Metro Exodus is a brilliant tale of discovery and human companionship, where the central premise revolves around a train taking the characters to various locations in relation to the seasons. Players will enjoy the overall experience, but will feel like there should be more – or that Exodus is a stepping stone to a more ambitious project. This review will contain spoilers. As such, this is a game that I would recommend. Play it first, then read my review.
Glukhovsky’s book-series-turned-video-game-series, Metro 2033, captured the hearts and minds of players worldwide with its unique blend of survival horror and RPG elements. Set in the dark and dangerous locations of Moscow’s Underground, players were drawn to the game’s inventiveness, variety of weaponry, and diverse cast of characters that guided the player character, Artyom.
Drawing inspiration from the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic, Glukhovsky reimagined a classic of Russian sci-fi literature by adding a post-apocalyptic twist and political commentary. The sequel, Metro Last Light, followed shortly after with improved visuals and a better presentation of the story. It also placed a greater emphasis on stealth gameplay, expanding on elements that were not as prominent in the first game.
One notable aspect of the series is its portrayal of Russians not as enemies but as people struggling against both supernatural forces and their own inner demons. This was a refreshing change from the typical portrayal of Russians as villains in Western media. Instead, the games showed that people from all backgrounds and cultures are capable of both good and evil.
Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light offer a bleak vision of humanity’s future, where the absence of consequences for one’s actions can lead to barbarism or the embrace of extremist ideologies such as Fascistic Nazism or authoritarian Communism. The games do not shy away from depicting the atrocities that even Communists are capable of committing. Overall, Glukhovsky’s series is a thought-provoking exploration of human nature in extreme circumstances.
While the supernatural aspects of Metro 2033 and Last Light are intriguing, they are not explored in as much detail as I would have liked. These parts of the games are simply ‘creepy’ rather than fully fleshed out. Additionally, the main character, Artyom, lacks a character arc. As a silent protagonist who only speaks during loading screens, he is robbed of much-needed characterization. The player is left wondering what he is thinking or feeling.
The argument that ‘Artyom is thinking what the player is thinking’ falls short because he is a character in the story, not a vessel for the player to project themselves through. The games themselves are linear, with small open spaces for players to explore ‘life in the stations.’ However, these sections feel somewhat pointless as the player’s interactions are limited to buying guns or gun mods and refilling their inventory.
Other characters do acknowledge Artyom and he interacts with the world, emphasizing the RPG aspect of the game. This makes it even more disappointing that the player cannot hear Artyom’s thoughts or hear him speak during gameplay. It would have been fascinating to know what Artyom was thinking while exploring the tunnels with Khan in 2033 or during the finale of Last Light. Getting that psychological feedback would have helped the player become more invested in the story. But for now, let us move on to the main event – Metro Exodus.
Exodus, released in 2019, received widespread praise for its refreshing take on the single-player RPG genre. Fans hailed it as a breath of fresh air in an era dominated by bullet-sponge enemies and intrusive microtransactions. The game presents an immersive first-person point of view, allowing players to see the world through Artyom’s eyes.
The opening cutscene is beautifully crafted, with a slow pan through the metro cars accompanied by excellent exposition. It ends with a callback to the conclusion of 2033, as the camera drops into Artyom’s perspective. He surfs the frequencies on his radio backpack, searching for a signal from outside Moscow before descending once more into the sewer and metro tunnels.
This premise resonated with me because it taps into our innate desire to explore and discover new things. In this game, Anna is already Artyom’s wife and their close relationship as a married couple is evident. At the start, Miller, Anna’s father and commander, is hostile towards Artyom. However, the game’s central premise is quickly revealed: the nuclear war that forced everyone into the metro is still raging across the world, but the world itself has not been destroyed.
Although the player never witnesses ‘the war’ firsthand, they embark on a journey through the human experience above ground. The supporting cast of Damir, Duke, Alyosha, Stepan, Tokarev, Sam, Yermak, and Idiot are all engaging characters who each have their moment to shine.
The beginning of Exodus feels incredibly rushed, with the player almost being pushed out of Moscow and into the ‘unknown.’ There is little sense of discovery. Anna and Artyom are kidnapped and Artyom is thrown into a pit after attempting to stop the execution of two individuals from another part of Russia. His dog tag takes the bullet meant for him.
From there, it’s a straightforward journey to the radio room where Artyom accidentally shoots the radio machine while struggling with an officer. This reveals that Moscow was under a jamming signal, hiding it from the outside world because the war was still ongoing. This revelation is supposed to have a massive impact on the player, but it feels rushed and lacks the emotional weight it should have.
The repressive atmosphere of the first two games was built on the premise that ‘we’re all that’s left, there is no outside world, this is the apocalypse.’ The revelation that this is not true should have been shocking, but it falls flat. Anna’s shocked expression and anger towards her father, who knew about the shroud, do little to make the player feel invested in this premise.
When moments in the game do not directly involve characters addressing Artyom, it feels like they are performing a skit and Artyom is merely an audience member. The player does not feel any anger towards Miller for keeping the truth from them or any attachment to Artyom’s struggles on the irradiated surface.
Artyom’s silence during gameplay makes him feel like a faceless audience member rather than an active participant in the events unfolding around him. His occasional grunts of pain or the sound of his breathing inside his gas mask do little to add to his characterization. The lack of communication between the player and the character creates a disconnect, preventing the player from expressing themselves on screen and interacting with other characters in a meaningful way.
The Volga level serves as an introduction to the game’s semi-open world premise. The train is stopped by a Luddite cult that blocks the path, but the player is given little explanation for the cult’s existence or their hatred of electricity and modern technology. A heavy-handed foreshadowing moment occurs when Anna falls into a bunker without her mask and begins coughing suspiciously. This weak plot point is meant to make the player worry for her, but it feels like a clumsy attempt at creating tension.
The player is introduced to the backpack in this segment, which serves as a portable workbench for modifying guns and crafting consumables. However, finding resources is not particularly engaging as it has not evolved since Last Light. The player simply clicks ‘E’ to collect items that disappear and reappear in their inventory as scrap, bullets, or chemicals.
The game abandons the interesting ‘military bullets as currency’ premise from previous entries and merchants are largely irrelevant. Instead, the focus is on finding new attachments for guns and having enough scrap and chemicals to craft first aid kits, ammo, and clean weapons when needed. While the gun customization mechanic is a welcome addition, it only comes into play when a new attachment is found and there are not many attachments to begin with. Although the system allows players to swap out attachments at will, there is rarely a need to compromise as it’s always about finding the best attachment and sticking with it throughout the game.
In Exodus, there are three weapon slots, with the first two being customizable and the third reserved for the Tikhar – a silent pneumatic ball-bearing shooter. However, the game’s philosophy of ‘this attachment is just better than this one’ is something I find problematic. Instead of having objectively better attachments that make previous ones obsolete, I would prefer attachments that allow me to customize my weapon to suit my playstyle and experiment with different configurations without sacrificing enjoyment.
One game that accomplishes this is Escape from Tarkov. Coincidentally, it is also a Russian-made game about Russians fighting in civilian exclusion zones. The gun customization in Tarkov emphasizes personal taste and offers enough variety to allow players to create their ideal weapon. My dream system would make it accessible and fun to fully customize weapons to suit individual playstyles.
For example, players could turn an AK-47 into a submachine gun by cutting off the stock and shortening the barrel or transform it into a designated marksman rifle with a higher caliber and longer barrel with a semi-automatic fire rate. Call of Duty Modern Warfare came close to achieving this level of customization, but it still fell short of my ideal.
After the Volga level in Exodus, the players discover the Ark – a massive Fallout-style bunker intended to house the government. However, it turns out that its inhabitants are cannibals and the game shifts into a DOOM-style shooter. While this section is not boring, it seems to exist solely to make General Miller look foolish for not telling anyone that the world wasn’t destroyed and for almost getting the main characters eaten by cannibals.
The section is not particularly challenging as the player is well-stocked with ammo and can easily dispatch the psychos. However, it is extremely linear, with narrow hallways that force the player to rush through without taking in the level design or enjoying the horror elements. The only real challenge comes from a super-armored enemy with a Gatling gun, who can be defeated by throwing a few grenades.
Overall, this section does not offer anything new. Anna’s cough worsens and Miller looks foolish once again, but there is little else of note.
The Caspian Sea section is perhaps where the game shines the brightest. This desert environment was heavily featured in the game’s promotional material, drawing inspiration from Mad Max. The player encounters a sea that has turned into a desert, with beached ships and eccentric characters driving buggies. The player character also gets a small van. The main antagonist in this area controls the water supply and has slaves.
It’s surprising that the producers of Exodus didn’t face any legal issues for their similarities to Mad Max. Despite the intense heat, there is no heat meter to incentivize nighttime gameplay when more monsters are present. Instead, Artyom endures the heat without issue.
The development team’s creativity seems to have faltered here, as they reused the light scorpion enemy from Last Light. While this enemy was praised for its uniqueness in Last Light, its reuse in Exodus feels uninspired. Navigating a bunker full of these enemies only made me roll my eyes. I was in a hurry to get this part over with.
After the Caspian level comes the Taiga level. This level stands out for its originality and is quite enjoyable. The player loses all weapons and backpack for a large portion of the level and must rely on a crossbow. Despite its linearity, it is more expansive and reminiscent of a typical Last Light level.
The mutant bear fight is the highlight of this section, but it falls short as an uninspired bullet sponge monster. The player must avoid getting hit and shoot back with limited ammo. The fight is subpar and not worth discussing further.
The level makes good use of ziplines to traverse the tree canopy and avoid the Children of the Forest, who will shoot on sight. To achieve the good ending, the player must not shoot back. A radioactive area serves as a reminder that this is not the planet of the Ewoks from Star Wars but a nuclear apocalypse. Overall, the level is fairly straightforward.
In the final winter section, the player returns to Moscow to find a cure for Anna, who coughed up blood during Stepan’s wedding ceremony. This section is similar to any Last Light surface level, with the player managing their gas filter, avoiding damage to their mask, watching for flying Demons and mutant werewolf-type enemies.
The ending is touching as Artyom’s survival depends on how many people the player kept on the train. In a display of human companionship, everyone takes turns giving Artyom their clean blood to flush out the radioactivity from his body. Miller sacrifices his life for Artyom’s survival, redeeming himself in the eyes of the player.
Despite its similarities to previous titles and lack of compelling new features, the game left a good impression on me. The player has many opportunities to bond with other characters and see their colorful personalities. While mostly consisting of banter, it distracts from the feeling of familiarity. Overall, it is a step in the right direction.
If you’ve played and finished Metro Exodus, you may wonder why I haven’t mentioned the morality system. The Volga, Caspian, and Taiga levels are affected by your moral choices. However, the game takes a strange approach to morality. Only killing members of certain factions in certain areas affects your morality and chances of leaving with certain characters.
The game doesn’t make it clear which actions affect the ending sections of the areas. For example, Duke getting left behind on the Volga level, Damir staying with Gil on the Caspian level, and Alyosha confessing his love for Olga or getting shot by her and confined to a wheelchair during the Taiga level.
The morality system is black and white, with the moral choice being either to kill or not to kill. There are no grey areas. It is justified to kill bandits but not slavers because they belong to a certain faction, even if they shoot back at you. The game doesn’t distinguish between different moral choices.
Artyom lacks a moral code as the morality system only affects whether characters stay or leave. The good ending teaches the importance of community while the bad ending results in death from radiation poisoning. However, during the game, moral choices only affect who stays or leaves your group. It’s difficult for a player to know this during their first playthrough.
The game provides no clear indicators of how moral choices affect characters leaving or staying. The screen flashes and drips can be heard, but not all instances result in a character leaving or staying. This lack of clarity can be confusing for the player as the game provides little indication of what is happening.
The two DLCs for Metro Exodus are decent. The Two Colonels is a linear story with no redeeming elements and a depressing ending. It follows a dire situation during a New Year’s celebration where there aren’t enough anti-rad medicines. One Colonel decides to gas the population to spare them from radiation poisoning while the other disagrees.
The story is told from the perspectives of Miller and the second Colonel, with Miller discovering the aftermath of the gas attack and unraveling what happened. The ending is moving as Miller finds the body of the second Colonel, who tried to save his son from death.
While this DLC has no bearing on Exodus’ story, it serves as a pleasant distraction for fans until the release of Sam’s Story. It ties up neatly as a short side story for hardcore Metro fans who want more of the Metro experience.
Overall, the DLC is straightforward and gives you some background into one of the more interesting characters of the cast and how he ended up with the Exodus group during a nuclear war. I enjoyed Sam’s fresh perspective, his voice offered much needed commentary on the events happening around him. Hopefully the Metro development team will lean more into character development for their next project like they did for Metro Exodus, potentially opening up new avenues for further character development.
Featured Image by: Mehrnaz Taghavishavazi @ Unsplash
Game Review Thumbnail by: Free-Photos @ pixabay
Game Trailer by: Deep Silver
Metro Exodus is a breath of fresh air, and compels with the potential that future titles the series can have.
- - Fantastically written characters with touching moments
- - Gun customization is a welcome addition
- - Varied levels change up the gameplay
- - Morality system inspires future playthroughs
- - Gun customization could use more work to incentivize using different attachments
- - Morality system is very black and white, and doesn't show itself much throughout the gameplay
- - The ending is already known from a mile away