REVIEW: ‘Biomutant’ Has Customization, Coolness, but Little Character (XSX)

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biomutant

Since I first got my hands on Biomutant at PAX East 2019, where it was my Best in Show, I have been eagerly awaiting my opportunity to get my hands on the finished product. Now here, I can say that Biomutant delivers in a great many ways while still suffering from a stumble or two. Biomutant is an open world, 3rd person action RPG game developed by Experiment 101 and published by THQ Nordic.

Humanity is gone. But while we are no longer present in the world, our fingerprint remains. The biohazards and toxins that were poured into nature linger. And their presence has brought new life into the world. Anthropomorphized creatures have gained sentience and have built their own world in the ruins of the old one and centered around what they call The Tree of Life. But now, four monstrous creatures are consuming the roots of the Tree. It is only a matter of time before the Tree dies unless someone does something. Into this situation wanders an exile that returns after a traumatic event that drove him out years earlier. Now, the world is in his hands.

To start, we have to talk about Biomutant‘s weakest aspect, its story. The protagonist’s journey to save the Tree of Life and right a wrong done to him is largely a soulless one. With only one short flashback sequence utilized to flesh out the character’s backstory, the silent protagonist never manages to become enough of a person to gain any real attachment. As someone who thrives best in games where I truly care about and grow attached to the player character, this put my experience here solidly behind other recent offerings in the genre. This lack of connection extends to the larger cast as well, with no character ever growing beyond the simple function of dispensing missions.

Now we should talk about character creation. The first choice that the game asks players to make is to pick their breed. The breed determines the character’s physical shape and their starting combat emphasis if any. From the all-around solid Rex type to the mentally-focused Fip type, each breed gives the player a direction to focus their character in. Though it is important to note the choice of breed does not lock anything out. All the game’s various upgrades are available; this just helps you get a leg up in the areas of the game’s combat you think you will want to focus on.

Along with your breed, players get to adjust their starting attributes, which is done using a slick circle interface (see image below) as well as setting their starting environmental resistances. These steps further help to fine-tune the character’s initial focus at the start of the game.

Next up is the cosmetic part of character creation. This is where fur patterns and colors are selected. There are a nice variety of looks available and the full spectrum of colors to choose from for the two colors that will make up your character’s fur colors.

The last step in Biomutant‘s character creation is to pick your class. Classes give players some sort of bonus to their character. These range from a unique psychic ability to extra armor or the ability to wield two single-handed weapons. Again, these provide bonuses but don’t lock you into any given gameplay route.

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Once character creation is done, players are walked through a brief tutorial section that guides them through the basic controls for moving around the world, combat, puzzle-solving, light/dark alignment mechanic, and leveling up their character. But before we get into all that, this portion of the game also introduces players to the primary voice they will hear over their entire journey—the narrator.

The story of Biomutant, along with the vast majority of the dialogue, is presented to the player through the narrator. When the player interacts with other creatures, the narrator acts as a translator. Rather than simply speaking for the other characters, the narrator says things like, “He says he is happy to see you.” The narrator also fills the player in with background on new locations or special items they come across and gives random commentary to their actions during exploration and combat. However, this non-essential chatter can be turned off if it gets annoying. I personally never minded it, as the random dialogue never came too frequently.

One of the game’s weaker aspects is the alignment system. Early on, the game has you choose between light and dark. Like most games with alignment systems, Biomutant has characters in the game that react differently to you depending on your alignment. The other major effect this has on the game is that certain psychic powers can only be purchased if your light or dark rank is at a certain level.

When the mechanic is initially presented to the player, the game tries to sell them on the concept that dark isn’t “bad,” it’s just more aggressive and focused on strength. And maybe a little selfish. However, the vast majority of moments that give you dark points are, quite frankly, just bad. The most common of these are catching little critters and choosing to kill them instead of petting them or leaving captured pilgrims in cages to die instead of helping them. This hard morality system harkens back to the old days of games like Knights of the Old Republic. There is no nuance in most choices, and it reminds me of how far such systems have evolved over the years.

But while this secondary system lags a bit, Experiment 101 delivers a top-notch combat system in Biomutant. The options in how a player chooses to approach fighting are plentiful, with each one feeling equally valid, and none of them come across as a tacked-on afterthought.

The three forms of combat the player gets to utilize are melee, range, and mutations/psychic powers. Dodge and parry systems are available for melee attacks and numerous combos that unlock through the expenditure of experience points. While melee takes focus to implement, the game’s steady pace allows players who may find the more unforgiving third-person action entries overwhelming to manage still. But even if this more paced approach has you struggling, most of the time, it can be avoided for one of the other combat types.

Ranged combat is, for the most part, what you would expect mechanically. Aiming is intuitive and easy, and the infinite ammo the player has access to allows for firing without fear of running out at a crucial moment. Though reloading clips is still a necessity, and the bigger the clip, the longer the reload. But there are ways the player can access the perfect reload system. This system allows the player to instantly reload their gun and get a damage bonus for the upcoming clip with a properly timed button press. Ever since I first played Gears of War, I have wanted another game to implement some form of its active reload system. While this isn’t quite that, it gives the same satisfaction as that fan-favorite mechanic.

Rounding out our look at combat, we have Biomutant‘s mutations and psychic powers. Gained through the acquisition of bio-points and psi-points, respectively, these abilities run off the player’s ki gauge and offer a slew of options accessed during combat via a quick menu. Everything from icy area attacks that damage and leave enemies sliding around to a warp attack that sends the player slamming into enemies and knocking them back is offered here.

Further spicing up combat, the game introduces several vehicles that the player can operate in certain situations that change things up. This vehicular combat delivers a nice break in the game’s repetition, helping to keep the many combat encounters from growing stale.

Biomutant‘s crafting system is extensive. Throughout the game, the player will come across an enormous number of gear pieces that they can equip to protect themselves. Most pieces of gear have slots for add ons that can be found and equipped through the expenditure of resources. These further boost the gear’s usefulness, and add ons can be removed later. So no need to worry about adding something to armor just to find a more worthy piece five minutes later.

The other side of the crafting system is weapons. The frequency with which players will come across whole weapons in Biomutant is rare. So instead, players are showered with components that can be assembled in a myriad number of ways to deliver a mind-boggling number of unique weapons. And, just like with gear add ons, weapons can be dismantled so you can reassemble them or swap a piece out at any time as long as you have the raw materials to make it work. Happily, all gear and weapon components can be broken down for these raw materials. So you should be good.

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With the gameplay and crafting system out of the way, let’s talk about the visuals. To put it simply, Biomutant looks gorgeous. The various environments you traverse through are beautifully detailed, with lots of animations and lighting effects giving each a feeling of vibrancy. In addition, bold color palettes are utilized both in the environments and the characters to make this one of the most visually appealing post-apocalyptic games I’ve ever explored.

Traveling around this huge, gorgeous open world is strikingly easy thanks to a generous fast travel system. Virtually any place you discover that you might have a particular reason to return to will have a fast travel point the player can activate to make their return trip instantaneous.

Another feature that helps players explore and save on repeat trips to locations is the game’s generous location descriptions. When at a location, the game lists every notable thing at that locale, as well as whether or not the player has interacted with it or not. So if you never want to leave a notable item behind, you never will.

So while I can’t give Biomutant the across-the-board praise I had so hoped to when I started, it nonetheless delivers great gameplay, deep customization in numerous ways, and gorgeous visuals that will leave you awestruck for many hours as you explore the wide-open world it contains. Combined with its determination to not unduly punish players by keeping systems intuitive and making crafting choices easily reversible, Biomutant keeps its fun gameplay and beautiful environments open to many gamers who otherwise might struggle with the game’s many systems and combat.

Biomutant is available now for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.

Biomutant
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

So while I can’t give Biomutant the across-the-board praise I had so hoped to when I started, it nonetheless delivers great gameplay, deep customization in numerous ways, and gorgeous visuals that will leave you awestruck for many hours as you explore the wide-open world it contains. Combined with its determination to not unduly punish players by keeping systems intuitive and making crafting choices easily reversible, Biomutant keeps its fun gameplay and beautiful environments open to many gamers who otherwise might struggle with the game’s many systems and combat.