I got a little playtime with Metro: Exodus before the big reveal today, and came away with some mixed, albeit very early impressions. The game looks absolutely beautiful. That is, for the most part, as the cookie-cutter mutant enemies aren't quite as polished and realistic as everything else. Fresh looting and crafting mechanics add another dimension to gameplay compared with previous titles in the series. I fear, however, that this new focus on strategic exploration and resource management might unduly impact the pace of the game -- making it more about foraging for supplies than immersing you in the single-player storyline.
If you missed the previous two games, Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, the series is set in Russia in a near future where nuclear war has ravaged the planet. They're loosely based on a series of novels by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, and follow the story of Artyom and his comrades in a constant struggle against radiation, mutants and resource scarcity. In Metro: Exodus, our young protagonist finally escapes the claustrophobic darkness of the Moscow metro system as he and fellow survivors venture out of the city on a train called the Aurora, in search of something better.
While mutated beasts and zombie-like humans continue to be a threat, the game places more emphasis on isolated factions of other survivors enduring the nuclear winter out in the wasteland. Going above ground and out of Moscow introduces a totally different style of play to previous games. The two preceding Metro titles have followed more or less linear trajectories, but Metro: Exodus blends in open-world elements for the first time. The game plays out over a number of large sandboxes. It's not truly open in the sense that when you progress to the next stage, you can't go back. But within each sandbox, there will be plenty to explore and various side quests that complement the overarching narrative.
The Metro first-person shooters have never been about running and gunning, with planning and restraint often being key to a longer lifespan. This theme continues in Metro: Exodus, which executive producer Jon Bloch describes as a "mixture of combat, stealth, exploration and survival." Exploration is the important word there, because with the more open sandbox environment comes new gameplay mechanics. Ammo no longer doubles as currency outside the Moscow subway. Instead of buying new guns and gear, players must scavenge resources and craft what they need to get through the game's various challenges.
You can still find bullets laying around, or loot them from dead bodies and enemies you've downed. Similarly, you can pick up new guns or simply strip them of attachments to add to your inventory. But you have to personally make most of what you need in-game using "materials" and "chemicals" you'll find scattered throughout the world. This is done primarily at special workstation areas dotted sparsely across the sandbox levels. Tracking down these cubbyholes is imperative. They are the only places you can clean your gun, which now gets dirty and unreliable the more you use it.
Most ammo types and explosives can only be crafted at these workstations. Your gas mask can be properly repaired here, too, though if it gets damaged in combat you can temporarily reseal it with duct tape, which is a nice touch. Adding new gadgets to your utility wristband, charging the batteries you need for equipment like your torch, and generally resetting and gearing up is the main purpose of these safe spaces. There's also a cot you can nap in to manipulate the new day/night cycle, which joins dynamic weather as another environmental element not seen in previous games (time and weather not being very relevant in the Moscow metro).
If you get caught short out in the world, you can find a dark corner, pull out your backpack and get some essential crafting done on the fly. You always have the option to switch up your weapon loadout -- sights, stocks, barrels, magazine types, lasers and more -- though they do look prettier mounted on one of the static workstations. Throwing knives, distraction devices and some special ammo types, like ball bearings the pneumatic gun fires, are available through the mobile backpack bench, too. Importantly, you now have to craft filters for your gas mask, one minute of protection at a time. Though radiation isn't a permanent threat, some sequestered areas and spots on the surface near ball lightning-like "anomalies" aren't survivable without a working mask.