Metro Exodus was an unlikely game to open E3 last year, but the on-stage demo did well to introduce the previously rather niche series to a much broader audience. With that sort of sudden mass appeal, or at least mass marketing, you might think the series would transform into something different than what it was, or worse, something lesser in the eyes of Metro purists — the types that maybe even read the books and love the survival-horror aspects of the first-person shooter. I recently got to play about 40 minutes of the horror-shooter hybrid and I came away with an appreciation of how the sequel feels like a lot of new and interesting elements built on a foundation of what makes the series memorable for fans.
If you've been following news for Exodus, you know that this game takes place in more expansive locales, much less claustrophobic than the subway tunnels of the previous two games. Mining carts and dark hallways might make some cameos, but in Exodus the focus has really shifted to larger worlds. When a shooter with horror roots suddenly puts players in a sometimes-daytime setting, with more freedom to move around, it can feel like you're losing what you loved as a horror fan. My demo was more stealth- and action-centric, so I can only hope those elements are still there as they seem to be in other trailers and gameplay we’ve seen, but it at least makes me excited to see more of that part. The stealth, meanwhile, was my favorite section of the demo.
Anytime a game lets me choose the quiet approach, I take it. Using a crossbow, I was headshotting human enemies all over a compound. The reps weren't sharing when in the game my demo took place, so naturally it was all out of context as to why I was at odds with these people, but as they threatened me not to cross a bridge at one section, I felt I had enough justification to silently pick them off one by one. I did just that, though the series' signature dwindling ammo reserves made it so I had to scavenge frequently. This was something the Metro rep reminded me of when he said "ABS: always be scavenging." That core element of the first two games comes back in a familiar form, even the HUD is similar, and it keeps intact that aspect of Metro that makes it stand out. There's still a lot of scavenging to do in this game, and the more you go off the beaten path, the better stocked you'll be. Only now the paths to search are much greater in number.
A cool new addition to the scavenger-friendly level design is how you can dismantle enemy weapons and use their parts to better your own guns. I improved my crossbow and shotgun with new attachments after enemies, uh, didn't need them anymore. That sort of on-the-fly upgrading felt welcome in a series that has always had a bit of an obsession with hoarding all you can and turning trash into treasure.
Exodus rewards exploration, so much so that, combined with my slow and stealthy approach, I actually didn't get to the end of my planned 30-minute demo — not even after 40 minutes. The world was big and full of variable paths to take and admittedly I took too many of them to sufficiently see all there was to see in my scheduled slot. (Pro tip: Don't get caught up reading collectible notes in a timed demo at a gaming expo.) Different enemy encampments were littered with different angles from which I could approach an attack. Ziplines, secret cave shortcuts, tall grass, they were all present on my environmental toolbelt, or, if I were less patient, I could've just unleashed hell on them right away. It's not my style, though a few times during my playtime, things did descend into such chaos too, and the game held up as a competent shooter. Even back when those goons taunted me from across a bridge, I could've lit them up then and there, igniting crossfire with the rest of their allies, but I took the calmer route, circumvented the bridge via an alternate path, gathered up more supplies, and that's when I began putting high-velocity bows in each of their faces.
I saw more than a few subtle choices like this that will make playthroughs differ for players based on their playstyle. At a different moment, I showed mercy to a man who, I was teased, may come back later. There's no overt way of spelling out for you when you may be altering your own future like this. It's all built directly into the gameplay and narrative. Play your way. Sometimes you'll reap the rewards and sometimes you'll suffer the consequences. This narrative branching feels thematically appropriate given how many literal pathways my demo gave me.
With a bevy of radial menu resources returning, like the gas mask, night vision goggles, throwing knives, flashlight, and many more I was not shown, the basis of what makes the series special is coming back in a big way. You'll never survive playing Metro Exodus as a straight shooter, that much was clear to me, and that's exactly how fans want it. I'm sure because I've been a fan since the series debuted now eight years ago. By moving the game to a more open setting, it doesn't seem to have lost what made it special, it just relocated it to a world with more opportunities for on-the-go player choices and emergent moments. I still need to see more interactions with the actual monsters of the world, and with those, I'm hopeful it can truly become the scariest game in the series to date. For now, I'm left wondering how many paths I didn't see in the expansive world of Metro Exodus.
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