Metro Exodus first impressions: claustrophobic scares in a huge wasteland

We spent a day with Metro Exodus, and found it to be a winning combination of open world exploration and frightening corridors…

Early on in January, Den Of Geek was lucky enough to spend a day with Metro Exodus. A massive nightclub was converted into a digital playground for the day, with over a hundred journalists spread across PC setups and Xbox One consoles. 4A Games had prepared three levels for us from their hotly anticipated threequel, which will take this Russia-set apocalyptic survival series out from its traditional subterranean setting and thrust players into a dangerous new world.  

“After two games based in the tunnels, [4A Games] decided to embark on an ambitious new vision for the series”, explained Huw Beynon (Head of Global Brand Management for the publishers at Deep Silver) in his official intro. “We’ve gone out of the tunnels and now we’re going to join Artyom and his band of Spartan Rangers as they board the Aurora [train] and embark on this epic, transcontinental journey across Russia. It will take place over a calendar year through all four seasons.” 

With that teaser and a few words of warning/top tips out of the way, we settled down on an Xbox and prepared to be scared. To give you an idea of how we got on, here’s a rundown of our first impressions… 

Massive and entrapping at the same time

The first level we load up is entitled The Volga. This segment – which debuted at E3 – is set during spring. The level opens with Artyom and his chums travelling within the Aurora, a sizeable locomotive that serves as a hub for the core characters at this point in the game. Looking out from the moving train, there’s a vast terrain reaching out in all directions. It’s immediately obvious that we’re dealing with a far larger play area than the previous Metro games allowed. 

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The train is short on fuel, which means we’re soon given a mission and sent out into the world. It doesn’t take long to learn that, although this locale is sizeable, it’s far from entirely safe. Even though you can see a long way into the distance and imagine a lot of possibilities, the slightest wrong step in the here and now will bring mutants and beasties rushing to your location. No matter how lovely the new scenery seems – and, visually, it does look great – it doesn’t take long for Metro’s familiar sense of claustrophobia to set in. 

You’ll need to do your homework

To help you tackle its manifold threats, which can sneak up on you from any angle, Metro Exodus tasks the player with scavenging/crafting to build up a stock of ammo and health packs. If you go rushing across a terrain without doing the proper preparation, you’ll soon end up inundated with creatures and lacking a way to take them down. A gung-ho approach may seem fun at first, but it soon becomes an epic struggle.

This means that, if you want to progress in this game at a reasonable rate, you’ll need to do some busy work. You’ll want to pick up any items you can, and pop open your backpack at regular intervals (because, thankfully, you can craft items on the go using the trusty luggage strapped to your back).

Without doing this homework, and without taking a stealthy approach to traversing the wilderness, you’ll likely find yourself stuck in a loop of dying and reloading. It’s easy to die in this game, but if you’re feeling trapped, the solution is normally an easy one: step away from the action and do some more preparation.

Sticking to a structure

Across The Volga and the two other levels we played (the summertime sojourn dubbed The Caspian and the autumnal fun of The Tiger), the structure of the game became clear: each new chunk of the Metro Exodus story begins with Artyom travelling to a different location, before this fresh area presents its own unique challenges. It’s like a series of mini open worlds, stitched together by the magic of the railway travel. 

Once you’ve managed to make your way from the parked train to the next major settlement (hopefully not dying too many times along the way), there’s always a flurry of excitement: a new character to talk to, a challenge to overcome, a bunch of nasty people to incapacitate, or perhaps an ominous-looking area to explore. The game does love to find a reason to trap you in a building, which allows plentiful opportunities for corridor-set action in the classic Metro mould.

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The shooting, slashing and stealth-deploying mechanics are easy to pick up, and your handy wristwatch gadget – which points you in the right direction, reminds you to change your gas mask filter and tells you when you’re in a visible position – is very useful for navigating scenarios and avoiding unwanted encounters. 

A whole new world(s)

As you explore the different open world areas of Metro Exodus, it becomes increasingly obvious that this particular apocalyptic wasteland isn’t as barren and uninhabited as we’d previously been led to believe. The community within the Moscow Metro is far from the only settlement to survive the nuclear fallout, and some of the other survivors are a lot less sane than the characters we’ve come to know in previous games.

In the segments of the game we played, we came across a cult that hates all technology, a lighthouse keeper that seems to be a new ally, some very angry aggressors in a tunnel, and a band of pirate-like people that use crossbows as their weapon of choice. Interestingly, a couple of these encounters ended with the opponents surrendering after our first few takedowns. 

Meeting new characters and piecing together a picture of what has happened to society after the nuclear war of 2013 is a gift that keeps on giving. The more you play, the more you understand what has become of the world. We didn’t get much of a sense of the story, besides Artyom and his cohorts attempting to find some sort of government/military high command, but we still had a lot of fun sneaking around the wasteland, crafting at every opportunity, getting into scrapes and trying to put the bigger picture together.

Autumn could steal the show

The Vulgar and The Caspian seemed to be cut from a similar cloth, albeit with different objectives, a slightly switched-up arsenal of weaponry and different weather conditions (the sandy, sun-drenched style of The Caspian made it frightfully hard to spot certain types of mutants, for one thing). Despite the satisfying surface-level differences between these two levels, your task remained similar: explore the area, complete objectives and keep topping up your supplies. 

The autumn-set section, The Tiger, was a completely different kettle of fish altogether. Things go sideways in a big way, very quickly, at the start of this level. Artyom ends up separated from the group – without his backpack full of weapons and supplies – in a brand new area of the map. This area has a bit more greenery than we’d seen elsewhere, but still packed its fair share of threats. 

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Those pirate-like crossbow-wielders show up in this fresh-feeling segment of the game, giving you a brand new challenge to overcome that’s unlike anything else we’ve seen from Metro. With your own freshly acquired crossbow and none of your usual tricks, you’ve got sneak around and take these skilled fighters out. This felt like a level from a totally different game – something a bit Assassin’s Creed-y, maybe – and this exciting surprise it was absolutely the highlight of our time with Metro Exodus.

We may not have played the full game yet, but we definitely saw enough here to pique our interest. The game feels like a challenging, eye-opening expansion of the Metro world, with loads of new additions and plenty of those familiar claustrophobic scares. This autumn level, in particular, promises that Metro Exodus has the potential to blow this franchise wide open and flex some brand new muscles. 

Certainly, our hype-levels have grown exponentially, and the game’s 15th February release date is now circled emphatically on our calendar. We’ll bring you a full review as soon as we can, and we hope the game can live up to our expectations.