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Why am I still playing Biomutant?

Besides the fact that I am weird.

This is it. I am finally a GamerTM. There are so many games coming out, tons more being announced during the E3 period, and a heck of a lot more games/announcements coming later this year; yet I am playing a game that I am kind of enjoying and is actively frustrating me most of the time. Why? What is it about Biomutant that keeps me coming back? Is it the game or is it my deranged and severely broken mind? For my own sake, I will completely ignore my own psyche and weirdness and focus on the game. There has to be something…right?!

Yes, there are quite a few things that I genuinely like about Biomutant; I will get into those things as this article goes on, but for now, I want to frame that question around the central debate that occurred in the “gaming discourceTM” when this game’s reviews were released. Is Biomutant an okay AA title or a poor AAA game? It’s an interesting question for sure, but – at least for me – the actual question misses the important parts; Experiment 101 has 18 employees, I don’t think anyone can argue whether that is big enough to be AAA, but there is an argument to be made about the quality expected from games these days. Biomutant, for me, is an old-school AA game; a few employees with a half-eaten tuna sandwich as budget trying to make a game to rival the biggest stars in town – the freedom of indie development with the ambition and scope of AAA. It was always going to end in disappointment for most, with a few even hating it, but there will be quite a few enamored by its ambition and “do or die” attitude willing to forgive and look past the many rough edges for its pretty good core. I have quite a few titles like that in my heart and my point of reference for this game is one of the best examples of old-school AA games – Total Overdose.

Just like Total Overdose wanted to make the open-world, crime sim genre, but with cool, Matrix-inspired, gameplay, Biomutant wants to make the mechanics-driven, loot-RPGs, mix with old-school CRPGs (with stats influencing narrative choices, factions and relationships, etc.), character-action style gameplay (combos and supers), and a vast open-world with side content, quirky characters, and a story with massive consequences that unveil as the player makes difficult choices; none of that came to be and most of that is implemented pretty poorly, but that is the charm of AA games for me. They aim for the stars and don’t deviate or settle for no one or nothing – in fact, Biomutant actually manages to create a solid, Zen-casual, checklist-ticking, experience, which mixes old-Ubisoft with a stress-free gameplay loop whose only purpose is to get you to check off those boxes.

Beyond the simple dopamine injection of seeing numbers go higher and get closer to completion, Biomutant offers little else; it has systems upon systems that don’t offer anything substantial; it has a world that is vast, diverse, and completely lifeless; it has a combat system that looks cool, but is unintuitive and unresponsive; it has “choices” that are so blatantly unfinished in the implementation that I cringe calling them choices. Yet, it never feels defeated by all the problems; I feel like I’m playing the game I would make if I tried to learn how to be a dev, by practicing the theory I’ve learned on a grand, ambitious idea. That’s not to say that I would do better; it is to say that it has that underdog charm to it that AA games have been missing for a while. The best example of this is the crafting system. It is an ambitious idea that takes inspiration from similar games like The Division 2, where players are able to use resources and components to create a unique looking weapon with specialized stats. Biomutant utilizes its cartoony art-style to allow the player to create wild-looking weapons and lacks the “seriousness” to balance any inconsistencies out; you can create a bad-ass weapon that annihilates most enemies in seconds. For my playthrough, I crafted weapons a few times and I never felt the need to do that, I just wanted to; my weapons were massively OP and the combat was laughably easy and health restoratives were plentiful – I had 100s saved up of one particular type and I rarely used them anyways. So the best system in the game is trivial and it makes an easy game even easier, which is the highlight of the game as well.

You can see this “pitch build” execution everywhere. Halfway through the game I maxed out the lightness aura stat (good vs evil choices to get good or bad endings/alliances) so, I could have chosen dark aura actions just to get everything, although they were basically the same abilities with different presentation (for example, light aura unlocks a dodge ability that leaves a basically harmless trail of fire, while dark aura blinks you away), and the choices don’t really matter in any way. However, that is something a lot of games struggle with; where Biomutant steps apart is how uncompromised they allowed their failings to be. You can rescue a prisoner and then choose to kill them because you’re evil; you can catch an animal and kill it because you’re evil; some characters like killing things because they are evil and ask if you want to kill things because you are evil. This could have been a much more interesting system with the proper resources and time; a system where a compelling reason is given to choose either side and extended to cover side quests, much like the Wasteland series. It never materialized, but the devs were not letting that feature go…and I’m kind of glad they didn’t.

Biomutant is not the deepest game, the most fun, or even remotely successful in executing its concept or ambitions; it is a relic of a bygone era. I am nostalgic of that era and I like checking off lists in video games, so I am happy with my purchase, however your mileage may vary substantially. I want to see a sequel to this game with the devs listening to feedback and iterating on what they learned, because I think it can be fantastic; for now, I had the experience of playing an ambitious mess and looking at everything going “what if they had the time?” or “what if they had the resources, the experience, the staff?”. Like with most games of that era, most people wont have the same experience and I get it; like most teams from that era, Experiment 101 will have a hard time meeting those hefty goals, especially given the fact that most AA teams don’t have huge lifespans. I hope, as with all devs, that they do have the time and resources to present us their version of their game and not the ambitious mess of it.

To answer the original question: I keep playing Biomutant because I find what it does well to be addicting and enjoyable, but mostly because I find its failures and the clear signs of their ambitions to be a fascinating autopsy of a “do or die” mentality rarely seen in the AA space anymore. 

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