Biomutant’s first gameplay trailer released four years ago and promised a mix of high octant melee combat with varied weaponry across a vast, colourful open world environment. Numerous delays and some vastly quiet stretches without updates later, developers Experiment 101 and THQ Nordic are finally ready to unleash their action RPG on the world and, though it has its faults and some unusual design decisions, that early promise has thankfully paid off.
Biomutant pitches itself as a post-apocalyptic Kung-Fu fable, the story of your uniquely crafted animal hero trying to find where they belong amongst the ruins of a dying world. Earth has been left behind by humanity, Wall-E style, leaving nature to mutate and evolve from numerous pollutants and ecological disasters. Now, with the Tree of Life nearing catastrophe it’s up to you to decide what happens to the various animal Tribes who war with each other whilst the dangerous World Eaters loom in the distance, ready to devour all.
So, rather a-typical adventure story but let’s be honest, what’s the first thing you do when you boot up an RPG? If ‘spending way too long in the character creation menu’ was your answer, congratulations, because you will likely enjoy doing the same here. Whether it’s the breed of your chosen hero or the opening abilities and inventory you start with, there are options aplenty to ensure you get the right look and feel from the get-go. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to create a cute little mouse like creature, a Primal who had a good balance of weapon mastery and melee options that did, indeed, max out in super cuteness.
From here the game goes through the usual tutorial moments, explaining the ins and outs of the combat system and the differences between the varying abilities you can unlock along the way. As the title suggests, biomutations are a key component to altering combat options and physical traits. These can be unlocked over time, along with unique Psi-Powers that provide even further attacking customisation.
Biomutant can easily be summed up with one word: choice. Everything comes down to how you want to personally experience it, and there’s seemingly no end to that mentality. Do you follow the dark or light path for your aura (think Mass Effect’s Morality system), do you side with the Tribe that wants to save the Tree of Life or one that wants it destroyed? Like like any good RPG, those choices matter, opening different paths or variations on NPC conversations that can make every playthrough ever so slightly unique.
Case in point, having united with the Myriad Tribe, my cute little critter started life down the path to the Dead Zone, a desolate and dark environment that featured a quest to complete a Mekton mech suit to traverse hazardous wastes and oxygen deprived areas. In comparison, my second and much beefier evil character (who, it must be said, looked like a rat cosplaying as Old Man Logan) began his journey with the Jagni Tribe before travelling East to build a Googlide, the game’s equivalent of a water-ski, gliding across open rivers towards that biome’s key boss. So, depending on your early choices and Tribe affiliation, your own journey may begin on a different path towards a different biome, eventually leading through the same important plot points.
There are seven biomes in total, from dense jungles to dusty mountain ranges, with four massive branches of the Tree of Life leading high across the sky to one of the four World Eater boss battles. You’ll have to complete a few fetch quests before you get there, but the battles themselves and the quests in-between aren’t too difficult or time consuming thanks to easy-to-follow waypoints and objectives. There’s no mini map on screen, but there’s plenty of landmarks and fast travel points to ease you along in the right direction too. Each of the rather large bosses, meanwhile, take up a fair amount of real estate on screen compared to any other enemy creature you’ll come across, requiring slightly different strategies to defeat over three battle phases. Of the four, the underwater Murk Puff is a standout as you fight the Gamera like creature within a mechanical submarine underwater.
Biomutant has come out to the table looking rather better than it might have if it had been rushed to store shelves, and that’s a lesson all publishers should be following.
None of Biomutant’s experiences would be the same without its meaty combat system and yes, there’s even more options at play. Fist only melee combat, auto or standard rifles, swords, bats, various magical powers … you name it you’ll probably find it here and then some. It may take a little getting used to whatever options you decide upon, but once you find a flow or unlock some added functionality where you need it, you’ll get into the groove of dodging, slashing and blasting rather effortlessly. It’s all very Matrix like, to explain it best, as you slow-mo roll out of the way of incoming attacks, countering all manner of enemy fire. I did find myself using ranged combat a lot until I became more comfortable with the control scheme, but by the end of my first journey I was deftly balancing up-close sword fighting, area of effect spells and rifle fire.
✔️A visually beautiful open world that’s worth exploring to discover its secrets.
✔️Well designed combat system, fulfilling the promise of a high-octane Kung-Fu adventure.
✔️An absolute ton of choices across the board, which should keep RPG fans happy.
❌Its quirky nature might not appeal to everyone.
❌Some technical issues abound, but thankfully nothing ultimately game-breaking.
I could go on about it, but it’s really something that should be experienced first hand in order to appreciate it. Biomutant also puts a heavy focus on crafting, allowing you to discover a ton of weapon parts and customisation tools to create or upgrade just about everything you find in the world. Early on I settled on a shotgun that dealt damage using saw-blades as ammo and a sword that dealt fire damage on impact, and later upgrades adjusted things like the rate of fire, critical hit chance and passive damage types. You can either upgrade existing drops from the open world or completely start a new weapon from scratch, leading to super satisfying moments of creating a beast of a weapon that’s all your own.
Experiment 101 has delivered a questionable execution in balancing both its camera and control systems. There were occasions where the camera didn’t know where to go or would become stuck at an awkward angle, but generally it always kept your character at the centre of the action and allowed never felt disorientating. For all the things Biomutant gets right, there’s a handful of design faults and narrative choices that do bring the experience down a peg, specifically with how quirky it is. Your mileage may vary if strange in-engine cutscenes that don’t explain much or attempts at humour that lean towards the vulgar aren’t your thing. At one point, I genuinely cringed during a boss battle that had me dying whilst stuck in the creature’s giant butthole. It felt very 2000’s THQ licensed platformer-like material and honestly could have been left on the cutting room floor without being missed.
By the end of my first playthrough, I felt like something was missing, perhaps some kind of big pay off or major plot twist. There is an important message to be found in Biomutant’s tale of humanity destroying the world only for nature to try and fight back, but the added story beats (of which I won’t spoil here) don’t seem to connect quite as well as the developers may have planned, leading to a few more questions than answers once the credits roll. It just didn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion, though a handful of alternate endings may lead to some different opinions. Biomutant’s strongest narrative thread, that of your rival Lupa-Lupin and how his rage on the world interlocks with your own journey, should have served as a bigger driving force across the roughly 12 or so hours of the main campaign. Again, this goes back to the decision to have a sole narrative voice through-out the story, a creative choice that may have hindered instead of helped. With a bold meaty role on offer, the right voice could have added so much more depth to Lupa-Lupin’s tale and may have improved Biomutant further.
Speaking of which, the narrator (voiced by David Shaw-Parker), plays a lone role in describing the world around you and translating all of the NPC’s animal noises. He sometimes reflects on how difficult some of the animal languages are to translate, but eventually I found myself in the sound options menu turning the frequency of his quips all the way down. Credit to the team for having that option in there, but perhaps that’s design decision that might have been best served with a little tooling. It should be noted that I reviewed Biomutant on a PS5, so the added benefit the console provides kept the game running at an almost consistent 60fps, with a few frames dropped here or there during more hectic action moments. That experience might vary for those playing on older consoles, but even at 30fps the game holds up well.
I do have my issues with Biomutant, that’s true, but none of that detracted enough from my enjoyment of running around the lush, vibrant open world and playing along to its unique ideas. Biomutant’s combat and hidden secrets covered over any cracks in the narrative chain, so much so that I can happily forgive it for being just a little bit on the weird side even for my tastes, with its greatest strength residing in the many options, side-quests and ways to play. It isn’t flawless, but the added time simmering in the kitchen means Biomutant has come out to the table looking rather better than it might have if it had been rushed to store shelves, and that’s a lesson all publishers should be following.
Biomutant is an upcoming action role-playing game developed by Swedish developer Experiment 101 and published by THQ Nordic. The game will be released on 25 May 2021 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.