While Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a long-winded title, the game itself is a remarkably straightforward, streamlined turn-based strategy game in the style of XCOM. Forgoing all the base building, character creation shenanigans in favour of atmosphere, simplicity and story, Mutant Year Zero was exactly the game I needed it to be.
To start with, I need to confess that while I enjoy the modern XCOM games, I don’t like the base building. I find it tedious and distracting. I don’t care about bonuses from putting certain rooms together or that if that one goes over a vent I get some power multiplier, leave that to the architect and landscapers, I want the nail-biting tension getting a squad through a difficult mission. But you have to do the base bits in XCOM 1 and 2 or you lose the game. So what happens is I excitedly start a game and lose focus after a few hours as the base takes up more and more of my brainpower. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed Mutant Year Zero so much, there’s none of that but it isn’t just a screen of missions either.
At first glance, the world of Mutant Year Zero looks like a generic post-apocalyptic setting. There was clearly some kind of plague and then a big scuffle that left the population in disarray and now gangs, militia and warlords have taken over chunks of the world. However, it is more nuanced than that with each character growing and being explored as the story progresses. And then there is the fact that our two main characters are a mutant pig (Bormin) and duck (Dux) that helps set it apart from other settings of this ilk.
The game progresses with you moving the characters through an environment until you see some enemies. At this point, you can stealth yourself into a decent position and try to get off an early shot before the real fight begins. At this point, wherever you are turns into the battlefield. This does an excellent job of linking the world, narrative and battles together as you flow seamlessly from one to another. You might be listening to Dux and Bormin chat one second, sneak through some trees the next and be on fire right after that. The conversations and unfolding story as you walk through an environment aren’t much but it is enough to help pull you into this world and steadily care more about the characters.
Each character is unique, although there are a few shared abilities. There are also only a handful which means that your attachment to them grows as they carve out their niche in your little band. Just like any RPG to the sense of progression helps to pull you as much as the story. Unlocking cool new abilities or giving your favourite mutant a shiny new gun to play with is all part of the fun of inhabiting this strange world. The story itself is nothing overly spectacular but it is serviceable enough and the game has enough charm to keep you engaged to the end.
However, after all, that you probably didn’t come here for the world or the characters or the story, but for the tactical gameplay. And it doesn’t disappoint. Whereas in other XCOM-alikes you have a percentage chance from 0-100, in Mutant Year Zero it is split into 25% clusters. This means that you can more readily understand the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. You’ll never sit in the realm of 69% and wonder, or sit at 98% and miss. Instead, you’ll have a 100% hit that will definitely hit and a 75% that is pretty likely to hit. This means that the fights flow faster as you can make decisions easier.
Moving around the battlefield and going into cover convey the usual bonuses and you can do all the usual things such as go into overwatch. Everything you’d expect is here but with thematic abilities that make sense to the character you are playing and the powers you’ve chosen. All of which is again streamlined and easily understandable. Whereas XCOM can have too many options, Mutant Year Zero has just enough for the situation. This makes it much friendlier to pick up and play without you having to remember lots of minor details between sessions.
Having said that, the difficulty is a little harsh especially early on. I found the first few missions stupidly hard and died a lot. However, once I had some levels and knew what I was doing a bit more in terms of how to use the characters abilities and the importance of when to actually instigate a fight, everything was just the right level of challenging. However, you can always go on a lower difficulty or play better than I did.
So even with this criticism, Mutant Year Zero is still much friendlier to newcomers of the genre and far more focussed. The characters are fun, the world is an interesting take on post-apocalyptic and the gameplay kept me coming back for me. It is a little rough around the edges but if you can get passed that, then you’ll have a great time.
Thank you for reading, if you want more turn-based tactics games then check out our review of Fell Seal: Arbiters Mark or Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. Alternatively, sit yourself down for a good book and check out one of our Bookclubbing reviews.
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