Dux and Bormin are stalkers, mutants sent out into the Zone to scavenge for scrap and items to help sustain the Ark, a refuge from the harsh realities of this wasteland. If you've seen anything from the game you'll likely already have guessed that Dux is the duck-mutant (or mallard if you want to be specific) and Bormin is the boar-mutant. Some context then. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of Sweden, hence the weird music and funny language on signs. In fact, judging by the signs we came across this game takes place on the west coast, near Gothenburg, the Swedish capital of word puns. Hence the character names, we suppose.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is based on the classic Swedish pen-and-paper roleplaying game Mutant (1984) (which also later spawned the sci-fi version, Mutant Chronicles), and more specifically it's latest edition Mutant Year Zero (2014) which rolls things back in time close to the catastrophe that shaped the world.
As you'd suspect the story is a key component and the narrative is constantly flowing through the conversations between your characters, through notes that you discover in the zone that speaks of what was before, and as you return to the Ark and speak with the Elder. After a few maps we ran into the third member of our crew, Selma, a mutant with more recognisable human features. Having a squad of three really does up the ante in terms of available strategies.
Road to Eden is not one of those game where you can just jump into combat and expect to do well from there. It's all about the setup. You need to sneak up on enemies and silently take them out without alerting any others nearby because much like in other similar games where you face overwhelming numbers it's not recommended. There's a window of opportunity before you've been spotted where you can hide and then take advantage of the ambush.
The lazy observation would be that it's "Xcom with mutants", but the way the real-time stealth and exploration works, the actual gameplay, even if combat is turn-based, lands somewhere very far from Firaxis' excellent tactical games. We'd say there are bits of titles like Commandos and Desperados in there if you're after a reference point or two.
One thing we found was that overwatch (where you take your action during the enemy's turn) was largely ineffective if your target is towards the edge of your range, as the odds are just as awful as they would be if you just took the shoot with, say, a 25% chance of succeeding. You need to improve those odds by gaining higher ground or by having a very accurate weapon equipped, but still, turtling and relying on overwatch is not a great tactic as you'll likely miss shots and spend ammo, forcing you to reload more often (wasting your action points). What's good about overwatch not being an easy path to success is that you need to be a little more aggressive. Another mechanic that feeds into this is the fact that your special mutant abilities recharge with kills. It's all about seizing the opportunity then.
Another interesting mechanic you unlock early on is the ability to draw enemy attention to yourself, do this with a well-armoured character, maybe even one that has "dug down" to limit damage taken, in order to save your more vulnerable units and allow them to flank. Grenades are interesting too. A Molotov does damage over time and allows you to deny yourself and enemies access to an area (unless you're willing to catch fire). There's also a frag grenade that not only does more direct damage but also damages cover. Through a few seemingly simple mechanics there's a wealth of depth to explore and exploit.
The enemies come in many different shapes and forms. They're ghouls and their chatter will send shivers down your spine as they're intent on taking down the Ark and feasting on its inhabitants. Some of the more interesting enemies include the Shaman who, unless dealt with swiftly, can call reinforcements that will overwhelm you in no time. The annoying hunters have great accuracy at long range. There are Medbots that will revive fallen enemies and towards the end of the demo, we came across an extremely powerful support unit that boosted another unit and made it extremely durable. Add to that pyro units (that lob Molotovs at an alarming frequency), and your grunt types, Butchers (melee) and Marauders (ranged), and very soon there's a healthy mix of units to take on.
You'll come across armour and helmets in chests throughout the zone, and you'll collect weapons and weapons parts, the latter is used to upgrade your weapons at the Ark. There are add-ons as well, and through all of this and the mutations of your characters you can specialise them to fit roles you need in order to succeed. Some gear may up your critical chance when undiscovered for instance, a massive perk as you're trying to take out isolated enemies before the main encounter, but maybe you want to switch that out for something that provides another bonus when you're in open conflict.
There's both character progression that allows you to add mutations, powerful abilities with cooldowns, and allow for more health points or grenade slots. Then there's a meta progression where you collect artifacts that allow you major perks (bought at Pripps' Bar at the Ark). There's not a terrible amount of choice here (the skill trees are fairly straightforward), but along with your choices of gear you can tailor Bormin, Dux, and Selma to your preferences.
We experienced a few technical issues during our time with the demo, most of them due to "tabbing out" and playing at a different resolution than the one we normally use. Minor things that should be sorted ahead of launch along with some sound glitches in what's otherwise a sublime audio side.
As you'd suspect the three difficulties make for markedly different experiences. On easy the health of your stalkers is replenished after each encounter, which makes medkit management a whole lot easier. On normal your health is 50% replenished and so losing health unnecessarily comes at a heavy price as medkits are fairly few and far between (and costly in the shop). Cooldowns aren't reset on normal either. And finally, as you'd suspect, on hard there's no health replenished after encounters. There's also an iron man mode for folks looking for a true challenge (one save, no do-overs).
That said the three-four hours we spent playing the game on normal was plenty of challenge, but the positive thing here is that each failure gave us a good idea about how to approach the encounter differently in order to improve our odds the next time around. This is the sort of game where every little advantage counts, where you're going to take a deep breath as you gamble on that 50% shot or take a penalty to your accuracy in order to ensure a critical hit. The levels offer plenty of cover, higher ground, and interesting layouts, but above everything else, stay out of sight for as long as you can.
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