The METRO game series has always had a special place in my heart because for me, no other shooter title experience matches it for story telling and world building. The setting of a post-apocalyptic world which has been ravaged by used of nuclear weapons in World War III has left the only survivors in Russia using the metro system to live and move around created a perfect platform for a first-person shooter blended with true survival game mechanics. Now we have the third entry in the series following the canon ending to METRO Last Light and fans have been eagerly awaiting to carry on the adventures of Artyom whose world is about to change forever.

Players return to play as Artyom, a year after the events of the last game (using the good ending) where we find him still serving as a Spartan Ranger but now married to Anna. Life is still stuff, with the Rangers heading out to find resources and supplies to help feed the community whilst tackling the dangers of rival factions and mutated creatures on the surface where venturing out into is still highly dangerous and life risking. Life is relatively good for Artyom but his world and that of the people he cares about the most is about to change forever.

Now I do not want to spoil anything about the story because the opening that leads to the massive change is something players should discover for themselves, but what I can say is that this is by far the largest world in the series yet as Artyom and his companions will be off exploring far more of the country then ever before. For the first time, players will be able to explore outside of Moscow and travel across Russia in search of a new home adding new exploration challenges to the tried and tested linear story missions of the previous games. The new narrative has an immediate impact on the gameplay and with so many games now moving towards a more open world style of gameplay, this is the next natural evolution of the Metro Series.

However, METRO Exodus is not an open world game but instead offers far more freedom to players to experience this new larger world as they see fit. The traditional story missions are there which follow a linear path for the player to follow but now that the world is so much wider, the player will also have the option to expand on that by having more room to explore the world and taking on side missions and objectives around the main story stuff which thrives well using the same survival game mechanics METRO games use so well. It takes a few hours into the game for the world to open up and almost as much time to get used to that new level of freedom you have because you have to take the time to plan and prepare for everything you do in the game.

It is the survival aspects that stay true to every fans of the METRO series in Exodus and they are more vital to the gameplay as ever. Crafting for me plays far more of a crucial part in Exodus than previous games in the series especially if you are planning on exploring the new areas as you will still need to make sure you have enough air filters for your breathing mask for toxic areas you will find throughout. Far more crucial though will be maintaining, upgrading and making your weapons and ammo. This side has always been the main factor that METRO has stood out against all over shooters and in Exodus, the risks of exploring and failing to master crafting and maintenance can literally cost you your life in the game. It can be a double-edged sword as well as in order to find new designs and materials needed to craft weapons, med kits and ammo will require the risk of going out and exploring new areas in order to find the materials needed. This is why sensible planning comes in as you will need to check what you currently have in terms of med kits and ammo before you head out on any mission but especially if you go exploring.

A number of times when I chose to go exploring a new area, I would be caught out by running out of ammo for my guns and being left to run or hide from mutated creatures and wild animals until I either found or crafted new ammos. Thankfully, your backpack can also serve as a basic crafting table for making repairs to weapons or crafting new ammo, filters and med kits but of course, this is only if you have enough materials to craft with. By not preparing properly I often ran out of ammo for my carried weapons leaving me with one of the worst melee combat systems in a recent game, to fend off attackers. When you can craft ammo, do not expect to be filling up your ammo quickly, often crafting will only provide you with a handful of bullets or cartridges so deciding which weapons to carry is also key, I often relied on having the A-Shot revolver as my back up piece to my assault rifle.

You can carry Molotov cocktails which are great at enemy crowd management and throwing knives which are great for dealing with enemies when going for a stealthier style of play. I prefer to go full stealth when possible, and I love being in an enemy human location and sneaking about taking down enemies by either simply knocking them out in a more pacifist way or lethal take-down with my knife, depending on how you are feeling. You can pretty much stealth your way for most encounters but if spotted then enemies will actively hunt for you so remembering location layouts. It is very satisfying to be able to get in, take out the enemy and looting everything you before make a cheeky escape that is always so very satisfying to me and now there are more opportunities to put those skills to the test thanks to the side missions now added along with exploring new locations.

The size and scope to METRO exodus is brilliant to see as the game will take you the player as Artyom on a year long journey. This means you will also see all four seasons from Winter to Spring, Summer and Autumn all play out throughout that year as you travel on the train named ‘Aurora’ now travelling across Russia. This also means visiting new locations and environments such as desserts which is such a stark contrast to the bleak winter wilderness of the past two games. Even finding vehicles that can be driven or sailed add so much to the experience after spending two games barely seeing anything above ground and being in tight tunnel systems. The biggest surprise however came from the new dynamic day and night system which can be used to great effect when planning to raid a bandit camp for example as during the day you are far more likely to be seen but under the cover of darkness at night, especially if the new weather system kicks in giving you a nice electrical storm to mask your sound, really helps you out.

Where 4A Games, the developer of the METRO series has been clever enough to do is to not get carried away with what an almost open world style game can do and instead have used it to enhance almost everything you have already experienced in previous METRO games but maintaining that core value of at times, linear shooting missions that can make you feel all claustrophobic at times of being in a confined area and constantly on the edge of your seat fearing that you could be attacked at any time and knowing that you have only a few bullets left in you guns. Just as Artyom is discovering this new game world, so are you as the player and because the game stays so true to all the best elements of the METRO series, it never strays too far from that core experience despite having so many new features this time around.

The pace can be rather sluggish at times as can a lot of the ex-positional dialogue you can have with the NPC’s dotted around the game who are all very happy to talk your ears off even if you choose to just walk away from them. The melee combat is very frustrating as if you do run out of ammo your only real option is to use the right stick to hit them with the butt of your carried gun when all I wanted to do was carry a pipe to smash enemies over the head with as the melee combat is clumsy and awkward and leaves you feeling  all brittle and useless when outnumbered by enemies and you fail to hit anything with your melee. I also did not like having to hold down X in order to interact with everything whilst at times very little action would break up long story cut-scenes. But overall these are really just niggling issues to what is a very fun game for fans of the series and forced me to get better at using the crafting system and knowing when or if I could pick a fight or to avoid a possible environmental encounter with beasts until I was ready and better equipped to do so.

METRO Exodus is the evolution the series needed for a 2019 release, and the new elements and features compliment what made the series stand out so much in the first place. By keeping the core elements to METRO at the heart of the game but managing to open the world up for new experiences for seasoned fans of the series but also to attract new players to it with Exodus, 4A Games have delivered a real belter. I have already planned out my next run with the game in order to spend more time exploring and making better use of the crafting system instead of just sticking to the story missions, which the game completely allows you to do with little hand holding as possible. The freedom, to play the game as you want is a big game changer for me as it is something that I really like in my games now such as the Far Cry series.

This game offers so much that I really hope more people give it a chance than just the faithful series fans, because there is so much to sink your teeth into if you want a real test to your survival skills next to an incredible story with rich characters. Visually this game is stunning and you will get more than enough use of the photo mode to take advantage of the new environments to indulge your artistic talents or just to show off the scenery. I was a little worried about how much the game experience would change with the new size and freedom to METRO Exodus but it works so well that this is a great way to kick of the big releases of 2019 and put the series firmly into the mainstream deserving of more attention.