Metro Exodus made a serious splash when it debuted at the Xbox E3 2017 Briefing. Showcasing the power of Xbox One X, the gorgeous first-person survival game brought gamers face to face with some of the less…friendly…denizens of the franchise’s post-apocalyptic Russia. Rats aren’t supposed to grow quite that big, you know.
Roughly one year to the day, we finally got a closer look at 4A Games’ ambitious game. Delivering a vast, frigid landscape to explore, tight storytelling, overhauled weapon customization, and new survival systems, it’s shaping up to be another technical and mechanical showpiece. Here are four things we learned about Metro’s waterlogged wasteland during a recent hands-on demo:
The Metro franchise is known for its suffocating atmosphere and well-crafted storytelling. Metro Exodus will continue that tradition with another tense, horrifying jaunt through the USSR, but it’s been dramatically expanded in both size and scope.
Playing as series protagonist Artyom, gamers will journey outside Moscow for the first time, exploring open-world sections of the irradiated Russian countryside exponentially bigger than the largest level in Metro: Last Light. These regions don’t comprise one gigantic, interconnected world, however. Exodus features the same linear level progression found in other Metro game, but with significantly more freedom.
At the start of our demo, for instance, we were given basic directions to track down a fallen comrade. Naturally, we strayed from that path almost immediately, instead of heading off into the woods to explore a curious airplane wreck. It proved costly – a few monstrous wolf beasts were too much for us to handle so early on – but it spoke to the developers’ desire to give players a newfound sense of independence and agency.
Our demo took place along the picturesque Volga river, but forget about blooming flowers and fly-fishing – everything was covered in frost and decay. Post-apocalyptic worlds are rarely pleasant, and Metro Exodus really ramps up the dreariness by infusing its systems with the harsh realities of life after nuclear war.
Your map isn’t lit up with a million icons. There are technically no side-missions in Exodus, just one shifting primary objective and a world of mystery surrounding it. The handy waypoints and beacons seen in other open-world games are gone; here, it’s just the map, a compass, and your own wits.
Brutal realism permeates every inch of Metro Exodus. Ammo is scarce, weapons degrade over time, radiation is everywhere, and safe houses are far and few between. This isn’t a run and gun shooter; to survive Metro Exodus, you’ll need to play it slow and smart.
Fortunately, Artyom is a pretty handy Spartan ranger. Metro Exodus goes big with its munitions, letting players use scavenged resources to craft powerful new gear and weapons. This can be done on the fly, but it’s more potent when using a hard-to-find workbench.
No resource goes unused. Have shotgun ammo but no shotgun? You can hope to find one, or dismantle the ammo and fashion it into something more immediately useful. Find a rifle with a cool scope? You can keep the attachment but ditch the gun itself. You’ll also need to use resources to keep each gun in good working condition. Tinkering with your loadout to ensure you have the right weapons for every situation can mean the difference between life and a cold, lonely death.
Running on an upgraded version of the 4A engine that powered Last Light, Exodus has been tailor-made for 4K on the Xbox One X with intricately detailed characters, crisper textures, and impressively far sightlines (4A Games notes it will feature full HDR support at launch). The engine also supports a full day/night cycle, and since the game takes place over the course of a full year, expect the seasons to change as well.
It goes beyond sheer graphical horsepower, however. During our playthrough, we infiltrated a religious cult stationed a few clicks down the Volga, taking out a few guards before narrowly escaping in a rowboat. As we slowly paddled away, we were beset upon by creepy, oversized crawfish, which seamlessly transitioned to an in-engine cutscene as a monstrous, whale-like fish upended our rickety canoe. A mad dash for shore later and we were back on our way. These sorts of sudden, cinematic moments break up the sandbox action and drive home the feeling that anything can (and probably will) happen at any time in Metro Exodus.
We’ll, unfortunately, have to wait a bit longer to test our mettle in the final version of Metro Exodus’ beautiful, desolate world. It’s currently due for release on February 22, 2019.