Even some of the greatest video games have had a strange obsession with sewer and subway levels. They're often grating and frustrating, especially when that's where you spend most of your time. That was often the case in previous Metro series entries Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, where you were relegated to crawling around cramped, dingy tunnels snaking their way through Moscow, Russia.
With Metro Exodus, things have opened up immensely for an adventure that's keen on stretching its legs and making its way outside for a bit. Post-apocalyptic Russia is a sight for sore eyes, strangely enough, and Metro Exodus capitalizes on wide open spaces to weave an intriguing narrative and challenging stealth-based adventure.
If you’re looking to escape the landscape of frenetic shooters and me-too battle royales, this is an excellent place to begin your journey.
A Whole New World
Metro Exodus picks up two years after Metro: Last Light left off, setting the stage for a post-apocalyptic vision of Earth that's was ravaged by nuclear war nearly a quarter of a century ago. It follows 23-year-old Artyom, a Ranger of the SPARTA Order, who's had his eyes above ground for about as long as he can remember. Though most of humanity is relegated to living underground, he believes there are others out in the world beyond Moscow's subway tunnels, and he intends to find them.
Upon detecting an unfamiliar radio signal, he heads out one day to find it, which leads to an intriguing set of events surrounding a series of mistruths told to them by their faction, the Hanseatic League.
After coming to terms with the fact that the group they thought they could trust have indeed been keeping several important secrets from them, Artyom, wife Anna, Anna's father, and various soldiers must leave the Metro if they want to survive.
They hop a train from the Metro, naming it Aurora, and go on a spirited search across the Russian landscape, throughout the desert ruins that were once the Caspian Sea, across frozen tundras, and other lengths of Russia. It's an arduous, year-long journey that you truly feel as the player, and as you watch the Aurora and its crew evolve, they slowly begin to feel like a family – as much as they can, anyway.
Friend or Foe?
After you leave the tunnels and begin careening around Russia in the Aurora, you'll be faced with a wide world to explore. It's a joy, despite the run-down aspects of the once proud country, to finally come out from underground and see what's out there waiting in the world.
But not everyone is friendly – you can't always guarantee you'll want Artyom to be, either. That choice is up to you. It may often be easier to opt for the stealthy route of lesser violence, knocking enemies out instead of killing them, especially as Artyom has a limited inventory and spaces for only three weapons at a time. You'll run out of ammo quickly – and all you can really do about this is stick to the shadows and try not to be heard.
That's one of the biggest challenges of Metro Exodus, and one that some players may not be keen on, as it's not all about the gunplay. Just know that it can be downright nightmarish sometimes, especially if this isn’t a genre you’re familiar with, or if you haven’t played through the previous Metro games.
Of course, you have to take care of Artyom, too. Whether you're sleeping, crafting your own weapons after scavenging for parts and other goods throughout Russia, you'll have to take a hands-on approach to surviving in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. You can cobble together a variety of different handmade arms that will be more than useful when you come across an enemy, but it can be tedious to gather the parts that you need to bring them to fruition.
With that in mind, you'll definitely be doing your part when it comes to eliminating threats out in the world, but there's a delicate balance you must strike. Not everyone in Metro Exodus will want to immediately murder you, so you should extend the same courtesy whenever possible – it will make your life easier in the long run, especially since you'll typically be outmanned and outgunned. Stealth is massively important, so no matter where you go, you'll have to be mindful of every little noise and movement you make - even using your flashlight is something you need to watch.
Outside of combat, you'll be faced with various decisions that can significantly impact your time with the game, and thanks to a well fleshed-out morality system, you at least have some sort of idea how your behavior will be received by others. The game will ensure you know if you've made a not-so-honorable decision by displaying an orange hue, and a blue one if you've done the "right" thing (they resemble the Portal colours a bit).
Obviously, if you're kind to others and opt for a lesser amount of violence when dealing with enemies and rival factions, you'll find that some folks are simply easier to deal with. Sometimes, you just need people to cooperate, and you’ll be glad when they do – it makes your job that much simpler.
Even when all your ducks are in a row, though, and you’re navigating along in the Aurora just fine with your “crew,” so to speak, there remains a satisfying sense of foreboding lingering in the air.
You truly feel as though you’re one of the last few human beings out there in the world seeking out other living, breathing people, and there’s a true feeling of urgency while you’re looking to complete your quest that even recent releases like Fallout 76 haven’t been able to capture. You never know what’s lying in wait around the next corner, and that absolutely encompasses what living in a world like that of post-apocalyptic Russia must feel like.
You'd be hard-pressed to find another game set in the Russian wasteland nearly 25 years after nuclear war that looks this fantastic. From dazzling desert vistas to lush greenery, you'll be wondering throughout the game if the world indeed waged nuclear war or not. The lighting effects are top-notch, and the game chugs along at a smooth frame rate with few loading screens, as the icing on top of this cake.
There are tons of other games that aspire to emulate the feeling of soldiering on through an unknown world, but Metro Exodus really excels at it. With high-quality voice acting and dialogue, it's able to weave a believable world that you actually want to spend time in – despite the fact that so many horrible things are going on in it.
Metro Exodus verdict
Metro Exodus is a fantastic evolution for the series, and one that moves the genre forward in several ways. It's a standout from the competition, and one that reels you in with a memorable cast of characters, lush visuals, and challenges every step of the way.
Where Fallout has begun to lose its luster over the past few years, Metro is here to step in and take charge, taking players in a much more entertaining direction. With satisfying open world elements, a hefty 35+ hour quest to undertake, and plenty to discover around every corner, Metro Exodus is an excellent offering from 4A Games that deserves to go on your "must play" list.