Welcome to Game Pass Roulette, a weekly series where I hit the “Surprise Me” button on Xbox Game Pass for PC and play whatever game the random gods give me. Don’t think of it as a game review, think of it as me exploring different experiences that I would otherwise never have tried and sharing my impressions. Maybe we’ll stumble on something incredible, maybe it’ll be something intriguing or maybe it’ll be a great big dumpster fire. It’s all down to where the Roulette takes me.
After the first two weeks of the Roulette has graced me with some relatively small and casual indie game experiences, I was ready for something with more meat on the bone. Don’t misunderstand me, I love short games since there’s a much higher probability that they won’t be banished to the limbo of my excessive backlog, but I was ready for something a little more substantial to talk about this week. Enter Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, a turn-based strategy games featuring a duck and a potty-mouthed pig rampaging through a desolate world where humanity has forsaken the planet.
The setting hits a little close to home as the world and modern humanity was wiped out by plagues, war and all the other destructive things we do to ourselves. Thankfully our world hasn’t become as bad as this one yet, since everything has been overgrown by nature, horrible bandits called Ghouls roam the wastes and the few survivors are relegated to small sanctuaries away from the madness.
One such place is the Ark, a makeshift haven where society can live on and it is being maintained and stocked by Stalkers, mutants that brave the horrific outside world for supplies and critical components to keep their little society running. Dux and Bormin are our starting heroes, going out for supplies and being sent on missions by the Ark’s Elder. If you can’t tell by their names, Dux is a mutant duck and Bormin is a mutant pig.
These two are a delight as they walk around pontificating why humanity laid waste to itself and giving each other crap almost all the time. They’re soon joined by some budding and interesting allies and there’s even more chemistry on offer from this bundle of weirdo supersoldiers.
I was deep into the story, setting and characters right from the start since I love post-apocalyptic stories. Mutant Year Zero makes the best out of its setting as the characters comment on the weird stuff the “Ancients” used to do. There are debates about what a boombox is, they think some art on the side of the school are cave paintings by primitive little people and they’re very confused why we used fruit-based electronics to listen to music.
But enough about the setting, let’s talk about the combat, no doubt the meat and potatoes of this experience. Mutant Year Zero is a turn-based tactics game in the vein of XCOM where you can move units into strategic positions and there are chance-based attacks where you always seem to not be able to hit a 75% because you’ve been forsaken by RNGesus. I played on the easy difficulty that allowed some mercies such as healing my characters after every fight and save scumming still being on the table.
I say with no shame that I am real bad at strategy games. I grew up in the gungho millennial generation where they all thought we have the attention spans of goldfish, so I never developed that patience to be good at making strategic decisions. However, I was somehow fairly competent with this game as it was just you controlling three characters who have their own unique set of skills and it’s all just about positioning and doing the right things at the right time.
You move around freely in the world and when there are enemies afoot, you can sneakily move around the battlefield to get into position and ambush them. After which, the real battle starts as you each trade blows and strategize on the fly. Each character has unique skills and mutations as well as a small arsenal of two weapons that you can use as well as throwables.
And good golly this game is hard. After the fairly reasonable tutorial, they throw you straight into the deep end with just endless hordes of enemies that can make your life a living hell. Like I said, you can only have a maximum of three units and when you’re surrounded by Ghouls that are merciless in taking down your mutant butts, things can go sour really, really fast.
Careful strategy needs to be used in each encounter and thanks to my ability to save scum, which I often abused, I could experiment with the best ways to take on an encounter. Often I felt completely overwhelmed and like I am doing nothing, but then I shake it off, try again and miraculously succeed by doing some strategic magic. It’s a massively rewarding feeling when you finally see the last enemy fly across the screen and you can breathe a sigh of relief.
Since my difficulty allowed for my characters to go down mid-battle and still resurrect and heal up when the encounter is done, I often resorted to brute-forcing encounters and sending my units in as some sort of mutant blitzkrieg. But further on, I started to grasp how important positioning is and how I should use the skills at my disposal and I stopped feeling forced to just Leeroy in and hope for the best.
I found myself soon falling in love with this game. The characters are charming and gritty with lovely conversations that are often hilarious or strangely insightful while the strategic layer tested the wrinkles in my brain to their fullest extent. I didn’t finish the game since it was really long, but it’ll definitely be a game I still play after I’ve done the Roulette article. I need to see where the story goes and how I can become a better tactician to these mutant heroes.
If you haven’t given the game a shot, I would highly recommend that you do and if you’re a fan of strategy games, well, you should have known about this gem already, but if by chance it slipped under your radar, make sure you get it as soon as you can. It’s also available on console, so even you controller-wielding vagabonds don’t have any excuse.
Now, let’s see what’s on the table for me next week. As always, I do these live and with no rerolls:
The random gods really want me to play strategy games, huh?