneak around, picking off foes one at a time, and then – only then – picking off the larger baddies that lay in wait.
When those fighters get underway, you’ll really get to see things shape up such as using cover to your advantage. Just like other titles of the genre, the cover you’ll use comes in two different types: half cover and full cover. The latter of the two is your best bet at staying alive while the other can be shot around with a low percentage chance of hitting.
Next is your typical phases. Your phase and the enemy phase, both of which allow both sides to decide whether or not they want to attack, each squad’s members in a specific spot, lobbing a grenade down range or simply settling down in overwatch. Along with these options comes the chance to use mutations such as Selma’s Frog Legs ability or Dux’s Silent Assassin that allows him to increase his critical chance while hidden.
Because of this approach, combat should be handled like a delicate matter as you can easily get overwhelmed and wiped completely out. However, being wiped out doesn’t come easy. Combat situations do allow for you to heal a teammate, taking them out of a “down, but not out” state and bringing them straight back into combat, but at the cost of putting one of your squad members in the way of bodily harm.
Want to dispatch your enemies with a grenade or obscure their vision? Great. There’s a grenade for that. Want to disable a robot? There are EMP grenades that are highly effective against a bot or two. Want to set a group of enemies on fire and let them take residual damage for a couple of rounds? There are molotovs for that.
Everything, even armor, and weapon upgrades all serve a purpose and will come in handy across the couple of dozen areas you’ll explore over the course of your campaign. There will be moments you may find that swapping out one stalker for the next helps you out a tiny bit more, giving characters like Farrow – a clever mutant fox – a chance to shine as she dismantles her foes in her own precious way.
But don’t forget, gearing them and the points you spend, they all matter and they are all extremely important to have min-maxed so that you can be more efficient both in and out of combat phases.
It’s a shame you can’t go back and fight random encounters
One thing you’ll notice about Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is that there isn’t a lot of post-zone combat once you clear out any threats that once lurked about. They don’t respawn their patrols, they don’t offer you a chance to go farm for gear, and what you do between each encounter matters more than you might have guessed.
Your medkits, your weapons, your armor; all of it matters as resources are extremely limited throughout the game. The downside? I’d have loved to have an option to allow enemy respawning events or unique randomized dungeons to explore. Maybe, just maybe, this potentially ground-breaking stealth meets tactical RPG title can do exactly that moving forward or in a title update.
Level Up – The Conclusion
Outside of the combat engine, I really feel that pitting myself up in maps against randomly generated foes would have been an absolute blast to undertake. After all, I loved the pre-combat prepping in the game before finding myself in both stealth and action-filled combat scenarios that were sometimes only won by sheer luck. I’m sure there was some careful planning involved when all Hell broke loose.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: The Bearded Ladies
Release Date: Available Now
If you’re one for a well-designed post-apocalyptic atmosphere, solid tactical gameplay elements, and an in-depth combat system, then Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a game you shouldn’t be passing by anytime soon.
Editor’s note: Due to the fact this game is extremely story-driven, we felt it was best to only use screenshots from the early game as we will be working on a small guide on how to best take advantage of the playing field with each of the party members you can have.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 8.75 out of 10
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.