Gamers are used to being rewarded. We do an action, and if we perform it well, you get something in return.
Metro Exodus does not subscribe to this philosophy.
It's fascinating playing through a game like Metro Exodus this past fortnight, if only for the window it offers into the past. Anthem's games-as-a-service model offers publishers a way to work around the hit-based nature of the industry, which works for shareholders (but not always for the players). There's indies like Resort Boss: Golf or Resident Evil 2, traditional releases that vie for your wallet by reminding you of the past in one way or another.
Then you have Apex Legends, a game that strives to cut through the noise with a single shot, announcing and launching in the same instant. It's a very modern marketing strategy, designed around the algorithm-based way social media serves content, and just how quickly that content can disappear.
And then there's Metro Exodus, which came into the conversation for all the wrong reasons.
The saga from Metro Exodus' exclusivity on the Epic Games Store continued over the weekend, with the developer and publisher struggling to contain the PR fallout. The latest pile atop the smouldering nightmare of messaging: a remark from a 4A Games developer warning that any boycotts against the PC version of Exodus could result in future iterations not launching on the PC at all.
Sometimes, it's good to avoid the hype train. As momentum and excitement started to build for Exodus - before the Epic Games Store exclusivity was announced - a small note was being overlooked in most of the chatter.
For most people, Exodus - and the Metro series in general - is the kind of game that sounds good to be excited about. It's a lengthy singleplayer only title. It's a bit hardcore. It's not a run-and-gun shooter. It's one of those games that pushes the boundaries of PCs. It's inspired by a series of novels, with the original being posted online for fans to read and contribute suggestions.
For those who rail about how the gaming industry has changed, announcements of classic franchises getting mobile ports, developers not focusing on singleplayer, elaborate narrative experiences, and all the other evils and flaws in the hobby we love, Metro Exodus sounds like the game people should be supporting.
And then you remember what Metro became synonymous for.
It's not accurate to call Metro Exodus an open-world game, per se. It's certainly a game with a large world. And parts of that world, undoubtedly, are rather open. An early expedition in the beginning of the game - I'm avoiding spoilers, don't worry - tasks you with heading towards a port. You can do so on foot, but you risk the attention of the many mutants nearby. They can be avoided by taking a boat, but Jaws-like creatures inhabit the water, too.
To make matters worse, there's the time of day. Wait for the sun to fall and you'll face fewer bandits. But the mutant beasts like to roam at night, as do what you're told are the "demons of electricity".
But whatever your penchant for a fight, it's always reliant on how careful you've been beforehand. The game's crafting economy means there's a cost to every bullet fired, every smudge on the gas mask, every inch of damage taken, every gas filter used.
And the worst part, when you realise that you'll probably end up fighting bandits and mutants no matter the time of day?
Exodus doesn't reward you for winning a fight. At least not in the traditional sense, with endless backpacks and a healthy resupply of ammo.
Survival is your reward in this forsaken wasteland, and you should be grateful that you're getting that much.
Because the cost of any engagement that involves ammo can become so exceptionally high, Exodus enforces a very still sense of patience. In almost every instance, save when you need to quickly run backwards to get out of the range of being bitten, running is more trouble than its worth.
Thematically and mechanically, Exodus wants you to be patient. It's not just for survival, though: the environments are astonishingly pretty, with or without the advanced power of ray-tracing or other NVIDIA-supported features that have been baked into launch.
And since you're walking along at a leisurely pace, you might as well enjoy it.
Of course, taking your time means also having the opportunity to see plenty of Exodus's lineage. I'm not talking about its depiction of a bombed-out Russian wasteland, but the bugs, the glitches, clipping issues, and other oddities that tend to beset Metro games at launch.
One such bug: HDR. I've been playing on PC with a beefy rig, and I've been looking forward to Exodus partially after seeing some of the ray-tracing and AI-powered features that were shown off at Gamescom last year. But while the ray-tracing is all well and good (depending on how much of a performance hit you're prepared to take), the HDR implementation on PC is a bit broken.
Having come from a range of console games where HDR works, and works well, it's frustrating that PC games in 2019 are still a little broken in this regard. I spent two hours trying to mess around with combinations of HDR, RTX features, Windows 10 settings and other options in the Exodus menu to try and get a satisfactory look. It's especially broken when DLSS, NVIDIA's neural network powered solution for anti-aliasing that worked well in Final Fantasy XV, is enabled.
DLSS offers a huge performance improvement - around 30 percent at the higher resolutions. But the blurred look, and shimmering on objects at distance, was so unpleasant that I ended up dropping the resolution and graphics settings to get a good balance between visuals and frame rate.
It's not just the frame rate, either. Exodus has a weird floatiness when it comes to mouse movement, one that gets significantly more noticeable (and aggravating) when the frame rate drops. Post-launch patches have improved the game's overall performance to a point where it's less of an issue, but having come from games that fully support raw input and finer controls on mouse acceleration (or, more importantly, no mouse acceleration) it's a small moment-to-moment annoyance.
It's also partially why the weaponry doesn't feel as good as other games: it's not just the oomph and general handling of each gun that's a little sub-par, but because the practice of aiming them just isn't as tight.
And then there's just the general variance of quality. Sometimes it might be the voice acting. Miller (Jamieson Price) and Anna (Anna Graves) will have full-throated arguments and discussions with Arytom, only for the protagonist to respond in complete silence. Some scenes will have multiple NPCs chatting, with one soldier a convincing rally cry and others responding with half-hearted, slightly disinterested cheers.
You get that in the environments themselves, too. It's a much larger world and there's much more to see and explore. A lot of it is rendered astonishingly well, especially when the lighting system (backed up with ray-tracing) is on full display with the receding moon, volumetric fog, and indirect shadows accurately modelling the scene.
But then you'll run across - particularly in huts or other indoor areas - various textures that are just completely flat. It's mostly bits and bobs, nothing particularly major. But when other aspects of the game stand out so well, little things like that come to the fore more easily.
It's all fascinating because Exodus, in so many ways, is a product that embodies the antithesis of many games around it. It's designed to be stopped and appreciated. It's not built around instant gratification, consistent rewards, or the shortening attention spans and available time of the average gamer.
It's something to be enjoyed over a long period, almost like a cup of tea: sipped, not swallowed.