I remember first hearing of Biomutant years and years and years ago. This third-person action game has had a long production, thanks in large part that it's a AAA-scale game made by an indie-sized team. Now that it's finally out, I've had a few hours to explore its post-apocalyptic, cybernetically enhanced, biologically mutated world in order to try to figure out what this game actually is.
The Lushest Post-Apocalypse
I really like the setup Biomutant uses for its world. It’s not just a post-apocalyptic setting inhabited by mutant animals with cybernetic enhancements. It’s also a world that’s sort of in the middle of a second apocalypse. First, humans polluted the planet so much that they abandoned it. That led to the rise of animals in a weirdly calm and beautiful radioactive wasteland. Then that radiation kicked in, and some crazy mutations called World Eaters showed up. They murdered your family, and have been slowly ruining that world ever since.
In the wake of the rise of the World Eaters, the peaceful society you were born into fractured into tribes. When your character returns at the start of the game, two of these tribes are at war with one another. The main conflict is about what should be done with the Tree of Life that everyone seems to agree is holding the world together. One tribe seeks to conquer the other tribes and help the World Eaters destroy the Tree of Life. The other wants to assimilate the rest of society and stop the World Eaters.
Choosing which of these two tribes you ally yourself with at the start of the game dictates your course in how you interact with other tribes. It even establishes what your final goal at the end of the game will be. Will you save the world or destroy it?
Overall, I really like the idea of the setting. The history established is super cool, and the two different tribes changing the course of the game is a neat idea. The world is even realized fairly well. The forests feel a lot denser than most open-world games, especially Breath of the Wild. Unfortunately, that density is not matched when it comes to NPCs or enemies to interact with. Add to that the fact that the density means you end up sticking to roads and trails a lot more often, and exploring the world ends up feeling like a surprisingly linear experience.
Fight, Train, and Talk
When you do across enemies in the wild, you get into the game's combat. You start with basic skills like a melee attack, dodge, counter, and ranged attack. The longer you play, the more weapons you’ll get and the more combos and special skills you’ll unlock. Along with martial abilities, there are also Psionic abilities and mutations that you can unlock. These allow you to do things like teleport around or temporarily trick foes into fighting alongside you.
The combat doesn’t feel bad, but something about it feels off. It’s a little loose, a little squishy, just a little bit not right. Most encounters put you up against a handful of enemies. The controls don’t let you handle more than one at a time very easily. The game seems to decide which enemy is the biggest threat and focuses the camera and your actions on just that one foe. It seems to be missing a manual lock on. Then you could flick the right stick to change focus to another combatant. Instead I end up wildly thrashing at the air for a few seconds every time I try to change targets.
There are also NPCs to interact with throughout the world. During conversations, you pretty frequently get to make dialogue choices. Most of these are banal, but occasionally there are some pretty typical light/dark side choices that feed into the game’s morality system.
The Weirdest Storytelling Choice I’ve Seen
The thing about the conversations that is really strange is that this game is fully voice acted… by an omniscient narrator. There are all these NPCs to talk to, but they never speak in their own words. They all make noises like Banjo-Kazooie characters, approximating a foreign language. But instead of being told exactly what they are saying, the narrator translates the intent for you.
It ends up feeling like you are playing a game that someone is translating for you on the fly. You don’t get to hear what the characters are actually saying. Instead, the narrator will tell you his approximation of what they are saying. It is completely bizarre, especially since the character you are playing presumably is able to understand the NPCs. I’m not sure if the narrator is supposed to just be talking to the player, or if the character is supposed to be aware of the voice-over like in Immortals: Fenyx Rising, or what the intent is. All I know is that this design choice left me feeling totally disconnected from every conversation and from my character.
Final Thoughts on Biomutant
I’ve played more of Biomutant since I started writing this article, and I’ll probably play more of it after. I love exploring an open world, and I’m finding it fun to wander around this one and see what it has to offer. The combat still feels a bit strange, but I'm finding it more interesting every time I get a new ability, melee weapon, or firearm.
I really just wish they had made any different decision in how they told they handled dialogue. I would have been happier with just text and no voiceover at all. Heck, I’d be fine with the voiceover just reading out what each character said. It’s the choice to have the story conveyed through the filter of some unknown narrator that is making it hard for me to connect with the characters in this game. Feeling disconnected from that characters is making it hard to care about their tribal war or the fate of their whole dang world.