STAFF REVIEW of Biomutant (Xbox One)

Monday, May 24, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Biomutant Box art Back in 2017 Biomutant was announced. Since then, development goal dates have come and gone, but not anymore, as its' long awaited release date is almost here. Truth be told, I wasn’t really following its development until the past few months when it seemed the release was finally going to happen. Then something magical happened; it arrived in my lap to review and I have to say, the game has seriously surprised me. Every now and then there’s a title or franchise where I don’t have high expectation or wouldn’t have thought much of it, but then once in awhile I get to play a gem that I’m absolutely blown away in the best way. This was the case with Biomutant.

Developed by Experiment 101, it is a smaller dev-team comprised of former Just Cause developers and a few other industry types, for a total of about 20 staff. The game is published by THQ Nordic. Biomutant does what many games do, taking inspiration from other great titles while having their own take on certain aspects. If I had to compare Biomutant directly with another game I’d lean towards Fable, but with a post-apocalyptic setting filled with guns and kung-fu. There are other nods to many other games like the Zelda franchise, Devil May Cry, Fallout and more, but I kept getting that Fable feeling the more hours I sunk into Biomutant’s fascinating world. Oh, and you play as some sort of Racoon/Cat/Squirrel creature, so there’s that.

An unusual story with an unusual end is how developers describe Biomutant’s narrative, and after getting through it all and working on a New Game+ playthrough, I’d have to agree. The Tree-of-Life is what keeps the world going but over pollution has caused it to become sick and dying. Its roots are massive, spread into different corners of the world, and it is bleeding due to four massive World Eater creatures trying to destroy it. You will determine how you want to proceed, and thus, the fate of the world is in your hands.

The land is also controlled by six different factions, all divided up via their own specific ideologies and these nations are in need of someone to either unite or defeat them. Whatever choices you make along the way, the Narrator is with you every step, describing the story about your actions and consequences. Which faction will you side with? Will you show mercy or destroy everything in your path. This is your story to tell either way. The campaign itself should take you about 10-15 hours or so, but that’s only if you ignore the massive amount of side quests, exploration and puzzles you’ll come across during your journey. The world is so full and so rich with characters and narrative that it’s hard to not get sucked into someone’s side quest simply because of their personality or spend an hour in an abandoned town looking for every piece of hidden loot.

Before you begin your adventure though you’ll first need to create your character. You’re some sort of a Racoon/Cat/Squirrel-like creature and you start by choosing your breed from six different choices, each of which has its own advantages and traits, then your attributes and class. While some mixtures will go best together depending on how you want to play (melee, ranged or psi-based), you’re not hampered for choosing one over the other. The coolest part about the character creator though is how it actually changes your character’s visual appearance. For stats you’ll put points into Strength, Vitality, Intellect, Agility, Charisma and Luck, and each time you level up you get to put 10 points into a single stat, either boosting what you’re good at or making up for what you’re not.

Instead of the typical bars to adjust height, weight, etc., you can freely adjust nearly every aspect which will change your physical attributes. Choose to be smarter and your head grows bigger to showcase that massive brain you have. Want to be stronger, well if you do you’ll look more buff. Decide to play more defensive and agile? Well then, you’ll be smaller and skinnier. It’s a fun character creator to simply play around with and gives you the freedom to make your character look exactly how you want, even down to fur patterns and colors. These choices can be changed later on down the road in your adventure, but I’ll leave that up to you to figure out how. You’ll also choose a genetic resistance that will be needed to access certain areas that are full of radiation, biohazardous material, and heat or cold, but this will only give you a small portion of the 100% resistance required to fully explore these areas, but that’s where gear will come into play later on.

I spent quite a while debating over which class I wanted to play but don’t overthink it too much, as this is more of a starting point than an absolute. You’re simply given some starter skills and weapons based on your choice but and you can learn more skills and use any weapons you choose further down the road as loot starts to become plentiful. These are basically starting points and allow you to try out a certain playstyle from the beginning, like dual wielding weapons, 2-handers, range based or more skill casting.

As for the classes themselves, there are five different choices: Sentinel has increased armor, Saboteur duel wields melee weapons and can evade much better, Psi-Freak is your ‘caster’ build that has a much higher energy regen, Commando (my personal choice) is the ranged class that deals more gun damage and finally the Dead-Eye, which is the “all-around” class that allows for ranged weapons to be reloaded instantly. You’ll get to play with any weapon and skills later on, so don’t stress about choosing that perfect class in the beginning even if it doesn't initially vibe with your playstyle.

After an opening tutorial you’re put into an open world where exploration is encouraged. You’ll have a main quest to guide you from area to area, but the more you discover what’s off the beaten path, the better the whole Biomutant experience becomes. Biomutant mixes Fable RPG storytelling with melee, ranged and special abilities to make for a really satisfying experience. Each area you discover is unique, throwing in some cool enemies and puzzles along the way. Some areas have their own local storylines and characters while you progress on your overall quest dealing with the Tree-of-Life and the rivaling Tribes.

As you explore the lands you’ll come across quests that once completed will give you special mounts. Sometimes these are typical ridable animals, a mechanical horse, a clockwork hand and others, but you’ll eventually experience a submarine, massive mech-suit, Jet Ski and more that are required to explore certain areas and fight against World Eater bosses. The best part about these particular mounts is that you can find special items to customize them to change how they look. It’s simply for visual aesthetics, but it allows you to add a little personality to your rides, as I loved my Jet Ski with a duck head on the front.

As you venture across the lands you’ll come across many puzzles, abandoned towns and other secrets. Puzzles are plentiful but quite basic, usually having you rotate dials of some sort to matching colors lines in a set amount of moves. Fail and you’ll take some damage before being able to try again. These puzzles sometimes award loot or allow access to a new doorway where even better loot is kept. They are simple in nature, but I always enjoyed stumbling across them.

As you come across certain areas, instead of being blocked off by locked doors they’ll usually be covered in radiation, poison or have no oxygen. These zones require your resistances to be maxed out if you want to venture inside uncover their secrets. The Dead Zone is an area that you’ll explore during the course of the campaign with your mech suit, though because of the open world nature of Biomutant, you could theoretically head there well before you are guided to do so, but you’d need to have a set of gear with high enough resistances to survive. To explore the other areas that you’ll need resistances for, you’ll need to either have appropriate gear or find special suits that will give you 100% protection for that type of danger, usually given from certain quests.

The six Tribes in the world offer more than a narrative reason for siding with one or another. As you amass favor for your Tribe of choice you’ll fight against rival clans by taking out their outposts before being able to challenge their leader to a showdown. Do you decide to take them out and anyone that opposes you or so you try and reason with them to have them join your alliance? Either way you’ll earn a very special and unique Tribe weapon as well as learning their Wung-Fu style, giving you a new combat technique.

This is where Aura comes into play, a dark versus light / good versus evil system. Good and Bad are subjective of course, but you’ll gain Aura points based on your actions and decisions for many choices. Choosing a ‘good’ answer sometimes will give you Aura points, or what you do with a captured prisoner will also earn you some as well, deciding to let them go or killing them. Aura of course will play an important part of which ending you receive, but there’s more to it than that. This Aura also is a sort of ‘currency’ in a way, as many powers are locked behind these Auras. For example, to use a special Ice ability I had to be sided with the good Aura, whereas Dark players get a completely different skill. You’re never locked out of powers either and can freely sway your Aura back and forth between good and bad, so you can try a different route and choices whenever you wish.

This is where I played completely different in my New Game+. Yes, Biomutant has a NG+ where all your progress and gear carry over, allowing you to start anew to either further enhance your character or play in a completely different way. All your gear, skills and abilities carry over but the world essentially resets, allowing you to side with a new tribe and maybe explore some more areas you ignored the first time. Enemies scale based on your current level, so you’re generally always fighting opponents within a certain range of your level, with harder mini-bosses usually a few levels higher than you. Given that you’re constantly improving your character through gear, skills or abilities, I never felt like I was underpowered, the balancing felt just right, even for the World Eater bosses.

Combat was something I really enjoyed even after 20 hours of gameplay under my belt, as it always feels satisfying with its comic book style aesthetics. Given that Biomutant is a blend of martial arts and gunplay, there’s a great balance of offensive and general movement, which reminded me of Capcom's Devil May Cry air juggling mixed with Batman Arkham's combat style. This blend of melee and ranged combat really allows you to play however you like. I preferred the ranged gunplay, but wasn’t afraid to get up and close when needed. It’s not uncommon to be overrun and outnumbered by swarms of enemies, so you’ll need to be agile and learn to dodge and parry attacks if you want to survive. Parrying opens enemies to devastating attacks or air juggles, so it pays to get right in the thick of battle sometimes, taking out the swarm of minions before the larger enemies.

This is where your powers and abilities will help. There are two types of abilities: Biomutations and Psi-Powers. Biomutations are combat abilities that enhance your melee or ranged damage, usually adding a new combo or finisher and it requires you to purchase it with biopoints that you’ll find scattered and hidden throughout the world. Psi-Powers are unlocked with Psi-Points, also hidden around the world, but these are more your special abilities, some of which are locked to Dark or Light Aura’s and it just happens that these ones are the best ones.

Combining these powers and regular combat is natural, fluid and flows really well once you find a groove for how you want to play. My go-to, for example, is using one of my abilities to infect an enemy so that he fights for me for a short time, freeze the ground so enemies slip around back and forth as I slowly pick one off at a time with my rifle. Some abilities aren’t only useful for combat, but can help you traverse areas or get across large gaps. There’s nothing quite like using a giant bubble to get enemies stuck to it then exploding them outwards.

Your damage and armor is only going to be as good as your gear though. Thankfully there’s not only a ton of interesting and unique loot out there to be found, you’ll also be able to craft your own insanely unique weapons. You’re not limited to the starting weapon types you begin with, so you can freely swap and change weapons based on what you enjoy most, earning new skills as you progress. Gear of course has different rarities, and surprisingly the Luck attribute does seem to actually make a huge difference on finding better gear, as I was finding tons of high level parts and loot once I dumped some points into the attribute after leveling up. As you get higher, gear will start to give special bonuses as well, so there’s always going to be some new cool loot to find. You can even buy new gear from vendors, some of which is quite good, but if it’s too expensive you can improve your charisma to get better prices.

I didn’t sell any items, instead I broke them down for parts and materials, which in turn can be used in crafting and improving your gear. You are also able to craft your own weapons and this was probably one of my favorite features in Biomutant. You can not only craft a new weapon from scratch, but you can also improve the ones you have if you really enjoy it. As you find random loot throughout your adventure you’ll come across random parts and pieces that can be used to improve your gear. Even items like pencils, chains and other ‘garbage’ can be used to improve your gear’s looks and stats. It never gets old seeing what weird combinations you can create, like a massive 2H weapon with a toothbrush base and a chainsaw on the other end, or a rifle that looks something straight out of Mad Max.

You’re able to freely craft whenever you like from the menu, but you also find a workbench in many of the villages and you’ll be able to enhance your gear’s quality and rarity, for a resource fee of course. This starts to get quite costly for the highest tiers of improvements, but it makes a massive difference in your gear score, damage and more. While you are limited to only crafting weapons from scratch and not armor, any gear can be improved based on how many add-on slots it has. Of course every item also has its own base stats, so there’s near endless loot for you to compare.

Photo Mode is also included for those that love to take screenshots of their favorite moments. Simply press both Thumbsticks down and you’ll be able to play around with the camera to get that perfect shot. I ended up spending more time taking gorgeous pictures of vistas than I expected, as Biomutant’s world is to vast and lush and beautiful, even in its most ravaged areas.

On an Xbox Series X, Biomutant’s world is absolutely stunning to take in at times with 4K 60FPS. The greens of the forest are so full of color and the variety of each area really feels like you’re exploring new regions in the vast world. There’s so many small details, not only within the environment itself, but even how your character visually changes when you put on new gear and weapons. Seeing the Tree-of-Life’s roots from afar really makes you feel how small you are in this world and while there’s not a huge variety in enemy types, they all have their own unique style. Also, the comic book style words that appear in combat is a cool touch, like a “click” when you try to fire before reloading fully or “Thump!” when slicing an enemy. These of course can be turned off, but I personally though it was very fitting.

As for the audio, the Narrator that describes everything that’s happening on-screen and translating what people are saying as you converse since they all talk Sims-like gibberish, is done absolutely perfectly. Reminiscent of Fable’s narrator, Biomutant's David Shaw Parker is a calm and soothing voice, telling you about the world around you if you just got to a new area or about the Tribe that you’re about to face. Even better, many regular pre-apocalypse ‘old-world’ objects have funny names, like a guitar being called a “twing-twang” or a train a “chug-chug”, and hearing a nature documentary-like voice over narrate these always puts a smile on my face. For those that find it a little too intrusive or annoying, you are able to turn down the frequency of the narrator should you wish, or completely off, but that would definitely give you Dark Aura points in real life.

While Biomutant may have been unveiled a little early, the extra time they’ve taken to make a complete and polished game has not gone unnoticed. The only real negatives I had in my notes were minor glitches and bugs, but that’s even before the launch patch dropped. For a new studio to make something not only of this caliber and scope, while also making such an engaging world I don't want to leave is nothing short of amazing.

It’s been quite a while where I’ve been at my paying job simply waiting to come home so I could dive right back into a game; Biomutant did that for me. Even after completing the game I started up NG+ right away and continued on my journey with the same excitement. For such a small team, all of their hard work has paid off, as Biomutant is easily my top contender for Game of the Year at this point.

**Biomutant was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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