What Fallout 4 should have been. That’s an opinion I’ve seen noted on more than one popular online platform: Metro Exodus is what Fallout 4 ‘should have been’. While the latter title made very little advancements compared to its predecessor, Metro Exodus has taken strides to reimagine the franchise in a new and welcoming post-apocalyptic light.
As a franchise, Metro had a very rocky foundation with the first iteration (2033) taking more than two years to sell 1.5 million units. The games themselves are based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel(s) of the same name, which in turn are part of a broad and multi-faceted universe of books. Nevertheless, the literature was lesser known in the western world and as a result, the new IP from THQ was released to an unknowing audience.
However, the success of the franchise did proceed to grow exponentially, with the 2013 sequel – Metro Last Light – selling more copies during its launch week than in 2033’s entire lifetime. Deep Silver (acquiring the license from the now-defunct THQ) later released a double-packaged remaster of both titles on PS4 and Xbox One, which received a fairly positive reception. Now, we come full circle to Metro Exodus, which in the first week of sales has beaten Last Light’s record by approximately 50%.
Now that we’re all caught up on the history of Metro, we can ask a simple question: do the numbers genuinely support an upwards trend in the franchise’s quality? In a word: yes. Consider the titular statement of this review – Exodus is considered by some to be a better version of the biggest name in post-apocalyptic gaming: Fallout 4. This is no easy feat, particularly for an underdog title. However, Exodus has come forward bull-headed and with an array of upgrades that sets it apart from the preceding titles for the better.
Historically, Metro has been a linear franchise, following a point-A-to-point-B style of gameplay. The fundamentals remained identical between the first two titles, with the bulk of mechanics going unchanged – whilst this portrayed an “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, it left very little room for feeling like you were actually playing a new iteration. In Exodus however, the game has been turned on its head, flipped around and spun in circles.
The developers, 4A Games, have transitioned from a linear style to an open-world, multi-approach mechanic that gives the players complete freedom to pick and choose their objectives and exploration targets at will. Whilst this certainly isn’t a first in the gaming world, the idea has been modified slightly in a way that seems to cleverly lengthen the game. Throughout play, our protagonist Artyom will move from place to place as he explores the Russian wastes, thus giving the player multiple environments of a completely different nature to explore. When you’ve finished with one, you’ll advance the story and transition into the next, allowing you to experience an entirely different layout each time.
Additionally, this mechanic ensures that the environment doesn’t become stagnated, or bland – the developers don’t have an enormous, sprawling world to populate and can focus on cramming more detail into a smaller landscape. A further change from the preceding titles gives the player the ability to control vehicles at will, such as boats and cars, to get around the map. This is another advantage over Fallout 4, as a key point of dissent was the inexistence of controllable vehicles, despite the map retaining a massive size as with previous iterations.
Exodus’ gameplay is ever so slightly basic, but it doesn’t impact the overall impression negatively. The premise of the title is ‘finding freedom’, and in doing so you will brush up against warring factions, mutated beasts and inclement weather – all par for the course in a post-apocalyptic game. You’re the good guys and must save other good guys from bad guys and beasts. Subsequently, this very simple approach brings in another aspect of Metro that pits it up against Fallout 4, and that is the ‘karma’ system. The decisions the player makes, right down to choosing whether to spare or slaughter cannon-fodder enemies, has an impact on the wider game. In Fallout 4, this more or less boils down to a “they like you” or “they hate you”, but in Exodus, what seems like an unconnected, spontaneous decision can have further implications in how your team see you, or how enemies discuss you further in the game.
It’s this karma system that plays the biggest part in deciding how you’ll approach missions and the exploration of the world in general. Will you sneak through an enemy outpost employing non-lethal tactics and distractions, or charge in guns blazing, lobbing pipe bombs left and right? If you are to choose the latter, your overwhelming force has a chance to cause straggling enemy fighters to drop their weapons and surrender – you then decide how you wish to dispatch them. You’ll often come across innocents in the fray and are left with similar choices – Metro isn’t squeamish and doesn’t forbid you from killing civilians but doing so can have grave implications later on.
At this point, it’s worth establishing that this isn’t a complete overhaul in all aspects – a few points have been carried across from Last Light and 2033 and simply improved upon. Throughout the franchise, weapon customisation has been a prominent aspect in allowing you to mould the game to your preferences and this is still true in Exodus. Players have the ability to expand on their weapons more than ever, with multiple attachments and upgrades. An expansion on this element is the ability to now modify Artyom’s outfit and equipment. However, one mechanic the franchise lacks is the ability to advance or evolve the protagonist through any kind of skill or perk assignment; some may argue this is a key requirement in open-world titles.
Moving on from the gameplay, Exodus has made leaps in upgrading the graphical appearance of the franchise. The previous titles were known for the dank, dark and miserable underground settings that seemed claustrophobic and stifling at times. However, Exodus offers a breath of fresh air – quite literally – as the player has the freedom to now explore above ground in a range of pleasing and well-designed landscapes. The journey will take them from frozen, marshy wetlands dotted with industrial districts and obscure settlements to arid, sandblasted and scorched wastes pitted with rusted wrecks of abandoned ships ripe for exploration.
Personally, I found the lighting to be one of the finer aspects, visually. The game adopts a traditional day/night cycle with a spontaneous weather pattern that gives the opportunity for a range of lighting effects to take place. Whether this is gleaming sunshine at midday over the desert scrub or an ominous moonlight glazing over the rippling waters of a backwoods river, the engine doesn’t fail to disappoint. One thing Metro has always done well is darkness and exploring an abandoned cargo ship or a deep bunker with nothing but a flickering torch and a makeshift lighter to guide you genuinely feels tense and spooky.
The NPCs and assorted enemies are well designed and believable, from how they react to certain situations, to their voicing, movement and combat responses. Exodus not only brings across almost the entire library of creatures from 2033 and Last Light, but it also adds a few new creatures to contend with. The most interesting of these are the “Humanimals”: hybrid, ghoul-like creatures torn somewhere between apes and humans. The various transitions between locales in Exodus also ensures you’re dealing with different human enemies in every landscape and quite often, they’re dramatically different in how they behave. The story lends itself well to this aspect, as both it and the characters themselves gel together in a way that makes them genuinely interesting to experience.
In terms of stability, I’ve experienced very few bugs after around twenty-five hours of gameplay. The sole issue that sticks in my mind is an occasion where the vehicle I was driving coasted through a puddle and proceeded to plunge to an impossible death and drown Artyom where he sat. A minor drawback affiliated with spontaneous occurrences like this is the save system – there is a persistent checkpoint system in mission zones, but when exploring you must take care to save often or you’ll be set back a ways if you fall into a sticky spot.
Regarding Exodus’ story, any players of the previous titles will be pleased to see that the game continues on from the previous iteration (but unfortunately glosses over the fact that Last Light had multiple endings) and expands on the well-established lore. The events in-game evolve quite quickly to get the ball rolling and the action is consistent from the start. There’s a fine mix of characters to interact with and everyone seems to have their own personality – nobody is bland or irrelevant. There are twists revealed quite early on that genuinely left me wanting to find out more and motivated me to push on there and then, something which many games released in this age fail to do.
In summary, Metro Exodus is a solid post-apocalyptic title that brings a weighty bite to the table for an underdog franchise. It can happily go toe-to-toe with the best and has evolved over its predecessors in a number of positive ways. The worlds presented are detailed and enjoyable, the combat open-ended and fun and the story engaging and interesting. Furthermore, it’s well constructed, stable and has a flawless control system and UI. The only negative points I have found in my playthrough are the very rare bugs, the player-reliant save system and lack of protagonist development. However, these points aren’t enough to distract from the fact that this game is extremely enjoyable and has enough life to keep any gamer occupied for approximately 30 – 45 hours, depending on playstyle.