30 Hours With Metro Exodus

Before starting Metro Exodus, I replayed the entirety of its predecessor, cult hit post-apocalyptic shooter Metro: Last Light. Exodus’ first hour felt like it could’ve been part of that game.

I skulked around in train tunnels, got chomped on by mutants, and listened to underground denizens chatter endlessly about their sad, sunless lives. Then, the game tossed me into an open, snow-sprinkled map tens of times larger than any single environment in Last Light, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Both Last Light and the first game in the series, Metro 2033, were tightly-scripted shooters set in creaky, leaky tunnels beneath a bombed-to-oblivion-and-back Moscow.

Never was the term “corridor shooter” so apt: In the game’s fiction, based on a series of novels by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, desperate survivors cobbled together societies in train tunnels beneath the irradiated rubble of civilisation.

Whether you, as a soldier named Artyom, were stealthing and shooting or quietly taking in the strikingly atmospheric sights and sounds of ramshackle scrap cities, you were generally moving down straightforward paths with relatively few detours.

This allowed for rich storytelling and varied pacing sometimes on par with Half-Life 2. Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light felt like places—dirty, treacherous, lived-in places; humanity’s unkempt home at the end of the world.

Artyom’s missions in those games usually centered around life-or-death squabbles between human factions like the Communists and the nakedly fascist Fourth Reich, as well as a mysterious psychic race called The Dark Ones. These would occasionally take him out of the tunnels, but even the outdoor levels kept you moving full-steam ahead.

Exodus flips the script, mostly taking place in outdoor, open areas that you’re free to explore at your leisure.

As you would imagine, this changes things pretty significantly, for better and worse. After 30 or so hours (I can’t say for sure, since the Epic Games store doesn’t track it), it all still feels distinctly Metro. As a big fan of the previous games’ relentlessly self-assured brand of grim eccentricity, I’m having a good time. Mostly. Exodus is ambitious to a fault.

It bites off about a thousand more mouthfuls from the old game design meatloaf than it can chew, leading to an experience that—at least, for me—has been defined by inconsistency. Magnificently high highs, yes, but some truly dispiriting lows, as well.

As ever, the below-zero bleakness of Metro’s world is matched by the surprising warmth of places you visit and characters you meet while traversing it. Don’t get me wrong, though: things are still capital-B buh-leak. Metro is not Fallout.

It’s rarely zany or ironic in its depiction of a post-apocalyptic world, and it’s not afraid to be unkind to get that point across. My first few hours in Exodus’ initial spring thaw wasteland were frustrating, albeit not in an entirely unwelcome way.

Metro 2033 emphasised survival over Rambo action tactics, while Last Light turned Artyom into a bit more of a tank. Exodus, at least initially, feels more like 2033 with a dash of Far Cry 2 and a pinch of the long-mourned Russian survival shooter STALKER thrown in.

Guns get dirty and jam. Monsters hear you if you get too trigger-happy, and what seems like an easy encounter with one wolf-like Watchman mutant can easily turn into a bloody, barely winnable battle with four or five. While bullets were literal currency in previous Metro games, here they’re precious in a different way: there’s a crafting system in Exodus, and some of the supplies you collect have to be turned into ammo.

Each area has its own day-and-night cycle and environmental hazards, too, like the horrifying “electrical anomalies” that casually float along at night and set mutants aflame, or radiation-ridden desert storms that kill your visibility and also possibly you.

As in previous games, you’ve got a Geiger counter and a gas mask you can put on, take off, and even wipe off, but now you’re responsible for crafting canisters to keep it stocked with sweet, breathable air.

Despite all that, I wouldn’t call Exodus a brutally difficult game. After the first few hours, I figured out its satisfying fight-craft-fight rhythm, started employing a lot more stealth, and stopped dying. When Metro has all its ducks in a row and everything is working, you just need to play smart.

Unfortunately, it’s far from guaranteed that’ll actually happen. We’ll circle back around to that in a moment.

Even when you’re not getting your arse kicked by graveyard-dwelling mega-bears, the game’s environments still feel distinctly threatening. If you walk too close to water or pilot a maggot-ridden boat through the wrong spots, a titanium-shelled “shrimp” mutant might yank you in.

In the desert area, humanoid mutants camouflage themselves in sand and pop out when you least expect them. Wherever you are, you can hear ravenous beasts that not even the end of the world could kill, skittering and chittering.

Sometimes they’re far. Sometimes they’re near. Sometimes those idle pitter-patters turn into rapidly approaching footsteps or wing flaps. What do you do? Do you run? Do you hide? Do you stand your ground? You’re frequently just one or two firefights-gone-awry away from emptying your meager supply cache. How much do you trust yourself?

These open spaces rely more on recycled structures and enemies than the previous Metro games, which were able to change things up on a regular basis thanks to their relative straightforwardness. On the upside, if you sneak up on bandits and just listen to them chatter, you’re usually rewarded with lengthy, interesting, and sometimes even funny conversations.

On the downside, some of the spaces they inhabit don’t feel as lovingly crafted and lived-in as those in prior Metro games. That’s not to say all areas in the game suffer from this issue, but some stretches of each map feel perfunctory.

Same goes for enemies. Previous Metro stories were able to dig deep into factions’ motivations because they were all crammed together like grizzled, tough-as-leather sardines. In Exodus, each open area has an interesting main faction or two—take, for example, the first area’s religious zealots, who believe electricity is the literal devil because, well, it did bring about an apocalypse and all—but also heaps of recycled rent-a-bandits occupying same-y spaces.

Also, the game, for all its varied, often beautiful environments, leans hard into post-apocalpytic cliches, with the desert area, especially, coming off as a thinly veiled Mad Max rip-off.

Weapons, meanwhile, feel better than in any previous Metro game, but still not amazing. In some ways, this adds to the game’s desperate, tension-ridden vibe, but when big, scripted gunfights break out, they often feel underwhelming.

Yes, I said “scripted.” While Exodus is open in many cases, it doesn’t abandon its linear roots. Some main story missions put you in more confined locations and rely heavily on setpieces, to varying degrees of success.

One involves tip-toeing through a green-tinged, radiation-devoured compound while a mutant alligator whale fish swims beneath, munching on mutants and trying to make you its next meal. I found it thrilling, albeit not terribly difficult. Another saw me sneak through a rain-soaked fanatic compound while their leader was giving his big speech, weaving through the crowd en route to raining on his parade.

It was harrowing in all the right ways. But there was also one where I was forced to blast my way through a cannibal lair while cheesy metal music played, and it felt like I was playing a different, worse game with more bad boss fights and less personality. Then there was the half-linear, half-open moonlit forest stroll through wolf-infested enemy territory that heralded the start of the game’s third major area, which absolutely wowed me at first, only to overstay its welcome and leave me running in rage-inducing circles.

Yep, the Metro series’ trademark jank is back, and in many places, it threatens to be the game’s downfall. Exodus is admirably ambitious, blending countless mission types, combat variables, and a series of locales that seriously feel like they could each be from a different game, but AI and other systems struggle to keep up.

Enemy AI has improved by leaps and bounds since Last Light, but it still alternates between being eagle-eyed and comically blind to your presence. This became especially apparent to me when I reached the game’s second area: a vast, lonely desert.

Open areas lead to wildly inconsistent behaviour from AI, and missions became too sprawling for their own good, creating confusion about where I needed to go. I’ve also encountered quite a few bugs, both hilarious (a bandit moonwalking through the sky) and frustrating (the climactic end of an act-concluding main quest broke, forcing me to reload repeatedly until it magically worked again).

Combined, these issues have formed a handy crafting recipe for frustrating tedium. I won’t beat around the glowing green bush: I’ve spent multiple hours of my time with Exodus absolutely infuriated. But I’ve soldiered on and witnessed the game redeem itself multiple times over.

Sometimes, that’s meant a stellar mission full of action and tension and drama and fury. Other times, it was a weird little open-world interaction, like the time I got a pack of dog-like mutants, humanoid mutants, and human bandits to all fight each other instead of baring their rabid fangs at me.

Most often, though, it’s been environments and characters that have bandaged my bleeding enthusiasm for the game.

Honestly, my favourite lived-in space in the game so far is the train you and your ragtag gang of survivors use to travel between locations. Each time you go somewhere or accomplish something, your friends react to your accomplishments. Or they just drone on about their backstories, or what they’ve been up to lately, with voice acting that ranges from acceptable to “Whose IRL mum is this, and why is she voicing a major supporting character in a triple-A video game?”

They’re like the talkative Metro NPCs of yore—telling instead of showing to such an extreme degree that it somehow becomes endearing—only they’re persistent across your adventures. Their lives and possessions spread out across the train in a way that quickly makes it feel like home.

Occasionally, all of them get together to chill or celebrate, and it’s just insanely charming. I like to return to the train between open-world adventures, even when I don’t have to, just to hang out and hear my companions’ stories.

That, to me, is the essence of the Metro series: people finding a way to create home in a world that doesn’t want them anymore. Despite all the other issues, I’m excited to see where everyone ends up, and I’ll have a proper review for you when I do.


Comments

    So pumped for this game to come out next year on Steam!

      ikr? its very very very rare that we get a reviews for a game that wont be out for another year

        Sounds good.

        Will you be leaving your Steam home to play Doom Eternal? Elder Scrolls 6? WarCraft 3 reforged? Or do you not play anything which isn't released on Steam?

        I understand you all wish PC's ran on Steam and not Windows - but they don't. Steam is nothing but a digital Store. Within 2 years, even smaller publishers will have their own launchers.

        BEST case scenario... true competition from Epic will result in Steam lowering their cut, and mid to small publishers choosing to stay on these larger platforms instead of making their own.

          Regarding Doom Eternal/ES6, if Bethesda's launcher has the features I value in Steam's, then I'll have no problems with it. However, last I heard it didn't even have something as basic as resumable downloads... I still remember using the Microsoft store (which was missing that feature) a few years back when GoW4 launched, and ended up using 60% of my monthly quota (about 160GB) trying to download a 40GB game because it had to restart every time there was a minor hiccup in the connection.

          Put simply, if you're going to force people to use your competing platform, make sure it has baseline functionality before you do so. Or do what EA and Ubisoft did - ease people onto it, and use Steam to fill in the gaps in your own service until you can fill them yourself.

          I refuse point blank to use the malware in disguise that is the berthesda launcher.
          Buying anything from that shop is very much buyer beware.

      Me too! This looks amazing, actually. I'm so excited to play! Less excited to wait until it's on Steam, but that is 100% what I will be doing.

    Really happy to support 4A / Deep Silver.

    One of the few AAA studio's and publishers who design true single player experiences without cramming in live-service nonsense.

    The Epic Store hate is ridiculous.

      Calm down guys, seriously. It's not about hate for Epic. It's about having the ability to choose one platform for all my digital content over another. Release it on Epic, by all means, have it cheaper there also, just don't, don't exclude 80% of the PC gamers preferred platform to freeze out another. Because you will alienate your support base in the process. Plus its also my shallow protest at the nightmarish idea of having hundreds of launches on my PC for every new game coming out. Nah I'm good.

        Well said, I don't PC game much but this is spot on I just want to open one launcher play everything on that not having a launcher for every 5-10 games.

        It will get to the point where all the big publishers will have there own if only to get the cut they give steam back in there own pockets.

        It's what I'm hating about streaming services right now I only have Netflix but there is Stan, Hulu, HBO, soon to be Disney+ (or whatever shit they are calling it) way to many, it would of been better never having them in the first place and just having Foxtel, even though it was overpriced and still full of ads.

          It also needs to be stressed that the guys at 4A Games are doing the lords work by ensuring we keep having great story driven single player games. They are up there with the best. They will have great sales numbers on this game also, it will just come as a big bounce a year from now. And if any criticism needs to be thrown it's at Deep Silver for the decision to exclude steam what should we expect from a Koch Media company. By hey, we are the passionate ones, right? I suppose the market will decide in the end if this was the correct decision.

          FWIW, playnite has been a life-saver in this new era of digital game library fragmentation.

            I think Playnite / Launchbox / Gameroom are the future, unfortunately.

            All I'm saying is I won't miss out on a brilliant looking game like Metro: Exodus just because it isn't on my preferred launcher.

            So much crappy, cynical AAA games coming out nowadays. With the little time I get to play, I want the games to be worth the effort and not constantly nagging me to buy in game currency or unlock XP boosters.

              I'm gonna pass for a bit, because I only got around to finishing Metro 1 like... a year ago, and still haven't done Last Light. It'll keep.

              I don't have any faith in the Epic store sticking around. They're making big plays on the strength of their flash-in-the-pan Fortnite money, and the store is too shit to stand on its own without it.

              They're taking a stand against consumers in favour of developers.
              They're on the wrong side.

                I'll come back to this comment in 2 years ;)

                Think of all the kids who started playing Fortnite and are now scooping up free games every month. Plus access to "cool" exclusives.

                Also, Epic has very strong ties with indie to midsize developers through their engine tech.

          But it's not realistic.

          Why should a developer let a store take a 30% cut of their sales when there's alternatives?

          I have 600 games on my Steam account. I understand the desire for everything to be all neat and tidy and together. But that's not the way the industry is going. Do you think the next generation of gamers (the Fortnite gen) cares about us old-timers and our attachment to Steam?

          Elder Scrolls 6, Doom Eternal, Overwatch, WoW, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Fallout...
          What happens when Capcom, Konami, Paradox and hell, Deep Silver, decide to go with their own launchers? What if Ubisoft changes their digital distribution strategy and goes Uplay exclusive next year?

          In regards to video streaming... one massive difference between it and games stores is that there are a number of third party platforms being worked on right now which allow players to log into their accounts, then show all of their owned games in one big list.

          The OTHER massive difference is that with streaming, you have to subscribe to each store. There's no sub fee for the Epic Store, GoG, Origin, Uplay etc.

            That's pretty much what I meant in regards to multiple launchers, steam taking a there cut is one thing they could look at but I think it's already to late for that a lot of developers will have there own stores/launcers.

            My main gripe with it is learning multiple menus and navigating each launcher is just a hassle.

            The Netflix thing was just venting about how all the content I enjoy is from so many different places, in some cases I would support a monopoly.

        (The Epic store is also underwhelming/inconvenient at best, straight-up awful at worst, but that's beside the point.)

      Try using photo mode.

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