While the XCOM series is currently the dominant force within the tactical strategy game genre right now, new titles are starting to emerge with unique mechanics that help them stand out. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden from developer The Bearded Ladies Consulting and Funcom is one of these games, and I was able to meet with the developers and play it at E3 this year.
In addition to basing their game on a somewhat obscure Swedish tabletop RPG with a ton of untapped gaming potential, the developers have also incorporated some real-time exploration mechanics and handcrafted levels to make Mutant Year Zero‘s world feel more fleshed out and alive than its strategy game contemporaries.
My E3 demo took me to a never before seen snow-filled level from the mid-game. All of Mutant Year Zero‘s levels are handcrafted by the developers, who believe the game’s replayability will come from the various ways one can tackle any given mission. While most games would thrust players right into turn-based action, Mutant Year Zero lets players slowly explore the environment with full control in real-time.
During this time, players can scour the environment for items and scout for enemies. Where players decide to take on enemies and how many they decide to fight at one time are very important tactical decisions, and this free-roaming aspect of Mutant Year Zero makes those things much easier to execute.
Stealth is encouraged, and enemies are tough; I died quite a few times in my demo due to poor planning. Enemies come in all shapes and forms, from regular gun toting enemies to med-bots, which are annoying ranged enemies that can use AOE fire-based attacks. That being said, players should be able to counter with each of their characters’ unique weapons and abilities.
Like XCOM, levels also can have a lot of verticality, and some characters, namely the crossbow-wielding duck named “Dux,” can use their wings to fly and shoot at enemies from above. Each character also has their own unique special abilities that can turn the tide of battle, just like how classes do in XCOM.
On that note, the world’s characters and premise are very interesting, and it’s a universe that most people are not familiar with. To give a quick bit of backstory on on it: only a fourth of humanity remains, and the world has been ravaged by plagues and nuclear war to the point where only Mutants can survive in most areas. The game follows a group of Mutants who are looking for the titular Eden and along the way learn more about their respective pasts.
The Bearded Ladies Consulting has also gotten the full support and investment from the creator of the Mutant tabletop game, so there is clearly a ton of passion behind this project. That being said, the developers know the pressures surrounding the adaptation of a tabletop game with a passionate fan base, and that is one of the main reasons they decided to turn Mutant Year Zero into a tactical strategy game that employs a fair bit of chance and “dice rolling” with every move.
As players sneak around the environment, they can both single out and ambush enemies, which adds a unique pre-planning layer to each battle. While there will only be three party members at any given time during a battle, they can be switched out during those exploration sections so that players can craft the best team for any given situation.
On harder difficulties, Mutant Year Zero will also include permadeath, so taking advantage of this “golf bag approach,” as the developers call it, seems like it will be very necessary during more difficult run-throughs. Once you get into a fire-fight, things can play out in a pretty standard fashion for turn-based strategy games, but the menus and tactics are still well-designed and user-friendly.
While Mutant Year Zero could come off as an XCOM clone to some at first glance, the game quickly sets itself apart from the competition in many notable ways. Outside of its unique premise, the unique exploratory sections are the biggest draw of the title, and I’m very curious to see how varied and fleshed out these parts of Mutant Year Zero will be in the full game.
On the tactical side of things, the gameplay seems well balanced, as it effectively rewards smart planning and punishing stupid moves. Though you probably haven’t heard of the niche Mutant tabletop game’s universe before, Mutant Year Zero looks like it will be a great place to jump on, especially for strategy game fans.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden will release for PS4, Xbox One, and PC sometime later this year.