I find myself in awe of Metro Exodus for reasons I did not expect.
Each entry in the series is known for pushing the visual boundaries of what is possible with current-gen hardware, but Metro Exodus takes it to another level. Exodus has some staggering environmental effects and detail, taking the best of Metro Last Light's semi-open world environments and fully exploring the potential therein. This includes dense forests choked with fog, dynamic reflections on frozen lakes, and scattered light through thick storm clouds, washing everything in vivid shadows.
Metro Exodus is a visual masterpiece that showcases the full potential of the 4K Xbox One X, with tight, survival-shooter gameplay layered on top. This is the quintessential Metro experience, but for every area where 4A Games has improved, it shines a headlamp on some of the series's lasting problems.
Stunning apocalyptic adventure
Bottom line: A few glitches can't stop this staggering artistic achievement from becoming one of the Xbox One's most important shooters.
- Excellent level design.
- Satisfying survival-shooter gameplay.
- Intriguing story and good characters.
- Voice work is a bit patchy.
- It's glitchy and suffers occasional crashes.
Visual design, performance, and sound
Metro Exodus continues 4A's tradition of breath-taking environmental design direction, weaving wholly believable post-apocalyptic environments across a range of unique biomes. As Exodus's name suggests, this is the first game in the series that takes you completely out of the dank subway tunnels of the Moscow metro system, taking place in a string of large connected areas and far larger in scope than Metro Last Light's flirtations with a more open format.
Despite taking on a more open approach, Metro Exodus is completely devoid of copy and paste. Every area feels hand-crafted, brimming with detail and reasons to explore. Using safe houses, you can sleep to switch the game between night and day; otherwise, the day cycles dynamically, bringing with it vivid lighting, gorgeous skyboxes, and even weather systems. Heavy rain-washed environments in light-reflecting dampness and radioactive mist can roll in, blanketing your vision in darkness. These aspects of the game's visual design play heavily into gameplay.
Beyond the open environments, Metro Exodus's open plains are dotted with points of interest, which often serve a similar function to dungeons. These areas come across as more traditional "Metro," with large, winding structures with multiple pathways and secrets, across a variety of location types. Metro Exodus really explores the Mad Maxian-style reality of its nuclear wasteland, with macabre attention to every rust-bitten detail.
Metro Exodus also sports native Dolby Atmos support, making it a true joy to play with headphones. The game is light on UI in general (even more so if you play on Ranger Hardcore difficulty), and those Dolby Atmos audio cues add an almost disturbing sense of directional awareness. Dolby Atmos really puts you in the game, emphasizing Exodus's stealth and horror elements, for better or worse depending on your temperament. As good as Atmos is, sometimes, it makes dialogue far too quiet, forcing you to turn it off. And since the subtitles were bugged out as of writing ... I found that I had to keep it turned off most of the time.
All the good stuff that resides within Exodus shines a bit of a spotlight on areas where 4A still has work to do. I'd quite happily put the environmental design up there with the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, but the character animations haven't improved a great deal. Additionally, Exodus could use a few performance boosts on Xbox One X. Areas with thick smoke or particles can slam the frame rate to a crawl, and there are plenty of glitches with animations, models clipping through walls or doors, seemingly unable to handle some of the game's more dynamic area layouts. I also experienced crashes here and there. Finally, the game has some sort of input lag on Xbox One X, which makes it feel a tad unresponsive and sticky to play. There's also a bug where if your controller disconnects due to battery loss or inactivity, Metro Exodus won't detect that you've reconnected it, forcing you to restart the game.
Overall, Metro Exodus is a rare type of game that I'd recommend to shooter fans on the basis of visuals alone. Bugs aside, the artistic and technical achievement on display here cannot be understated, and Metro Exodus is a work of art.
Metro Exodus story (no spoilers)
As a ranger named Artyom, you're part of a politically-neutral brotherhood that tasks itself with protecting the people of the Metro. Metro Exodus takes place relatively soon after the events of Metro Last Light. Artyom and his wife, Anna, sneak out of the Metro searching for radio signals from beyond Moscow, convinced that there's life outside the city. Not long into the game, you discover they are correct. Artyom and Anna set out beyond Moscow in a re-engineered steam train, built to withstand the horrific mutants and radiation that has decimated the surface.
Exodus really nails the sense of adventure with its travel-centric plot. The Aurora train gives you time between levels to simply enjoy the ride, bonding with characters you meet on your travels, complete with optional side objectives. As you progress, you'll meet an array of eclectic characters who cling to existence in the bitter wastes, some eager to kill you, others eager to help you, and a few who are just plain crazy. Artyom and Anna set out to answer some of the series's most pressing mysteries, including what life outside of the Metro is like, the remnants of the Russian government, and what really happened in the "Last War."
The central criticism of Metro Exodus's story delivery is probably its voice acting, which is a bit patchy at best and a little hammy at worse. Since much of the game revolves around immersion, with Metro Exodus's industry-leading visuals and hyper-realistic gameplay, the B-movie dialogue is one area which holds the game back.
The story also doubles down on the moral choices introduced in Last Light, where players are able to make many "soft" decisions that affect the outcome of the plot. One mission near the start requires you to steal a boat from local merchants. Naturally, you can either kill them, subdue them, or complete the segment entirely in stealth.
The supporting characters remark upon your approach once the mission is through, with some criticizing your actions if they seem needlessly violent, while others relish the carnage.
If you can adjust your expectations for the voice acting, the game has some truly moving moments, harrowing set-pieces, and great environmental narrative. The game's story rewards your exploration and decisions with unique character moments, and like Last Light, it impacts the game's conclusion.
Metro Exodus gameplay
This is the best Metro game to date. Every aspect that makes Metro a great series has been refined and dialed up, piling on great new features to sit alongside its more open environments.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Metro games, they border on first-person survival horror in some ways, with a side order of stealth. This is particularly true if you play on Ranger Hardcore difficulty, which strips away the UI and crosshairs and forces you to treat every bullet as a precious resource.
Ranger Hardcore is the way Metro is intended to be played, and in Exodus, it presents a true test far beyond the previous titles, as long forays into the open world can quite easily lead you on the path of misadventure. A couple of bullets will kill you, forcing you to play stealthily and tactically, but on the flip side, enemies die more rapidly too, which really changes the dynamic of tactical play. Normal mode is far less stressful, but still an intense and challenging experience.
Artyom has some new tools to accommodate the game's doubled emphasis on exploration. His backpack can be deployed anywhere in the field, allowing you to craft health kits, basic ammunition, and other tools using scavenged materials found throughout the game.
Artyom can also change the attachments on his weapons on the fly to better fit the situations you'll encounter, although you remain restricted to three weapons total, with one slot occupied by the air-pressure rifle (which gets upgraded throughout the game's story). Artyom also gets access to a variety of level-relevant vehicles throughout the game, including boats and even train cars. The game features a fairly large range of weaponry and tools, with plenty of options for all types of combat.
Beyond weapons, Artyom has to maintain his equipment in other ways. If you don't keep your weapons clean, they'll jam and break. If you don't keep your gas mask repaired, you won't be able to survive in toxic environments. The emphasis on maintenance and survival makes Metro Exodus a more immersive and thoughtful shooter than many of its competitors. It's not without its imperfections, though.
Exodus's A.I. is still painfully basic and doesn't feel far removed from its predecessors. While enemies now call out your general location to their teammates, which feels immersive, they don't really follow through a lot of the time. Enemies will walk into walls and get stuck in strange, glitched animations, as they struggle to decide whether they want to hide in cover or flee further back. Enemies also very easily forget that they've just stumbled upon the corpse of one of their friends, returning to passive patrol routes and dialogue.
There was also clear room for Exodus to advance its combat beyond Last Light, but the opportunity is largely missed. Stealth gameplay remains the same, basic affair.
There's no gore whatsoever, which limits the sense of impact of weapons compared to similar titles. In fact, even explosives fail to depart any sense of force too, causing enemies to simply flop down into ragdolls upon detonation. The physics feel off, with monster models floating in slow motion when you pick them off in a way that the physics engine doesn't like.
The open-ended level design is really what puts Metro Exodus a step above its predecessors, giving players a sense of freedom far removed from the previous games' claustrophobic metro tunnels.
The lowdown on Metro Exodus
Metro Exodus is a visual achievement with some of the most impressive world design to date. Meticulously detailed locations make this the best Metro game yet, putting Exodus firmly in the must-play category for shooter fans.
While the voice acting is patchy, the overall story is an engrossing tale of post-apocalyptic survival, wrapped in a sense of discovery and adventure aboard the Aurora train convoy. Bonding with your characters as you travel across the wastes makes Exodus feel far less lonely than the previous games, without hurting the sense of survival and isolation.
Exodus's combat has room for improvement, particularly when it comes to enemy A.I. behavior. The gunplay is tight and well-built, with an emphasis on customization, allowing you to play how you want to play. While I'm hoping polish patches come in thick and fast after launch, even when you acknowledge the game's rough edges Metro Exodus is among the best first-person shooters you can get right now.
A gorgeous 4K apocalypse
A defining Xbox One X shooter
Metro Exodus is one of the most visually impressive games on Xbox One X, boasting incredible effects, vast detailed 4K environments, and tight survival shooter gameplay.
Jez reviewed Metro Exodus on an Xbox One X console using a copy provided by Deep Silver.
Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!