Jumping In Late
As the recent release of Kingdom Hearts 3 has proven, it can be challenging for newcomers to jump into an ongoing series without knowledge of past releases. KH3 may have taken this to a bit of an extreme, but I was still worried about something similar when Metro Exodus fell into my hands.
Metro Exodus is the third entry in the overarching Metro series, and the franchise is one that presents a continuing story throughout each entry. While I do own both of the previous games, Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light, I have very little experience with them – I have played a few hours of 2033 and have yet to touch Last Light.
Thusly, I was a bit worried when I jumped into Exodus, as I was essentially jumping into the middle of a story blind. This is an issue for developers that I believe I have discussed before: creating an ongoing story to satisfy current fans, while still trying to keep the game welcoming enough for newcomers.
The question is, did Exodus manage to strike this balance, or is it too difficult for a newcomer to the series to jump in here?
Developed by 4A Games and published by Deep Silver, Metro Exodus was released on February 15th, 2019, for PS4, Xbox One, and PC via the Epic Games Store. The Epic version was played for this review.
Journey to a New Life
Exodus continues the story of Artyom, the protagonist of the past two Metro games. Having lived much of his life in the underground metro stations of Moscow, Artyom has been spending his time exploring above ground, digging through the ruins of a world ravaged by nuclear war.
Artyom manages to discover something that leads to a dizzying revelation: the world outside of Moscow is not destroyed, as he and the people of the Metro have been led to believe. The Moscow government have been hiding the fact that the rest of the world has mostly managed to recover from war…and learning this leads to Artyom and many of his comrades to essentially be exiled from the Metro. Now without a place to call home, Artyom and friends travel on a hajacked train, the Aurora, toward the nearest radio signal they could pick up, hoping to find civilization…and a new home.
As I mentioned earlier, I was a bit worried at how well I’d be able to pick up on the events of an ongoing story such as this, and luckily, I can report that I was able to do so without too much trouble. The opening events of the game were somewhat confusing, featuring a number of characters with what I assume to be pre-established relationships and loyalties, and I had a bit of trouble figuring out who was what and who knew who.
Despite not explaining the events of past games, I was eventually able to pick up through context the relationships between these characters, along with some of their motivations. While I am sure that I’m lacking the background knowledge to truly get invested in the continuing exploits of Artyom and pals, on its own, Exodus tells an entertaining and often gripping story.
The only story aspect I had to use the guidance of the internet to figure out was the repeated mention of a group known as “Hansa.” Mentions of them seemed to make them out as some kind of evil organization, but I was never really able to figure out exactly what they were just through Exodus alone.
When it comes to the writing itself, the interactions between the characters quickly became the highlight of the game. The story essentially revolves around a core group of players shoved into a train and exploring a world long thought dead, and watching them interact with Artyom and each other on this journey of discovery led to some great moments. Of particular note are some peaceful moments that happen in between story missions, where you can hang out with the characters on the train and listen to them speak their minds about current events and whatever is going on in their heads.
Exodus brings with it a shift in presentation from the games that came before it. While 2033 and Last Light mostly took place in the underground Metro, Exodus move the franchise into a semi-open world.
I’ve already admitted my limited experience with the franchise, but the open presentation of Exodus struck well with me. Rather than being a completely open world, the game instead moves you through a series of smaller open environments.
This was an immediate positive for me. While I often have trouble keeping focus in fully open world games, limiting things to a series of smaller explorable environments helped keep me concentrated on the game’s core objectives while still offering little bonuses for wandering off the beaten path to explore a bit.
As an example, during the first open environment, my main task was to find a railcar holed up in an old train station. The walk to this objective was a straight line, making it easy to get there – but shortly off the path was a hideout of bandits keeping members of the local cult locked up as hostages. I decided to wander in, clear out the bandits, and rescue the cultists, and was rewarded with a key that I was able to use in the train station to access a room much earlier than I normally would have been able to. Doing so gave me access to a pair of night-vision goggles, making the rest of the station much easier to navigate.
The environments do have self-contained “dungeons” of sorts, often being where your main objectives are, and exploring these felt much more like my time with 2033. Some of these dungeons pop up as you’re travelling between environments on the Aurora as well, so it doesn’t just feel like you’re being shuttled from one open area to the next.
The gameplay itself took me a little bit to get used to. Exodus makes extensive use of survival mechanics – conserving ammo, scavenging for gas mask filters and resources, and finding areas to hide and quickly craft medkits, as quick examples. Little things like wiping your gas mask and igniting a lighter are all mapped to their own keys on the keyboard, and while it took a bit of time to memorize all of it, I was soon able to dance around the keys activating all the little things to keep Artyom going. The only thing I found frustrating was igniting my lighter, which mapped to the ‘L’ key was and not easily reachable with my hands in their normal playing positions.
To be fair, doing all of the survival stuff was made a bit easier by the enemy AI not being the brightest of the bunch. Bandits would often stand around shouting at me, just waiting for me to line up a headshot. Some others occasionally wouldn’t even notice me despite me passing by mere inches from their face. The AI definitely isn’t broken – there were still numerous encounters where I got by barely by the skin of my teeth – but there’s enough of these dumb little moments to be easily noticeable.
Speaking of dumb little moments, I did encounter a few glitches throughout my time with Exodus. There was a moment I was fighting bandits standing on some scaffolding high above me, and I watched one do his best Jesus impression and walk right through thin air. Later on in the same map, I came across a giant blue polygonal wall cutting through the environment. I thought I had come to the edge of the world, despite my mission objective being beyond it…but I was simply able to walk through it. Like the AI, it’s nothing game-breaking, but these little things happen often enough to add up.
Lastly, Exodus puts a major focus on its crafting mechanics. You can open up Artyom’s backpack at any time to craft medkits, grenades, and upgrade your guns with parts that you scavenge off enemies. Being able to make adjustments to my weaponry on the fly was incredibly useful, allowing me to tailor my loadout to whatever challenge was on the way. Resources throughout the world also strike a nice balance between being scarce and overly abundant; there’s still plenty of pressure to use what resources you have wisely, but I never felt like I would cause my progress to stall by using that one last medkit I have at the wrong time.
A Beautiful Apocalypse
If there’s one thing I can find no faults on, it’s Exodus‘ visual presentation. The environments you get to explore are lovingly crafted and stunning to look at. However, on PC, the game can require a powerhouse build to get the most out of it.
I currently run a Ryzen 2600x and Radeon Vega 56 in my system, and I was able to play through the first four or five environments of the game with no trouble at all, at 1440p on Ultra settings (one step below max). Once I stepped into a desert environment, with sandstorms and lightning effects everywhere, my framerate tanked, forcing me to step down the graphics settings to High.
Even on High, though, the game remains beautiful to look at. The story of Exodus brings you through bombed-out ruins to snow-covered wastes and lush forests, providing plenty of variety.
The voice acting though…whew, that’s a completely different story. Much of the cast sounds like its struggling to put on Russian accents, with a few of the tertiary characters obviously slipping in and out of their accents. Even some of the members of the Aurora sound like comedic impersonations of Russian people.
Weirdly enough, the character who was voiced the best was Artyom…the silent protagonist. I’m not trying to make a joke here: Artyom does speak during the loading screens between areas, narrating a journal he is keeping. His acting is some of the most natural in the game, making me wish that he actually spoke during gameplay.
Overall, Metro Exodus is an enthralling and gripping experience, marred a bit by lack of polish. The occasional glitches and sometimes rough enemy AI were a bit too noticeable to ignore, but did little to drag down my experience.
Despite my lack of familiarity with the franchise, I didn’t have too much difficulty jumping in to this game and figuring out what was going on around me. I had some trouble with terminology being thrown around, but I was mostly able to follow the story after the opening levels were finished.
There’s been well-documented controversy concerning the PC release of this game, but putting all that aside, Metro Exodus is definitely a game worth the space on your hard drive. With nary a dull moment, and plenty of suspense in both story and gameplay, this is an experience well-worth checking out.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s high time I go back and play through 2033 and Last Light.
Review copy provided by Deep Silver for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.