Metro is a series I hold near and dear to my heart. Even though it is a series that consists of two games and I haven’t played any of them in awhile, I have always loved the Metro series for its incredible world. It should come as no surprise, then, that I have been looking forward to Metro Exodus ever since it was announced. The game has finally released, and already it is shaping up to be one of the best releases of 2019. This is Metro Exodus, and it’s time to go back to an apocalyptic Russia one more time.
Taking place after the “redemption” ending of the previous game, Metro Exodus follows Artyom yet again as he and a crew of Spartans take a train ride across Russia to find a new home in the East after learning others have survived outside of Metro. Along their year-long journey, they come across other groups of survivors and partake in their struggles as well.
When I think back to the stories and characters of the first two games, I begin to realize just how great the story elements of this game are. Metro Exodus sets aside many of the supernatural and fantastical elements of the first two games and instead focuses on the people that inhabit this irradiated Russia. You still encounter large, radiated beasts, but the story doesn’t go to weird mystical places like the last game. Instead, the story revolves around the characters you interact with, both ally and enemy. The focus on human struggle and perseverance brings the game down-to-Earth and tells a much more emotional tale. The smaller moments like Stepan playing guitar or the group celebrating because of the progress of their journey is something I never got out of the previous games, and they were powerful moments that showed just how human these characters are.
The story and characters are at their best in this game, but they also have some flaws. The biggest issue with the plot is how predictable the plot can sometimes be. The amount of deus ex machina and predictable story sequences that happen is a bit too much for comfort, and I could almost exactly guess what will happen or how an event happened. Also, the characters can at times feel like cardboard cutouts, with the Spartans sometimes reverting to a “bros at the bar” mentality as an example. The characters do evolve and become more personal as the journey goes on, but the characters towards the beginning almost felt like they were set as overly-characterized just to clearly show the character arcs. These issues aren’t that prevalent and overall didn’t affect the story all that much, but they are still worth mentioning.
Gameplay has also seen a significant improvement from the previous games, with open-ended levels, more above-ground environments, a new crafting system that replaces the economy of the last game, and more. While there are many new elements, however, there are also many familiar gameplay elements like tight corridors and makeshift weaponry that call back to previous games and makes a solid blend of old and new.
The biggest new addition to the series are the open-ended levels that are throughout the game. Metro has always been a linear game, but Exodus offers a few large maps to explore. The open-ended maps have enemy outposts, buildings to explore, parts and upgrades to scavenge, side missions to complete, and more. There are a total of three open-ended maps, and while it doesn’t sound like much, I spent hours combing each map for every little nook and cranny. I probably spent more time in this game than the previous two games combined because of how much I enjoyed exploring these maps. The level of detail in the world is incredible, and there is actually a lot more to do in the levels than is presented.
The previous entries had an economy system where special bullets were used to buy weapons and attachments (or used as bullets, if you were crazy), but this game changes that up for a scavenging system instead. Instead of buying upgrades, you find them, and consumables are crafted with two different ingredients found in the world. You also have the ability to clean weapons to keep its performance up-to-date and any attachments that can be used have to be scavenged off of weapons. While crafting isn’t my favorite and I am certainly no fan of weapon degradation, I found the systems in play to be fitting to the world as well as incredibly fair and simple. The crafting consists of two ingredients, and they are plentiful if you spend the time to find them. There isn’t a whole lot of crafting to do, but any crafting I did felt in-place with the game. While weapons degrade with use, they never break, so not having to worry about that made maintaining weapons a lighter burden on my shoulders. As for weapon attachments and gear upgrades, I thought it was really cool to be able to find that stuff out in the world and be able to use it. The bullet economy of previous games was really cool, but it also doesn’t belong in a game that takes place outside of that ecosystem, so the new systems in place both make sense and are light enough to not be burdensome.
The new open areas take place outside of both the metro and Moscow, which means being on the surface level. Not only that, the game takes place over the course of a year, which also means the inclusion of seasons and a day and night cycle that affects what enemies are out roaming the levels. The different geographical areas offer different locales, enemy factions, and more. In one area, I was boating around the frozen swampy area inching my way towards an anti-technology cult, and the next I was driving a poor excuse of a car around beached ships in a desert in search of a fight against a Mad Max style oil baron. I really like the various enemy faction that are encountered because of how complex they are. While some are presented as more evil than others, I didn’t find any of them to be bad for the sake of being bad. They all had their own reasons as to why they acted the way they acted, which made the morality of killing them versus knocking them out a factor in my experience.
You can’t go on a cross-country trip in only a year without a decent mode of transportation, and that is where the Aurora comes into play. The train acts as a tiny hub where you can choose the next mission, craft weapons, and more. The thing I like the most about the train isn’t any gameplay mechanic though; it’s being around people. Throughout the game, you can see how the various people on the train live out their lives and find happiness in their dire situation, and being able to be a part of that adds a really nice touch to the game that so few apocalyptic games even think about doing. Whether it be taking a smoking break with the train engineer, playing guitar with another Spartan to woo a woman, or even just staring out the window and watching the landscape go by; the train offers a glimpse of humanity that I wish more games did.
There are a lot of changes to this game, but a lot of the older Metro experience can still be found in this game. There are plenty of tight, dark corridors to be found, even in the open levels. The ability to stealth and either knockout or kill enemies is still in play, with this game adding an extra level of morality as to if you want to kill enemies or not. You will still be fighting humans and beasts, many of which are the same as previous games. The weapons you use still look like they came out of a scrapyard, with Exodus adding in even more weapon customization. The core of Metro isn’t compromised in this game, which is something I am more than fine with.
Metro has been a game known for technical issues, but I had very little with my time in the game. The worst offenders I had was a save glitch that happened one time where the game auto-saved at a really bad point in the game and a pretty long load time when first booting up the game. The game was very stable for me, which for a day one release in 2019 seems like an added bonus instead of a standard. While on the topic of technical aspects, there are some other things I noticed with this game. For starters, the sound design in this game is incredible, particularly with weapon reverb. Shooting a gun out in the open and hearing it pierce the air is incredible to hear, but the sound design overall is rock solid with everything else as well. I really like the way the game hides the HUD by attaching it to various parts of your body. Stuff that would normally be displayed in a pop-up menu or in the corner of the screen is instead displayed on your watch or on a clipboard you pull out. Adding onto this is the visual wear-and-tear on your items. Instead of displaying a health bar for your gas mask, you instead see it start to crack, and weapons start to accumulate dirt with use. The way the game conveys information to you is clever and often looks a lot better than the screen being cluttered up. Plus, the game has a photo mode, which means a whole lot of time spent taking some pretty pics. There are, however, some technical aspects to this game that I wish could’ve been improved. While the main menu and intro cutscenes are really good, I found the animation in the rest to be clunky and awkward for a 2019 game. Also, I wish the controls on PC were streamlined a bit more. It’s not impossible to get used to, but there are a lot of controls to learn, and I think some of the actions could’ve been bound to a single key.
One last thing I want to touch on before concluding is, well, the conclusion. I won’t spoil the game, but I will say the ending to this game is incredibly powerful. It is a pretty predictable ending in hindsight, but I can recall a certain part in the game that started to make me well up. The ending is matched with some incredible music that creates a powerful and memorable ending to this game.
In conclusion, Metro Exodus is an incredible journey that adds meaningful changes to the Metro formula and delivers a more down-to-Earth story that shines a light on the people who inhabit this world more than the world itself. This game is easily the best in the series, and even though we are early in the year, it is shaping up to be a top contender for the game of the year.
Here is a link to the screenshots I took in the game.