Metro Exodus is the tricky third album for the Metro franchise, and much like one of those prog bands our editor Aaron bangs on about, they’ve tried something different. The implementation of open-world levels. Question is, does the new addition add anything of value, or is it simply taking away from what made its predecessors such classics?
When I previewed the title, I made the rather bold claim that “Metro Exodus Might be Losing Itself in Finding What’s Outside” and honestly, having now played the title, I still stand by that statement. The different environments are gorgeous, and they all play differently, but in many ways, that’s the problem. At times, Metro Exodus feels like it’s trying to be something new, while elements of its former self hold it back. What it creates, is a rather Jarring contrast that simply doesn’t sit well with me.
Let’s start with the overarching structure of the game. The storyline takes place over the course of 1 year, taking you through all 4 seasons and leading you across post-apocalyptic Russia. So far so good right? Well, the thing is, there’s very little in the way of fluidity as to how these areas connect. Metro Exodus, while trying to bring players an open world, is still a linear experience.
Each section of the title has it’s own environment, or prison, as it rather quickly starts to feel. You’ll arrive on the Aurora, your trusty engine that’s falling to bits in typical Metro fashion, but you love it all the same. The issues come in how these areas are sectioned. Little is known about your journey except for a few sentences, no longer than a Tweet, from our otherwise silent protagonist. Not even a cutscene of developing relationships, hardships and triumphs. Next thing you know, you’ve gone from snow to desert, and this somehow isn’t the summer level.
The Environments are sadly very hit and miss. The winter level is an interesting area where you’ll naturally get to see almost everything on offer without straying from the path. Next up is the desert, where the open world is effectively little more than a road for you to drive between linear dungeons. And drive is literal, as you’ll be getting behind the wheel, which is an interesting concept in a Metro title, to say the least.
Beyond this, you’ll head to the jungle, and this is where the real beauty of the worlds created comes through though. Every area is distinct and memorable, which makes the areas memorable, but sadly doesn’t help the title feel any less sectioned. You’ll also be facing a variety of enemies throughout the different areas. While ghoulish figures will be abundant almost everywhere, you’ll encounter fanatical tribal groups all with their own structure and story. Other areas have their own abominations, like the Desert’s spiders, or the jungle’s bear. These introduce a nice difference to the gameplay, offering some challenge in what can at times be a rather agonizingly repetitive experience.
Metro Exodus isn’t Splinter Cell, but you could be forgiven for thinking Artyom is a bit of a Sam Fisher fan, given how much of the title you’ll spend sneaking about. You have this open world, but you’re left crouching through it and sneaking your way around which really just makes the whole thing feel a little pointless. Ultimately, this works best in the areas that go back to Metro’s roots. Sticking you in the dark, crawling through vents and tunnels with goodness knows what around the corner. It’s not quite the same when you can see it coming from a mile off over the horizon.
And then there’s the way the game handles. The Metro series has always been a little clunky, giving you more hold prompts than a budget call center. Every action of real worth involves a button hold, and it seems that the button has to be held for a small eternity before it triggers. I was hoping that with Metro Exodus, the franchise might move towards something more fluid, allowing ladders to be climbed on proximity, same with crawling through smaller spaces. Instead, we’re left with a series of button presses and combinations that really date the title. It feels like I’m playing a game from a decade ago, for all the wrong reasons.
As mentioned previously, you and the Spartans are traveling across Russia, with a goal that seems to change with every area you come across. You chase high command, only to learn they’re cannibals. You’ve been lied to by your stepfather, who’s gone against everything you’ve been looking for, and despite the fact you’ve been proved right, you’re seemingly completely ok with leaving him in command. The whole storyline seems to lack focus until around halfway through, and even then the focus is quickly thrust upon you, and not naturally developed.
I found it very hard to connect with the storyline in Metro Exodus. There’s little to grab you. The characters you meet along the way sadly either leave or fall into the background so much you genuinely forget ever having rescued them in the first place. It’s a shame because the game teases moments of character building and starts to put things in place, but ultimately, these never really come into fruition. There are some characters with really interesting backstories that are sadly meer hints. Giul, a resourceful sniper you meet in the desert has a really interesting backstory that’s only touched on in brief encounters and never really explored beyond a moment with a photo you find for her. With certain characters being in the game for the duration of only one sandbox level, it’s a shame to not see them further developed.
Honestly, with the open sandboxes added, the lack of dialogue options from Artyom feels even more of a problem. Not being able to take 5 minutes and get to know the crew, the people we meet, the world we’re in, is a massively missed opportunity. Artyom is not portrayed as this silent badass character through his diary entries, and his actions to help those around him reflect this also. Watching your wife in jeopardy and not hearing a single word leave your lips, feels so out of place. I’m not asking for Fallout 4 levels of interaction here, simply the ability to take 5 minutes and talk to those around me, or at least express my emotions, developing my own character.
While Metro Exodus’ environments are a little hit and miss from a gameplay and storyline standpoint, visually they are nothing short of breathtaking. The lighting effects within the levels add such great depth and atmosphere to the world that you can really lose yourself within them. Dynamic day/night transitions and weather effects only compliment this, and there is a real definitive, yet natural change between them. Which makes it all the more painful when you’re greeted by the frankly dated prompts and overlay’s on screen.
Nothing has been done to blend these with the world, make them feel non-existent, or a part of the world. Instead, you get a prompt so glaringly different it might as well be cut from a cereal box and glued onto the screen. I mentioned previously how these prompted mechanics date the title, and honestly, the prompts themselves do zero favors for the cause.
Every fiber of my being wanted to love Metro Exodus. Instead, I can’t help but feel it’s trying to be something it’s not. The open world sandboxes really don’t feel all that open, with very little incentive to explore, and more often than not, a completely linear path extended through them. When Metro Exodus puts you back in the dark, in tunnels and bunkers, the magic comes back. Sadly these moments are few and far between. Couple that with a disengaging story, and the whole thing just feels segregated. The dated mechanics do nothing to save it, and Metro Exodus sadly becomes another forgettable shooter.