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2 November 2021

Metro Exodus Review

by Florian

I recently beat Metro Exodus and I figured I’d throw up a quick “what I wish I’d known” before I bought it post.

The long and short of it is: This is a great game and you should play it.


Just to knock out the easy thoughts early and segue into the review.

Is this game scary?

Yes? But also no. I’m a real wuss when it comes to horror and scary movies and I got through it mostly fine. There are definitely jump scares but they’re few and far between and usually fairly predictable.

Watch out for water creatures, times when you think your character is about to be safe, and spiders and you’ll be fine.

Do I need to play the prior games?

No, I didn’t and I enjoyed it anyway. I think it might make the game more rewarding but it’s not necessary.

How long does it take to beat?

I beat the main game in about 16 hours. It’s a lot of fun and it’s frequently on sale.

Everything from here on out is fair-game for spoilers.

A Long Tirade Against Metro’s Morality

The morality system in this game is frankly bizarre, and almost made me quit playing.

Apparently this is a feature of Metro games: A hidden morality system. You can’t go to a screen and see “renegade” or “paragon” like in Mass Effect but the morality system is there and it’s still operating in the background. When you do something good, you get morality points. When you do something bad, you lose points.

At the end of every chapter, the game tallies up the points and if you’ve done enough good things, you get a “good” ending. If you’ve done too few good things (or too many bad things) you get a “bad” ending.

This is all very normal.

What makes this incredibly maddening is there’s basically zero distinction between good and bad in this world. In the first section, there’s a group of cultists who are holding a strategic crossing for ransom. They’ve kidnapped a little girl and her mother, are led by a crazed man who feeds his disciples to a giant fish, and, in your first interaction with them, they ambush and attempt to kill you.

These people are “good” though! Don’t kill them! They are just innocents in a misguided world!

The bandits are the “bad” guys. You can kill them. They are slavers which, yeah, makes them pretty unequivocally bad, but I was not all that convinced the cultists were much better. Both were trying to kill me and both were pretty ethically questionable.

The logical argument here is to just not kill anyone – everyone is just trying to survive in a war-torn, apocalyptic hellscape after all. But that makes the game oddly dull. It’s an ok-to-good stealth game, but it’s also a first person shooter, and creeping around all the time trying to suss out whether a person is “good” or “bad” got pretty old.

Weirdly enough, this exact same paradigm repeats in the second and third chapters of the game.

After the weird cultists, you encounter much more obviously evil slavers who are also sort of cult leaders over their drudges. At the beginning of the chapter, you have the option to not kill one of the slavers. This is considered a good thing by the game because you showed mercy to somebody you could have killed. However, the slaver then reappears and says he’s trying to replace the head slaver, The Baron. He offers no qualifications that he’s going to, you know, stop slaving just that he wants to be the head-honcho instead of the current boss. I’m not so sure allowing him to live was the right choice?

By the third chapter, I’d cottoned on to what was happening. I didn’t kill the woodland people at all despite them kidnapping me and attempting to kill me multiple times. I will say, this chapter is the most clear as far as morality goes. One of the forest women saves your life right at the beginning so it’s pretty obvious who’s good and who’s bad.

Why you can’t just not kill anybody

The game itself is very confused about all this. I like the idea of an ambiguous morality where everyone is trying to get by in a difficult world. That’s an interesting story and the subject of countless post-apocalyptic books and movies.

The problem is, the game has a morality system! It’s not up to you to determine who is good and who is bad, it’s up to the game, the judgmental “God” of your world.

There is an entire section where, without choice, you gun down hundreds of cannibalistic crazies, and the game doesn’t bat an eye. Cannibalism is, uh, obviously bad, but those people were trapped in a bunker with no food until they were driven insane. They are just as much a victim of their situation as many of the people you interact with, but there’s not even a choice to spare them.

Bad is good, and good is bad

All of this could be forgiven, if the game’s good endings were actually good?

Each chapter has a good and bad ending and then these sum up to a good or bad ending for the entire game. The first chapter’s end is very clear cut. A member of your crew lives or dies depending on your morality decisions. Totally normal!

The next two chapter finales are so much more ambiguous that I’d like to make the case that the good endings are actually pretty bad.

In the slaver chapter, one of your crew, Damir, comes out with you and meets up with Guil - a local woman who’s trying to free the slaves. The two have a shared heritage, they hit it off, and Damir becomes enamored with the idea of staying and liberating the area with Guil.

If you rack up enough morality points, though, Damir continues on his journey with you and leaves Guil behind.

Wait, what?

In the “bad” ending Damir, a highly skilled spartan agent, stays to help free slaves and lead an oppressed society to rebuild with better morals and into a better future.

In the “good” ending, he gets to traipse along with your gang who objectively don’t need him. Half the characters just hang out on the train most of the time. Really seems like it would be better for the world if Damir stayed with Guil and freed her people. Bad!

In the woodlands section, this happens again! In the good ending, Ayosha leaves a woman he loves to follow Artyom (you) out east on the Aurora. How is this good? That community could have really used Ayosha’s help escaping from the seeping toxic dam and he also loved that woman. I’d rather see him happy and a community bettered than have another tag-along.

The Ending

The climactic ending reveals why it’s so important to have kept everybody alive: Artyom needs a large transfusion of blood from each of the crew members. If too many are missing, Artyom dies. If there’s enough blood, Artyom lives. So, the payoff for all of your good choices is that the characters you “saved” get to be human juice boxes.

Is this good? I’m not so sure.

Artyom lives, sure, but potentially at the cost of whole communities and the lost-lives of his other crewmates. Metro Exodus really seems to be saying: What’s good for Artyom is good.

Artyom didn’t kill somebody? Great! Did that come at the cost of a new slave boss rising up to fill a power vacuum? Who cares!

Artyom doesn’t have to separate from his friend(s)? Great! Does that come at the cost of their happiness? Who cares!

It’s an odd system, and I hated feeling like I’d made the “wrong” choice over and over again against some inscrutible god.

Final Thoughts

The morality system aside, this is a terrific game and was well worth the time. The story is fairly good, the gameplay is engaging and the tone is tense without being terrifying.

tags: posts - video games - life