There was a moment ten hours into Biomutant where we had to pause and collect our thoughts. Not because the game was particularly challenging or intense, but from the overwhelming amount of systems being thrown at us. The marketing up until its release has heavily focused on the creativity inside the game, and its definitely there, more often than not buckling under the pressure of its own ideas. It can be headache-inducingly convoluted, but hey, at least it looks pretty.
Kicking off Biomutant is a fantastic character creator. It's simple, intuitive, and gives you a sense that no two player's characters will be the same. You'll choose from a host of species, customise your appearance, and provide your character with some skills. It's deep, but not overly complex as to deter new players. As your adventure begins, you're thrust into a post apocalyptic world run by mutated animals on a quest to save the Tree of Life from being polluted by a mysterious substance. Throughout your quest you'll side with various tribes, make choices, and fight a variety of bosses that reside over each root of the tree to save the day.
As far as the narrative goes, it's pretty straightforward, but takes a fair few hours to fully kick in. Your first hour will see you in a linear dungeon as you get to grips with the game's controls and learn about the world. Afterwards, you'll be thrust into the open-world onward for adventure. While the story is pretty simple, how its presented is painfully slow. In the world of Biomutant, none of the characters talk - instead they mumble while a narrator explains the situation. For what it's worth, it's voiced wonderfully by David Shaw Parker, but what he's being made to say quickly becomes overbearing.
While many remnants of the 'old world' remain, characters have their own unique language for describing the land. You'll quickly learn be thrown gibberish words such as the Fluff Hulk and meet characters named Out-Of-Date. After a few hours you'll honestly be screaming at the TV for someone to simply explain what everyone is talking about. While it could be argued to be world building, it often feels self indulgent and comes across as annoying more than anything else. But realistically, it showcases the main problem with Biomutant, and that's how overly convoluted all of its systems are.
As expected in an RPG, you'll complete quests, level up, and explore a vast (and in this case gorgeous) open world. The key components are all there, but the spin taken on them makes each one less engaging than they should be. Take levelling up for example. You pick an attribute such as increased vitality or strength, and that's fine. You also get upgrade points to unlock a new perk - yep, no problem. There are also psi-points to purchase new abilities - okaaaay. Oh, and there are bio-points you can use to build up resistance against different elements. It's just a few upgrade options too many and we can't help but feel the game would have flowed much better if it was streamlined. More often than not, we were lost in the sea of menus, trying to remember which currency can be spent where, and it quickly becomes exhausting.
It's a shame, as when you unlock these abilities and put them to use in the frantic and often addictive combat encounters it looks great - although we would have loved the action to feel more punchy. While it looks flashy enough, the feedback on each swing of your sword or blast of your gun never fully lands that satisfying feeling that the gameplay videos seemed to showcase. The idea that players can pretty much tailor the combat to their own preference through a huge roster of weapons and abilities is a good idea, it's just a shame its tied down between a bunch of different menus and upgrade paths that can be severely overwhelming. When you add on having to manage elemental resistance to your character to help navigate some areas, it simply becomes too much.
This convoluted nature also ties into the quest design. At certain points you'll make choices to ally yourself with different tribes, each with their own agenda on how they view the world. Each is quite clearly either a good or bad choice, never really offering a difficult decision to make outside of what type of person you want to be. This is something Biomutant hammers home - the illusion of choice. It also doesn’t help that the narrative often feels directionless, as does its quests. You have the main goal of tackling the worldeaters and saving the tree of life, but that's quickly buried under a constantly growing backlog of missions, many of which result to nothing more than finding X amount of collectibles. You can also easily miss key story moments, such as unlocking a boat (or as it's called here a Googlide), which forces you to carefully examine every area and engage in pretty monotonous side quests to ensure you don't miss anything.
Stumbling across quests in this way is reminiscent of games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, in which simply conversing with the world's inhabitants uncovers secrets, lore, and new questlines into deadly dungeons. Here, talking to people may give you a quest to find X amount of one item, causing you to accidentally stumble into a main objective along the way. It doesn't feel natural, but clunky in its design and makes the world no longer engaging to explore, which is kind of a slog. Characters lack any distinct personality - something that is worsened by everyone being voiced by the narrator - making each encounter feel exactly the same as the previous one.
Luckily, when you are on the main quest, the game picks up considerably. While the narrative failed to engage us in any way and the dialogue between characters was painfully stoic, the moment-to-moment gameplay provides a fun loop in many main missions. You'll often be tasked to explore exteriors where platforming challenges and loot await, or you may be pushed into an explosive set piece with one of the worldeaters, which are an absolute highlight. While we won't spoil the contents of these battles, let's just say they'll demand some pretty creative use of certain abilities which we loved. The mission design never really evolves, but there’s definitely a lot more meat in the campaign and this makes the experience feel a lot more focused.
There is one instance where the complexity does work, and that's in the weapon creation system. It can be pretty daunting at first, but extremely rewarding to create your own unique weapons once you know how. No matter what your gameplay style is, there's no doubt something you'll resonate with, from one-handed swords, to powerful machine guns. This is where the creativity really shines, often feeling like the tools studios such as Insomniac Games uses to create its elaborate weapons has been placed in the hands of the player. Some of the late game creations we were able to wield truly packed some force and made testing new variations out super exciting. You can also enhance your weapons and armour at work benches to give it an even more powerful kick.
If there was another department we would have loved to have seen expanded it's the aura system. As you progress, certain choices will be presented to you and as you venture further, your character will gravitate either closer to the light or darkness. Alas, these situations always put you in a clearly good or bad choice scenario, so it always depends on what type of character you like to play as. There was never any situation where we truly had to make a difficult decision, and instead it was based on what skills we wanted to unlock, as numerous skills are locked behind being in the light or dark. It's so on-the-nose and basic, yet the game constantly beats you over the head with how the choices mould your character. We never felt that at all.
Despite any reservations, the world of Biomutant looks gorgeous. While exploring it usually results in busy work of completing a checklist of tasks, such as finding X amount of items, the actual experience of travelling across the world never stops being beautiful. The HDR pops off the screen with its expressive bright colours, and the characters are packed with tons of detail and fur. Sure there's a low draw distance and many interior environments look the same, but travelling off a cliff in your glider and taking in the views never gets old - especially with the wonderful photo mode to capture your adventures.
Much like the character you create, Biomutant feels like a Frankenstein creation of various ideas. Some are good, some are bad, but the end result is a misshapen product which feels messy and buried in its own ideas. Areas of the game that should have received more attention - like it’s quest design - feel relatively barebones, while others feel overly complex. The repetitive nature of looting, levelling up, and looting some more never truly evolve and make the beautiful world often feel lifeless. We really wish we loved Biomutant, but unfortunately, it's a game with many ambitious ideas, but lacks the conviction to fully utilise them.