“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.” –Paulo Coelho
The Spartans celebrate Stepan and Katya’s marriage on the Aurora, which has left the desert. When Anna collapses midway through the ceremony, Katya, who has medical knowledge, looks over her and feels that it might be the case that Anna simply needs better air. Analysis of the satellite imagery reveals a valley in Burabay National Park that appears suitable for settlement. While the Spartans are optimistic about this area, they decide to send Artyom and Alyosha to scout out the area so as not to frighten any locals in the area. However, Alyosha and Artyom are swept away by an avalanche, only to be rescued by a forest-dweller. Artyom learns that the forest valley is populated by two factions that splintered long ago, and seeking to link up with Alyosha, Artyom sneaks through several of the pioneer and pirate camps with nothing more than a makeshift crossbow known as the Helsing after his backpack is lost. He is eventually captured, and escapes when a massive mutant bear appears. Recovering his backpack, Artyom navigates around the pioneer and pirate camps, clears out a bandit camp on his own and then, after a harrowing fight with the mutant bear the locals refer to as the Master of the Forest, meets Olga, the pioneer who rescued him. She explains the history of the area and its two factions. Artyom then sneaks into a pirate camp and recovers a boat, encounters an eccentric admiral and makes his way to the dam through an underground passage. At the dam, Artyom links up with Alyosha and prepares to return to the Aurora. It turns out that Olga and Alyosha had struck up a friendship and reciprocated one another’s feelings: Alyosha promises to return for her, and advises her to move her people out, since the dam’s structure has weakened and could collapse, flooding the forest valley with radioactive water. The two return to the Aurora and set course for Novosibirsk as Anna’s condition worsens, in search of a medication that would cure her of her illness.
The biggest surprise of the Taiga region is the loss of Artyom’s equipment; after falling into the river, Artoym’s backpack is washed away, and with it, all of the upgraded gear accrued over the course of Metro Exodus. From the green laser sight I had recovered, to the upgraded Shambler, everything is lost, forcing players to adopt a more stealthy, patient approach towards dealing with the forest’s human inhabitants. As Artyom progresses through the valley, listening in on conversations finds that most of the forest’s peoples are not hostile and can be left alone. An eye for path-finding, and occasionally knocking out the stray sentinel in Artyom’s path will allow him to quickly clear areas without raising an alarm, and a few of the weapons can also be recovered: with the Bulldog and Shambler gone, players have a chance to return to the revolver and Ashot again. With the Helsing as a stealth option, I kitted the Ashot out with my usual two-barrel setup for close quarters, and the revolver became a mid-range intermediate solution after I fitted it with an eight-round double-action cylinder, standard barrel and a 4x scope. The change in play-style brings a new feel to Metro Exodus, and while the taiga might not have the same potential for exploration, it nonetheless is a beautiful region worth taking the time to go through. The only major combat I experienced here in the forests were at a bandit camp, through a spider-infested tunnel and then against the bear itself. In my first encounter, I depleted my entire stock of shotgun shells and pistol rounds to send it packing, while on my second fight, I utilised the Helsing’s explosive bolts to whittle down its health. Having gone through the taiga with the intent of doing as little harm as possible, I was met with respect from Olga, and Alyosha decides to return later to the area.
Screenshots and Commentary
- While the Caspian was a lifeless desert devoid of life (albeit one where its inhabitants adapted to the surroundings, and where looking closer revealed various points of interest), the taiga is a forested area rich in flora and fauna. Deciduous and coniferous trees cover hillsides that give way to pristine bodies of water while glacially-capped peaks tower above in the distance. It is unsurprising that the area looked so promising to settle in: the taiga seems like an idyllic place to be.
- I would have loved to stick around in the area and explore, but as the daylight disappears, the priority is to reach Alyosha as soon as possible. Artyom’s backpack disappeared after the railcar was washed into the lake by an avalanche, and initially, all players will have available to them is the Helsing crossbow in its most basic configuration, allowing it to fire a highly-damaging bolt at a very low rate of fire, one at a time. When confronted with the Helsing-wielding forest dwellers, Artyom can be felled in as little as two shots, making stealth a much more critical path to take.
- After making my way through a village and surviving an encounter with the mutated bear that the forest dwellers refer to as the Master of the Forest, night had fallen. As soon as players locate a IRNV scope for the Helsing, night is actually the preferred way to complete the Taiga with minimal risk of detection from the forest dwellers, but lacking a good close-quarter solution means that encounters with wildlife would be much trickier.
- I ended up finding a small cave west of the passage leading into the pioneer camp and rested there until dawn. While daylight increases my risk of being caught, an entire post’s worth of screenshots by night would have been very boring – the taiga is at its best during the day, and exploring around then gives the best opportunity for screenshots. By this point in time, I’ve found a three-round magazine for the Helsing, along with different optics and even a compound bow attachment that increases damage.
- The shores by the lake here is one example of how stunning Metro Exodus looks – the developers have evidently put in a great deal of work into the environments, from the scraps of wood floating and algae on the water, to the mists rising up from the lake by morning, everything in the taiga feels idyllic. In fact, the area resembles some regions of Skyrim and Half-Life 2 Episode 2, as well as the mountains near my city. This Labour Day long weekend, suboptimal weather precluded a trip out there, and I ended up doing some window shopping at a local mall instead before settling down to a satay lobster noodle soup, which was a fine way to ward off the cold weather.
- I ended up covertly moving through the entirety of the pioneer camp without once alerting anyone to my presence, but I did knock out a few pioneers who stood between me and my destination. Knocking people out is silent and quick, allowing me to take their entire inventory, and because it is non-lethal, doesn’t impact one’s morality any. It is superior to the lethal takedown, and in fact, renders it completely unnecessary to kill anyone all, since knocked-out enemies stay down indefinitely. Future iterations of Metro may do well to balance this by adding a timer so that downed enemies can regain consciousness and then alert their allies, forcing players to be both stealthy and efficient.
- For the effort of not firing a single shot while in the pioneer camp, my screen flashed white briefly, indicating I’d done something good. The pioneers and bandits are said to be students who were out camping when the nuclear war broke out, and then continued to grow up in the forest once civilisation was destroyed. The pioneers in particular are named after the Young Pioneers (or in full, “Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization”), which were a youth organisation similar to North American scouts and sought to teach young people social cooperation in summer camps.
- The game Everlasting Summer deals with a Young Pioneer camp, and I might write about my experiences with this exceptional visual novel if there is a wish for it. Here, I arrive at a bandit camp: unlike the pioneers or pirates, going loud in a bandit camp has no impact on morality. I thus put the Helsing to good use here, silently eliminating bandits until my presence was noticed. I promptly switched over to the revolver for increased firepower. The bandits have access to a Valve rifle here, but because ammunition for this was scarce compared to the revolver, my makeshift pocket sniper became the best solution here.
- I’d actually been itching for a chance to use the pocket sniper configuration of the revolver for the longest time since the Volga, and in the bandit camp, the weapon proved its worth. Readers may have noticed that I almost always run with the same loadouts in each region, and this is because while Metro Exodus may allow for some pretty unusual setups, I found that particular weapon configurations simply worked best for me in a given situation.
- TheRadBrad had gone through the bandit camp by night and therefore was able to avoid most of the combat by sneaking past the enemies, but in the bandit camp, there’s a captured pioneer that Artyom can rescue only by single-handedly eliminating the entire camp on his own. While having a Kalashnikov or Bulldog here would have simplified things, the revolver and Ashot managed things more than adequately.
- The church tower in the distance is where Artyom is set to rendezvous with Alyosha, but there’s still a pirate camp between Artyom and the objective. With the day growing late, I decided to find a campfire and rest up, again, so I could carry on with the mission by day. The skies here look very life-like, and one of the nuances about Metro Exodus is the hyperrealistic skyboxes that dynamically change over the course of a day. Dynamic weather means that no two moments are going to be identical, and this adds life to the game.
- Having spent the night rested, I reawaken to find the pink-orange light of a taiga dawn. I’ve managed to find a lull in the moment and refitted the reflex sight to the Ashot, although quite honestly, the light weight and solid handling of this weapon means that it can be fired from the hip with reasonable accuracy. I thus carried this into battle with me, along with the revolver and Helsing arrows – the quiet of the church yard I enter was unnerving, and I soon had my answer as to why this was the case.
- It turns out this is where Artyom will have a chance to square off against the Master of the Forest, a massive mutant bear. This bear is tougher than any mutant bear I’d ever fought in previous Metro titles, being able to barrel through obstacles without any trouble and shrugging off an entire arsenal’s worth of damage without flinching. I managed to drive the bear off here, but it turns out there’s a smarter way to fight: Artyom can simply use the Molotov cocktail to distract the bear and then unfurl the rope ladder. Subsequently, Artyom buy himself enough time to escape with a second Molotov cocktail, and upon ascending the ladder, the bear will leave.
- In my case, I lacked any Molotov cocktails, so after expending my entire stock of shotgun shells and a fair number of arrows, I drove off the bear by force of arms, leading Olga to comment on Artyom’s skill after they meet. It turns out she was the one who saved him and Alyosha from the derailment earlier, and if Artyom takes the time to listen, Alyosha will explain the entire history of the valley and its inhabitants. There’s a work bench here, allowing players to craft up any ammunition and consumables that were spent during the bear fight. While most guides recommend against crafting ammunition, those who take the time to explore will have enough raw materials to constantly top off their consumables. In fact, I would counter-state that one should craft with an eye on the following priorities – medical syringes should always come first, followed by cleaning one’s weapons and repairing one’s mask.
- Then, ammunition for the shotgun can be crafted: pistol and intermediate rounds are reasonably common. Throwables can be found in the environment and are costly to make, while one to three minutes of material gas mask filters can be made if one still has resources available. They aren’t needed too often in open areas, and one can get by as long as they have more than nine minutes’ worth of filters. Here, I approach the dam, and to the right of the image, a faint cyan glow can be seen emanating from behind the dam, hinting at the state of the world in reservoir.
- Owing to the terrain and sightlines, it is very difficult to sneak past the pirate camp without raising the alarm, so to tilt the situation slightly in my favour, I moved through the area by nightfall and managed to secure a boat without any difficulty. In the process, I also acquired a Kalashnikov rifle, giving me slightly improved firepower for medium range encounters. Once the boat is secured, players will encounter the Admiral, an insane fellow who keeps company of the corpses of those he once commanded. The Admiral is no threat to Artyom and will have some interesting stories to tell: I listened for a while and accepted his tea, then proceeded on with making my way to the dam.
- I’m sure that the sights up here would’ve been beautiful by day, but since I chose the night, I got to see a full moon casting a cold blue light on the valley below. The next segments were among my least favourite of the taiga: I entered an underground passage with a spider infestation, and was troubled with radiation pockets that interfered with my flashlight. Armed with only my lighter, I had to lure the spiders towards light, and then engage them there.
- There’s a generator hidden in the underground complex, and once Artyom activates it, the lights come on. This provides Artyom with a modicum of peace from the spiders: they are still difficult to fight, and careless shot placement will invariably lead to an unnecessary expenditure of ammunition. Exploring the installation will find a reasonable amount of ammunition, which will help in the area ahead.
- After nearly two thirds of the game has passed, we finally come to the area that was showcased during the 2017 E3 demo. I deliberately outfitted my crossbow with the same setup that was seen in E3 and proceeded down the slope. The area has seen numerous changes since E3, and the animations seen then are gone, but beyond this, the Metro Exodus that we get to experience is more polished and detailed than the E3 version. It suddenly strikes me that two years have passed since I first heard about Metro Exodus, and it is humbling to finally be standing here in the same spot that was showcased shortly after I returned from my trip to Japan.
- Artyom will encounter the bear a final time after reaching a bridge leading to the church, and must defeat it to continue on back to the Aurora. The best way to do so is to open the fight by securing all of the Molotov cocktails, and then using one to create space while unloading as much shotgun ammunition as possible. When depleted, I switched over to the Helsing’s explosive bolts. After enough damage is done, the bear will charge at Artyom and then slip over the cliff’s edge. Olga will arrive and tell her people to stand down, sharing a farewell with Alyosha before allowing the two safe passage. It turns out that Alyosha had met Olga earlier and the two fell in love: Alyosha recounts his experiences to Artyom as they move through the village here. Once the two part ways, Alyosha promises to come back for her, and then joins Artyom in zip-lining across the abyss back to the Aurora.
Entering the final quarter of Metro Exodus, I am two for three in terms of keeping the Spartans with me, and there is only one more section left in the game to go through. Of the different regions of Metro Exodus, the taiga definitely is the most breathtaking, with its forests, lakes and mountains. However, the area’s biggest threat is the radioactive waters behind the dam: when I exited the underground tunnels and came to the point overlooking a small village that was shown in the E3 demo of Metro Exodus back in 2017, the faint glow was visible even during the day. It turns out that the location in the E3 demo was in the taiga, and armed with the crossbow with a reflex sight, I trudged down the hill towards the church, much as the demo did. While the demo had more animations and more enemies to fight in the area, Metro Exodus‘ retail version sees improved visuals and a more atmospheric experience in fighting the bear. I’ve heard that it’s uncommon for a game’s E3 demo version to be dramatically surpassed by the retail version (The Division and Rainbow Six Siege are examples of two games that saw graphical downgrades in the retail build), and given the overwhelmingly positive experiences I’ve had in Metro Exodus after three-quarters of the game, I can honestly say that the decision to pick this up was worthwhile. The next chapter appears to be the final segment in Metro Exodus, and it looks to be a return into the old, claustrophobic gameplay that characterised previous Metro titles. Having spent three quarters of the game outside, I’m curious to see how the new mechanics of Metro Exodus will play out back in the narrow confines of underground tunnels.