A Deeply Satisfying But Disappointingly Short Game
If there’s one genre out there that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, it’s Strategy RPGs. Way back when I first started gaming, my first experience with this genre came in the form of an Amiga game called Cannon Fodder. Since then, my run ins with squad-based tactical games have admittedly been few and far between but from these early Amiga games to the unrivalled success of X-Com, there’s no denying there’s still an awful lot of interest out there for games like this.
Step forward Mutant Year One: Road To Eden, a game that combines the lore and exploration of the original Fallout with the intricately detailed and strategic combat of X-Com to perfection. With a gorgeous art style and an interesting story, Mutant Year One is let down only by its short run time and limited customisation.
The world is nicely detailed and a joy to explore
The world as we know it is gone, wiped out and reduced to a post apocalyptic wasteland choked in rubbish and hugged by overgrown vines. In this bleak future, genetically enhanced humans referred to as mutants struggle to survive in a world overrun by ghouls. Dropped into this inhospitable world, you take control of two mutants (with a third unlocked along the way) as you’re given your first mission and a basic introduction to the game. After familiarising yourself with the general pattern of play, the story picks up, seeing you tasked with uncovering the secret behind a mysterious place called Eden.
Moving around is simple enough, you control your character with the left stick and swing the camera with the right. Holding L2 allows you to see where your objective is located and as you walk (or sneak) your way there, you can choose to either engage in combat or skip it altogether to advance the story.
The turn-based system is deep, refined and incredibly challenging
The map is broken up into smaller, more digestible segments with a handy UI showing the level of enemies in your vicinity and where you are relative to the nearest base to re-supply ammo and items. The areas are littered with little secrets too, ranging from notes about the last days of civilisation to chests housing upgrades for your character. Accompanying this are items to replenish your dwindling supplies, spare parts to exchange at shops and artifacts, which are almost always accompanied by by an amusing bite of dialogue from the main characters as they try and work out what these items are.
At a little over 12 hours, Mutant Year One: Road To Eden is an easy to digest game, one that’s just long enough to hold your attention whilst avoiding falling into the trap of being so long it’s off-putting and daunting to the average player. It is worth noting that those not accustomed to turn based fighting with a heavy emphasis on stealth may well be left wanting. Much like other games in this genre, the real key to winning comes down to pre-planning, tactics and ambushing isolated enemies to swing the odds in your favour. Even then, there’s a percentage indicator showing the likelihood of your shots landing so there is an element of chance playing heavily over encounters. Rushing into battles gung-ho or unprepared will almost always result in a swift death making stealth a necessity to get through to the other side unharmed.
The lack of customisation is a real disappointment, especially next to the deep combat
The combat is the real bread and butter here though and is well thought out, drawing on inspiration from X-Com to deliver a deeply strategic system. Combat occurs in a turn-based fashion. Each character is given a certain number of action points per turn; firing a weapon costs your full 2 points whilst things like reloading and reinforcing your defensive position costs 1.
When engaged in combat the movement of players is reduced to a square grid, allowing you to use the environment to hide or flank enemies to find the best position. This also helps dodge enemy attacks and fire off a shot yourself. This system seems simple enough to pull off but when multiple enemies crop up and lady luck is not on your side it does become challenging very quickly.
Combat draws inspiration from X-Com and blends stealth with turn-based fighting nicely
For all of its positives, Mutant Year One is let down by limited customisation options and a lack of replayability. Those expecting to grind their way through the same areas to try and farm experience points can’t and upgrades are limited at best. These occur on a skill tree for each character and generally revolve around unlocking a special attack or adding extra health or movement for combat. Those looking for a deeper system outside the core combat to tweak their squad the way they want may be disappointed, especially with the deep combat system in place.
The individual mechanics in Mutant Year One work surprising well though and the blend of stealth, open world exploration and turn-based combat is pulled off better than most games out there. There’a distinct polish to Mutant Year One: Road To Eden and the world is interesting and rewarding to explore. A lack of replayability, a relatively short run time and a barren skill tree is a little disappointing though and holds the game back from being a better title. Still, the feeling of successfully ambushing a group of enemies thanks to your tactical pedigree is an incredibly rewarding experience and if you’re a fan of turn-based strategy games, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.