Blue Skies are a Good Sign in Metro Exodus

Metro Exodus Preview image

Looking up to a crisp blue sky in a Metro game doesn’t seem quite right. It’s a suspicious new vision in a series known for carving a living out of resolutely detailed, subterranean hell. Metro has been elegant and perfectly dour in digging this hole for humanity, documenting the dwindling hopes of people that somehow persist in Moscow’s crumbling subway network, itself buried like a giant skeleton beneath an irradiated world-that-was. A blue sky in a harrowing game of survival just seems rude at this point, like a pop of festive funeral confetti.

After playing a few hours of Metro Exodus, however, I have come to see this blue sky intruder as a confident display of the heights Metro might reach next. This is not a game having an identity crisis, or cranking up the primary colors because a survey said people prefer their virtual worlds un-wrecked. In venturing far, far outside the tunnels and through a shape-shifting world haphazardly pulling itself back together, Metro has uncovered even more of the mystery, danger and lived-in dirt that captivated me to begin with. For example: As much as that pretty sky may lift your spirit, it’s nothing compared to the slobbering, winged beasts that lift your entire body and throw you off a cliff. That’s what you get for standing around like an idiot, staring up at the sky.

Beyond that, here are a few observations I made from my time with Metro: Exodus:

The Train Really Ties the Room Together

Metro protagonist Artyom and his companions Anna and Miller (amongst others) have set out into the world onboard the Aurora, a clacking monster of a train that’s always hungry for fuel. It carries you into the open, but it’s not a vehicle for an open-world game in the traditional sense. The train has to stop as seasons change on your journey and whenever the story demands – maybe it’s to stock up on water, or to investigate one of the world’s fierce new factions. In my case, this meant hanging out in a sun-drenched bowl of jutting canyons, littered with rusting boat carcasses left behind as the tide retreated and the ocean dried up. The Aurora acts not only as an impromptu base of operations here, but as an emotional anchor for the story that calls out to you no matter how far you venture. You’ll want to come back to your crew once your work out there is done and move forward. The story does not hinge on completing all the activities, but answering: “How can we keep going? We have to keep going.”

As with previous games in the series, Metro: Exodus is utterly devout in keeping digital information off the screen. There’s no HUD, no health, no mini-map. The real-time passage of sunrise and sunset is marked on Artyom’s wristwatch. Getting your in-game bearings calls for an equally in-game map. It’s just some paper adhered to a board with a compass, held in hand just like one of the game’s cobbled-together weapons. The map’s points of interest – actually, better to call them points of concern, given their inevitably dark outcomes – are scant and simple, appearing as scribbled question marks with no other instructions. These appear as you talk to characters or discover events naturally.

Metro Inline 1

You’re free to wander in any direction, but even that’s a non-trivial consideration: The ammo and crafting parts you find in this worrisome, barren world should be weighed against how much ammo and health supplies you might expend if you’re ambushed by a scraggly monster rising from the sand.

You’ll Miss the Blue Sky Once It’s Gone

My assault on a camp of cultists would have gone a lot better if my aim and very body wasn’t so shaken by a sandstorm, which blotted out the sun in the distance but then fell on me with little warning. I was fascinated to see the impenetrable gusts of wind intersect with the rest of the game’s moving parts – so fascinated I died.

The sand made it hard to breathe and Artyom’s iconic (yeah, I said it!) gas mask only hampered visibility. In all this, as I slogged up to the second floor of a ruined building that I suspected would give me some supplies, I realized my human foes were already being attacked by a cluster of monsters. (Cluster? What’s the collective noun for a group of vampiric wasteland mutants? Why did we waste “murder” on crows of all things?) I was gutted in the chaos.

It reminded me of being rained in at a party where absolutely nobody gets along, but better.

You’re a Hundred Years Out of Warranty

News flash: Everything is garbage in the world of Metro: Exodus. This is good, because you can build things out of garbage and conquer the wasteland with a Frankenstein-caliber pneumatic rifle that spits out pellets of death with an artery-severing SHWIP! Unfortunately, this does little to avoid the fact that your weapon is still actual garbage that needs to be pumped up to full pressure.

Weapons that fail, jam or break can often be a point of contention in games, but I find it to be one of the purest expressions of what the game is about. People like Artyom have no direction save to survive and improvise and find purpose in everything that remains in the world. For weapons to be immune from this story would be strange, free of anxiety and surprise. They should be coveted, unreliable, fun and scary all at once. Their clickety-clack, bizarrely composed nature is perfectly representative of Metro’s identity and witnessing them sputter, wheeze and SHWIP! gives the world an unexpected, occasionally calamitous cadence.

What I’m saying is that I just love garbage so much.

You Can’t Stop the World

For as much destruction that’s been dropped on it, the world of Metro: Exodus feels like it’s always squirming with life. Creatures roam in the distance, humans squabble between themselves and the universe never pauses to accommodate you while you fiddle with your inventory. We’ve seen games that claim to never cut away from the action, but here it’s demonstrably true.

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The first-person perspective is non-negotiable in Metro: Exodus, whether you’re looking at your legs dangling beneath a zipline or crouching down to open your backpack. The backpack is your window into what you’re carrying and what you can craft (though it’s a limited set of options compared to a proper crafting workbench). Once you trigger it, Artyom removes the pack, sets it down on the ground and surveys the contents. From here, you can modify your weapons with additional scopes and grips, or piece together new air filters or medical kits. And if you’ve ever put down your backpack at the airport in the search of a phone charger, you know this moment leaves you vulnerable, disoriented and likely to be eaten by a mutant.

The Spiders are Huge and I Don’t Like Them

As the journey in the outside world inevitably headed downward and deeper into darkness, I found that Metro’s ghoulish monsters have only grown in size and number since I last encountered them. As I crept into an ancient data archive, buried in what seemed like eons of spiderwebs, I became completely obsessed with charging up my handheld battery and keeping my flashlight as bright as possible. Clad in armor, the spiders beneath the desert in Metro: Exodus can’t simply be shot – they have to be torched by the light of your lamp.

Enjoy your time in the vents!

Tiny, bonus observations:

  • The light toggle will operate the last light you used – so, if you’re wearing night vision goggles, the light toggle will turn those on and off. If you were using a flashlight, that goes on and off instead.
  • If you’re looting the body of an enemy, you can either switch your weapon with theirs or instantly strip it for crafting materials.
  • There are only two part types you need to worry about before crafting.
  • As with Metro: Last Light, the punchy stealth takedowns are animated with true love and never cease to satisfy.
  • Enemy dialogue call out your location specifically if they spot you. “He’s up there!”
  • Corpses will slump over once they’ve been looted, giving you a quick visual (and still in-world!) indicator that you’ve already investigated.
  • To create a terrifying pillar of flame, toss a Molotov cocktail into an oil geyser.
  • Artyom’s backpack is incredibly organized, complete with a wooden divider that keeps all his acquired detritus arranged like they’re on a spice rack. It makes the interior of my backpack look like a landfill.
  • Loading screens still hold Artyom’s Internal monologue. Metro is a rare series where we often get insight into the protagonist’s internal state of mind in a novelistic fashion.
  • If you look closely, you can find copies of the Metro 2033 and Metro 2034 novels in the game. Does this mean that author Dmitry Glukhovsky himself exists in the world somewhere, writing Artyom’s story as he goes? Is he Russian Alan Wake?

Metro Exodus will be hitting Xbox One on February 15, 2019, and will be Xbox One X Enhanced. While you’re waiting, be sure to check out its predecessors Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light in Xbox Game Pass. Or, if you’d rather play them all at once and upgrade to Xbox One X, grab the recently announced Metro Saga Bundle!