“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.” –Antoine de Saint
Upon arriving at the Yamantau complex, Artyom and the other Spartans discover that the Russian government had not survived, and instead, the facility’s maintenance crew became cannibals. Fighting their way back out of the underground installation, Miller manages to retrieve a map that indicates the presence of a satellite facility near the Caspian Sea with Giul’s help. Amidst the ruins of the old facility, Artyom finds a photo of Giul’s family and returns it to her. The area had since become an arid desert dominated by bandits: after reaching a lighthouse, Artyom manages to recover the satellite imagery and turns his attention towards securing water and fuel for the Aurora while taking care to minimise casualties to the slaves in the area. After these resources are acquired, Artyom decides to help Giul eliminate the Baron, a local despot who controls the populace in the area. Inspection of the maps leads Miller to conclude that the Taiga in the east has promise, and with adequate supplies, the Spartans set off towards the Taiga in search of more hospitable conditions. Anna, meanwhile, has developed a cough and feels that the forest air would do her some good. Thus, I cross the halfway point to Metro Exodus: following a claustrophobic, close-quarters battle in the confines of the Yamantau bunkers and rescuing Anna, I thus entered the second open area of Metro Exodus. This desert initially appeared to be a dreary, unexciting location composed of sand and rock: upon arrival in the Caspian Desert, there was nothing but the brown desert under a blue sky. However, once Artyom makes it to a derelict building and comes face-to-face with a bandit, he gains access to a van, which dramatically changes the way one can explore the map.
While the Volga had Artyom confined to a rowboat for travelling across water, the wide expanse of desert in the Caspian means that having a motor vehicle is indispensable – Artyom can now cut across the desert quickly enough to reach his destinations, and this in turn encourages exploration. There are, of course, areas that cannot be accessed in a vehicle, but on the whole, being in a vehicle offers players a speedy means of travelling across the map quickly and protection from the mutants. No longer bogged down by slow movement, one now has incentive to explore the ruins of abandoned settlements and ruined ships made into makeshift shelters. For their troubles, players who explore are rewarded with better equipment and options; I did not explore the Volga as extensively as I would have liked owing to the ever-present danger of attack from bandits and mutant fauna, but having a vehicle in the Caspian meant I had the means to safely explore the map to locate an improved helmet, motion sensor, a box magazine for the Shambler shotgun, long-range optics for the Valve sniper rifle and even a high-visibility green laser, amongst other things. The process of exploration also allowed me to marvel at the details and features of the seemingly-unremarkable desert: exposed fields of oil will spontaneously combust and put on an impressive light show, while the cliffs often conceal secret areas worth exploring. The Caspian thus demonstrates what is possible with a bit of exploration in Metro: Exodus, and more so than even the Volga, those who are patient enough to listen to characters talk will learn a great deal about the world following a nuclear war.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Desert landscapes typically bore me: this is why my interest in Borderlands waned, and why the desert maps of any given Battlefield title are among my least favourite maps. Metro Exodus‘ Caspian level initially started out this way, and I saw the area as something to get done. I started the level with the Kalashnikov buffed up with the long barrel and extended magazine, plus 4x optics, turning it into a makeshift RPK. Long range encounters in the Metro series are actually rarer, and thanks to the morality system, the opportunity to use longer-range weapons against human opponents is lessened.
- Upon reaching a semi-abandoned structure, Artyom gets into a short fist fight with Saul and manages to steal his keys, which goes to a nice van that makes travel in the Caspian much easier, to the point where my dislike of the desert immediately vanished. Artyom can choose to knock Saul out or kill him: this does have an impact on what happens next, and it should not be surprising that leaving Saul alive is the preferable choice.
- Regardless of the choice players make, Saul will drop the Shambler shotgun. In its initial configuration, it has three rounds and is only effective under ten metres; with a longer reload time than that of the Ashot, the Shambler is useless and remains thus even when a six-round chamber is found, since reloading will take even longer. Until one gets access to the ten-round box magazine and better barrels, the Ashot remains the superior close-quarters choice.
- The Caspian is also where Artyom picks up the Bulldog, a bullpup rifle superior to the Kalashnikov in every way except for being a rather fickle weapon that needs plenty of cleaning to perform well. With high accuracy, heavy-hitting round and a slower rate of fire, it is a solid all-around weapon for medium range engagements. In exchange for its performance, it is quite rare and only can be found in the Caspian level.
- After reaching the lighthouse and helping Giul fend off the slavers, she guides him into an underground complex to look for the maps. This desolate complex has a spider infestation, and like previous instalments of Metro, use of the flashlight is essential to combating these mutants – the spiders will flip over in an attempt to escape the light, exposing their vulnerable undersides to fire. Their shells are tough enough to resist several shotgun shells, so fighting them directly is usually an ineffective use of ammunition.
- Metro Exodus manages to cleverly incorporate underground and dark areas into its open worlds. In general, I feel at ease when on the surface, where the sight-lines are good and lighting is bright. By comparison, the underground areas always strike a sense of fear into me: most weapons available in Metro are best used against human opponents, and are much less effective against mutants, but most of the time where one must go loud, it will be against mutants, and compounding the challenge is the typical lack of light.
- Proceeding deep into the underground complex, Artyom comes across a mission control-like room. Going into the passage on the right will lead Artyom into the map room, and it is down a hallway here that Giul’s family photo can be found. If players opt to retrieve this, Giul will give Artyom a canteen that he later gifts to Nastya. It’s a simple gesture, but acts of kindness are both essential to Metro as a whole and a good chance to see what results from kindness.
- The map room will feature maps all the way up to 2019, and after digging through the maps, Artyom locates a reasonably recent collection that he brings back with him. The next phase is particularly challenging: while the lift is being recalled, the power goes out, and the spiders will come out in force. Liberal application of buckshot and Molotov cocktails will keep the creatures at bay, and after what seemed an eternity, the lift finally arrives, allowing Artyom and the players to leave this wretched, if cool-looking, facility.
- Back on the surface, I enjoyed a quiet night sky: the day/night cycles and weather system creates a very dynamic environment for Artyom to explore. Playing for long periods will result in the time of day shifting naturally, although players can also locate a safe house and rest there until the desired time frame. The process also automatically heals any damage a player sustained, so I typically rest up so I don’t need to consume any medical kits.
- While I did not bother looking for equipment and weapon upgrades in the Volga and therefore, missed out on several useful gear pieces, I did end up taking the time to explore the Caspian. Besides an improved helmet and night vision goggles, which came in very handy towards the latter part of the Caspian missions, I also located a green laser sight for my rifle. I’ve long been envious of NPCs with these vivid, high-visibility lasers purely for the cool factor, and it’s great that one can be picked up for player use – the one I found is located immediately north of the Aurora in a ravine where Artyom can also locate a suppressor for the shotguns.
- One of the biggest joys about Metro Exodus is watching the sunrise and sunsets: during my run of the Caspian, knowing that I had access to a motor vehicle meant that exploration was much more time effective. I thus set about driving to various corners of the map and explored an old air base, which provided an upgrade to my night vision goggles. This comes in very handy later in the Caspian, making it a valuable upgrade.
- I initially had trouble getting to the safehouse at the top of the control tower: the building at the air base is infested with mutants. I’ve noticed that against the humanoid mutants, buckshot is superbly effective: in earlier installments of Metro, the shotguns actually felt quite under-powered for the task at hand, and I found that the Shambler would burn through ammunition in firefights. For more armoured mutants, careful shot placement is more critical.
- While the Caspian Sea in Metro Exodus has retreated and dried even further than its contemporary extent, there is some coast left in the level, and the increasing salinity creates a rather unique landscape. In addition, oil-spewing geysers pepper the region, and these will occasionally ignite. If Artyom happens to be nearby, he’ll be critically injured. It turns out that most of the enemies in Metro Exodus are weak against fire, making the molotov cocktails the most useful throwable item in the game only next to the cans that can be used for distraction.
- I spent an inordinate amount of time between the main mission objectives of recovering the satellite imagery and securing water for the Aurora: once I had finished scouring the map for upgrades and equipment, I continued on with the mission. Going through the tunnels, the main enemies are mutants, and so, a good shotgun here is invaluable. The Bulldog is also a suitable secondary weapon, being accurate enough to land headshots on more distant foes.
- As Artyom exits the underground segments, the Tikhar becomes the preferred weapon to equip. I’m not too sure how the morality system works here, so I figured it would be preferable to employ stealth measures and sneak around the map, rather than enter loud. The underground caverns here remind me of a dream I had long ago, where I stumbled upon a full-fledged archaic city under the desert.
- I was so engrossed with the objective of securing the water that I neglected to free the slaves here, and it turns out this oversight cost me the good ending to the Caspian mission. The length of the Caspian is quite taxing, and the conditions for securing a good ending here are rather more stringent than they were in the Volga. However, good ending or not, with the water secured, the crew of the Aurora are safe for the time being and focus turns towards securing more fuel for the train.
- My last objective was therefore to storm the Baron’s headquarters. The leader of the bandits in the Caspian, the Baron is a despot who argues to have given order to the area. Artyom can meet a double of the Baron, alone on the coast and listen to his story, and while killing this false Baron won’t impact the story any, I chose to spare him because that’s the right thing to do. En route to the Baron’s fortress, I cleared out a derelict shipyard and acquired a 6x optic for the Valve, and utilised it to do some true long range sharp-shooting, clearing away the bandits with headshots. This sniper rifle makes a return from the previous Metro titles and starts out as a single-shot bolt action rifle similar to the Martini Henry.
- With the right upgrades, the Valve can become either a powerful long-range single-action rifle with a straight-pull bolt or a semi-automatic rifle with a large magazine that excels at making follow-up shots. The number of base weapons of Metro Exodus are far fewer than those of its predecessors, but owing to how extensive the customisation system is, and how dramatic of an impact these can have on a weapon, the overall variety in Metro Exodus is exponentially more impressive than that of Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light.
- My overall actions in the Caspian meant that when I reached the Baron, he offered to do an exchange with me, but the outcome is preordained: a firefight will break out between Artyom and the Baron’s forces. Armed with the Bullfrog, I steamrolled through the bandits, even the heavier ones equipped with man-portable Gatling guns. The Gatling gun is different than the one from Metro: Last Light and can be picked up, making use of the same ammunition as the Kalashnikov and Bulldog, but between its high rate of fire and low accuracy, the weapon is actually ill-suited for most situations despite its raw stopping power.
- Once the Baron is defeated, Damir stayed behind to help his homeland in my ending, and I progressed to the next part of Metro Exodus. Anna’s cough worsens, and while the Spartans think the desert air is the root cause, something far more sinister is at play here. Folks who’ve gone through Metro Exodus may have noticed that I skipped over providing screenshots of the Yamantau Complex, and the reason for this is because there’s only so many things I can do to make static underground images exciting. During this segment of the game, a good shotgun and automatic weapon is invaluable, and using lethal force on the cannibals won’t impact one’s morality. It’s fun from a gameplay perspective, but I imagine it’d be a bit duller to look at than say, images of the desert landscapes.
I ultimately did not gain enough moral points to retain Damir, who decided to remain behind with Giul and make a better life for the slaves: one must actively free slaves in the area and avoid killing them in order for Damir to be convinced that things will recover. As such, having seen success in the Volga with morality, I suddenly found myself losing a member of the Spartan order despite my efforts to go through the Caspian without leaving a trail of blood in my wake. The morality system of Metro has always been a surprisingly involved one despite its simple design, leaving me to wonder what constitutes as good and evil; on all of my previously play-throughs of the earlier titles, I ended up with the bad endings because patience for stealthy gameplay always evaporated. This leads me to wonder if Metro is attempting to tell players that impatience is one of the paths down to evil – if one is willing to take shortcuts and then argue that the ends justify the means, then one must pay the price for it. Supposing that this is the case, then it would certainly be true that this would be the central theme of the Metro series as a whole: patience towards others is one of the central tenants of being able to approach a problem and solve it in a manner that benefits the most number of people while simultaneously minimising harm to others. This is an unexpectedly, and pleasantly deep theme to Metro considering the simplicity of the moral system’s implementation, and as I move into Metro Exodus‘ next segment, I will take these learnings and adopt a more observant, patient approach towards solving my problems.