There’s still something lurking around the metro. This time in Metro: Exodus, it’s time to escape the enclosed confines and explore a waste open-world where you can go anywhere and do anything. Taking a step away from the original two games, Exodus promises to be its own game in its own world, and it’s looking more wonderful each time we see it. At this year’s E3 we had a chance to sit down with Huw Beynon, the head of Global Brand Management at Deep Silver and ask him a few questions about our close encounters we’ll have in the wilds of the frozen wasteland.
Can you talk about some of the major changes in Exodus compared to the previous games in the series?
Metro Exodus represent a new chapter for the studio. The first two games were kind of similar in many ways: very linear, story driven, heavily inspired by Half-Life 2. You almost think of them as two parts of a major story. This team really wanted to try something different, ambitious. So, from a story perspective we have left Moscow; you go on this year-long journey across post apocalyptic Russia. That means you’re no longer confined to the tunnels, the snowy wasteland of Moscow.
We’re going to take you through four seasons, and some incredible locations that might be surprising to Metro fans. At the same time, from a design perspective, it reflects their creative muscles. It introduces some new elements: player freedom, which fans have been asking for. The game still plays out in a linear order: play through a level, complete it, move on. We’ve introduced a handful of huge levels; we called them sandbox survival levels. Each of those can last many hours of critical path gameplay. Even more, if you want to explore side contracts.
We have full day/night cycles and dynamic weather. You can spend days of in-game time in these environments, scavenging and hunting in the wild. You’re really free to explore and enjoy the city at your own pace. Those are the two real big shake-ups. Then, we’ve made countless changes to the tech and the granular features.
With so many contemporary AAA games featuring an open world, what made you decide to go with a hub-based approach with Metro Exodus?
I think first and foremost we are creating a Metro game, and we spent a long time trying to get the formula right. It still feels like a Metro game. Metro fans expect that really strong story. And I think sometimes open world games can struggle to keep that sense of player urgency, and player narrative, if they’re constantly distracted with side quests and missions. So we tried to find this hybrid that worked for Metro, that works for us. There’s still a golden threat, critical path, and story threat to keep driving you forward.
All of the things that people love about more open environmen, the freedom to explore, go off the beaten track; we have organically put that into the environment. You don’t have these fetch quests, and side missions, and all this busy work. It’s more exploration for its own sake. You make your way towards the objective, it’s totally up to you if you want to explore. You might find what stories you might discover, what gear might be hid in there. So it’s about finding that balance between a more open game and a natural game. We think we’ve given this a really unique hybrid feel.
"Metro Exodus represent a new chapter for the studio. The first two games were kind of similar in many ways: very linear, story driven, heavily inspired by Half-Life 2."
How big is the world map size compared to the previous game?
Significantly bigger. I think the largest level from the previous game, Metro Last Light, was 200 by 200 meters. The one you played today was 20 times the size. And that’s not even our biggest level.
Can you tell us a little more about how the levels are designed in the game, and how are you planning to encourage exploration?
I guess that’s a more technical question. The level design is quite balanced. We have artists and designers. Designer is coming up with cool experiences and scenarios that they want to play and explore. Artist coming up with exciting looking locations. Two of them go back- and-forth. The best way to arrange the shooter levels is there needs to be something on the horizon that can attract you, “That looks really interesting, I’ll check that out.” One of the things we really wanted to do with Exodus is to keep that sense of handcrafted content that’s not super repetitive; where we don’t use similar content that’s just been rearranged. We want each location within the game to feel unique, like it has a story and a purpose behind it.
Can you tell us about the RPG, progression and skill system in the game?
I’m not going to pretend that we are a deep RPG. We obviously have a really rich weapon customization system. You discover new parts for weapons, and scavenge full weapon, and strip them for parts. You can then customize base weapons. So, you have hundreds of different permutations there. We’ve also added other aspects of your character that you can upgrade. In previous games we offered suits. This time around we will give you the ability to customize the gear that you’re wearing, get upgrades for your helmet.
Gun play was pretty exceptional in the previous game. How are you taking on weapon customization this time around?
Guns have seen a huge overhaul. The team has been absolutely fanatical about guns. The whole idea behind these handmade crafted weapons is that they should be mechanical. This time around we went all out to make sure that’s really the case. They’re built from interlocking parts. And the customization system has changed from previously. You could only customize the weapon at the trading post.
Now you can customize it if you have enough parts and the upgrades that you need. So, you are more limited on what you could do tactically. But once you’re out in the field and if you find a fallen gun, you can either swap it for the one that you’re carrying or you can combine the best of both. If you see a discarded gun you can strip it for parts. Each gun has five customizable hard points: scope, magazine, stock, barrel, and attachment. You can swap anyone of those out on the fly. You might start with the stubby barrel, and a red dot sight, and find a 4x scope and a long barrel. Suddenly it becomes a new powerful long ranged weapon, for example.
"I think the largest level from the previous game, Metro Last Light, was 200 by 200 meters. The one you played today was 20 times the size. And that’s not even our biggest level."
How are you handling side missions this time around?
We really want to build the side missions organically. You always have your main mission objective at any given time, and a destination on the map. You don’t pause the game and look at the map. You have a physical one. You flip it over to read your objective. If you discover a point of interest from your binoculars, it will get marked on your map as something you can go and investigate. That’s it. We don’t do this quest list. It’s all, “This could be worth exploring.” It’s entirely up to you if you want to go and do it. You’ll have to navigate yourself there. There’s no waypoint. You want to keep that sense of immersion, like we did in the first games. So that’s why we’ve taken this much more organic approach to it.
How long is the game in terms of length?
It’s a little bit hard to say. We’re close to locking down the defining content at the moment. Looking around, [the length seems] double the size of the previous games. We’re kind of equivalent to both previous games.
In terms of bosses, what can players expect from Exodus?
You might have seen a gigantic bear in our E3 trailer last year. You’ll have to wait and see how that’s going to pan out. I don’t want to spoil the experience.
Metro games always have that dark and horror feel to them. How are you tackling this with Exodus? Are you adding more scary elements this time around?
That’s a really great question because when we first showed the game, as you’ve seen in the demo now, you can breathe on the surface. One of the things we loved about the first game was the sense of claustrophobia. So you’re in those cramped, dark tunnels that would end when you go out to the surface. You have to put on a gas mask, which can be more terrifying. We definitely want to keep those horror perspectives, as well. So we kind of flipped it on its head.
There are places above ground once you leave Moscow where you can breathe freely. But then the landscape is littered with underground bunkers, toxic dumps, irradiated areas where you still get claustrophobia through your gas mask. We’ve expand on the features of that, so [the mask] can now get smashed in combat; you can do on the spot repairs by putting tape over it. But you’ll have to repair your mask. That whole idea of limited resources, where you never think you’re quite comfortable exploring, or being on a mission –limited med kits and ammunition. We never want them [the players] to be really strong through this apocalypse.
Metro Exodus will feature Xbox One X specific enhancements. What can players expect if they are playing the game on Xbox One X? Is 4K/60fps on the cards?
We have confirmed that we’re going to hit 4K. I don’t think we’re in a position to confirm our performance target at the moment. It’s a little early in development for that.
And how will the PS4 Pro version turn out in terms of resolution and frame rate?
I think the PS4 Pro version is going to turn out great. The engine is highly scalable. So for the last game, with the same piece of tech we got to run on Xbox 360 and PS3, but we also had the enhanced version for PS4 and Xbox One. High-end PC graphics cards are paramount. Its track record speaks for itself when you’re looking at performance. So rest assured, if you have a PS4 Pro It’s gonna look great.
From a development perspective, how do you find the Xbox One X to be? With so much GPU power, we are sure you must be doing some amazing things.
That’s probably something I want my CTO software engineer to answer. But yes, it’s a beast. The fact that you can get [native] 4K is a testament to how powerful it is.
Do you have any plans to bring the game to Nintendo Switch? If not, why?
We have no plans to bring the game to the Nintendo switch.
Is there any reason why?
We’re kind of busy on the console platforms right now.