Note: review code provided by THQ Nordic / Terminals.io and will include spoilers.
Four years ago, I played a demo of Biotmutant at Gamestop Expo in Las Vegas. A lot of time has passed, a lot of games have released, and I have written many blogs since then. It’s now 2021, and Biomutant has finally hit store shelves, and my little history with it is coming to a close. Unfortunately, while this game does stand out in a few ways, it didn’t quite shape up to be a game worth the wait.
Taking place after an apocalypse has wiped humans off the planet, anthropomorphic beings now walk the Earth. In the center of this new world is the Tree of Life, which keeps the world, well, alive. This new world isn’t going to last much longer, though, as pollution from the old world is damaging the roots and large beasts known as World Eaters are eating up the bark. To make matters more complicated, six tribes fight each other over control of the world, and they have their own plans on what to do with the Tree. This is where you come in, with the fate of the Tree and the tribes in your hands as well as avenging the death of your parents.
In my opinion, if you are a small studio with a limited staff and budget, then I believe you should utilize those resources effectively by focusing on things your studio specializes in and not over-extending on the other parts of the game. I think an indie title trying to chase after triple-a games will ultimately fail because they don’t have the resources to win that fight. Biomutant is a game that has a few great aspects, but it unfortunately over-extends itself in the hopes of chasing after other triple-a RPG titles, leaving large parts of the experience underwhelming.
One of the biggest features this game tries to sell is its story and the choices made along the way. The plot can be divided into three parts: the Tree of Life, tribes, and Lupa Lupin. Throughout the story, light and dark choices are made, affecting the character’s aura which in-turn affects character interactions. While all of this sounds like the tenets of a role-playing game story, a lot of Biomutant’s story either feels detached, lacking, or too on-the-nose to have any subtlety.
Breaking down the three stories, the three parts are either unnecessary, detached, lacking any character or story arc, or a mixture of the three. The Tree of Life part of the story is the central and most-involved part of this game, and it is the only part that is necessary. The entirety of this plot is to attack the four World Eaters with the assistance of another character. What you do with the World Eaters and the ending is affected by the tribes part of the story, but not only could these choices exist outside of the tribes, it would have made more sense to do so (something I will touch on in a bit). The side characters aren’t that interesting, there isn’t really any story or character arc outside of “defeat the World Eaters,” and the quests leading up to each World Eater are structured the same, but this part of the campaign is the most interesting because there are actual characters to talk to and the boss fights are fun thanks to the different vehicle used for each one. The most interesting part of this prong of the story and the story as a whole is towards the end, as the game gives the option to bring up-to four characters with you on a spaceship to leave the planet. There isn’t really any impact on what characters are chosen, but I thought it was interesting to choose favorites (even though I can’t remember a single character from the game if my life depended on it). Unfortunately, it only goes downhill from here.
The World Eaters eat away at the branches of the tree. Wouldn’t that make them Tree Eaters instead?
The other two parts are the tribes and the Lupa Lupin part of the story. The Lupa Lupin part involves re-living flashbacks of your family and finding the beast who killed your parents. It’s a basic revenge plot where you can choose whether to forgive or take revenge, but none of it is necessary to any part of the story. One thing I did find funny about this plot, however, is that the game basically builds up to a final confrontation with Lupa Lupin only to reveal he was on the other side of the tree the whole time.
The tribes is where it gets interesting. The game has six tribes at war with each other, and each have their own ideals on what to do with the World Eaters and with the other tribes. You start the game with either choosing the Jagni or Myriad tribe, but you have the option to defect. While I like the idea of conquering other tribes and promoting the worldview of the tribe you chose, there are a lot of issues. For starters, their ideals on what to do with each tribe doesn’t matter. After conquering a tribe, you have the option to kill, jail, or ally with the leader of the conquered tribe, but the area is conquered and the leader disappears anyways, making both the tribe’s ideals and the choice of what to do with the conquered leader useless. There also isn’t any evolution, relationships, or character arcs to any of the leaders. For each tribe, you just hit the outposts until they are conquered, and that’s it. Where the tribes part of the story really falls apart, however, is with the World Eaters. Half of the tribes believe in killing in the World Eaters to save the Tree while the other half believe in letting them do their thing to kill the Tree. I was in the Jagni tribe, who believed in killing the tree, but I still had to fight the World Eaters anyways. I fought and killed each one, but their deaths were shortly followed by them hopping back on the Tree and my tribe leader thanking me for dealing with them. Why did I even fight them and why would my tribe leader thank me for doing work that he didn’t want done? I think tying in a tribal war into the plot could have worked if properly executed, but in reality it ends up feeling nonsensical with certain tribes.
Outside of the big choices like what tribe to choose, there are the smaller ones like dialogue options, which is where the morality meter comes in. In this game, choices made either add points to your light or darkn meters, and what points you have affects your aura. This in-turn affects certain conversations, the ways some characters greet you, what characters will join you on the spaceship, a few of the combat abilities, and a few of the sidequests, though I personally didn’t experience any locked out side quests. While some of the aura’s effects like locking out certain combat abilities and restricting characters from entering the spaceship are neat, it’s in the dialogue where I found the morality mechanic annoying. It doesn’t take long to notice how on-the-nose this game is about its mechanics and commentary on corporations polluting the planet. Your morality meter is personified by an angel and demon (both equally annoying), and a lot of characters I talked to mentioned how they saw the “good” in me because I had a light aura. The corporation who created this apocalypse is named Toxanol, and the game is very upfront about the things they did that created this world. I’m not here to say whether I agree with its politics or not, but I found it as well as a lot of the dialogue surrounding morality to lack any subtlety.
Another thing I noticed with the dialogue was how annoyed I got with it. For starters, there are a lot of repeated lines throughout the game especially around the tribes part of the story, and hearing my tribe leader tell me the same lines for each tribe conquest got annoying fast. In this game, outside of the angel and demon on the shoulders, the only character who actually speaks is the narrator, who both narrates and translates for every creature. The voice acting is fine, but there are a lot of whimsical, Dr. Seuss-like terms used throughout that got annoying to listen to, and the time it took for both the creature to speak its gibberish and for the narrator to translate made each conversation feel just long enough to be annoying. There is an option in the settings to reduce the frequency of the narrator and the creature gibberish, but that setting didn’t work for me. The Dr. Seuss-like nature of the dialogue leads to another issue, though, and that is its tone. The main vibe of this game is martial arts, but then there’s the whimsical language, comic book UI, apocalyptic junk gear, and what I could best describe as Fortnite menus. I think each of these elements are fine on their own, and I could even see a few of them working together, but all of them together feel jumbled and noticeably off.
Biomutant is a brutal world full of ruthless enemies like Bomba Bonker.
By the time I reached the end of the story, I found myself rushing through it because I couldn’t really care less about what was going on. I didn’t really care about who was on my ship, and I didn’t really care about my aura. The game ends with the death of the Tree and me flying away, though I did look up the “good” ending and it ends with you flying away anyways even though the Tree is saved. From what I gather, the only choice that affects the ending is based on tribe choice, and looking back on the whole thing, I would best describe the story as one that originally had a linear path, but options and morality were bolted on later. The story is ultimately three large tasks you complete even if it contradicts your choices and morality, and there isn’t any interesting character or story arcs to grab onto.
Since the story is basically just tasks done in an open-world, that means the world itself needs to be up to shape. While I certainly think it’s better than the story and it does have its merits, there are also some less-than-savory parts to it as well. One thing this world absolutely nails, though, is its look, as Biomutant’s setting is gorgeous. The colors are vibrant, the foliage is lush, the character and enemy creatures are unique, and the different biomes are varied. Building interiors are rather empty, but Biomutant’s world at the very least looks great.
The main activity to do in this world is conquer other tribes, which is done by taking over outposts. Much like the story, however, the gameplay surrounding the tribes is repetitive and lacks any change. Each tribe has four outposts to conquer. One outpost involves defeating enemies within the outpost, and these fights take place in large, empty rooms. The second outpost requires action outside of the outpost itself like poisoning their water supply or turning on rail guns. The third outpost is a fight against a large beast, though it can be avoided if the outpost leader is persuaded. The final outpost is a large assault on the outpost, which usually involves doing the same few tasks like burning hay and trying to find an alternate way in, and ends with a fight against the tribe leader, though they too can be persuaded. The first three outposts can be done in any order, but the final assault is always the fourth, and it is the same for every tribe. Same structure, same dialogue, even the same level design for the outposts within each tribe. After conquering two tribes, the game does give the option to skip the rest, though I foolishly chose to continue marching on to see if anything would change, which it didn’t. The outposts get so repetitive that persuasion, which I originally thought as a silly way to bypass entire outposts, became valuable in my endeavor to just get the outposts over with. Conquering outposts is the primary activity in the open-world, but it unfortunately handles its gameplay just as repetitively as its story.
I tried each of the three options to three different tribe leaders, and I didn’t notice any difference with, well, anything.
Outside of the outposts, there isn’t a whole lot else to do in the world. The most fun I could find were in the locations, as each named location had a few objectives to complete. These objectives were either just to find special loot or complete puzzles, and not even all of these locations had enemies, but I still somewhat enjoyed scavenging around every nook and cranny. It didn’t help that these location objectives would only show up when I was in the area and nowhere else in the menus though. Also, 99% of the puzzles in this game are the same, as it’s just lining up yellow and white lines together, but there are many different forms to it ranging from turning on a washing machine to turning pipe handles. The coolest locations were the ones affected by the elements such as oxygen deprivation, burning, radiation, and so on. Entering these areas would quickly fill your radiation meter, so the only way to safely enter would either be with the right armor or with purchasing radiation resistance. These areas aren’t much different otherwise, but I think the whole radiation thing is neat. Then there are, of course, side quests, though I didn’t really find any that were noteworthy, and there were a fair amount of filler quests like “complete all of x puzzles in the world,” which are just part of the location objectives anyways. Other than side quests and locations, there really isn’t much else. There are resource totems (which can also be a location objective), and all you do is hit them until they break for some crafting resources. There are also shrines for ability points, but all you do is interact with them. Maybe there is more that I missed, but Biomutant’s world is large but rather empty.
One thing I normally consider as whatever in open-world games would be navigation and means of travel, but Biomutant has a surprising amount of standout vehicles and mechanics in regards to the means of transportation, both good and bad. The main source of travel would be with the horses, but they are comically slow in this game. There are multiple types of horses, including some interesting ones like a giant mechanical hand that shoots bullets from its finger. Then there are the other means of travel which are unlocked as the game goes on but can only be used in specific areas. There is a mech that can be called down at any time within a certain portion of the map that has all of the same combat abilities as on-foot, a waterjet for cruising around the lakes and rivers, and the air glider, though controlling it was by no means graceful. While getting around the world was fun, trying to get anywhere specific wasn’t, as there is no guidance. I could only place waypoints on locations I already explored, and there is no navigation to objectives or waypoints. There is no mini-map, there is no line on the ground, there isn’t even an arrow pointing the way. This got especially annoying when trying to navigate around hilly areas, though unlocking enough fast travel points alleviates some of this. Travel isn’t a thing I normally care about, but this game has quite some interesting means of traversing the land.
Like I said earlier, Biomutant is a game with a few great aspects, and combat is one of them. Its martial arts inspirations lead to a lot of stylish melee and gun-fu combat that I found fast, fluid, and fun. The basic combat consists of button combos, parries, and dodges that are all simple enough to memorize and use. Moving between enemies is fast, and being able to flip over enemies as a form of dodging helped a lot with getting in more hits. My favorite combat ability is if you parry an enemy, as it offers a prompt to pop them up into the air and aerial attack them. There are also some basic shooting combos like a Max Payne style slow-mo shoot and a dodge shoot ability. Then there are the mutations and Super Wung Fu abilities, though I didn’t find myself using these as much. Super Wung Fu is activated when doing combos with three different weapons, and it is around ten seconds of super fast combat moves and powerful attacks. Mutations are various elemental abilities like an acidic belch, fire balls, freezing enemies with a ground pound, and so on that uses Ki energy (stamina). Combining all of these things together was a blast, and all of the combat options are balanced so that one form of fighting didn’t overpower the others. The one spot where I found combat a little annoying was with enemy hits, as they can still hit you while downed and in combat animations, but I can’t recall ever being critically wounded while hit during those times. Even if I mainly stuck to the basics, I found a lot of the combat fun and customizable, and I think anyone who plays the game will find at least a few combat abilities or combos enjoyable.
Combat is smooth and stylish.
Just as great and customizable as the combat is the game’s crafting and character creation. This game offers surprisingly deep weapon and armor crafting. I didn’t really customize my armor that much as I just mainly stuck to whatever the best piece of armor I could find, but weapons are handled differently. With few exceptions, you don’t find weapons as loot, but the base and parts of weapons, and it’s up to you to craft the weapon, which I think is an interesting way of forcing crafting. For melee weapons, you have the base and attach a handle as well as a few add-ons, and for guns, it’s the base and you attach a stock, barrel, magazine, and more. Parts can be mixed and matched, and dismantling weapons keeps the parts. Weapon bases can also be upgraded to improve upon their stats. I had a lot of fun trying to build my ultimate melee that I used for half the game, and being able to mix and match parts without the fear of losing them made crafting a fun time-sink.
Just as customizable as the weapons are the character creation tools. The game starts out with you choosing a breed, class, and what stats to focus on, as well as some basic appearance options like fur color. One of the coolest features of the character creator is how the body changes based on focus. Putting more focus into intellect, for example, results in a bigger head, and so on. Speaking of stats, the charisma stat (one I usually never care about) is surprisingly useful for this game if you want better persuasion to get through tribes faster. Ultimately, the only choice that matters is class (though even that doesn’t stop you from using any weapon or ability you want), as looks can be customized at any time if you find a mutation pool. I like that you aren’t locked into a class and look, though, as I think locking out parts of the combat based on a choice made in the beginning of the game would hinder its high customizability.
Before I wrap up this review, I do want to touch on some of the technical issues I had with the game. While I didn’t have any crashes or game-breaking bugs, I did have some issues and noticed some technical flaws. The biggest issue is with sound mixing, as audio levels were all over the place and combat was noticeably quiet. A lot of the cutscenes felt low-budget with poor animations and cinematography, and the game should’ve just stuck entirely to behind-the-shoulder conversations and still shots. As I got further into the game, I started getting quite a bit of stuttering, though it’s hard for me to say if it was the game or my PC. Also, like I mentioned earlier, the gibberish and narrator frequency settings didn’t work for me. Then there are some technical flaws that I found more funny than anything. Whenever my tribe breached an outpost entrance, wood would splinter off the door, even if that door was metal. The funniest one, however, was whenever I had a flashback to when I was a little kid, as the animation just before and after shows my character shrinking and growing even though I’m pretty sure the game isn’t supposed to show it. Most of this stuff can be (and already has been) fixed with patches, but they were still issues that plagued my experience nonetheless.
In conclusion, Biomutant feels like a game whos eyes were bigger than its stomach. Much like the visuals, the exterior looks beautiful, but taking one step inside shows a much more empty experience. By the time I reached the end, I was rushing to get through it so I could be done, which is a shame because I was hoping for a better outcome with this title. The most fun I could find was in exploring the world and fighting monsters, but even that only went so far. If Biomutant scaled back and focused more on its better elements, then I think this would a better experience, but as it stands it is a hard game for me to recommend to anyone, especially at its starting $60 price tag.