Title: Biomutant Released On: May 25, 2021 Genre: RPG, Action-Adventure Reviewed On: Xbox Series X Also Available On: PlayStation 5/4, PC, Xbox One Developer: Experiment 101 Publisher: THQ Nordic MSRP: $59.99 USD / $59.99 CAD
After an extended development, the premiere title from fledgling indie developer Experiment 101 is in our hands, and it has released to some of the most varied reviews we’ve seen in a while. In our usual vein, Scholarly Gamers is going to cut through all of the noise and critiques, many which had little to do with the finished product itself, to give you our in-depth and spoiler-free analysis of Biomutant. Unsurprisingly to this reviewer, Biomutant hits all the notes, providing an engaging and unique take on the post-apocalyptic genre.
Biomutant is an open-world kung-fu action RPG that absolutely oozes personality from the moment you begin your adventure. The contrast of the bright watercolour-styled environmental palette against the post-apocalyptic landscape creates a beautiful juxtaposition and sprawls into a world just begging to be explored. Featuring an exceptionally versatile and free-flowing combat system that truly lives up to it’s kung-fu aspirations, tied together with a thoughtful narrative that is as engaging and it is impactful, Biomutant truly excels in every area.
Being one of the post-launch reviews is a double-edged sword. You are able to see what other outlets and journalists have thought about the game, but it is important to not become mired in other opinions that may impact your own. With this in mind, I felt that for a game like Biomutant it was important to address in a roundabout way some of the criticism, which verged more on nit-picking in some cases, that has occurred surrounding the launch. While I won’t directly speak to any points that were raised by others, I will touch on some of the themes throughout my review which I felt were somewhat unfairly thrust upon Experiment 101 and Biomutant.
It is important to understand where Biomutant comes from, but as reviewers we have to focus on the whole product in its final form, and not take into account things like it’s development path — which admittedly was a tumultuous one — when we are reviewing the full release. As critics, is it imperative that we point out technical flaws and shortcomings, while simultaneously iterating the successes and high-points of a game, but sometimes what gets lost in the quest to be critical is the pure and simple goal of what games are supposed to be: fun.
Which is exactly what Biomutant is. Pure, unabashed and whimsical fun,
In Biomutant you play as an outsider who has risen from the depths to re-join the New World on the surface; a world that is teetering on the brink of catastrophe because of the severe environmental impact of the Toxonol Corporation. Many years have passed since humans inhabited Earth, and the planet has been reclaimed by all manners of anthropomorphic creatures who have been changed by the toxins that leeched into the water, soil, and all living things. The World Tree, the gigantic behemoth that lies at the very center of your map, is the last defense of the planet against the ravages of pollution, and the rise of gigantic beasts know as the Worldeaters.
From the earliest moments of the game you are given the option to try and save the world, or help bring it all down. Much has happened on the surface since you descended underground, and the once peaceful Tribes that followed your Mother have broken their pacts and waged war upon one another. This combined with the destruction of the Worldeaters threatens to break the tenuous balance of a world on the brink of collapse, and you must forge a path to determine its outcome. Trained by your mother in the art of Wung-Fu, it is up to you to decide if you want to reunite the Tribes and save the world, or expedite its destruction.
As an environmentalist, I chose to follow the path of Light to try and save the World Tree and reunite the tribes, but there are very different repercussions depending on the path you choose.
There are a number of core objectives to tackle in Biomutant — namely reuniting or conquering the Tribes and confronting the Worldeaters — in addition to an absolute wealth of side missions, collectibles, puzzles, and areas to explore. It’s quite easy to get distracted on your way to complete a mission, but that’s one of the core components in an engaging open-world game. You’ll stumble across new characters, and old friends, through your travels that will assist you in tackling your weighty objectives, as well as hand out some of their own missions. Some of these quests are integral to your journey, such as building the Mekton or Googlide to help fight the gargantuan Worldeaters, and others just add colour and substance to the world.
With so many objectives to tackle, one of the biggest strengths of Biomutant is that the player is given a substantial amount of choice in how they want to approach everything from the main story objectives, to how you interact with any given character or situation you encounter. You can approach the main or side missions in any order you want, provided that you have the ability to survive in some of the harsher biomes. Your character develops through the actions that you take, both Light and Dark, which is represented by your Aura. NPCs that you encounter will engage with you depending on this Aura, as well as on certain actions you have (or have not) taken, and advancing your Aura towards either spectrum unlocks access to new abilities.
The choices made available to the player aren’t just limited to making simple “good or evil” decisions during dialogues, but extend to the ability to tackle quests in a multitude of ways. I won’t go too in-depth with these because the discovery of the ways you can impact the game world is part of the joy behind Biomutant, but I’ll give a core example. Defeating and subjugating the other Tribes is one of the main objectives, but how you go about this can vary substantially. At one point instead of raiding a base like I had been doing all along, I was able to convince a rival Tribe leader to surrender their fort to me without even having to fight, since my Charisma was high enough. It’s these types of choices that add a much-appreciated nuance to the gameplay, as well as substantial replayability for future playthroughs.
The kung-fu combat in Biomutant is as fluid and varied as it is fun. Much like the rest of the game, there is a substantial amount of choice given to how the player wants to engage in combat, and the combination of melee weapons, ranged weapons, Mutations and Wung-Fu abilities — not to mention the Super Wung-Fu state that you enter after executing special moves — means that combat never gets stagnant. You can flow seamlessly from combo to combo, breaking them up with special abilities, and really feel like the star of your own furry kung-fu story. The frenetic combat is interspersed with brief moments of slow-time, and presented stylishly with pops of colourful comic-book styled onomatopoeia, a-la the classic 1960s Batman.
In addition to your equipped weapons, your character can learn a host of Psi-Powers and Biogenetics, both which are mutation abilities which allow you to unleash weird and wonderful powers on your foes. The learnable powers range from the comparatively mundane, like spewing toxic waste or dashing forward in a trail of flames, to the absolutely wacky, including bouncy mushrooms and mind-controlling moths. My personal favorite was the Mucus Bubble which allows you to roll over enemies and adhere to them, making it easy to execute massive Area of Effect attacks on everyone in your bubble; or to burst it and send them scattering.
There is some repetition to the specific button combinations that allow you to execute your various movesets (which are based on the weapons you have equipped) but this felt like it was more to make the transition between fighting styles more fluid. I could switch from using a two-handed sword and dual-pistols to dual-blades and a shotgun on the fly, and not feel like I had to re-learn a whole new move-set. The switch made combat feel fresh, but I was able to execute new moves using similar button combos. It’s a feature of the game that has received some criticism, but is really meant to increase the accessibility of the games varied combat system. Instead of falling into the usual trap of utilizing the same weapons because you are more comfortable with them, it allowed me to experience everything Biomutant had to offer in a very logical way.
The insanely frenetic combat is seriously helped by the sheer fact that the game plays so smoothly. Right from the onset I felt like I was playing a “kung fu fable”, and the tight controls and your interactions with enemies and the environment help to invoke this feeling. The larger aspects, like well-timed slow-motion when you execute a specific move, to the little things like being able to stick to a surface to double jump off of it, all help to evoke the lightweight but hard-hitting combat system.
The only human voice in the game, apart from the angel and devil on your shoulder trying to pull you towards the Light and Dark auras respectively, is that of the Narrator, your Automaton. His consistent analysis of your character’s situation was fantastic, and there are quite a number of contextual comments that he will make depending on your location or the situations that you find yourself in. At one point while crossing a bridge he pipes up “It’s a bridge…get over it” and then proceeds to laugh at his own joke. It’s a welcome and charming companion that adds both levity to your adventure, as well as grounds it through astute observations about your actions and the degradation of the world.
It’s another aspect of the game which has received a wealth of criticism, which was frankly quite unfounded. The majority of the criticism stemmed from how much the narrator chimed in; something which you can change, or completely turn off, in the menus. This feature has been available since launch, and I was personally quite confused as to why it got so much attention. In addition to being able to change the frequency of the Narrator’s interjections, there are a host of other Quality of Life and gameplay options which the player can alter to change up a variety of game aspects.
Frankly, I can’t actually understand what people’s issue with the Narrator is. The consistent quips by the Automaton are a welcome addition to the game as you’re traveling through the wilderness. Commenting on everything from the weather and changing of the day, to your prowess (or lack thereof) in battle, I found that I absolutely loved having this constant assessment of the world’s activities. It feels like you have David Attenborough narrating your adventure like you’re playing through a post-apocalyptic Planet Earth.
Biomutant’s key themes are not hidden in the undercurrent of the narrative, but rather thrust at the player through the omnipresent state of the world. The degradation of the environment is consistently referenced through the story, namely by your Automaton recounting the history of the world pieced together from bulletin boards and contextually as you travel the world, but it is also plain to see in every set-piece you encounter. The ignorance of humans to how seriously they were expediting the destruction of the world through the dumping of chemicals and waste was not lost on this reviewer, as there is assuredly a mirror being held up to reflect our own society.
There is beauty in the decay though, and every environment in Biomutant just begs to be explored thoroughly. Experiment 101 has done a brilliant job creating a post-apocalyptic world that is also teeming with life and colour. From the dilapidated suburbs that litter the lush greenery of the Whereabouts, to the sprawling wastes of the Deadzone and Kluppy Dunes, there are crumbling memories of the Before Time that are littered with collectibles and optional objectives. If the charming whimsy of the world wasn’t enough to entice players to comb through every nook and cranny, the optional loot-based objectives found in every locale will assuredly do so. Completionists will find a plethora of areas to scour that are off the beaten path, which often require a more thorough exploration or some puzzle solving. The logic puzzles contained throughout Biomutant which are required for certain collectibles aren’t challenging enough to be off-putting, and were mostly fairly straight-forward and rather simple.
This is in addition to the fact that Biomutant brings in an almost Metroidvania approach to its exploration; many areas aren’t immediately or easily accessibly unless you have mutated the right resistances, are wearing the correct armour, or have built one of the fantastical vehicles which are useful for both exploration and combat. Traversal in Biomutant is just as varied as actually exploring the environments. In addition to being able to tame the wild mounts you’ll encounter throughout the game, the host of whimsical characters you’ll encounter will equip you with useful mechanical means of transportation. These vehicles are not only necessary for exploring the different biomes of the world, each which has its own detrimental effect which will quickly bring your character down without the proper protection, but for taking down the Worldeaters which reside there.
These biomes don’t simply present an environmental challenge for the player to overcome; each area presents a complete change in scenery, enemies, and strategies that you’ll need to tackle each. It all circles back to the impressive amount of work that has went into the worldcraft of Biomutant. One of Biomutant’s strengths is how endearing and engaging its world is. There is a charm to seeing a post-apocalyptic world through the lens of the creatures who came after. All of the names for common items from our present day, of the “back-then” as it is referred to, range from adorable to hilarious, and it gives a whimsical life to your adventure.
There is so much loot in Biomutant, but almost all of it is useful. The game features an impressively innovative crafting system, both for melee/range weapons and armour, which allows the player to construct their post-apocalyptic dream gear out of the base items they collect. Finally crafting your Pew-Pew Pingsprutka with a Tumbly Drum and a Peekaboo, while mix-and-matching Ronin armour with a polar bear beanie, is truly a feeling of ultimate customization. There is a seemingly limitless combination of weapons and armour, all of which comes out looking fantastic on your character. I don’t remember the last time I got this much enjoyment from a crafting system, and it’s one that works hand-in-hand with the games implicit urge to explore and uncover everything. The best gear parts can be found in Old World Vaults, abandoned Shoperias, and other landmarks.
My only issue with the crafting and customization system is that we aren’t given any option to re-skin pieces of armour using ones that we have already collected, but this is the case with most games. I just found it hard to get rid of a mask or hat that I was particularly fond of in exchange for one with better resistances, but this speaks to the overall versatility around gear sets in the game, and the Outfits system allows you to easily swap custom sets on the fly.
I just love to say out-loud the things that I am doing while playing Biomutant. “I’m off to Stronken the Klonkfist.” “Time to re-stroy the Bangbitsky Jupspitko.” There is something about it that is just gleeful, and I absolutely loved all of the whimsical words used for regular items.
At the end of the day, Biomutant is all about giving absolute choice to the player in how they want to engage with the world, while understanding the impact that you have on its survival and that of its inhabitants. You can even alter your DNA and completely change the look of your character, or strip down and rework crafted weapons at any point; it’s all to give that ultimate freedom of choice to the player. It’s an open-world RPG that engaged me in a way I haven’t experienced in years, since I’m used to having much more concrete direction thrust upon me. Biomutant wants you to interact with and shape the world as you see fit, giving you the tools to keep combat and traversal fresh along every step of the way.
Biomutant excels in every area, but mostly through creating a world that you want to spend time in. The constant chiming-in of the narrator, the hilariously cutesy names that have been given to all of the Old World tech, and the beautiful set-pieces that beg to be explored. The way that everything is framed in the New World gives a vibrancy and realism to the environment that makes you want to backflip your way through every single objective, and as you progress through the game you genuinely feel like your actions have an impact on the world around you. Even though you’re playing as an anthropomorphic fox-beast, it is easy to make the connection between the world of Biomutant and our own, a theme which I am deeply grateful for being explored in such depth.
Final Score: 9/10
Biomutant is the type of open-ended RPG that we need more of, giving absolute choice and direction to the player, while still pulling us along through an engaging narrative and thoroughly entertaining gameplay.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.