Comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can be hard for some new open-world games to escape. Hyrule’s impressive and reactive world spurred imitators, like Genshin Impact and Immortals Fenyx Rising, with developers seemingly attempting to replicate the excitement players felt back in 2017. Biomutant, the latest open-world action RPG, may seem no different, but certain qualities help it stand out.
Games that use a similar blueprint to Breath of the Wild can struggle to carve their own identity, ultimately coming across more like a pastiche than an original title. Biomutant finds a better balance, taking cues from Nintendo’s massive hit while also introducing an experience that feels like its own.
Biomutant is billed as a “post-apocalyptic kung-fu fable RPG,” which is certainly a collection of words that have been strung together. What it defines as kung-fu boils down to a standard attack-dodge-parry system, albeit one where you can shoot saw-blades from biohazardous auto-rifles, vomit toxic waste, and roll up enemies in a gelatinous bubble of mucus — classic staples of Chinese martial arts. But kung-fu or not, the chaotic combat is where Biomutant shines.
Alternating between melee weapons and guns mid-combo while unleashing mutant powers is effortless. Dodging lasers and launching enemies into the air with a well-timed parry becomes satisfyingly rhythmic. Your myriad of abilities keep encounters fresh and the quick fights have a real sense of fluidity. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hindered by a truly terrible aiming system.
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Rather than letting you lock-on to enemies manually, Biomutant forces you to use its clunky auto-targeting system. Looking at an enemy soft-locks you onto it, leaving you vulnerable and unable to parry other incoming attacks. Completely removing the option for manual lock-ons is a baffling decision. It doesn’t stop combat from being enjoyable, but it causes occasional frustration.
Mutation and psionic powers open up as you acquire points through exploration or dialogue options. Psionic powers in particular are tied to a karma system in a way that can feel arbitrary. Choices reward you with points that raise either the Dark or Light levels of your Aura. What powers you have access to is dependent on meeting a point requirement for a specific side. The karma system dissuades you from making choices to enhance roleplaying, instead asking you to go down a moral path you’re not interested in for abilities that enhance gameplay.
Outside of fighting, you’ll trudge through a weak story made up of three major plotlines that never connect together and meet forgettable characters robbed of personality by the game’s narration. Everyone speaks gibberish, which is then translated to you in third-person by an emotionless narrator whom I quickly grew to hate. It’s a novel concept that fails in execution, especially given that the script is full of awkward in-universe vocabulary. Listening to a grown adult repeatedly say things like “Porky Puff,” “stronkbox,” and “chugga chugga,” in a monotonous tone while you’re trying to get to your next destination is a special type of hell, and I ended up having to turn the narration off entirely once the option become available to me.
By far the biggest issue with Biomutant is that it’s a technical disaster. I sunk dozens of hours into my playthrough and I experienced at least one crash every hour, sometimes up to four. The frequency of auto-saving is generous but that didn’t stop me from pausing to save my game every five minutes in case I lost progress. Cutscene dialogue also had a tendency to repeat itself in the same scene, and I had a few instances of enemies clipping through broken down cars and getting stuck inside.
Still, no matter how many crashes and bugs I had to deal with, I couldn’t put Biomutant down. Combat is the type of simple fun that’s easy to lose yourself in, and there are so many side quests to complete and ruined areas to search that the main questlines barely took up half of my playtime. I can’t remember when I last went out of my way to explore every inch of a map. A big incentive for exploration is stumbling across armor modifications and parts used for crafting. I’m a sucker for crafting systems and Biomutant has my favorite in any game.
You can craft at any time using the main menu. Every add-on and every piece of weapon and armor is visually distinct, including some kooky additions. If you want to use a rotten banana as a handle for a gun, go for it. Think a dirty syringe should be tacked onto the end of a club for some extra damage? Gross, but doable. Seeing every part of a weapon you picked out by hand reflected on your character is a real treat. You can also remove add-ons and parts at any time and swap them onto better gear you’ve found, which really encourages you to customize your loadout.
What really helps Biomutant stand out is its style. Comic book effects pop up on screen when you execute combos, a flurry of colorful madness is unleashed by guns that dish out elemental damage, and the different biomes you visit are all noticeably different from each other. It’s by no means a graphical powerhouse — especially being confined to last-gen hardware — but it does feature some of the best-looking visuals I’ve seen in a long time. The world is a saturated wonderland of bright purples, oranges, pinks, and greens that had me constantly switching over to the game’s photo mode.
Biomutant isn’t the next game that’ll take the industry by storm and it certainly isn’t the next Breath of the Wild, but that works in its favor because it feels more sincere. I never got the impression it was trying too hard to be the next big hit or serve as the hopeful start of a new franchise. Biomutant only aspires to be its own weird, imperfect self. If you can look past its bugs and lackluster story, you’re in for a fun time.