E3 2018 Hands-on: Metro Exodus

The Metro series of games have been providing an answer to the question, “Why read books when you can play video games?” Originally written by Dmitry Glukhovsky, the Metro novels have become the inspiration for these games sharing the same title. The games take place in a post-apocalyptic Russia, where remnants of humanity struggle to survive in the metro rail system underneath Moscow.

With two games under its belt, 4A Games is hard at work on a third entry, which is taking influence from Glukhovsky’s most recent novel, Metro 2035. Metro Exodus is set for release on February 22nd, 2019, but publisher Deep Silver was present at this year’s E3 with a beta build of the game, which we had the chance to try out behind closed doors.

The version we got to go hands-on with was presented on the XBox One X and, according to the PR representatives in the room with us, was running at native 4K resolution. As a beta, though, there were still numerous bugs present, with the load times being a particular highlight of this session. Each time I had to reload the game, it was an easy two-to-three minute wait.

The demo picks up with series protagonist Artyom traveling on a train known as the Aurora toward a new life in the east. The train comes upon some people living on the railroad tracks, forcing the Aurora to make an emergency stop. Fearing that these people may be sentries for a dangerous group further ahead, the train’s captain sends Artyom and another character to scout out the area.

Once off the train, I took a bit of time to learn the controls and experiment with a new feature in this entry of Metro: on-the-go weapon customization and crafting. Both are accessed through Artyom’s backpack, which was a bit unintuitive to access. My natural assumption was to press Start or Back, but I had to hold down the right bumper and then press the X button.

Both systems are rather simple to use. Weapon customization allows you to scroll through your weapons and each changeable part therein, swapping out pieces with the click of a button. Crafting (which I had to rely on more often to get more medkits) is as simple as collecting scrap in the environment and spending them like a currency in your backpack to create an item.

Using the backpack does not pause the game, however, as evidenced by Artyom’s partner getting tired of waiting around and going ahead without him. This in particular may have been my fatal mistake in my session with this game, as I proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes getting lost on my way to a mission marker.

The in-game map, fitting the aesthetic of the world, is rather basic. You get a classical atlas-style map with a red ‘X’ on your destination, and a glass compass on top that represents where you generally are on the map. From there, it’s up to you to figure out how to get to where you need to go. As I attempted to make my way to the marker, I found myself constantly falling into deep water and running into invisible walls.

Eventually, I swallowed my pride and asked a PR rep for assistance. He asked me if I “found the boat,” which is something that I wasn’t even aware existed. He proceeded to look at my monitor in utter bewilderment, having no idea how I ended up where I did, and reloaded my save to direct me to the aforementioned boat. Now, I’d complain that this boat was hiding in an unintuitive location, but a glance at everyone else around me showed that I was the only player that struggled to find it.

Proceeding with the game gave my my first taste of the combat and stealth options in Metro Exodus. Both felt fairly standard for a modern first-person title, and I mean that in the best possible way – popping off shots, running into cover, sneaking up on enemies to take them out quietly, all of it gelled together fluidly. Stealth is definitely the preferred way to play here, due to the scarce ammo indicative of the game’s survival-horror roots.

Unfortunately, I managed to fully crash the game at this point as well. The game is still in beta, but that also meant waiting another two-to-three minutes for the game to reload. Luckily, I was able to boot back in with an autosave.

I eventually completed the mission and made my way back to the Aurora, where I was presented with the next story mission. By the time I reached this point, though, my hour with the game had expired.

Despite my struggles in the first half of the demo (I’ll be the first to admit that this style of game is not my forte), I walked away with a mostly positive opinion of Metro Exodus. This entry, though, is intended to have an open world as opposed to earlier games having a more linear focus, which does give me a bit of pause. After all, I did only get to explore a small portion of a small area of the game’s world, which is nowhere near indicative of how dense or varied the final game may be.

The game’s E3 trailer may have been exciting and bombastic, but I’ll be looking forward to Metro Exodus with a bit of hesitance. I’ll definitely need to see more solid gameplay and how well it uses its planned open world before I can give it a full recommendation.

Screenshots taken from the game’s official E3 trailer.