How did this happen? Biomutant has been in development since 2015, originally set for release in 2018, before being delayed all the way into 2021. We’ve seen smatterings of footage here and there and the occasional playable build, with developer Experiment 101 being so quiet that they even had to confirm the game wasn’t canceled. Typically, this signals a game being sent out to die by its publisher as a result of it not meeting internal expectations. But no — Biomutant is somehow one of the most boundlessly fun, ambitious, and creative open-world games I’ve played, surprising me at every turn with its unapologetic focus on letting the player have a good time. So again: How did this happen?!
I was waiting for the moment Biomutant would collapse in on itself. Its opening greeted me with a barrage of information, from the ‘Dark’ and ‘Light’ moral decisions you can make throughout the game, to its exhaustive crafting system, to its combination of melee and ranged combat.
We’ve repeatedly seen what happens when a developer has too many ideas, and these ideas shoved into a massive open-world suggested disaster was imminent. But that disaster never came, with its various features and systems bouncing off one another with a fluidity rarely seen from massive developers, let alone Experiment 101’s small team.
A world worth exploring
The reason why I have fallen quite in love with Biomutant can be best exemplified by my most recent adventure in it. I’m over 40 hours in, playing through a New Game+ save after completing its story (which took roughly 25 hours, including a good amount of exploration). While heading over to an objective, I stumble upon a crack in some rocks. I venture through, and I’m told that I’ve entered a mysterious location hiding some Superb Loot. I’m never one to turn down Superb Loot, so I walk through its dank cavern, before being confronted by a towering monster named ‘Bubba Sknarfs.’ I take out my custom-built shock rifle and mow it down, pilfering through its gargantuan pockets for items before heading further into danger. I take down tentacle monsters appearing from out the water, use my mutant abilities to spawn mushrooms I can jump on to clear colossal jumps, and proceed to get incredibly lost on the hunt for this elusive loot.
Then, I stop myself: “Wait — what was I supposed to be doing?”
Biomutant is full of these moments where you’ll unwittingly find yourself straying off the beaten path. Its inveigling world design, full of little mysteries hiding in plain sight around every corner and over every hill, invite you in until your initial goal becomes a vague memory.
Even after spending so many hours with it, I know that I’m still going to be surprised when I jump back in. Experiment 101 released a screenshot of the player-character as a bat, and I have no idea what that is! I have completed this game, deeply investigated almost every nook and cranny I have come into contact with, and I have still yet to come across any form of wearable bat wings or similar bat attire. I know that this surprise is still waiting for me, among many others, and I know that I’m going to continue to be distracted by a thousand other things before I eventually find it.
Combat, crafting, and customization
I could feel Biomutant’s mutated claws sinking into me due to its exhaustive and immensely satisfying crafting and customization. If you already know of Biomutant, then it’s likely as a result of it letting you make your player-character really intelligent by way of giving it a big head. That’s its biggest selling point right out of the gate, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Your anthropomorphic protagonist’s skills and abilities are directly related to its appearance, with the slider that adjusts its height, width, and proportions also changing its strength, agility, intellect, and the like. There’s a monstrous charm to these character designs — think gross-out ’90s cartoons rather than furry-friendly Sonic the Hedgehog characters.
This level of customization extends to weaponry, which can be upgraded or built from the ground up by the player. Weapons fit into different categories such as one-handed melee, shotguns, and rifles, with you able to either build them from the ground up or tinker with existing weapons. You can create a whole arsenal of equipment that’s unique to you, from making a revolver with an add-on that lets it shoot out ice blasts, to attaching a big fuck-off Final Fantasy sword to an ancient axe handle and having it also leave radiation in its wake.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Rodents
Speaking of radiation, Biomutant’s offbeat world is the by-product of its after-effects, following its near-extinction at the hands of an ambivalent and pollutive civilization that came before them. This civilization is gone now, and in their wake are mutant animals of all shapes and sizes stuck in a spectacular furry apocalypse, with a world reliant on the literal Tree of Life that sits at the center of everything.
However, this Tree is facing its own major problem, as several Kaiju-sized monsters known as the Worldeaters are gnawing on its roots. The tribes of this land each have their own differing opinions in regards to how this threat should be handled, and you must decide who to align with. Should the world be saved? Or should it be left to die and a new world born in its place?
Its inhabitants speak their own language, with various dialects being adopted by different species, so a (very British) narrator provides translation for them. It’s an interesting choice and one that certainly isn’t going to please everyone, but I found it to be charming. It also helps further illustrate that this is a very alien world you’re exploring; it’s kind of like Star Wars’ Cantina scene, but on a grander scale.
A long time ago in a wasteland far, far away…
Biomutant’s story is split between a classic revenge tale as you hunt the killer of your ‘Mooma’ (mother), a grand adventure to save the planet as you go after the Worldeaters, and a war drama as you become entrenched in its tribal feud. While it’s not the most memorable of yarns — though lore you find throughout the world fills in its world’s intriguing backstory — the presence of the narrator gives it a fairytale feel, as though you’re part of a bedtime fable you have direct control over. The decisions you make along the way will grant you either a Dark or Light Aura, which will have longstanding ramifications on both the fate of your player-character and the world altogether.
The various characters you meet will have their own opinion on your moral alignment. If you have a Dark Aura, morally good characters will treat you with suspicion and hesitancy while bad characters will applaud you. If you have a Light Aura, you’ll be hailed by the former while berated by the latter.
You can talk to anyone within this world, from the creatures you’re sent to on your main missions to the random civilians roaming around. Some will present you with new side-quests you may have missed, while others will simply offer their thoughts on the impending demise of their planet. For a game about mutated rodents, there are some genuinely thought-provoking philosophical lines in its script, with Experiment 101 having clearly been inspired by ancient Chinese proverbs.
This inspiration is also present in its visual design and characterization, with there being many characters, costumes, buildings, and the like with a clear Eastern influence. I can’t speak to how well Biomutant pulls this off given my lack of knowledge or experience in that department, but it appears to have been handled respectfully, while also making sense within the context of the game’s world. Its Eastern inspiration isn’t merely used as window-dressing, with this being evident across its story, script, design, and combat.
Wung Fu Clan
Biomutant adopts its own martial art form in ‘Wung Fu,’ a style coined by your Mooma who trained the heads of the tribes you now find yourself stuck between. Wung Fu is a seamless blend of melee, ranged, biogenetic, and Psi-powers, with you being able to pull off combos across all four which leads to righteous, stylish action. Even after many hours played, I’m still excited whenever I stumble upon a turf war, which will see me zipping between rival tribes and monsters, hitting them with special moves, all while slow-mo is liberally applied to emphasize its most awesome moments.
Your class choice will determine a set number of unique abilities you will have, though mostly every other ability can be obtained regardless of which class you occupy, save for some which are restricted to those with Light or Dark Auras. Classes are traditional RPG fare, from the ability-heavy ‘Psi-Freak’ to the ranged weapon connoisseur ‘Dead Eye,’ and upgrade points to improve your proficiency in these areas are obtained when you level up. You can also use upgrade points to unlock different special attacks for different categories of weapon, with three of these attacks activating Super Wung Fu mode, in which your damage is amplified and you can pull off additional heavy attacks.
All combos are each limited to a few hits, with the inputs required for them handily indicated on the UI. You can start doing cool stuff almost immediately; one of the earliest unlocked abilities allows you to plug a couple of punches into an enemy, before throwing them into the air and spiraling them into the ground with a vicious piledriver. Mostly every special attack feels impactful and looks slick, with the simplicity of its combat system allowing players across all skill levels to string together elegant attacks.
But that doesn’t mean Biomutant is an easy ride. Enemies initially take a good deal of punishment before you’re able to take them down, and you shouldn’t expect them to wait for you to pull off an exhaustive combo before they attack back. The likes of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed may follow Batman Arkham’s counter-heavy lead, and while there is timed parrying here, there are plenty of enemies of various shapes and sizes who won’t care for your dazzling moves and will instead charge right at you. Still, as you progress and level up your abilities and upgrade your weaponry, you eventually feel like an MMO raid boss marching through its landscape, defeating behemothic beasts with wild abandon.
Godzilla: Destroy All Mutants
However, there are some monsters that will take a much bigger kicking. The four Worldeaters you must face each require you to obtain a special mount to help you take them down, with these battles being unlike anything else you encounter in the game. While none of these encounters are particularly challenging, they make for grand visual spectacles that had me popping open Photo Mode more times than I could count. There’s one boss fight that had a real Godzilla vibe to it, complete with the Worldeater and I crashing through towering buildings as lightning rained down.
Outside of the mounts you use to fight the Worldeaters, there are various other animals in the game’s world that you can ride. There are multiple different biological mounts you can befriend with unique designs that range from fluffy and cute to slightly terrifying. My favorite is the Surfipelago Gnoat, an unsettling horse creature with glowing white eyes and an uncannily human face. It is adorable but it also looks like it would try to kill me in my sleep, which can be said for mostly everything in this beautiful yet strange setting.
And Biomutant is beautiful alright. There are a number of biomes to explore, from glorious tropical vistas through to sludgy, oil-covered wastelands. There are remnants of the extinct human civilization in its world, but this isn’t some hopeless, sludge-brown hellscape. Even though the Tree of Life may be struggling, it’s still teeming with color and personality.
I loved how I could stand perfectly on the precipice between two completely different environments, both of them with their own unique enemies and design. There are certain areas such as heat zones and radiation zones that require you to build resistance to enter them which contain their own secrets and surprises, and an entire sprawling desert that I only realized I hadn’t ventured into until after completing the game’s story.
With this being an open-world game, it’s not without some technical issues, though in my playthroughs these were mostly limited to frame rate drops in certain busy areas. I experienced a couple of visual glitches and one particular error where a side-mission wouldn’t activate correctly, though compared to other games of this scale, it runs great. I experienced a consistent 60 FPS in 4K on PC with the occasional hiccup, but it rarely detracted from the action.
One notable bug that I encountered, which I hope is promptly fixed in a post-launch patch, saw the clothing I equipped to handle hazardous zones not increasing my resistance. While there’s specific clothing I could obtain via side-missions that acted as a workaround to this problem, it was still a tedious issue to face, though will presumably be rectified in a future update.
Biomutant Review: The final verdict
Biomutant is a lively, stylish, and downright joyous open-world game that doesn’t get bogged down in the conventions of the genre. There’s no bloated story here, and its vibrant sandbox setting is anything but barren, as I felt compelled to explore every nook and cranny I stumbled upon in its vast, gorgeous world.
Its combat and crafting systems combine to create effortlessly cool action with tons of customization options, making your arsenal of weapons feel uniquely your own. While its story may not be its focal point, its narrator and wonderfully odd selection of characters are full of charm, with its morality system and eco-friendly message making me feel like I was a part of a thoughtful children’s fable.
Considering Biomutant’s delayed and seemingly troubled road to release, I’m blindsided by just how good it is. Experiment 101 has clearly been afforded the time to see its vision through, something which is unfortunately far too rare in the cutthroat gaming industry. I did not expect this to be one of my favorites of the year so far, let alone one of the most enjoyable open-world games I’ve ever played. A true modern gaming miracle.
We reviewed Biomutant on PC with a code provided by the publisher.