The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: FPS

Call of Duty Black Ops: WMD and Memories of a Long Past Summer

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.”
“What mood is that?”
“Last-minute panic.”

–Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson

On a muggy summer day in New York State, I found myself at Woodbury Premium Outlets, located in a small town some eighty kilometres north of Manhattan. We had been travelling the Eastern Seaboard, and this short excursion represented a bit of a chance to break and explore. At this point during my vacation, I had already visited major points of interest such as Washington D.C.’s White House and Capitol Building, Manhattan and the Smithsonian Museum in New York, as well as Niagra Falls’ American side. Woodbury represented was a break in the itinerary, and with a few hours to kill, I set about exploring the outdoor outlet mall. A Sony Store caught my eye, and I browsed through their electronics, including a demonstration Play Station 3 that had a first person shooter on display. The previous player left the mission on a snowy mountain forest, and after picking off several patrols on the edge of a cliff with a suppressed AUG A1, I guided the soldier through a rappel animation. I ended up rappelling down too quickly; my avatar slipped off the edge of the cliff and fell to a swift death. At this point in time, I was set to depart and head back to New York for the last day of my trip, so I left the mission there, but my curiosity had been piqued. When I returned back home, I would learn that this game was Call of Duty: Black Ops, and the mission was WMD, the eleventh mission that sees a flashback in which Jason Hudson is sent out to the Yamantau Complex on a search and destroy mission. The mission opens with a SR-71 surveillance crew, Big-Eye Six, taking position over the Soviet Union and relaying information to Kilo team on the ground during a blizzard. The blizzard recedes, and Big-Eye Six departs to refuel, leaving Kilo team finish disabling the early-warning system up on the mountain. After parachuting off the side of the mountain and landing in the main facilities below, Hudson and Kilo team find the Soviets attempting to sanitise the area of any evidence of work into the chemical weapon, Nova Six. They are locked into the control room, learn of Dragovich’s plans to use sleeper agents to disperse Nova Six and barely manage to escape on the back of a truck before an avalanche buries the area.

For me, WMD represents one of Call of Duty: Black Ops‘ finest missions, being a perfect combination of gameplay and cinematics: right from the moment Captain Mosely and Major Neitsch board the SR-71, to the transition to Hudson and his team, WMD creates a sense of urgency as players experience and drive the actions needed to figure out what Nova Six was about. Of all the missions in the Call of Duty franchise, WMD is a forgotten mission, but for me, I found it to be memorable, right up with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s All Ghillied Up in terms of engagement and immersion. In this one mission, the entire tenour of Black Ops is captured: the first Black Ops game was set almost entirely in the Cold War, an era of history that still remains relatively unexplored in games because aside from proxy conflicts, the Cold War (thankfully) never went hot into either a nuclear exchange or full-scale conventional warfare. As such, games that cover this era of history find it tricky to properly write a compelling story; Call of Duty: Black Ops was able to do so, and reception to the game was generally positive, with praise directed at the campaign (especially for its atmosphere). Since then, the Black Ops spin-off franchise has evolved in its own direction, taking things right back into present-day and the near-future. For its setting and period, then, the original Black Ops remains unique for being able to so vividly portray the atmosphere and tone surrounding the Cold War era. I originally finished Call of Duty: Black Ops some four-and-a-half years earlier, having picked up the game during a Steam Sale, and found the game particularly stand-out for its premise.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • On a cold, brisk winter morning six-and-a-half years earlier, I stepped out into the dark and made to board a plane that would take me to Taiwan. This was the first time I’d ever travelled during the winter, and the resulting vacation was quite enjoyable, although lacking the means to do so then, I did not document things quite so extensively back then. At that time, I did not yet have Black Ops in my Steam library, but I was familiar with the game and its music: WMD opens with Melville, a tense song that accompanies Captain Mosely and Major Neitsch as they board a SR-71 for a recon and support mission.

  • WMD begins from Mosely’s perspective, and once in the air, perspective switches over to that of Neitsch’s, who’s running the TRP screen to direct Kilo squad during a whiteout below. I do not believe the SR-71 was ever involved in a support mission of this sort: designed to replace the U-2, the SR-71 was superior in every way, boasting a longer range, greater maximum speed and operational ceiling. They were intended to be used for overflight missions over the Soviet Union, but as satellites became more commonplace, the SR-71 was retired. Once the blizzard on the ground clears, perspective of the mission permanently switches to that of Jason Hudson’s.

  • For the duration of my trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong, I would enjoy comfortable winter air, and it was only upon return home that the bitterly cold weather became the norm again: I still remember just how cold -16ºC felt after getting off the flight and making the drive back home, when normally, -16ºC is something I consider to be very balmy. Of course, these temperatures pale in comparison to those of Mount Yamantau: this mountain, located deep in the Ural Mountains, is speculated to be the site of a vast Russian military bunker equivalent to the American’s Mount Cheyenne complex in Colorado.

  • I’ve visited Mount Yamantau in one other game: Metro: Exodus had taken Artyom, Anna and Captain Miller to the Urals in search of a viable home, and while Miller had been enthusiastic to reach the site, it turns out that, while there had been a military bunker here, all of the crew had devolved into cannibals, luring victims here with false messages that they were the government remnants. Call of Duty: Black Ops presents a different kind of terror: Mount Yamantau is allegedly the site of Nova Six’s development.

  • On the ground, Hudson starts out with the variable-zoom crossbow, an excellent stealth weapon that is superbly lethal – a single bolt will be enough to deal with any enemy soldier. Aside from standard arrow-heads, Hudson also has explosive bolts available to him. The explosive tips are decidedly less conducive for stealth, but in a pinch, can be used to deal a good amount of damage. A maximum of twenty bolts can be carried in reserve, in addition to the bolt that is already loaded into the crossbow.

  • Besides the crossbow, Hudson also has a suppressed AUG A1 with a Swarovski 1.5x Scope: this weapon is better suited for dealing with large groups of enemies, and Hudson starts out with 630 rounds (twenty-one extra magazines on top of the magazine already in the weapon). With its high rate of fire in Call of Duty: Black Ops, this is a popular weapon, although it takes a modicum of skill to properly use it in the multiplayer, where the weapon’s recoil is quite noticeable.

  • This is the rappelling section of the mission I found myself starting at while I was messing with the demonstration PS3 console at Woodbury nine years earlier. I remember playing around with the controls, trying to strike a balance between a speedy descent and not hitting the bottom with enough force to result in death. Woodbury came as a bit of a break in a packed itinerary: during that particular vacation, I traveled through Manhattan, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. Along the way, I had a chance to visit the observation deck of the Empire State Building, took a boat over the Hudson River to see the State of Liberty, went to Central Park, the Smithsonian Museum, the National Mall, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and a handful of unique stops like the Corning Glass Museum and Hershey Factory.

  • This vacation was a rather fun one, and aside from the destinations, my favourite memory would’ve been being able to have a whole steamed lobster for dinner while in Boston, and then the next day, a lobster roll made with fresh Atlantic lobster the next day. This trip also took us to the American side of the Niagara Falls, where we went on a boat ride that brought us close to the falls. I think the part of that vacation I was least fond of was the traffic jams along one of the interstate freeways, and how humid it was inside the One Niagara Visitor Centre.

  • When I returned home from this vacation, I revelled in the cool, dry mountain air of my area, and promptly set about trying to learn of what game I had tried out at Woodbury. I would find my answer fairly quickly: a search for PlayStation 3 first-person shooters where one rappels down the side of a mountain yielded Call of Duty: Black Ops on very short order, and although I did possess a PC powerful enough to run the game at the time, I had no interest in the franchise at the time. I only developed a curiosity for Call of Duty after reading about All Ghillied Up and then playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare at a friend’s place.

  • Five years after visiting the Eastern Seaboard, I ended up buying a copy during a September sale and immediately enjoyed the purchase – Call of Duty: Black Ops has a fun campaigns that take players to a variety of locations and gives one a chance to fire a range of interesting weapons, including an AK-47 with an under-barrel flamethrower. For me, WMD had some of the best visuals and atmosphere of any level, even in a game where each and every mission is highly engaging.

  • Whereas I played through WMD at Woodbury some nine years earlier, ten years ago, I was doing a tour of Eastern China, which entailed visiting Beijing, Wuxi, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. On this vacation, I remember arriving in a smoggy Beijing, travelling to famous attractions like Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, watched a Chinese version of the Cirque du Soleil perform and walked the Great Wall of China. Because this was two years after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I also had a chance to check out the Bird’s Nest Stadium. If memory serves, we then flew to Wuxi in Jiangsu Province.

  • From there, we took a tour of the area surrounding Lake Tai, went on more boat tours than I could remember of all the canals and lakes in Wuxi and Suzhou, and ended the tour in Hangzhou, which I remember best for a massive thunderstorm that shook the area the evening I arrived. The final leg of the journey was in Shanghai, during their 2010 Expo. With the China leg of the journey over, I flew to Hong Kong for another week before returning home.

  • In the years following, I traveled less as university started getting busier, spending my summers studying or doing summer research. By the time I had the chance to play through Black Ops, I had already finished my undergraduate degree, and during my last year of graduate school, I would finally set foot on the WMD mission. The atmosphere of the mission immediately reminded me of the Christmas break season; since I picked up Black Ops, it’s been something of a New Year’s Day tradition to play through the mission after lunch, when the sun is at its highest and the snow on the ground creates a feeling very similar to the one seen in WMD.

  • I had originally intended to write this post in 2016, having taken the screenshots for it in January, but never got around to writing it. Instead, I came across the screenshots in the August two years later, created a draft for the post and then found it immensely difficult to write something coherent. This post has, until today, been sitting in my “drafts” section, untouched. This is what prompts the choice of quote for the post; I didn’t really find the motivation to write it until I’d realised how long the post has been a draft for.

  • One of the biggest joys about Black Ops was the fact that so many Cold War-era weapons are available. However, the game occasionally takes liberties: the Steyr AUG (Armee Universal Gewehr, “Universal Army Rifle”) that Hudson starts WMD with, is a weapon that was designed in the 1960s to replace the FN FAL. The AUG entered service in 1977, and WMD is supposed to have taken place in 1968: at that time, the SR-71 was two years old, but the AUG would not have been in service just yet.

  • Once Hudson and Kilo team breaches the windows of the substation, it’s a thrilling firefight: despite the AUG being weaker on a per-bullet basis and having a considerable recoil, the weapon does perform quite well, and for me, the proper WMD experience is to go through the entire mission without once switching out the starting loadout for any other weapon. The Famas, HK-21, SK-23, Skorpion and CZ75 are also found in the mission, but there’s something about the AUG that makes it particularly well-suited for this mission.

  • The most terrifying segment of WMD comes when an avalanche is triggered: players must follow Kilo team across an icy path before parachuting into the valley below, where the Nova Six facility is located. The vertical scale of WMD is impressive, bringing to mind the five hundred metre base jump made in Battlefield 3‘s Damavand Peak map as a part of the rush game mode. As Battlefield 3 came a year after Black Ops, it is conceivable that DICE took inspiration from the WMD mission in Black Ops.

  • The firefight down at the Nova Six research site is rather less inspired, but represents a short, closing act to the mission. Hudson and Kilo team make their way into the facility, find a series of containers all wired together, and a computer terminal. One of the recurring themes in Black Ops is the unknown sequence of numbers that protagonist Mason struggles to remember during an interrogation: it turns out that Mason is integral to stopping a chemical weapons attack with Nova 6.

  • I greatly enjoyed Black Ops, and personally found that there was enough in common between Black Ops and Higurashi: When They Cry that a crossover would not be outside the realm of possibility. Of course, with the amount of firepower available to the playable characters in Black Ops, it would be possible for Mason and Kilo team to trivially solo the whole of Miyo, the Yamainu and Banken, save Rika and the others, and be back just in time for tea.

  • After getting stuck in one of the numbers rooms, Hudson and the others beat a narrow escape on the back of a truck with a mounted DShK machine gun. This brings my recollections of what is my second favourite mission in the Call of Duty franchise to a close, and with it, I finally have no more drafts in my WordPress for the first time in two years. With this post in the books, I remark that I will be writing about games for the next little while, and then do an after-three talk on Oregairu. I’m currently still deciding whether to write about Uzaki-chan Wants To Hang Out or Kanojo, Okarishimasu.

I remark here that this post actually has one of the most unusual properties of any that I’d previously written: I’d originally intended to write and post about WMD on a New Year’s Day, since the atmosphere of the mission reminded me of a cold winter afternoon, and so, the screenshots I had taken for this post were taken on New Year’s Day of 2016, when I was entering my final term of graduate school. Back then, I had just finished doing an episodic review for Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? and was looking to start 2016 strong to finish off my Master’s Degree. However, procrastination meant I never got around to starting the post until two-and-a-half years later: in August 2018, I decided it was time to write about WMD in some capacity, but when the time came to write for the mission and how I first came upon Call of Duty: Black Ops, I found myself drawing blanks. This post, then, holds the distinct infamy of being the longest post I’ve ever held a draft on this blog: with this post done, I finally have a clean slate and no drafts older than a week remaining. It was a bit surprising to see how long I’ve procrastinated on this post; WMD was a fun mission, and my vacation to the Eastern Seaboard was similarly enjoyable (my favourite memory of that trip was the stop in Boston, where I had both whole steamed lobster for dinner and then an authentic East Coast lobster roll the next day). This post goes to show that procrastinating on a post can result in it being increasingly difficult to write for, and for those of my readers who also run a blog, the lesson to be learnt here is to not do what I did with this Call of Duty: Black Ops post; namely, have a plan to finish posts off when one’s schedule allows, or else remove posts from drafts if one is not confident in writing them out in a timely fashion.

Metro Exodus: The Race For Life in The Dead City by Autumn and Route to the Good End

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” –Albert Einstein

Anna’s condition has worsened, and it turns out the only place that might hold the key to saving Anna is Novosibirsk. Formerly the third-most populous city in Russia, Novosibirsk was hit with a neutron bomb and became eight times more irradiated than Moscow. The city subsequently suffered from a conflict between civilians and OSKOM, the miltiary forces, resulting in the riots that decimated Novosibirsk’s population. Feeling that Anna is his and Artyom’s responsibility, Miller decides to enter the city with Artyom to search for a special medicine known as Renergan-F. Donning heavy protective gear, the two enter Novosibirsk’s metro system and after fighting off hordes of mutants, encounters a boy named Kiril. Kiril explains that his father left in search of a suitable location to move to and amongst the maps Kiril’s father had studied, Miller learns that Lake Baikal is radiation free. Artyom continues towards the Scientific Centre for Clinical and Experimental Medicine, where Renergan-F was developed. After traversing the partially-flooded metro tunnels, he reaches the institute, manages to recover a create and prepares to return to the Aurora, but is attacked by Blind Ones, gorilla-like mutants resembling Metro 2033‘s Librarians. Artyom is critically injured, and Miller uses his anti-radiation drug to save Artyom, dying in the drive back to the Aurora. In the aftermath, Anna is saved from respiratory failure using Renergan-F, and the Spartans donate enough blood to save Artyom’s life. Upon arriving in Lake Baikal, the Spartans hold a service to honour Miller, and Artyom is made leader of the Spartans. This is Metro Exodus‘ good end, the outcome that players earn for their patience, willingness to help those in need and keep an eye for solutions that reduce bloodshed Artyom earns a good ending by acting as people would in good times, with a mind of empathy and compassion even during difficult situations. While my playthrough was characterised by knocking out enemies, sneaking around them and exploring where possible, I saw no shortage of opportunity to put my firearms to good use – Metro Exodus might encourage stealth over going loud, but the game also offers plenty situations where the weapons and attachments that Artyom finds can be put to good use.

The final act of Metro Exodus, titled The Dead City, is precisely where Artyom can (and must) go guns blazing in order to be successful. More so than any other part of Metro Exodus, save the beginning, this final segment handles and feels most like earlier Metro games, placing Artyom in the confines of an underground subway system filled with numerous perils. When faced with resilient and violent mutants, the arsenal that Artyom has amassed from earlier missions finally come into play here. I ultimately ran the Bulldog equipped with a reflex sight, green laser sight, a standard thirty-round magazine, standard barrel and the heavy stock plus grip as my primary: this assault rifle proved to be well-suited for picking off numerous enemies at medium range and offered a satisfactory balance between damage per shot and rate of fire, performing solidly in the underground tunnels. As a secondary, the Shambler I ran with was equipped with a heavy stock, duckbill choke, a closed collimator sight and a box magazine, bringing the weapon’s performance up to that of the Saiga 12K. With a good balance of stopping power at close and medium range, I was more than ready to handle the underground tunnels of Novosibirsk: Metro Exodus‘ final act manages to bring back the same metro feel as that seen in its predecessors: in addition to offering a solid new experience with the large open areas of previous chapters, Metro Exodus shows that the series has not forgotten its roots. In particular, Novosibirsk’s partially-submerged subway tunnels and its worms evoked a similar sense of disgust and terror in me as the biomass level of Metro 2033 had – in conjunction with the simian mutants that resembled Metro 2033‘s, this is a particularly strong testament to the solid atmospherics within Metro Exodus, and so, as I pushed through the grim, terrifying tunnels of Novosibirsk, I recalled elements from earlier games that made them so enjoyable. This time, armed with a better understanding of what to expect, I opted to go with practical weapons, rather than exotic weapons as I did previously, and therefore, even in the face of the mutant simians, I was more than able to blast my way to the next area.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I know this is two Metro Exodus posts in a row, but I was progressing through the game at a breakneck speed after the Taiga, and so, we’ve come to it at last, the final act of Metro Exodus. In Novosibirsk, there are no human opponents to fight, only mutants, and so, the time has finally come to explore Artyom’s full arsenal. In reality, Novosibirsk is the third-largest city in all of Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg occupy the position of first and second), and is also the largest city in Siberia. With a population of 1.6 million, Novosibirsk is located on the banks of the Ob River and is a major center in Asian Russia. In Metro Exodus, neutron bombs irradiated Novosibirsk far worse than Moscow, and the city was hit with a civil war of sorts that wiped out the human population.

  • With radiation so intense that even the special lead-lined armour Miller and Artyom use, it is not possible to stay outside for even short periods before radiation poisoning kicks in. Fortunately, in the tunnels below, radiation levels are slightly lower, and gas masks aren’t required for some sections. Whereas Artyom had to use metal and chemical resources to craft filters earlier, the last segments of Metro Exodus returns to the approaches seen in earlier titles, where Artyom could simply pick up gas mask filters from the environment.

  • There will be a few engagements with hordes of mutants in Novosibirsk’s metro tunnels. After beating back waves of mutants, Artyom and Miller encounter a small boy in the tunnels and eventually corner him. After a brief but tense moment, the boy identifies himself as Kiril, whose father departed a few months earlier to search for habitable land after their supply of anti-radiation medication neared depletion. It turns out that Novosibirsk is indeed the place where a powerful countermeasure for radiation was developed, although the journey to this medical institute is treacherous.

  • In Kiril’s hideout, Miller and Kiril share a conversation about Kiril’s father and his objectives. Miller decides to split up, feeling that the leads Kiril’s father had are worth pursuing, and decides to give Artyom his customised Tikhar rifle. Up until now, the Tikhar had been a pneumatic rifle that was unparalleled when it came to stealth combat and whose greatest strength was that ammunition could always be readily crafted, giving Artyom options in combat even when conventional ammunition had been depleted. However, one must constantly be aware of the air pressure levels in the Tikhar, and repeated use of the weapon would render it ineffectual.

  • Once Artyom acquires the electromagnetic accelerator attachment for the Tikhar, the weapon turns into the Volt Driver from previous titles: it is Metro Exodus‘ ultimate weapon. I’ve never actually used this weapon up until now, having never gone through the DLC for Metro 2033 or Metro: Last Light. Here in Metro Exodus, I utilised the weapon to great effect; the weapon can one-shot most enemies, has a high rate of fire and accuracy, and since it uses the same steel balls as the Tikhar, ammunition for the weapon is common.

  • Once Artyom is fully kitted out, nothing in Novosibirsk’s metro tunnels will stand a chance: the tunnels, formerly a suspenseful environment, turns into a shooting gallery where mutants fall to superior firepower. This is the point in the game where one can really enjoy the shooting mechanics of Metro Exodus without worrying about moral points: the narrow, linear tunnels do not provide much in the way of stealth, and the environments here definitely bring back memories of Metro: Last Light.

  • After Artyom reaches a submerged section of the Novosibirsk metro and acquires a boat, exploring one of the side tunnels will also yield a special twenty-round box magazine for the Shambler. Up until now, I’d run with the ten-round magazine that allowed the weapon to handle as the Saiga 12K of Metro: Last Light did, allowing the Shambler to have a decent balance between weapon stability and magazine size. The box magazine doubles one’s capacity at the expense of reload time and stability, but given the sheer number of mutants, this is an agreeable upgrade to find.

  • The submerged metro segments of Novosibirsk rival the biomass in terms of revulsion factor: the area is covered in mutated tubifex growth and populated by different leech-like worms. The smallest worms will attach themselves to Artyom whenever he falls into the water, dealing some damage to him. Medium sized worms will spit acid at Artyom from a distance and when killed, can be looted for chemicals. Finally, large worms several metres long can be encountered. They also spit acid and can knock Artyom from his boat: they are massive enough to hunt Nosalise mutants, but with the Tikhar, they can be felled in a few shots.

  • These sections of Metro Exodus particularly impressed me: it was a creative way to make the tunnels more interesting and also was a clever callback to the Biomass level in Metro 2033: with uneven, slimy and nauseating organic matter covering all surfaces, unease mingles with excitement. The visual fidelity in Metro Exodus is apparent: after killing the medium and large worms, inspection of their carcasses shows just how much detail went into their assets. Unlike my experiences with the Biomass level of Metro 2033, where I had carried specialised weapons for long-range combat, this time, better knowledge allowed me to carry more versatile weapons.

  • In this large hangar-like section, Artyom must locate a boat in order to cross into the next section. The trick is to locate a doorway off to the side, which leads into a series of hallways infested with worms. The medium worms are rather weak, and spending shotgun shells on worms in general is a waste of ammunition. The Bulldog really shines here: one or two bullets will deal with them. Since the larger worms will spit massive globs of acid and small worms at the player that injure and disorient, I prefer engaging them from a distance with the Tikhar. Ten shots will be more than enough to put one away.

  • Between the damage sustained from fighting worms and falling into the water, which causes leeches to bind to the player for some damage, my gas mask became damaged. A patch I applied to temporarily stem the loss of air can be seen on-screen here. There is a workbench located in the hallways, and I was therefore able to repair my gas mask without difficulty. While guides suggest that the small leeches that stick to Artyom’s mask are merely cosmetic, rather like the small spiders that crawl over his arms and face when one walks through a web, they seem to cause small amounts of damage.

  • Once the flooded hangar is cleared, Artyom proceeds into a heavily irradiated tunnel and develops acute radiation sickness, seeing visions of Anna. He applies a dose of the anti-radiation medication to ward off the debilitating effects and pushes on to the surface on his way to the institute. Hallucinations and blurriness will impact Artyom for the remainder of Metro Exodus: the games have always introduced visual disorientation towards the climax, and these elements make a return in Metro Exodus. Unlike its predecessors, however, Metro Exodus is much more restrained when it comes to these effects.

  • Artyom will succumb to a few visions detailing the fate of what happened during the final hours in Novosibirsk: with tensions running high, the armed forces fired on civilians with their main battle tank. Visions in earlier Metro titles were explained as being the psycho-kinetic powers that the Dark Ones were using to reach Artyom. Dark Ones only appear in Metro Exodus as Easter eggs, and are never directly mentioned: the visions Artyom has might be attributable to them, or else will need alternate explanation.

  • After a short journey across the surface, Artyom finally reaches the research institute. This site is immensely unnerving with its icicled-interior, and things are made more tricky by the appearance of another anomaly that stalks Artyom. This anomaly differs from the one I encountered in the Volga, being able to physically manipulate objects in the environment. Despite dealing no direct damage to Artyom, getting too close is still damaging because it seems to emit radiation.

  • Because of the close-quarters environments at the institute, I decided to switch the green laser over to the Tikhar and also swapped out the longer range IRNV optics for the reflex sight, turning the weapon into a powerful short-range solution for whatever I would encounter. The near-absence of enemies was terrifying, and I soon learnt why there are no other mutants in the institute.

  • Once I reached a rooftop, I found myself face-to-face with a “Blind One”, a gorilla-like mutant that possesses limited sentience and telepathic powers. Despite lacking vision, their sense of hearing and smell are exceptional, allowing them to trace Artyom. Like the Librarians of Metro 2033, they will attack when provoked and therefore, can be avoided. There is much speculation as to what the Blind Ones’ origins are, and while I’ve read that they can communicate with Artyom in a limited way, I never experienced this for myself.

  • I thus resorted to my classic method of blowing any Blind One I encountered apart with what has now become an impressive arsenal: while guides suggest that sneaking past the Blind Ones is preferred because of their durability, I’ve found that a Molotov Cocktail and full magazine of ammunition from the rail-gun equipped Tikhar is enough to bring one down with relative ease. Alternatively, if one has enough shotgun shells, they can also just use the Shambler to great effect; having a box magazine extends the amount of damage over time Artyom can do without reloading. Individually, the Blind Ones are actually straightforwards to avoid or fight, but there does come a point where Artyom will encounter two.

  • In the blackest depths of the institute, Artyom will finally locate a crate containing Renergan-F. Once he recovers it, a Blind One will attack him, and both fall out of a fire escape. The Blind One is subsequently impaled by an icicle, and then Miller arrives. Miller himself is suffering from radiation poisoning as well, and he uses his anti-radiation dose on Artyom to save him, at the cost of his own life. Seeing this go down meant I had no regrets about blasting each and every Blind One I encountered.

  • The last segment of Metro Exodus is a long drive back to the Aurora, and once this is done, the game’s outcome is presented to the player. I watched as the Spartans donated blood to Artyom, and while he drifts in and out of consciousness, Miller speaks with him about how Artyom’s persistence has given everyone a new future. He walks off into the sunset, and Artyom is able to survive the ordeal. I’ve actually wondered what the bad ending was like and found it to be much more pessimistic; while Miller compliments that Artyom had done his job well as a soldier, and the remaining Spartans do live their lives out in happiness on the shores of Lake Baikal, Artyom and Miller are consigned to spend eternity in a purgatory for their actions, leaving Anna alone in the world.

  • I would have very much loved to explore Lake Baikal, but the area is entirely peaceful and would not have been exciting from a gameplay perspective. With this in mind, it feels great to have gotten the good ending: I’ve long wondered about the strict requirements of earning a good end to Metro games, and with Metro Exodus, I’ve found my answer. Overall, I am very glad to have taken the plunge and picked up the game. Even if it was for the Epic platform rather than Steam, this does not diminish how enjoyable Metro Exodus is in any way. With Metro Exodus now in the books, I will be going through Star Wars Battlefront II, which was on sale for 85 percent off some ways ago. I’ve heard that the game is due for a major update that will add “Instant Action”, making it the perfect single player arcade experience for days when I wish to relive classic moments in Star Wars.

Metro Exodus marks the first time I’d ever gotten a good end in the series: in Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, I ended up with the bad endings. However, two games and six years later, I believe that additional life experience and patience allowed me to appreciate the message that the Metro series was trying to communicate to its players. Morality and goodness stems from the patience to assess a situation, whereas immorality and suffering follows from a desire to immediately wade into a problem and then argue that the ends justify the means. This is what I was missing from my play-throughs of earlier Metro titles, and with this newfound appreciation, I am most impressed with how Metro manages to work in such a far-reaching, profound message into each of its three games. Besides these overarching themes of morality, Metro Exodus also shows players the resilience of the human spirit: while the societies that Artyom encounters at the Volga, Yamantau, Caspian desert and taiga forest are crude and barbaric, that a society has reformed at all following the war shows the human determination to survive and make the most of things. Being able to explore different parts of the Russian countryside and wilderness, and seeing all of these little details shows a world that has managed to adapt, while at the same time, gives a glimpse into what life might be like in the furthest reaches of the world. In addition, Metro Exodus also presents the idea that an open-mindedness is needed to bring about positive change; Artyom’s determination to explore the world outside of Moscow, ultimately gave the Spartans a new home and hope. Sometimes, taking a risk is necessary, and while the choice to do so is fraught with danger, the outcomes can be worth it. With the latest instalment of Metro now in my books, I’ve heard that there could be a sequel where Artyom returns to Moscow to bring back other survivors for a better life on the pristine and idyllic life on the shores of Lake Baikal.

Metro Exodus: Hidden Summer Camps of the Taiga

“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.

Metro Exodus: Spring Storms in the Caspian Desert

“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.

Metro Exodus: Crossing the Volga by Winter

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.” –Andrew Wyeth

After the events of Metro: Last Light, Artyom grows weary of the infighting amongst the Metro. Abandoning the Spartan Order, he makes frequent excursions to the irradiated surface to listen for signs of communication from the outside world using a radio. His wife, Anna, and her father, Colonel Miller, grow tired of his insistence. When Artyom is captured by Hansa soldiers on one excursion and Anna is captured, Artyom sets off to rescue her and in the process, manages to destroy a radio jammer, revealing that humanity had not gone extinct. The two manage to capture a Hansa train and take it out of Moscow with the Spartan Order, knowing that Hansa will execute them for discovering the truth. As it turns out, during the war, the Russian government decided to jam transmission in Moscow and feign destruction to stop the destruction. After reaching a bridge crossing the Volga River, Artyom disembarks in search of a way to lower the bridge across. He encounters religious fanatics, and rescues a mother and daughter. After Artyom secures a train car and speaking with the religious leader, they cross the Volga River and head towards the Mount Yamantau complex, where radio transmissions suggest to Miller that the government remnants may be taking refuge. This is Metro Exodus after its first quarter: while the game begins conventionally, with Artyom wandering through the ruins of Moscow and its cavernous metro system, after Artyom frees Anna from Hansa captivity and steals a train, Metro Exodus brings players to quasi-open world. This represents the first time where players are free to explore a space to the extent that Metro had envisioned when the Metro: Last Light ten-minute demo was released six years previously; a far cry from the claustrophobic tunnels and narrow streets of Moscow, the level of freedom and opportunity to explored a landscape dotted with ruins makes Metro Exodus a first in the series, providing players with a refreshing new experience.

Besides an increased degree of freedom, Metro Exodus also differs from its predecessors in that the old inventory system has been given a dramatic overhaul. Pre-war grade bullets no longer act as a currency, and ammunition found throughout the game now is merely ammunition. The inventory management system has been expanded so players can craft resources depending on necessity, making use of metal scraps and chemicals to create various items. Vital elements such as filters and medical kits, plus reserve ammunition for the Tikhar pneumatic rifle and throwing knives can be crafted on the fly. Dedicated workbenches allow for repair of damaged gear, cleaning of dirtied weapons and crafting of powerful items (ammunition and explosives), but they are much rarer. The more involved inventory management system comes into play with a more flexible weapons attachment and modification system: while Metro Exodus is like its predecessors in having weapons modifications, it also provides the means to change out weapons in the field, allowing players to very quickly customise their weapons to fit whatever their needs are. The basic revolver, for instance, is a powerful close quarters weapon, but with a stock, long barrel and optics, becomes a makeshift sniper rifle. The plethora of options in Metro Exodus far exceeds those of its predecessors, and the game appears to have finally reached the level of openness that previous titles strove to achieve, striking a balance between linear, action packed segments and the opportunity to explore the ruins and quiet of the Russian countryside.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Moscow looks more or less the same as it did in previous Metro titles, and consequently, while I made my way through Metro Exodus‘ first section, there aren’t many screenshots that were particularly noteworthy. These sections are very linear, although players still have the option of using stealth and non-lethal take-downs on the Hanza soldiers. The benefits of this option is two-fold: besides saving ammunition and preventing unnecessary combat, it also helps Artyom’s karmic balance positive.

  • After stealing a train from Hanza, Artyom and his fellow Spartans end up at Zavodskoy Rayon, on the outskirts of Saratov some seven hundred kilometers away from Moscow. Here, the Volga reaches a width of three kilometres in width, and there are indeed small islands that dot the river’s main banks. By winter, the Volga is covered in ice and snow, reminiscent of the Volga map of Battlefield 1. As the first truly open area in Metro Exodus, players will have a chance to explore, but shortly after disembarking from the train, Artyom follows Anna to a large church on an island.

  • In this church, the goal is to reach the tower and scout around. The fanatics will be hostile towards Artyom and shoot him on sight, but they aren’t the enemy, and a stealth approach will be preferred. I traditionally map my key bindings so that the knockout key is easier to reach than the kill key so I don’t accidentally use lethal force on an enemy. Upon ascending the tower, Artyom will find a mother and her daughter, whom he rescues and brings back to the train.

  • With the scouting done, Artyom can take a boat to traverse the frigid waters of the Volga. Rowing the boat is extremely slow, so I fell back on using the boat to only cross bodies of water and then leg it where possible. By day, the number of monsters is fewer, and visibility is better, but there still are the shrimps of old. The Kalashnikov I have here is a decent enough all-around weapon for combat with both monsters and human foes, and in the beginning, I equipped it with the suppressed barrel and red dot sight. The basic 20-round magazine is not suited for sustained combat at close range.

  • Climbing to the top of a tower to meet a local named Krest, who despises the fanatics and wishes to lend his mechanical skills, I am afforded with a stunning view of the Volga region. The clouds are very lifelike, matching the quality of those seen in the Frostbite Engine. Compared to the narrow confines of the tunnels and Moscow streets of earlier titles, Metro Exodus offers true open areas for players to explore, and by day, the reduced number of mutant wildlife means it’s possible to truly take in the scenery. On the matter of taking in the moment and enjoying things, I’m finally done with constructing the new furniture and now have a dual-monitor setup, plus additional space for a mousepad. When August started, I built a new desk and closet wardrobe: the latter was tricky and took an entire day to assemble. After stopping for a delicious lunch of fish and chips with both potato and yam fries, I then worked to finish the drawer, enjoyed some cheesecake and Roobios tea and then played through Metro Exodus.

  • The revolver is one of the most enduring and reliable weapons of Metro, and in Metro Exodus, it begins its journey with a meagre three-round capacity. Depending on its setup, it can be a dependable backup weapon for close quarters stealth engagements or even a mid-range solution that allows Artyom to put rounds downrange more accurately than the Kalashnikov. I typically carried a Kalashnikov for its all around versatility and then swapped out weapons as I needed, using the revolver for open areas and switching to the Ashot shotgun for close quarters engagements. Despite its commonality and simple design, it packs a punch and is well-suited for dealing with mutants.

  • The Bastard Submachine Gun also makes a return, and unlike its Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light counterparts, is now chambered for the revolve ammunition rather than rifle ammunition. Performing more like a pistol-carbine in its base form, it can be upgraded to become a respectable weapon with a high rate of fire for close quarters engagements. However, it also burns through pistol ammunition quickly, and in general, the Ashot’s lower rate of fire is preferred because ammunition in Metro Exodus is even rarer than it was in its predecessors, so making each bullet count becomes even more important.

  • The low reliability of the Kalashnikov at range meant that for my part, I kept the revolver kitted out for intermediate-range combat. Metro Exodus has bandits camping at certain points in the map, and there’s no penalty for taking them out. However, after Artyom eliminates a certain number of bandits, the others will surrender. They stop being a threat at this point, although I will still knock them out for their supplies.

  • The wide open spaces of the Volga represent a first for the Metro series, and it was worth the time it took to climb to higher places and admire the scenery. Exploring the maps are also important: Nastya will ask Artyom to find her stuffed bear, a gift from her parents, and one can locate this at an abandoned chemical plant. There’s also a guitar hanging around: after freeing some fanatics from bandits, Artyom can retrieve it at his leisure.

  • Here, I wield the Tikhar pneumatic rifle, a custom-built weapon that fires steel balls at high speeds. When fully pressurised, the Tikhar can be devastating, although as it is fired, it becomes increasingly less effective. The initial tank cannot be overcharged, as it will leak, but at a pressure of anything past six, it is fairly effective, acting as a totally silent solution for dispatching enemies. Because ammunition can be crafted in the field, the Tikhar ensures Artyom will always have a ranged weapon to use.

  • Sunsets in the Volga are stunning, as every bit as impressive as the Volga map in Battlefield 1 was. It turns out that for all of the exploring I did in the Volga, however, I did not find several gear pieces that may have been helpful for later. One aspect of Metro Exodus that I am thoroughly enjoying is the well thought-out side-grade system: different gear pieces have different attributes, and since Artyom can only swap them out at workbenches, it becomes important to consider what scenarios one might encounter before picking gear. My goal moving through the Caspian will be to do more exploring for these pieces.

  • Once the mechanic is rescued, Artyom is tasked with retrieving a train car located in an abandoned factory that’s flooded. While I would normally prefer to complete story missions by day for their improved visibility, excitement meant that I chose to push forwards and visit the factory by night, with the invariable result that there were numerous mutants to fight off. I’ve never been fond of fighting mutants, since they attack via brute force and do not drop anything, so every confrontation translates to a net loss of resources.

  • The Ashot is the best weapon against mutants: the buckshot does massive damage and will deal with weaker enemies in one shot. While its default configuration only allows for a shot before reloading, it can be fitted with a double barrel. In this form, it is superb for dealing with mutants, and having gone through the process, I find that having plenty of shotgun shells is imperative if one prefers to play during the night hours, since the shotgun is the most effective means of melting through mutants.

  • In the flooded, derelict factory, stealth actually doesn’t really mean anything, but repeated confrontations with mutants left me desperately short of shells, forcing me to switch over to the Tikhar. By this point, I had found the sealed mechanism and could keep the weapon pressurised: it turns out that the Tikhar is effective against mutants, although it is still better to engage them from a medium distance. The weapon has a respectable firing rate and one will quickly burn through ammunition, plus lower the air pressure from firing quickly.

  • In the factory, Artyom will have a chance to use a trap and neutralise the giant mutant catfish that’s been stalking him throughout the Volga. Worshipped by the fanatics, the catfish actually is of some help to the player, as it will take out shrimps and other mutants. Careful timing is required to properly make use of this trap – if one can time it correctly, it will drop a massive weight onto the catfish that finishes it off. After finishing this segment, I was stuck trying to get the rail car out, only to realise that I needed to open a great gate before I could leave the facility.

  • While most players dislike the hitmarkers, I personally find them to be immensely useful to determine whether or not I hit my mark, and if so, whether or not it was a regular hit, headshot or killing shot. The hitmarkers of Metro: Last Light were not aesthetically pleasing, but in Metro Exodus, they are smaller and much more useful. Knowing what a shot did means I can plan ahead: seeing a kill marker is important, as it means I can stop firing on a target and shift my attention elsewhere. This feature is immensely valuable in Battlefield: since Battlefield 4 implemented context-sensitive hitmarkers, I’ve always used red to indicate a headshot and green to indicate a kill.

  • Because I was foolhardy enough to attempt the rail car mission during the hours of dark, I had to contend with the anomalies, which are floating balls of electricity that deal massive damage: an unfortunate mutant gets too close here and is ignited. There is no way to deal with these, and having not played the Metro: Last Light DLC, I’ve not seen these since Metro Redux 2033: the only way is to go around it and give it plenty of space.

  • The way back to the Spartans is fraught with dangers, including one section where one has to fight their way through a bandit camp. I ended up clearing the camp out after stealth failed, and made use of the Kalashnikov against the human opponents. While ineffective against mutants, carefully-placed rounds from the Kalashnikov are excellent for bandits. I ended up finding a thirty-round magazine and extended magazines for the weapon, plus a long barrel, allowing it to be turned into an RPK. While increasing its firepower and range, however, extended magazines and a long barrel also reduces its handling, lowering accuracy and increasing reload times.

  • I actually picked up Metro Exodus early in June during the Epic Sale: while I had intended to buy this for Steam, it became an Epic exclusive. My final decision was that, since the Epic sale put Metro Exodus as being less expensive than the Ace Combat 7 season pass, I would pick Metro Exodus up first. While folks have been unhappy with the exclusivity, my work with Epic and the Unreal Engine during graduate school meant I actually still had an account I could use. I updated my launcher, picked up the game for 28 CAD and started the party after finishing Valkyria Chronicles 4 in June.

  • With the train car secured, Artyom heads off to convince the fanatics to lower the bridge. While I equipped the Tikhar here, I ended up knocking out any and all opposition I encountered. Combined with my other actions earlier on, I managed to confront the fanatic leader, who reluctantly lets Artyom lower the bridge without further incident. I now enter the spring phase of Metro Exodus, and so far, I am very impressed with the game for introducing new settings that really change up the experience while at once, refining the core experience and gameplay.

Whereas the first two Metro titles were set in Moscow, moving Metro Exodus into the countryside pushes the series into a realm I’ve longed to explore. There is a great deal of intrigue in the remote wilderness of Russia, as well as surrounding abandoned structures. Previous titles were more limited in their setting, so the change of pace has allowed Metro Exodus to highlight the diversity of the Russian landscape, which remains one of the most remote and least densely populated places on Earth. As I made my way though the watery expanse of the Volga, I took the time to explore the map, finding some upgrades to my gear and even a small child’s teddy bear in the process. However, the open world presents new threats, and so, I took to exploring by day, where visibility was improved. After becoming more familiar with the crafting system and weapon customisation options, I felt comfortable in pushing onwards: after locating Anna and then stealing a train car, I saw Artyom push to the bridge, where he stealthily confronts the cult leader and persuades him to allow the train safe passage. Winter will give way to spring, and I am greatly looking forwards to seeing what Metro Exodus has in store as I press forwards into the latest instalment to a series I’ve come to greatly enjoy and respect.