Metro Exodus Review

The third survival shooter game in the Metro series, Metro Exodus shakes up the formula a bit and takes you out of the Metro tunnels of Moscow into some more open and varied environments. Long term fans of the series (including myself) were a little sceptical about how this change might affect the feel of the game; fortunately much of the series’ pedigree still shows.

There will be some minor spoilers ahead in this review, but I’ll endeavour to keep them as light as possible, and not reveal anything that wasn’t already revealed in the game trailers.

Story

Inspired by the third book by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro 2035, Metro Exodus has a largely self-contained story where the series protaganist Artyom, his wife Anna, her father, and their unit of soldiers (the Spartan Rangers) set out from Moscow in search of a new home. While the game is inspired by the book, it’s worth pointing out that where this game begins - boarding a train and leaving the city - is more or less where the book ends - (book spoiler) with Artyom and Anna setting out on their long drive to Vladivostok. So the game essentially had free reign over its content, but used characters from the series of novels.

In much the same way as the game’s story is fairly self-contained from the other games, so is each level within Metro Exodus. Each level does come with its own segment of story, so is still interesting, but I rarely felt that it had much impact on the story as a whole. In one area for example, you stop because the train needs more fuel and water, and unsurprisingly need to involve yourself with the locals there and their internal politics in order to obtain those resources. So the local situation is a driver for the story within that level, but once you leave that level, the events that occurred there can basically just be forgotten.

An ominous point made by the trailers, and that overhangs the first part of the game, is Anna’s lingering cough. It will come as no surprise that that develops into a proper illness, which then becomes a driver for the second half of the game. This is one of the breaking aspects of the story for me though. Anna develops the cough during an incident right near the beginning of the game, but it isn’t until after the desert level, which is meant to be some 6 months later, that any significant point is made about it. If anyone had a lingering cough for even a couple of months, that would be a sign that something more serious might be going on, but her condition seems to be completely ignored by everyone around her, all of whom she’s developed strong friendships with. Perhaps they all just ignore it because she is constantly waving it away, and because there’s very little they can do about it at that point, but that aspect of the story certainly felt like it could have been handled better.

With all of that being said, the Metro series has always impressed me with its interactions between the characters. Between the large areas you visit throughout the game, you can spend time on the train just speaking to the other characters (though Artyom himself always remains silent, except for during loading screens), smoking cigarettes rolled using newspaper, and hearing bits of back story for each of the characters. Some very small references are made to the past games - the Dark Ones were mentioned perhaps once as I recall - but knowledge of Metro 2033 or Metro Last Light is not needed here. As you hear about their past lives, their plans, and their thoughts on the area you’ve just left, it’s impressive to notice just how natural - and human - those interactions feel.

Gameplay

As already mentioned, the change to having largely open levels was concerning for a lot of series fans, as it could mean that the dark tunnels and tense stealth and combat of the past games might not be present here. Fortunately, that isn’t true. While there are now some more open levels, the game does still include more linear and claustrophobic sections as well. Even the open areas still tend to guide you down certain paths. If anything, the added openness does exactly that - it adds to the game, by allowing you to approach scenarios in more ways, rather than taking anything away. Optional side-missions can also lead you to other areas of each map, so the extra openness allows for more variety there as well. It also gave the developers an excuse to stretch the game engine a bit and present some brilliantly put together regions of swamps, desert, and lush woodland, while also retaining some areas with the underground corridors and dark tense environments that the past games are known for. The greater range of environments has unfortunately meant that there are a few bugs you might spot, though I never encountered any breaking ones: the enemy AI sometimes got a little confused, and a couple of enemies somehow teleported through walls a few times, but these were fairly rare.

The videos leading up to the game’s release showed how much attention was paid to the feeling of the guns in the game, and the importance of customising them, and this is obvious in the game as well. The guns all feel suitably punchy, and they definitely feel and sound different based on your customisations. There are quite a lot of guns available to choose from as well, but there is some amount of cross-over between them. For example while the sniper rifle is the most powerful single shot long range weapon in the game, it’s ammo is rarer, and more costly to craft, so I found myself using a customised pistol instead, as I could add a scope, stock, and long barrel to it; the ammo for it was far more plentiful, and it was only slightly less powerful than the sniper rifle when customised in that way. But this flexibility with the weapons is definitely appreciated, as it allows for varied play styles.

As mentioned there, crafting was also added to the game, which is in some ways a nice addition, but also arguably a detraction. The approach in the past games of using military grade ammunition as currency was very unique and it forced you to choose between buying better gear, and having powerful ammo to use with it. It’s a shame to no longer have that mechanic, but likewise it wouldn’t have made sense to retain it for a game that is no longer strictly limited by the Metro tunnels. The crafting does mean that the game feels decidedly less tense though. You’re not scrambling to find another filter for your gas mask in the same way as you used to, because you can just stop and craft one wherever you are, and ammo felt much less scarce, particularly as you could craft non-bullet ammo thanks to resources in your backpack, and other ammo could be crafted at the various work benches in the game.

Because of this addition of crafting, even the parts of the game which were clearly intended to have a faster pace, simply didn’t. During one section, where you’re supposed to be rushing through bunker corridors dispatching enemies as you go, with action-oriented background music, and Miller on the radio constantly urging you forward, I found myself stopping all the time instead to check every corner of each room for more crafting supplies. Admittedly, I could have still rushed through with a shotgun at hand as the game clearly wanted me to, it was my choice not to. My point is basically just that the added flexibility that the game has given us isn’t always for the best.

Conclusion

The best way to sum up the changes between Metro Exodus and the previous games is probably with the word “flexibility”. The gameplay environments and the gun play are more varied than in the previous games, but the feeling of the previous titles is still there as well. My largest criticism to the game is the story: because each level is more or less its own self contained entity, the story involved in each part is less impactful overall. In the same way as the guns are modular and can have bits added and removed, it feels like the same thing has been done to the game as a whole: each level could have almost been its own piece of DLC, completely separated from the rest of the game. Doing it this way however may nicely set up for the actual DLC - we don’t have any information yet about future content for the game, but I could definitely see the developers bringing us back to some of the past areas to see what events have transpired there after the train passed through.

The lack of an over-arching antagonist is also obvious here. The story comes to an emotionally satisfying end, but not a climactic one like the past games did. The way the story just fizzles out reinforces my feeling that each level was developed as its own self contained entity. The inclusion of “good” and “bad” endings based on your play style - or more specifically how many people you killed during the game - also feels like a late addition here. The “good” ending arguably sets the stage for possible DLC, but the “bad” ending just feels… bad I guess, and almost like it couldn’t possibly lead to any DLC. So I imagine future content will just assume that you achieved the “good” ending, in the same way as Metro Last Light progressed from a particular available ending in Metro 2033.

The main question is, am I glad that I bought the game, and would I recommend buying it? That’s a definite yes. Despite some of my above criticisms, I still very much enjoyed Metro Exodus: the gameplay was great despite a few bugs, and the environments were beautiful and had a good mix of open areas and set paths. There are some annoying holes in the story, and bits of the story that just feel unnecessary, but straying from the main path isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ultimately I think this game should appeal to a wider audience than the previous ones did, and still be enjoyable for past fans of the series as well.


Posted: March 3rd, 2019
Categories: video games, reviews