Turn-based strategy games are nothing new to video games but when Mutant Year Zero was released in 2018 for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, there was some excitement around it. Developed by The Bearded Ladies and published by Funcom, this in-depth tactical adventure saw players taking control of mutants desperate to survive a post-apocalyptic world and find the answers of their origins. For the remainder of this Mutant Year Zero Review, please “Shut the duck up” and enjoy.
Mutant Year Zero Plot:
Taking place years after Earth has been ravaged by a deadly plague that wiped out much of the population and nuclear war that accompanied the plague, things are looking bleak on Earth. There are very few remaining humans left, and the ones that have survived have grouped together to form settlements. One of the largest settlements is called “The Ark” located in Sweden.
The Ark is run by an elder man simply called “The Elder”. The settlement is protected by other armed humans and a few mutants. These mutants are called “Stalkers” who leave the Ark and search for food and supplies to bring back. Two of the most popular stalkers are mutant animals capable of most human activities including battle and speaking to other humans in perfect form. Bormin is a boar humanoid, while Dux is a humanoid duck. Together, they form a duo that searches around the Ark.
Humans take shelter in the Ark due to the many forms of danger that litter the world. One of the most deadly are mutant humans who have mutated from the radiation of Nuclear war. Think of them as “The Hills Have Eyes” but not quite as grotesque and capable of psychic powers. Some of these mutants have formed settlements of their own complete with cult status. The other form of danger are ghouls, who are humans left behind to live in the radiation. These are ghastly in appearance and eat other humans and animals. As you can tell, there’s quite a bit of danger outside the Ark!
Bormin and Dux are given a mission to find a missing human named Hammon who was on an expedition with his team. As a technical genius, Hammon, is crucial to the survival of the Ark so the Elder gives Bormin and Dux the task of finding and rescuing Hammon. While exploring they discover Selma and Magnus, two of the stalkers that were protecting Hammon when he was kidnapped.
With some help from Selma and Magnus, Bormin and Dux discover a cult of ghouls calling themselves Nova Sect who seek to restore the world to its previous form and destroy the Ark using “ancient powers” from a secret place called “Eden”. Hammon was captured by Nova Sect who plan to force him to help activate the ancient powers in Eden.
The group makes their way to the Nova Sect settlement and rescues Hammon who is barely hanging on. He admits that Eden is real and that the ghouls were able to read his mind and figure out where the location is. Not only does Eden have ancient technology capable of destroying the Ark but it holds the secrets to the origins of the mutants including Bormin and Dux.
Despite the Elder forbidding Dux and Bormin to travel to Eden, they do it anyway through a shortcut told to them by Hammon. They reach the entry to Eden and confront the Nova Sect leader, Plutonia killing her. Dux and Bormin explore Eden and uncover files showing humans experimenting on animals to turn them into mutants. Looking closely at the cases they discover that the Elder was one of the scientists who was experimenting on animals and helped create Bormin and Dux. After the project was shut down, the Elder rescued Bormin and Dux and raised them in the Ark once it was built.
Mutant Year Zero Gameplay:
I’ve played a few tactical-turn-based games but never ones as fun as Mutant Year Zero. The attention to detail and the in-depth strategy that went into planning out your attacks was critical to beating the game. At first, there is a difficulty curve. I struggled during my Mutant Year Zero review to win the first few fights. After becoming stuck in a battle, I believed my best option was to level up some of my characters but that wasn’t the answer. You can’t level up without beating opponents, and the battles are all set in stone so I had to face the music and strategize my attacks, defense, surroundings, items, and just about everything else. It was a lot to take in and the battle that had me stuck took about 10 attempts but once I won, it was satisfying and each battle after came much easier. I played on “Normal” which is the easiest difficulty but there were a few ahead of it including the hardest difficulty that includes permadeath, non-regenerating health, and much harder enemies. This game claims this is the way Mutant Year Zero was intended to be played, but I say “Duck that!”
There are a few elements that made my Mutant Year Zero review so enjoyable. One of them was the immersive environments. Think of each section in the game as a battlefield. Most fields had enemies on them and it was up to you to take them out as you see fit. Killing enemies resulted in points earned to level up stats and special mutant powers so you’d want to wipe out the entire unit to earn bonus points plus you could then unlock treasure chests for equipment and weapons. The best thing about battles was the aesthetics of destruction. Hiding behind a brick wall, tree, or building was critical to surviving rounds but it didn’t mean you weren’t untouchable. My favorite part was throwing a grenade or other special weapon to crumble the buildings or walls that would come tumbling down in exact detail. It made for a beautiful touch of detail.
Battles lasted anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes so at times it was frustrating to lose when you were so close to defeating your enemy but each loss resulted in a refurbished strategy that brought me closer to victory. I learned what enemy patterns were, what set off special events, and what weapons were effective. Playing on normal was plenty for me as I would utterly get destroyed on any higher difficulty but for you nuts out there that want a real challenge, it’s there.
Special abilities play a huge role in winning battles. My best strategy was to snuff the stragglers of units first with my silent weapons. You can ambush enemies and have all three of your units attack before the enemy does. With silent weapons, it made sure that no other enemies heard me taking out their pals. Once the patrols were taken care of, I opted to keep the silent weapons on in hopes I could take out a few others before moving to the big weapons. The best option I had was to use Bormin and his tackling power to knock opponents over for two turns. This led to a lot of easy battles for me. Where it got difficult again was battling the robot patrols who needed EMP grenades to stun. Once I stockpiled enough EMP grenades defeating robots became easy too.
During my Mutant Year Zero review, there was plenty of dialogue between the characters. It was hilarious to hear their thoughts on the technology they had no idea about. They would guess what things were used for and often guessed hilariously wrong. A common swear throughout the game was “duck” which you guessed it, replaced the “F” word. Hearing a pig and duck swear is funny to begin with but having the swear words replaced with an animal that was using the word was even better.
Aside from the steep difficulty curve that I thankfully got over, the story was very predictable. Right from the beginning, I suspected that the Elder had something to do with Bormin and Dux or that he was an evil guy. I saw the ending coming from a mile away but I still enjoyed watching it unfold. I was able to complete my Mutant Year Zero Review in about 10-15 hours of gameplay. All the battles were satisfying and when you defeated a particularly tough enemy, it was an accomplishment.
The Ark acted as a hub world where you could interact with other mutants and upgrade weapons, equipment, and buy new items. I came here after almost every battle and the Elder would give some insight into the world. I didn’t know you could fast-travel to it so for the first few hours of playing I’d make the trek back which was time-consuming and stupid on my end.
I thought Dux and Bormin were very likable characters who acted like old friends who bickered. You’ll recruit other mutants to join your party but I only used Dux, Bormin, and Selma. That was my favorite party and it took me all the way to the end. Overall, Mutant Year Zero is a terrific game and one that lovers of turn-based strategy games should absolutely play.
I picked up Mutant Year Zero while on vacation in Hawaii. For some reason, GameStop was running a special and it was a great one. I searched out retro game stores in Hawaii but there weren’t really any options so I resorted to GameStops. The good news was that because Hawaii was so close to Japan they had a lot of indie titles and niche games that typically wouldn’t be at GameStop.
Mutant Year Zero Review Score:
It doesn’t get much better than this for lovers of tactical turn-based strategy games. Environments come crumbling down in a beautiful fashion and paired with a likable cast of characters, Mutant Year Zero is a fun, satisfying, but predictable experience.
Mutant Year Zero scores an 8.8 out of 10.
What would you write in your Mutant Year Zero review? Who was your favorite mutant to use? Did you have a tough time winning the first few battles? Was the story predictable? Let me know your thoughts and comments on Mutant Year Zero, I’d love to read them.