Biomutant

Announced in August of 2017, Biomutant was originally set to release by the end of the following year. Due to a small team size of 20 core developers and perhaps a little too much ambition, the game finally released May 25thof 2021. Boasting an open world with kung-fu combat and choices that affect your alignment, Biomutant was set to be a post-apocalyptic “Fable” styled animal adventure.

Opening in a beautifully lush forest, our main character inexplicably mutates his arm by touching a pool of goo. Normally I wouldn’t dwell on such a small detail, but in Biomutant’s case I feel it is important to ask why this happens. Clearly the game’s name comes from somewhere. But, without the seemingly meaningless act of this mutation, the box art wouldn’t be nearly as flashy.  No other pools of goo do any mutating throughout the game, and no other animals are seen to have the same affliction. I feel most media suffers from the same issues these days: visually stimulating, but conceptually incomplete.

The setting is that of a dying world. Eons ago, a greedy energy corporation polluted the planet, resulting in the complete extinction of mankind. Now, balance is maintained by the tree of life, which will soon die because of the remaining pollution. Any remaining animals have mutated to survive, and it is somehow up to you to decide the fate of the entire world. The focus on the environmental impact of mankind is present throughout the entire game. It is appropriately heavy handed, as we live in an age where the choices of the next human generation are seemingly vital to our continued survival. Additionally, Biomutant sincerely weaves in the importance of personal growth, life choices, and how our own perspectives of our memories build us as individuals. This messaging meant for the player outside of gameplay are some of the game’s most meaningful and touching moments.

Before setting off on your adventure, you must create a mutant. Character customization involves modifying your appearance, the balance of your statistics, and choosing your class. Making these choices with almost no knowledge of the game’s systems was a little awkward, but the general idea of each statistic and class is laid out. Unfortunately, there are a few wasted statistics in Biomutant. Agility and Charisma are almost entirely useless; with agility slightly changing move speed and charisma only being used to persuade against fighting on very rare occasions. This leaves vitality, strength, intelligence, and luck as the “useful” stats. I feel this game would have benefited from a simpler levelling system. Maybe have the player choose from “health”, “physical skill”, “spell skill”, and “crit chance” as upgrades when levelling instead of half-implementing RPG statistics in a game that does not use, or need them.

Your class choice unlocks unique perks that increase your prowess in combat. I chose “Dead-eye”, which gave immense power to my ranged attacks and made reloading almost instant if timed correctly. On top of the class bonuses, levelling gives you perk points that can be spent on passive bonuses and unlocking combos for different weapon types. While the passive skills are fairly powerful, every weapon type has the exact same combos to unlock, which did not make spending perk points very fun or interesting.

With your anthropomorphic mutant cat created, the tutorial begins! Basic combat controls are explained simply and intelligently, as are the inner workings of the equipment system. For deeper dives on game mechanics, and the character’s background story, flashbacks are used. Shrinking your cat down to kitty size, Biomutant cleverly handles training and storytelling simultaneously. Learning game mechanics and backstory as a younger version of yourself is used often during the first few hours of gameplay, and fits in well with the game’s tone.

After this brief tutorial, the world is at your fingertips. The main quest is broken up into two main components: save the four roots of the Tree of Life from the World Eaters, and to unite the tribes. You can choose to do the opposite of this narrative which will earn you a “Dark Aura”. Some choices in the game earn light or dark points. This may spawn floating spiritual characters to chat about your change in status. At different milestones, these aura points change how NPCs react to you, which abilities you can learn, and how your story concludes. I played through the game making mostly “light” decisions. However, dialog throughout the game was carefully written to work with whatever path you chose (even if you happened to go against your principles). NPCs were willing to put up with me no matter how good or evil I was acting, with only small comments made on what their preference would’ve been.

Exploration in Biomutant is genuinely fun. A mount is earned early on in the adventure to help get around, and marking your territory on sign posts allows for quick travel. When entering a point of interest on the map, you are greeted with a checklist of collectables in the immediate area. It was awesome knowing when to stop looking for puzzles to solve, crates to open, or any hidden attribute point containers. I often found myself taking a few moments to find that last superior loot crate, just because I knew it was there somewhere. Solving puzzles in Biomutant involves turning cranks to line up colours. There are a few graphical variations to these puzzles, but they are all mechanically identical and not at all challenging. Regrettably, they were as interesting as they were difficult.

Scavenging around areas will also fill your inventory with loot. Loot comes largely in the form of consumables, equipment, and weapon parts. Consumables are used to fill up your health and stamina meters, neither of which emptied very often (even on hard difficulty). Equipment and weapon parts are leftovers from the human age. If you are focused on the best stats, your mutant will often look like a football player wearing a tutu with a box of dynamite on its back. I spent most of the game not being able to see the character I created because of the ugly equipment covering up my cute ball of fluff. Weapons, on the other hand, were a really engaging system. From the hilt of your sword to the barrel of your gun, weapons are a ramshackle composition of artifacts you collect. At one point, I was using a rifle that consisted of trumpet parts with a laser sight, and another gun had a conch shell as its barrel. Wacky weapon creations were both powerful and entertaining.

One of Biomutant’s most unique features is the way it is narrated. From the reading of the opening story, communicating your internal thoughts, to the translation of every animal’s gibberish, the narrator is there to comment, explain, and exclaim. His is the only voice in this game, and I genuinely think it is one of the game’s best features. At one point during adventuring in the rain, the narrator chimed in with a “your fingers are starting to wrinkle”. I only ever heard this dialogue once, and because of that it stuck with me. Even during combat, there are many cheers and jeers relevant to the action. I imagine some folks may complain that he is too chatty, and that is fair. There are a few ways the narration could be improved. The back and forth of animals speaking gibberish followed by the narrator translating could be layered together to save a lot of time, as an example.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Biomutant, but not without some caveats. The back half of the story did not flow in a way that I felt any satisfaction from upon completion. As with all my reviews, I try to keep exciting gameplay elements and spoilers to myself, so I will leave it at that. Starting off intriguing, it entirely lost momentum (and my interest) as I reached the end of my playthrough. Biomutant failed to remain engaging throughout the 20-25 hours of playtime I invested. All off the game’s mechanics were worn down from repetition, with way too many recycled components in all aspects. From character skills, loot, combat, dialog choices, puzzles and fetch quests; no part of the game felt fresh or sincere by the time credits were rolling (except for the narration, of course).

All this being said, the first major patch notes were just posted as I write this review. It sounds like big changes are coming to address the small annoyances in Biomutant. If the later game content ends up getting some polish, Biomutant could easily become a less divisive experience; although I’m unsure what could be done to make it a deeper one.

~~Ian Voegtle~~

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