The first two Metro games—and the books by Dmitry Glukhovsy—wanted you to believe that the survivors scraping out a basic life in the Moscow metro tunnels were all that was left of humanity after World War III. It’s a common feature of post-apocalyptic stories, which often focus on a specific region and ignore what’s going on in the rest of the world. This keeps the stakes high. If something happens to the last remaining humans on Earth, that’s a pretty big deal. If Joe Bloggs dies, but a few million people are still alive and kicking across the world, that’s left significant. Sorry, Joe.
Unless given concrete evidence to the contrary, I always assume that there are survivors elsewhere and that the protagonists of the story just don’t know about them yet. That proved to be a sensible, albeit obvious, assumption for the Metro world. After all, if the citizens of Moscow can survive in their Metro tunnels, why can’t citizens of other major cities. The London Underground already resembles a post-apocalyptic wasteland as it is, and in summer I’d rather spend my time soaking up radiation than sweating on the tube.
Artyom is similarly skeptical about the supposed uniqueness of Moscow’s inhabitants. He’s convinced he’s heard radio messages from outside Moscow and is quickly proven right after spotting a train while on the surface with his wife Anna. Turns out, there are survivors all over the world and World War III is still going on. A group called the Invisible Watchers has kept Moscow surrounded by signal jammers to trick opposition forces into thinking that Moscow has already been destroyed. The Invisible Watchers would quite like to keep all this secret and, before you know it, Artyom, Anna, and a group of Spartans led by Colonel Miller, steal a train and flee into the Russian wasteland.
Between missions, you hang out with the crew on board the train, playing a bit of guitar, smoking, drinking, or just listening to Anna talk about her dreams for the future. Artyom’s typically been a bit of a loner, meeting people on his travels before quickly discarding them. This time you make friends you remember by name. They accompany you on missions sometimes and by the end there’s a real sense of camaraderie between you all.
Storywise, everything feels a little more grounded this time around. There are no Dark Ones, no Nazis, and no communists. Instead, enemy factions are inspired by those of the original Metro 2033 novel and mainly consist of quasi-religious groups and fanatics run by crazy dictators (this one does have a fair bit in common with the Nazis!). Each group has a distinct personality which in turn leads to the regions they inhabit feeling different beyond the weather and environment.
In Volga, the major faction is a group who believe the use of technology is a sin. They reject electricity in all forms, even wearing tiny flames at the end of their helmets instead of using flashlights. Volga’s environment is therefore dominated by a large church and not every group you stumble across is a threat. The Caspian is ruled by the Baron who uses slaves at labor camps dotted around the maps. You can turn a blind eye and drive on past the camps, or stop at each site and kill whoever is in charge to free the slaves.
Even if you do want to kill an enemy, it might not be the wisest course of action, especially on the higher difficulty settings which come with harsh punishments for those who get spotted. You’re best off remaining silent and unseen where possible. You can throw junk around to manipulate guard movements a bit although I found it incredibly temperamental and ultimately the enemy AI was disappointing. Each enemy encounter once again has the ideal stealth path for you to take, but the larger levels mean you can approach from multiple directions and finding that ideal route takes a little more effort this time.
Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light were famously claustrophobic. You spent most of your time in the narrow metro tunnels, sticking to the shadows to avoid getting involved in conflicts between the Fourth Reich and the Reds. When you did go outside, you had to wear a gas mask and were always worried about running out of filters. It wasn’t exactly a relaxing opportunity to stretch your legs and work on your tan.
Metro Exodus changes all that. Instead of funneling you through short chapters with a clear beginning and end, you are free to roam a couple of semi-open world areas such as snowy Volga and the scorchingly-hot Caspian. The other levels aren’t open as such, but are still notably larger than their counterparts in the previous games, and offer you a degree of freedom in how you reach your goal.
The inclusion of open worlds represents a huge shift in focus and I was worried the Metro series would lose what made it so special; namely, the sense of immersion that came from slogging through Artyom’s miserable life in the tunnels. For the most part, 4A Games does a great job keeping that sense of immersion in place and thankfully resisted the temptation to pad the map with meaningless filler content. Even the open world traits that are used have their own little 4A Games spin on things. Looking at the map isn’t just a case of opening a menu screen; it requires Artyom to look at a physical map of his own in real time. Side quests aren’t just randomly added; companions point out sights of interest which are then marked on the map. Likewise, if you want to change weapon attachments in the field, Artyom crouches down and opens his backpack in real-time so that you’re never taken out of the moment.
Being able to adjust your weapons in the field is now crucial. A sudden sandstorm could make your weapon dirty which in turn means it may misfire and, as day turns to night, you may want to stick a thermal scope on top of that assault rifle. The amount of freedom you have with weapons is staggering. A punchy handgun that’s useful at short range, can be changed into something closer to a sniper rifle to let you quietly take out entire camps of enemies.
The best attachments and gear are found by completing a handful of side quests or stripping enemy weapons after killing them. The side quests are basic enough, requiring you go and collect lost teddy bears or free slaves, however, undertaking these tasks is a big ask given how limited your ammo supply is. Basic resource gathering is limited to scrap and chemicals which you use to craft everything from bullets to medkits to air filters. The new system works well but can lead to a lack of tension compared to the previous games because you can now craft a medkit or air filter whenever you want.
The open worlds do have a few niggles which are mainly problems from the previous games that become more apparent when you’re outside the tunnels. Movement is still a little rough. Artyom regularly gets stuck on the environment and there’s a ridiculous inconsistency in what you can and cannot climb. Your freedom of approach is somewhat limited when you realize that buildings need to be navigated in very specific ways. Sometimes this means you can pull yourself up onto a high ledge to get past enemies and other times you won’t be able to jump over a knee-high box. Artyom is so slow and fragile that exploration isn’t as satisfying as it should be. I sometimes skipped out on side quests not because I didn’t want to risk consuming resources, but because I couldn’t be bothered to trek over there and do it.
The two mini-open worlds have their fair share of bugs as well, such as incorrect map markers, floating assets, and a chugging flame rate whenever you enter a new area or the game quick saves. It’s nothing game-breaking, but it does feel like an engine being pushed beyond its limits.
I didn’t hate my time in the open worlds, but I wasn’t exactly complaining when it was time to move on and tackle something a little more straightforward. Those first two maps slightly outstayed their welcome and slowed the pace of progression more than I would have liked.
Thankfully the later levels are more restrictive and move along at a much faster pace. The Taiga is a stunning forest both during the day with the light shining through the trees and when you’re sneaking around under the moonlight. The linear (ish) level design means enemy encounters can be a little more structured and but the larger playspace means you have more room to work with and you can actually skip entire camps if you find hidden routes past them.
The shorter levels in the second half of the game push the story forward with a sense of urgency and end with a dramatic conclusion. The good/bad ending split is back and is once again based on moral points earned throughout the game. I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoilers, but despite having a couple of minor issues, I will say that this is the best the ending has been handled in the series so far and one of the better binary good/bad ending splits I’ve seen.
The Metro games have always been challenging, but thankfully Exodus adds a bunch of accessibility options and even a narrative mode. If you’ve played a Metro game before, I recommend playing it on “ranger hardcore” to get the minimal HUD and the tension that comes from knowing you can be killed in a single shot.
The intense challenge on offer is as thrilling as always. Nothing beats a shootout with you hiding behind a car desperately trying to peak through a broken window to get that perfect shot while worrying about enemies flanking your position or snipers lining up a perfect shot of their own.
There are still frustrating moments, especially on ranger hardcore difficulty where you can’t quicksave and only have one save file. If your only save state has you in a really bad place with no way out, then expect to bang your head against a wall for an hour. For the most though, it feels fair and there were no huge roadblocks in my 18-hour campaign.
Moving to small open world settings was a huge risk on behalf of 4A Games and the outcome is mixed. The open world areas slow the pace down a little too much for my tastes and ultimately the best levels are the ones that most closely resemble the feel of the previous games. However, everything else I love about this series is still present, such as the unrivaled sense of immersion, the incredible weapons, and the story that focuses on people more than big twists and turns.
Exodus isn’t quite the all-conquering sequel to the excellent Last Light that I’d been hoping for, but it’s another solid entry in a series that is unlike anything else on the market and I highly recommend you play it.