I’ll get this part out of the way right now: I’m madly in love with Biomutant. I’ve been waiting years to check it out, but my tastes have changed a bit since the last time I heard about it. Until I sat down with this game for the purposes of this review, I was completely burned out on open-world adventures. In my heart, I knew I still adored the genre, but nothing I’ve played recently has truly engaged me. Death Stranding came very close, but the story felt padded out, and the whole thing seemed more like work by the time everything came to a close. And I’m still sitting on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which, for the life of me, I simply cannot bring myself to finish. I’m having fun with it, but I often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks, missions, and collectibles that are vying for my undivided attention.
And then I started Biomutant, and I suddenly remembered how immersive open-world games can be when you’re not overburdened with busy work. Biomutant’s post-apocalyptic world feels rich and lived-in, as opposed to a lifeless map filled to overflowing with pointless activities. Everything you do in the game, from reconfiguring satellite dishes to messing around with ancient microwaves, feels purposeful. When I stumbled across something new, I never thought to myself, “Another flipping side quest? Just what I needed!” Instead, I wanted to see more. It’s been a while since an open-world game has compelled me to explore in a natural way.
At its adorable little core, Biomutant is an old-school Shaw Brothers-esque kung fu movie, complete with a headstrong hero and a revenge plot involving a villain from the hero’s past. And like any good kung fu flick, this hero will rid the world of this menace while helping out with a few other important tasks — like preventing the end of the world. But here’s the twist: If you’re feeling like a total jerk and want to ruin everyone’s day, you can ditch the enlightened path and devote yourself to absolute destruction. Feel the need to punch prisoners in the face after freeing them? Got an urge to slaughter defenseless animals in their natural habitat? Want to end the world? It’s in there. Biomutant lets you play as nasty as you want, and it ultimately has an effect on the tale you choose to weave.
Despite the familiar setup, I enjoyed Biomutant’s story, thanks in part to the cast of silly, furry, intelligent, and downright strange characters. Although they’re a bit long-winded when they have something important to say, these thoughtful creatures bring depth and emotion to a tale we’ve all heard before. For instance, if you’re on the path of light (which I followed for this review), some characters will praise your efforts to save the Tree of Life from the dreaded Worldeaters; others, however, will mock you. Even when you do your best to change the world for the better, you’ll encounter villagers and wanderers who struggle to make sense of what could be the end of their existence. It’s a surprisingly deep story, and it caught me by surprise. Biomutant also gets a little preachy, so prepare to hear a few things about the dangers of consumerism and how humans royally messed up the ecosystem. But come on — it’s nothing you didn’t know already.
Of course, Biomutant’s story isn’t the only thing that draws inspiration from martial arts films. Kung fu is the name of the game when you’re ready to save (or destroy) the world. At first, your character won’t feel very powerful or resilient; foolishly taking on mobs of violent furballs can put you in an early grave when you’re starting out. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to level up your character (especially if you dig into the game’s ridiculous amount of side quests) and unlock handy new moves and perks. Additionally, you can also use bio points and psi-points to gain special abilities that make life on the battlefield a little easier. You have a lot of control over the character you want to build, allowing you to experiment with the type of hero you want to create. And don’t worry too much if the combat feels awkward at first; once your hero hits a certain level, you’ll find your rhythm, which makes confrontations feel like a violent ballet of cutesy carnage. In the best way possible.
Although you can build an unarmed kung fu master who prefers to fight with their bare hands, chances are you’ll want to load up your hero with all types of snazzy gear during your first go-around. And whoa boy, is there a lot of gear. Instead of giving you tons of ready-made weaponry, Biomutant fills its world with all the necessary parts to build your own. Want to stick an enormous vegetable on a katana hilt? In the market for a flaming rolling pit with an oh-so deadly screw sticking out of one side? Again, it’s in there. You can spend a lot of time mixing and matching pieces to create the perfect weapon — and then scrap it all and start over again. Thankfully, Biomutant’s cartoony UI makes everything simple and intuitive, which is great for people like me who usually hate crafting. As for armor, the developers have provided a wide variety of creative options, from enormous duck-head helmets to kung fu garb that will make your hero look like a bonafide martial arts master. You could honestly spend hours looking for the perfect outfit. And despite what anyone says, roleplaying as an ass-kicking critter who dresses like a preppie high schooler and carries a sword with a voodoo doll stuck to it only makes this world cooler.
And oh what a world it is. I love running through the game’s lush environments looking for hidden chests and stacks of rubbish I can smash. Even when I have other means of transportation, I prefer to keep things grounded so I don’t miss anything. Biomutant’s open world has a rich and inviting atmosphere, and I want to see it all. There’s an opportunity for exploration at every turn, and it’s easy to get sidetracked by something else that’s happening nearby. Here’s a good example: On the way to check out a gas station I spotted down the road, I paused to kick the snot out of a giant furry monster that, to my surprise, held the key to a long-forgotten underground bunker. Before I could get to the bunker, I stumbled across a busted guitar inside a crumbling home. After completing a very simple puzzle to fix the guitar, I set off to find the others. Gas station and underground bunker: forgotten. Fantastic. I had the same feeling playing Skyrim for the first time.
Finding these missions and side quests feels natural; the game gently nudges you to explore those abandoned shacks and houses that litter the landscape. Even after 50 hours of exploration, I’m still discovering goofy-looking NPCs lurking in one-room shacks at random locations on the game’s sprawling map. Obviously, Biomutant offers a good amount of content, but these activities never encroach on your experience. After the tutorial, you can come and go as you please; I didn’t dig into the main questline until I’d crossed the 20-hour mark. Again, Biomutant feels very much like Skyrim in the way it encourages you to spend some time just walking around and taking it all in. And, like Skyrim, you can choose to burn through the main story without giving much thought to everything else, but you’ll miss so much in the process. My advice: Slow things down and take in the small details whenever you can. Biomutant excels at environmental storytelling.
Last but not least, we need to talk about the narrator — I think it’s important. Your journey to save (or destroy) the world comes with a built-in narrator who translates conversations, offers up some lore and exposition, and chats his head off when you’re trying to enjoy a little alone time in the Deadzone. I honestly enjoyed his remarks and observations about anything and everything, as they gave my adventure an almost storybook-like quality. Plus, it’s amusing to hear the narrator skillfully pronounce some of the oddball names the inhabitants of this world have assigned to things. Not surprisingly, your mileage will vary with this guy, and you can turn down the idle chit-chat if you prefer. But give it a shot before politely asking the narrator to shut his trap. He’s not Bastion good, but he’s honestly not bad.
Let’s face it folks: I’m crazy about Biomutant. I’ve had an absolute blast the entire time. The game looks great on PC, and despite a few hiccups with the frame rate, it runs smoothly. There’s a little jank that makes the game feel clumsy — the conversation system is probably the biggest offender — and the story certainly won’t win any awards for originality, but these problems can’t stop the game from charming the hell out of you. If watching an adorable one-eyed animal pull off acrobatic gunplay in slow motion doesn’t bring a smile to your face, I’m afraid we can’t be friends. But don’t let Biomutant’s trash punk-meets-Secret of NIMH vibes fool you — behind the cartoony facade lies a robust character creation system that will allow you to play the game however you choose. I already have plans for my next character, and I haven’t finished delving into all of the side quests for my first playthrough. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt the need to replay a game with a different character. Biomutant has its hooks in me, and I’m more than happy to embark on another adventure.
This review is based on the PC version of Biomutant. A review code was provided to us by THQ Nordic.
Biomutant could be the sleeper hit of 2021. Not only is it downright adorable, but it's also an absolute blast to play. Developer Experiment 101 has created a world that you want to explore, and it frequently rewards you for slowing down and taking it all in. Throw in some great combat, robust character creation, and a wonderful crafting system and you've got a game that should please even the most jaded of open-world enthusiasts.