We did it. We fought our way across the post apocalyptic wasteland, encountered dangerous enemies and learned a bit about our mutant selves. And honestly had a great time doing it!
Mutant Year Zero wasn’t quite what I expected going in. I was thinking the structure would be more like Xcom; discrete missions where you send your squad in to accomplish specific objectives and then a separate management portion where you resupply and level your characters. I didn’t know that it was more free form and open world, instead tasking you with finding your way across the map and naturally encountering enemies. It’s such a smart update to the Xcom tactical formula and is at more of an intersection between that and an RPG. Moving into a zone and silently scoping out enemy encampments changed the strategy significantly. How many enemies are in the area? How many of these enemies can we dispatch with our silent enemies? When is the time to bring out the heavy weapons and attack the entire camp? What abilities allow us to escape these encounters? What character do we need to counter an enemy type? There was much more mental calculus being brought in before we ever engaged with enemies. By the time we actually started a fight, we already knew how it was supposed to play out. Mutant Year Zero moves the strategy to pre planning so battles become more of a well placed domino effect. Watching our strategies play out as one by one enemies were eliminated was satisfying.
You also get a lot more character in Mutant Year Zero. Your squad is instead pre built characters as opposed to the customizable ones in Xcom and I liked the different personality types playing off each other. Farrow became far away our favorite, a British Fox who couldn’t help but talk shit to every single enemy she shot at. Borman was our focal point though, the leader of the group who slowly finds out that his worldview is relatively narrow. All their abilities played neatly off one another and we quickly found which characters worked best in stealth sections versus loud gun fights. The game always gave us cause to rotate individuals in and out based on a given scenario.
It’s funny being on the end of the game and feeling so secure in our knowledge and strategy given that we felt the exact opposite when we started. This game has a punishing difficulty curve. We banged our head against the wall for literal hours trying to figure out how to best engage with enemies. You don’t mow down combatants in this game and you really have to place your shots well. You also have to really know your targets and what their abilities will do. That’s not even counting the shot percentage system in this game. True to Xcom form, you can have a good sight line on a target only for the percentage to be 50% and even 75% shots can completely whiff (in fact, we found our 50% shots hit more often). We got caught flat footed at the beginning struggling with the Shamans, who would call in reinforcements. Those first encounters too seem a bit unfair; I’m not sure Mutant Year Zero adequately provides you with the damage output to feel like you aren’t escaping battles through luck. I felt frustrated that we didn’t have the tools to move on through the game. I’m happy we stuck with it though and got over that initial hump.
We were absolute killers once we found our rhythm though. We had our squad composition down and knew exactly when we should stay silent and when we should “go loud.” We also learned the push and pull of the in game ruleset, the weird distances in which we could get away with using abilities without luring in the rest of the enemies. It was so satisfying to be on top of that hill, looking down at all the progress we internalized. The downside is once you reach that peak, there’s not much more to go on. We felt really confident in those last few episodes only to have the end be really anti climatic (from a gameplay perspective). It felt like the end because we were running out of map not necessarily because we were being pushed to utilize all of our strategic knowledge. Some of that tuning comes from equipment; we had upgraded all our silent weapons and on top of that also found ridiculously powerful loud weapons. We could shave off health like nobody’s business. The other part is that the game is built more around reloading saves than Xcom is, even though it includes an “Iron Man” mode that disables save scumming. Now that we know how to play, Iron Man mode seems like a good challenge but it would’ve absolutely demolished off at the start. There’s not a great balance there in the game options to deliver that end finish.
That relatively low key finish doesn’t hurt the overall experience. We earned that spot on top of the strategy pyramid. We also get a good teaser for the inevitable sequel that’s coming and I’m excited for when that comes. We also learned a lot recording our first Let’s Play! I’ve been wanting to start doing these for a while but just never pulled the trigger on top of other feelings (embarrassment, anxiety, time, etc). We had a blast recording these and I’m excited for our next one (stay tuned for that next week!) You can catch up on our Mutant Year Zero Let’s Play over on my YouTube channel.