Swedish developer Experiment 101’s debut title Biomutant was first announced back in 2017, which given the current lockdown state of the world feels like an eternity ago. The original announcement of the game had a lot of people cautiously optimistic about the game. It looked beautiful, quirky and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale open-world genre. Unfortunately, since then, the game has had long quiet periods where you couldn’t even be sure if it was still in development or like every other game in the last few years, it went through numerous delays. The wait is finally over with the post-apocalyptic mutant hamster game that is Biomutant finally releasing on 21st May.
Set in a beautiful and out of control post-apocalyptic future where humanity’s meddling and toxic waste has resulted in their destruction and the wildlife has all been mutated due to the toxic waste, Biomutant puts players in the shoes of a hamster-like furry one-eyed ronin that they have the option to customize to their own liking and then unleash upon the 8-square kilometer world. Even from the get-go, Biomutant doesn’t really try to reinvent the wheel. In fact, the developers themselves hinted at taking inspiration from games like the Arkham series and Breath of the Wild.
The moment you are thrust into the open world you feel that Biomutant while not exactly new can still hold a candle of its own thanks to its copying tried and tested formulas from some of the greatest open-world games of the last 10 years. The visually striking and contrasting world of Ghost of Tsushima, the open world exploration of Breath of the Wild, RPG mechanics and character progression of Immortals Fenyx Rising and the free-flow martial arts inspired combat of Batman Arkham series. On paper, Biomutant has the formula for it all. Unfortunately, the sum of the parts isn’t as great as I had hoped after being hyped for the game for the last 3 years. It is by no means a bad game and certainly has its charm that will attract a lot of people, sadly the people it will attract are mostly those who have already been following the game and for the rest it might just end up skirting under the radar until a big sale.
The biggest issue with Biomutant lies in one of its greatest strengths. The amalgam of different games certainly has its charm but also seriously cripples the game’s longevity and the various systems at place. From the get-go, the idea of choices and your decisions shaping the game world is presented as the main driving force of your actions. Unfortunately, it is pretty much just an illusion of choice that doesn’t really go anywhere, despite all the “choice” points thrown at you throughout the game’s narrative ultimately just boils down to philosophical mumbo jumbo.
The character creator at the start lets you choose from different classes or playstyles that are loosely based around typical RPG archetypes. The players are however not restricted to any specific playstyle based on their class selected and the game fully lets you make use of melee and ranged weapons as well as a multitude of superpowers you can learn by spending different points. This is where the problems begin. Even if you choose a class like Psi-Freak which is essentially the mage class that can use different Ki powers, your powers will never seem to be as good as the traditional melee and ranged weapon systems.
Mages being my personal preference, I went with the Psi-Freak class and mostly only spent points whenever I leveled up to increase my Intellect, the stat which determines Ki and Energy. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t seem to matter much as the game’s Wung-Fu combat seems to favor melee combos or ranged weapons. A pretty mediocre ranged weapon is capable of better DPS than my superpowers, totally ruining the mutant aspect of the game, and making you more reliant on actual weapon usage. Thankfully, the weapons and their customization/crafting is amazingly well designed and meaningful in the game.
Being in a post-apocalyptic world, and the fact that you are basically a very smart animal, the weaponry at your disposal is cobbled together parts of various household items from the human world. Where games like Fallout and Outriders failed, Biomutant shines in giving players weapons that not only look unique but also feel unique in their capabilities. The first weapon that I crafted was basically a pencil with a dagger hilt while later down the line things get to start even more crazy with weapons like a crafted spatula that can freeze enemies on hit. Different enemies have different resistances as well so that keeps the combat fresh as you have to customize your weapons back and forth to ensure they are effective for all types of combat encounters.
Just like the weapons and enemies of the game, Biomutant also presents an amazingly beautiful and well crafted world with distinct areas, some of which require you to have certain upgrades in the form of special suits to increase your resistance against the harsh environments. Out of control wilderness taking over the remnants of the world left behind by the humans greet you at every turn. Train stations, bus stops, shopping malls etc are yours to explore and loot and loot you shall! Pretty much every structure or location in the game has area objectives which are basically different rarities of loot to find or solve puzzles to access newer areas and all the loot you find is yours to wear and customize. You can make your hamster look like a samurai, a school girl, a mad scientist or a black ops operative. The possibilities of gear and weapon crafting and customization are endless and insanely detailed. However, there is also one big caveat attached to all this exploration and the beautifully crafted world.
While the world is detailed and encourages exploration, there is very little incentive to do it besides search for loot. There is no lore or collectibles to find, nothing that explains more about the world that was before. There are a few posters around the world that give a bit of info about the Toxanol corporation that basically was the main cause of all the toxicity spread throughout Earth but nothing more than that. In its place, every character you talk to or thing you interact with results in philosophical gibberish thrown your way that makes no sense and is narrated by the same boring voice you hear throughout the game, the Narrator or Automaton, a mechanical grasshopper accompanying you in your travels. Speaking of gibberish, thankfully there is an option in Settings to reduce the amount of talking the narrator does because otherwise that thing talks non-stop. He is basically meant to be your companion in your lone gunslinger travels but all he does is randomly spout nonsense that makes no sense as if the lines are just picked up randomly and out of context from $5 quotes book you find on the internet. After hearing “you are here for a reason, it’s up to you to find out what that is” for the 10th time I had finally had enough of the narrator and fully turned down the frequency of his talking and have never felt more at peace.
Apart from the Narrator, there are two other voices in the game that are basically your conscience, the Light and the Dark “spirits” that talk to you at different decision-making points throughout the game. While these are somewhat better than the narrator, these two characters aren’t that interesting either and basically only act as a validation of your choices. Speaking of which, the game for some reason while giving you choices to act however you want still decides to make you regret your choices every chance it gets. Either with the dialogue between Light and Dark spirits or with your conversations with other characters in the game, you are constantly nagged about your choices. It’s like the game trusts you are smart enough to make decisions but still need a constant reminder that what you did was good or bad. Helped a tribe take over another and instead of killing them, you decided to subdue their leader? Every conversation you will have with your tribe Sifu after that will be him praising that decision of yours in the same way. Not a single one of the handful of characters I encountered in the game were interesting or made me want to learn more about them to the point where near the end of the game I started skipping dialogues just to be done with the conversation and return to gameplay.
Moving on to the storyline of the game which is another thing where the game disappoints and is basically a continuation of the previous annoyance I mentioned about the characters. One is the aforementioned Tribe War where you help your allied tribe take over other tribes and the other is to defeat the four major World Eater bosses; giant mutated monsters that are eating the roots of the World Tree. Defeating each tribe expands your territory and rewards you with the unique Wung Fu weapon of the tribe you took over.
At the start of the game you are asked to side with one of the two possible tribes; Myriad or Jagni which are basically Light or Dark based. Jagni wants to destroy all tribes and let the World Eaters destroy the world while Myriad wants to unite tribes and stop the World Eaters. Unfortunately once you defeat your first tribe and are tasked with defeating the other 4, there is no going back on your decision and you are forced to continue on working for the same tribe till the end, completely opposite of the whole lone ronin act our character is supposed to be doing. On top of that, one of the major character constantly keeps nagging you about taking part in the Tribe War and not rushing to defeat the World Eaters to save the Tree of Life.
Unfortunately for me, I gave in to the characters incessant whining and decided to accept the surrender by all the tribes once I took over my second enemy tribe. This is where a major problem with the game presented itself. Accepting the surrender meant my Sifu and forces were stationed at every tribe fort in the game and those tribe leaders just disappeared from the game. To make matters worse, this basically cut the game’s main questline in half and on top of that I was unable to acquire the other Wung Fu weapons, even though I could see them in the forts of these tribes. It isn’t until you start New Game+ that you actually get the opportunity to side with whichever tribe you want and then work towards all special weapons. This only leaves out the quests to help 4 different characters in the world and acquire powerful gear to defeat the World Eaters.
Not to say that the Tribe War in Biomutant was anything great but at least each tribe had unique personalities to them and involved taking over outposts before the Tribe Fort so there was a sort of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla style raid involved. Helping out the characters to defeat World Eaters boils down to fetch quests that all play out the same way. Talk to the person, go fetch a “mount” for them, acquire two upgrades for the mount one of which is always small local critters that the World Eater is weak to and then go fight the big bad World Eater. Thankfully, due to the overall fun combat of the game, the World Eater encounters are again a lot of fun and involve different mechanics in cinematic battles.
This entire quest structure and the similarly styled fetch quests that are the game’s side content basically come off as a bad MMO nightmare filled with hundreds of fetch quests to pad the game length. It got to the point where I started ignoring most side quests unless they involved gear or upgrades and only focused on the main quests. By doing a number of side missions and decent exploration I was able to finish the game in under 15 hours. Considering how bland most of the narrative content was in the game, it’s a good thing you are able to finish the game this early and it wasn’t bloated like most open-world games these days.
Despite all its flaws and shortcomings, Biomutant is a solid debut entry for first-time developers Experiment 101. While the delays might have been a bit disappointing, the fact that the developers were able to use them to polish the game, delivering satisfying combat on top of a solid performance optimization experience (I didn’t encounter a single bug or crash in my playthrough and managed a rock-solid 60FPS performance while playing on 4K) that is honestly unheard of in this day and age from any developer is evidence enough that these developers are going to do good things in the future. It is a shame that this extra time couldn’t have been spent on making the game a bit more interesting and the writing of the game coupled with its multitude of system mashup fails its exceptional world design and interesting premise. Despite that however, I would recommend this as a game worth checking out on a sale or at launch if you have no other game to play and just want a light-hearted game that you can hop on for 1-2 hours a day and just shoot the breeze, or in this case the mutated animals.