Originally starting its life as a Swedish board game during the 80s, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden tells the story of a group of mutants that must travel an arid and desolate post-apocalyptic Earth in order to collect supplies and artefacts. With these precious resources, can you keep the last human settlement, The Ark, up and running?
On paper, the gameplay blend in Road to Eden simply shouldn’t work. It’s a fascinating mix of turn-based combat and stealth in real time, and the wonderfully named developers, The Bearded Ladies, have done an excellent job of making the two modes succinctly different, while ensuring the crossover between the two is driven by player agency.
Every encounter can instantly be started by going in loud with all guns blazing, should you choose to do so, but this will undoubtedly put you at a disadvantage. Going down a stealthier route enables you to strategically place each character before going loud, while also taking down any stragglers without alerting the wider party. It’s an immensely enjoyable gameplay loop that rewards players for being patient and thinking strategically, rather than jumping straight into combat.
The combat is similar to the XCOM series, as players must attack and defend on a grid-based maps. Each character has a certain number of action points each turn, and you have to spend them attack the enemy while also playing defensively. Characters have their own set of skills and stats that makes each one of them suitable for different roles and understanding this can make a big difference to how each fight plays out.
Road to Eden is punishingly hard. Even on the easiest difficulty – which starts at normal – you are always up against it. It makes a lot of sense thematically as the game is set in a brutal, unforgiving world, but it can be frustrating. Turn-based strategy games have always been a bit of a niche genre and Road to Eden certainly sticks to its guns in this respect, as it’s certainly one of the hardest games I’ve played this year.
While there is an overarching narrative of humans fighting for survival, the player is tasked with searching for a mutant named Hammon that went missing while out on patrol. Starting the game with Dux and Bormin – a talking duck and pig, respectively – it doesn’t take long until they are joined by Selma, a human mutant that was part of Hammon’s party, with further strays joining you along the way.
The aforementioned Ark not only acts as an important plot device, driving many of the stories forward, but it also provides the player with a hub area in which they can upgrade their weapons and buy items. A fast travel system makes it easy for players to travel back whenever they unlock a new relic or find enough scrap to upgrade a weapon.
There are a number of different weapons that can be found throughout the wasteland, all of which lend themselves to the different battle scenarios. Silenced weapons enable players to take down isolated enemies without alerting others, ranged weapons afford the player distance when attacking and a number of powerful weapons are perfect for close quarter combat. Every weapon can be upgraded using a number of items that affect hit rate, range, critical hit chance and add elemental damage.
Various items can be purchased from the shop in the Ark, including weapon upgrades, throwable weapons, guns and armour. The in-game economy certainly needs some balancing as many of the items in the shop were way too expensive, though a lot of the items can be found throughout the world. A number of artefacts can also be equipped while at the Ark, which give the entire party status buffs, such as extending the bleed out time for party members and increasing the damage of specific items. Artefacts can be found during the story missions, as well as from exploring off the beaten path.
There’s a lot of content to be found in Road to Eden; as well as a generous story mode, there are a number of optional areas with tougher enemies. The reward for tackling these is often high-level loot and artefacts, but for the players that like to dig a little deeper, there is also a lot of additional exposition to be found in a number of journals, notes and books left around the world. While not adding anything to the story, they do help facilitate a deeper sense of immersion in the world.
Presentation is a key aspect of any game that so keenly commits to an aesthetics and Road To Eden certainly doesn’t fall short. Everything from character design to the way the environment looks and feels is stellar and the game really does pull off the feeling of being in a post-apocalyptic world. An 80s inspired techno soundtrack adds to the aesthetic, providing a brooding and striking backdrop to the action on screen.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is an exceptional take on the tactical RPG and the addition of a stealth system certainly sets it apart from the crowd. Both genres blend together in a way that’s satisfying, challenging and well designed, while an engaging and well-written narrative drives the player forward. The difficulty might be an issue for those new to the genre, but for those seasoned in turn-based tactics, this is an absolute must buy.
Version tested: PC – Also available on PS4 & Xbox One