Biomutant: The Kotaku Review

Biomutant: The Kotaku Review
Screenshot: THQ Nordic / Kotaku

Some four years since open-world action RPG Biomutant was first revealed to the world with a cool trailer, it’s finally out. Although for those who’ve waited so patiently to play it, they may well be disappointed to discover a gorgeous but janky mess, overly ambitious but under-achieving, and really rather broken.

Biomutant is the first game from Swedish developer Experiment 101. The team, which is made up of around 20 people, decided to start out big. Biomutant is a large, action RPG set in a new and unique post-apocalyptic open world, filled with mutated, intelligent animals and no humans. It also boasts a full morality system, multiple endings, a long list of side content, a variety of vehicles and mounts to use, full narration, a crafting system, randomised loot, ranged and melee combat, power-ups, and probably other things I’ve forgotten about. Every few hours during my 18-hour playthrough I found myself stumbling into a new mechanic or feature of the game and saying out loud, “Wow, now this is part of the game too?” Sadly, Biomutant struggles to pull all of these pieces together and make them work.

The game is set in the far future, long after humanity has escaped Earth after a giant corporation destroyed the planet with chemicals, deforestation, and mining. That company’s meddling and awful practices ended up mutating all life left on the planet, leading to a world filled with sentient animal-people who can also shoot magic and energy from their hands. But this strange, quirky world is in danger. A large tree — known as The Tree of Life — is dying, and when it goes, so too does the world. Four powerful creatures, Worldeaters, are eating its large roots, killing it in the process. Your furry character, whom you create at the start of the game, has returned home to the tree to save it and reconnect with the people they left behind after a deadly attack on your village killed your family.

This setup and the state of the world were hammered into my brain during the game’s unbearable intro. The first few hours of Biomutant are a bore, broken up by bland tutorials and overly long exposition dumps, all of which are delivered by the narrator. A narrator who ends up being a problem for the whole game, as the British storyteller is one of only three voice actors in the game who speaks English. Every conversation you have in Biomutant is translated by him. Every event that happens, every moment of in-world lore, relies on this same British dude and his admittedly nice voice. It quickly becomes grating and makes the world of Biomutant feel small and cheap.

It doesn’t help that every animal in this game talks forever about morality, life, death, destiny, and more. The writing is extremely preachy and redundant, leading to me dreading each time I met a new character, not a great feeling to have in an open-world game. It also made the narrative hard to care about as it all became a lot of lectures about the same topics, all voiced by the same guy. It was like I was stuck in a never-ending TED Talk.

Once you get out of the awful opening section and the game opens up, things get better.

Biomutant’s main gameplay loop goes like this: You get told which Worldeater to target next, make your way up to that area of the open-world map, meet someone who talks too much, help them fix up a vehicle that can kill the big creature, then use said vehicle to fight and destroy the Worldeater. After that you head back to the Tree of Life in the middle of the map, talk to your older mentor about what to do next, and repeat.

Screenshot: THQ Nordic / Kotaku Screenshot: THQ Nordic / Kotaku

Biomutant mixes together melee combat, unarmed action, and gunplay into a mostly slick gameplay experience. Within only a few hours I was quickly and smoothly flipping around large groups of enemies, popping some with my guns, killing others with my big sword, and even using neat mutations and energy attacks to clear out groups of baddies. All of this feels effortless, once you get a hang of the somewhat floaty controls. Soon I was also creating and building my own weapons and augmenting my armour and gear with junk I found while exploring the world.

None of this is revolutionary, you’ve probably played a few games that did a lot of these things, but Biomutant’s setting and the way it tries to bring them all together is impressive, even if it doesn’t succeed every time. For example, you have a ton of weapons and fighting styles to unlock and try out, from two-handed swords to unarmed to hammers. But they mostly all use the same basic combos and feel similar. Various guns feel more distinct but suffer from having a lot of options, but not much depth in each. Though this does mean that once you master the combat you’ll be able to quickly switch to new and different attack styles without needing to relearn 20+ new combos. This makes it very easy to experiment in Biomutant and try out new ways to play, which I appreciated greatly.

However, the looping gameplay quickly becomes tedious and it doesn’t help that almost nearly every sidequest and main quest in Biomutant is a fetch quest. Many of the sidequests will ask you to go off and collect 10 or 20 things. I did a handful of these, but found that I leveled up quickly enough, and discovered great loot, without bothering with more, so eventually I just stopped doing them.

Screenshot: THQ Nordic / Kotaku Screenshot: THQ Nordic / Kotaku

While trying to save the world, you’ll also be able to take part in a large war raging between half a dozen or so animal tribes spread across the map. You pick to either join the Jagni, who want to kill all the other tribes to bring peace, or the Myriad, who wish to dominate and merge all the tribes under them to bring peace. The Jagni are presented as evil and the Myriad are positioned to be the good guys, though the game does allow you to criticise either tribe’s methods throughout the game.

The tribal war questline involves attacking and taking over enemy outposts and camps dotted all over the map. Sometimes, depending on your stats, you can talk the enemy tribe into surrendering. I was leveled up enough by the end to even bring the whole conflict to a close with a conversation, forcing some tribes to join the Myriad without having to lift a finger. It was a nice reward for putting skill points into my intellect attribute, though beyond this moment the RPG skill system felt underutilized. Just one more feature in this big muddle of a game that doesn’t quite get the love it deserves.

Everything you do in the game not only earns you XP, which helps you unlock new abilities and moves, but it also influences the morality system. (Feeling exhausted by features yet?) This is split between dark and light. You’ll never forget this system exists because the game constantly stops what you are doing and has two demon-like creatures appear, who talk in weird voices and go on for far too long about morality and light and dark choices. The morality system touches a lot of Biomutant.

Some characters won’t talk to you or work with you if your aura is too dark or light. Some abilities, like energy attacks, are also locked behind aura levels. And how the game ends is tied directly to the choices you make, who you help and don’t help, plus your overall aura. While the morality system is a neat idea, in practice it ends up being mostly useless because you can quickly max out your aura and never think about it again. I did this early on in the game while exploring the world and I wasn’t even trying to. While it might be a bit underbaked, the feature does add more replayability to the game, letting you come back and be more of a bastard rat or a goodie-two-shoes fluff bucket.

Biomutant’s art is probably the best part of the game. It has a colourful look and style, using brightly coloured menus and comic book-like pop-ups during combat. The world is also lovely to look at. I took a lot of gorgeous screenshots of sunsets, irradiated forests, and neverending red canyon deserts. Some areas of the game, known as deadzones, can be filled with neon-coloured particles, gasses, and plants. These areas, which feature deadly hazards like cold weather or radioactive material, are dangerous to explore without a suit. Though at higher levels I was able to spam health kits and explore freely without. The game doles out health packs like crazy, so this was a viable strategy later in Biomutant. Another example of a neat idea that isn’t properly working. At least these areas provided good loot and nice screenshots using the photo mode.

Screenshot: THQ Nordic / Kotaku Screenshot: THQ Nordic / Kotaku

If Biomutant sounds like your kind of game, and it might be, one thing to keep in mind is that it’s currently a buggy mess. This could change with patches, but at least now, I would be wary of recommending it to anyone who can’t stand some jank in their experience. On PS5 I dealt with 18 crashes. It ended up being about one every hour I played. I also had times where I got stuck in the floor, unable to move or fell through elevators. Menus would sometimes screw up and not show me the correct stats, like showing damage values on health kits. Performance was also a problem. On a PS5 the game struggled to maintain 60 FPS during gameplay and it would often freeze randomly for a second or two during large areas or combat. It never made it unplayable, but if I wasn’t reviewing this game for work I’d have stopped a few hours in after the fifth crash and countless bugs.

It’s a shame that Biomutant isn’t a better put-together piece of software. Its world feels unique, the way it blends different combat styles is fun and it’s a visual treat to look at on a big 4K TV. But countless bugs, performance issues, overly talkative NPCs, boring quest design, and a sense of overall jank makes it hard to excitedly share this game with people. If you can put up with the rough edges and don’t mind an annoying narrator, you might have a good time with Biomutant. There is certainly a lot to do. But if you prefer more stable games, I’d advise waiting.

Comments

  • This game is about what I expected it to be – Ubisoft style open world with some sprinkles on top and about a 7/10 overall (last I saw the combined review average), but without the polish that’s associated with AAA. The price though is simply far too high, especially on Steam ($100 AUD is insane), so they took themselves out by charging far too much for what was produced. Maybe they’ll see some more success if it goes on sale.

    What I do wonder is how so many reviewers complained about bugs in this game (from what I’ve seen of the reviews, it’s fairly mild compared to some other games I’ve played, like Cyberpunk), but waxed poetic about Cyberpunk that was so bug ridden it would’ve had to be a 3/10 based purely on playability. Then again, I’m biased, I think any game that straight up gives a reviewer seizures without a disclaimer or warning is inherently a 1/10, since the hospital visit tends to outweigh the gameplay experience.

    • holy hell, $100?? i watched a 30 min video on the game, not a review just sections of gameplay and thought oh it looks alright, id maybe give it a go when its half price. but my thought at the time was the starting price would have been around $60, not $100. thats a hard pass.

      • On Amazon it’s $75 AUD for the console releases and $85 for the PC code without discounts on any (JB is likely similar). I’ve also seen it on an old Steam key site I used to use for $65 AUD which sounds like a far more reasonable base price. Steam’s price of $100 is either massive gouging or someone forgot to change the regional price settings when they put the listing up.

        • Double checked on EGS and it’s $100 too. Flat out Australia tax in effect. Don’t buy it directly on any of the online platform for $100, because it’s highway robbery.

  • Sounds like they may have been fearful to go all out RPG style and tried to shift towards a more Ratchet and Clank action style and are stuck somewhere in between.

    It’s a shame that it’s buggy and glitchy though because it’s alot easier to put up with some half baked mechanics when the game’s at least stable.

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