Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Biomutant is the long-awaited open-world post-apocalyptic action-RPG from Experiment 101 and THQ Nordic that focuses heavily on a unique martial arts-style of action, exploration, and morality. With its lush yet radioactive world, martial arts-based combat, and interesting Light/Dark morality system, Biomutant’s inspirations are easily picked up on and are clear throughout the 15 to 20-hour main quest line.
Experiment 101 has done a fantastic job adapting and deepening the morality of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic with The Outer Worlds’ vibrant Steampunk aesthetic, and Fallout’s post-apocalyptic appeal blended with Jade Empire’s martial arts setting, all the while adding their own twist to each of the various inspirations. While Biomutant is an enjoyable romp through a gorgeous world full of interesting twists, enjoyable combat, an excellent crafting system, and a unique leveling system that physically changes your Ronin, it is also important to note that Biomutant can often feel shallow, confused, and at the worst, in direct conflict with its own presentation.
Set in a stunningly crafted post-apocalyptic world, Biomutant was an absolute joy to explore. From abandoned cities that felt eerie and often sad, to gorgeous farms and small villages that nestle right up into the thick grass and luscious forests broken only by the biohazardous pools and radioactive mobs. Oddly enough, while exploring, I often found myself saying “Man, this feels so much like X game…” from the Breath of the Wild-like exploration and traversal to the excellent sound effects and background music that made me think back on my time playing Ghost of Tsushima, to the heavily atmospheric experiences commonly found in Nier: Automata while searching the ruins of an abandoned city.
This is where Biomutant both excels and stumbles- I am not entirely sure I played a game in recent years where I was regularly thinking about other games while playing a particular title- in the same respect, Experiment 101 seems to have taken inspiration from some of the absolute best titles to have released in the last ten years, all the while making their own mark on the format. In retrospect, this is likely found in the weird pacing issues that lead me to feel that places Biomutant squarely in its own path.
I found that the slow narration, where every animal in the game uses this fake language (similar to how the Sims uses a gibberish language) that is then translated by the fantastic narrator, the downside? The gibberish is painstakingly slow (fortunately, you can reduce the amount of Gibberish, though I found it awkward when doing so). Where I feel that Biomutant is in direct conflict with its own presentation is in the pacing that is sabotaged by the slow narration / conversations- take an early series of quests as an example (and largely, the main quest itself) where you’re tasked with choosing which Tribe you are going to assist; the narration in all of its molasses-in-winter pacing, is talking about how imperative it is to move quickly to assault this other Tribe, as the quest-giver meanders on through 13 minutes of exposition (6.5 minutes of gibberish, 6.5 minutes of the Narrator translating said gibberish) that tries to explain how their Tribe are essentially pacifists … but that in order to bring the conflict to an end, you need to go destroy the other tribe, all the while trying to push the sense of urgency for the grander tale.
This then feels at odds with the actual gameplay in that the combat is fast-paced, exciting, and brutally interrupted whenever an NPC wants to have a chat- you will be forced back into the slow-paced conversations. It is jarring and incredibly difficult to not just skip through the dialog altogether; by the time I was 10 to 12 hours in to my 30 or so hour playthrough with my Agility-build, I had to consistently remind myself to not skip the dialog and cutscenes- it can be exceptionally frustrating, especially when combat can feel so engaging and exciting, only to have it ruined by what is perhaps the slowest NPC conversations I’ve seen in decades.
Outside of the frustratingly slow pace of conversations found in Biomutant, I did find that the Narrator did a spectacular job and was not alone in his excellent translations- every element of audio is near-perfect, from the lilting and soothing soundtrack to the rustle of leaves in the wind and birds chirping in the background, to the hilariously well done “thwacks”, “bangs,” and “booms” that are accentuated by the old comic book style text that appears on screen (think the 1966 Batman TV series). I did find that there were a few areas, most notably some of the quest hub areas where audio mixing was a little strange when transitioning from wilderness into the village- when entering some of the village/forts/hubs, it’s almost as if the audio didn’t know which track to prioritize, so you would be walking up to the entrance of a fort, like the Myriad tribe’s fort, and the wilderness effects (like rushing water or wind in the trees) would suddenly get really loud for a few moments, then die down to nearly muted with just the sound of your footsteps being heard. Outside of those few oddities and the excruciatingly slow dialog, the sound engineers at Experiment 101 did an absolutely fantastic job (and honestly, I hope we get a full OST for Biomutant- would love to get it on vinyl).
Actual gameplay, when not at odds with the bizarre pace set by the dialog with various NPCs, is engaging, if horrific when using keyboard and mouse, especially given the fact that skills are based on combos. For example, there is one skill that requires you to (while in the fast-paced combat), tap the Alt key then the left and right mouse buttons, then hold the middle mouse button and tap an additional key that you then finish up with by tapping F on the keyboard- all the while you’re trying to move about using WASD. Perhaps I’m just aging a bit faster than I’m willing to admit and my hands are no longer able to contort themselves while rapidly smashing buttons, but one thing is for sure … play Biomutant with a controller. Once I hooked up my trust Xbox One controller, it was smooth sailing from there. Beyond the poor keyboard and mouse implementation, combat is engaging, exciting, and once you get into a groove, downright exhilarating.
Once you’re able to pull off perfect parries and well-timed dodges, you will flow throughout the battlefield and will truly feel like you’re in a Kung Fu films (“Kung Fu Hustle” regularly came to mind). As you level up and choose the different stats, your little Ronin will physically change, which in turn has an impact on how combat “feels.” Dumping points into stats like Agility and Stamina will in turn see you streaking through the battlefield with your weapons of choice (I liked the staff or 2-handed swords, which were at odds with my Agility build, but I didn’t care- I was having fun!), whereas placing levels in Vitality and Strength would evolve you into a more muscular, tank-like brute. I didn’t spend much in the Intellect, Charisma, or Luck stats, which will see your bartering skills, psionics/Ki Energy, or critical hit/loot chances increase, though I did put enough in to get a few of the early skills- which was enough to guarantee a third playthrough for me; the flexibility in evolving your Ronin into multiple areas almost guarantees high replayability- I actually found myself enjoying the playthrough on my second character (my tank-like build) as I was able to skip a lot of the dialog without fear of losing out on important story cues- I’d even hazard to say that I enjoyed Biomutant more in the second character moreso than the first.
Along with the more traditional ability score-based leveling, you can also get incredibly crafty with making your own weapons and armor- everything seems to be customizable, right down to your own resistances, which are handled somewhat separately from your ability-scores. Add to it that you can also pick/choose different skills based on your weapons of choice, broken up into classes/categories for both melee and ranged, such as unarmed, 2-handed, dual-wield, etc. This is where I fell victim to my own tastes as I was suddenly switching out weapons and armor solely based on whether I looked good in them or not- fortunately there is enough leeway in Biomutant that doing so didn’t punish me like some games do when you switch weapon or armor-types midway through.
Honestly? I loved the crafting system; I’ve found myself caring far more about a game that allows a player to be creative with the crafting elements- it’s as if the game is allowing you to inject some of your own personality and tastes into the game, which in turn makes it all the more endearing. Combine the enjoyable crafting and customization options with the Jedi/Sith-like “Light” and “Dark” morality system that doesn’t punish a player for going one way or another. In my main playthrough I was able to grab everything I wanted from both the Light and the Dark trees without feeling terrible or punished for leaning one way or the other. I do plan on replaying a full Light and full Dark playthrough while attempting to stay away from the opposing side.
Though Biomutant has taken inspiration from many titles that came before it, Experiment 101 has put together a title that, though not perfect, is certainly worthy of multiple playthroughs. I think that is Biomutant’s biggest win- few games in recent years have offered enough variation that multiple playthroughs are actively encouraged. I do think there were some ideas or implementations that were big misses, though, too- in the early parts of the game, I found it as if the game was condescending in its presentation (largely in the tone of some of the early narrations) all the while it was becoming a bit too preachy; the first two hours or so of the game felt as if Experiment 101 was implying that regardless of the situation, you should always listen to your parents (not a bad thing), but no matter how bad you were, as long as your actions were “for the greater good,” all will be forgiven; I also felt that early missions were really trying to hammer-home just how terrible humanity really is, and how bad we are for the environment. I can’t help but feel that though these are important messages, they should be handled with care- not used as a bludgeon to legitimately make your player base feel bad for simply existing. Fortunately, though, as the game wears on, these messages are softened and Biomutant becomes a more enjoyable experience; it’s just that early presentation is very rough.
With its stunning views, excellent combat, and fantastic audio design that is marred only by the incredibly slow pace of dialog, Biomutant is easily one of 2021’s more exciting titles. Few games in recent years have encouraged multiple playthroughs the way that Biomutant does and that in and of itself is a feat to behold; engaging combat, smart environment design, and an enjoyable leveling and crafting system are held up only in its initial run by odd pacing. Fewer still can say that the subsequent playthroughs are actually better than the initial experience- a rare feat indeed. As it stands, Biomutant is an enjoyable experience, if not perfect, but given time may sit in the pantheon of greatness with the very titles that gave it inspiration irrespective of their specific genre.Score: 8 / 10