When I first saw the trailers for Biomutant, I couldn't help but think it could become an all-time favorite of mine. The previews had exactly what I wanted: a vibrant open world, buttery slice-and-dice combat, and elements of fantasy that engross you as soon as you take your first steps.
I was ready to dive controller-first into this post-post-apocalyptic adventure.
And so I did, with high expectations, knowing that this game had been in production for a while, and that when a team of developers take their time, beautiful things can happen — and if you followed the Cyberpunk saga, what can happen if you rush.
So why wasn't Biomutant great, and why didn't I love this game after clocking in the hours? It had the recipe for success, and a dedicated team testing and optimizing since 2017, so why didn't it captivate me like I believed it would?
From a zoomed-out perspective, Biomutant's world is sprawling and beautiful. Visually, developers Experiment 101 expertly crafted a vision of our planet long after human beings destroyed it with pollution and negligence. When you look over a tall cliff, you see the Tree of Life towering in the distance, breathing vitality into the forests connected to it. On the ground, mutant creatures split off into different factions and tribes have taken over what humans left behind. It's clear that this project was a massive undertaking, especially for a small team like Experiment 101.
But when you take a closer look, when you forget about what you've seen in the trailers, Biomutant just is not all that exciting. There's no denying the imagination behind the project, but it has some fairly serious flaws that keep it from ranking alongside the best open world games.
Take Nintendo's Breath of the Wild, for instance (Yes, I know that's an extremely high bar): Your first main quest objective is "Destroy Ganon." That's it. That's all you know about what you need to do to save Hyrule Kingdom. There are other pieces of the main quest, but they're shrouded in some mystery, giving players a chance to figure things out on their own. I wanted Biomutant to do the same: allow players the room to explore without giving everything away almost immediately after emerging from the first area.
Biomutant contains three different plotlines, and things get a little scrambled. First off, there are the four giant monsters called Worldeaters munching away at the roots of the Tree of Life, threatening a post-post-post-apocalypse. Next there are the warring tribes with outposts scattered across the map. Once you've chosen a tribe with which to unite, it's your job to infiltrate the other strongholds and take them down. Last and probably least, there's the classic revenge plotline: An evil monster named Lupa-Lupin kills your mother, who taught you everything you know about fighting. And yes, you guessed it: You want to avenge her death! Who could have seen that coming?
Aiding our little mutant avatar throughout the entire campaign — and I mean the entire campaign — is our trusty narrator, whose acuity and playful quips seem to fill almost every moment of empty space. And despite the narrator's (David Shaw Parker) velvety English accent, his constant interruptions get annoying. While making my way around Biomutant's gorgeous landscape, I couldn't help but feel a bit frustrated whenever the narrator told me "I'm the hero the world needs" or some variation of that.
And it's more than just the repetition; it's as if Experiment 101 doesn't trust its players. The narrator, when not randomly bestowing wisdom or inspiration, provides far too many hints about the world around you. Let the players find out details on their own. Let the players figure out that they can shoot the barrel to make it explode. Let the players find out how to catch and tame their trusty steed. They don't need an answer at every turn, so let them use their brains. Luckily, Biomutant's latest PC patch allows you to turn off the narrator completely, if you want.
Biomutant isn't all disappointment. Certain aspects of this game, like its weapon and armor customization, blow other open world games out of the water. There are endless combinations for the weapons you can craft; whether it be swapping out the hilt attached to your blade to make it a longer range weapon, or adding a rare scope to your rifle to increase its accuracy, there is no shortage of ways to improve your chances in a fight.
Unfortunately, the weapon and gear customization doesn't make up for what's lost in Biomutant's combat. Each enemy encounter ultimately turns into the tedious task of whittling down your opponent, big or small, until their health drops to zero. I never felt challenged to think how I would approach a fight; it was just pressing the same buttons until the beast in front of me fell. Unlike other open world games with heavy doses of combat, Biomutant's battles felt mostly pointless with very little strategy.
Biomutant might be good for someone who's new to video games, especially open world games. There's a lot to take in, and there's something positive to say about an open world game that is straightforward, yet still gives you a taste of what's out there. It reminds me of games I used to play when I was younger like Ty, the Tasmanian Tiger. The stakes are low, and it's filled with imperfections, but that doesn't mean it's not suitable for newer gamers.
Open world games are a challenge to create. Building and optimizing a 20-square mile map filled with detail and secrets is an undertaking, and when you have a team as small as Experiment 101, it becomes clear why larger AAA studios can create something just a little bit more polished. And that's okay, because while I may not have obsessed over Biomutant, I did realize that I'm excited for whatever Experiment 101 gives us next. Biomutant made me think: "Wow, what could a team of this size, yet impressive brain power create on a smaller scale?" Perhaps if they turn their attention to a project that isn't a massive open world, they could craft something incredibly entertaining, clean and focused.
Keller Gordon is a columnist for Join The Game. Find him on Twitter: @kelbot_
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