More than anything else, Metro Exodus utilizes mood to pull you into its bleak world. The game makes that world believable by committing to detail. Despite the size of its open-ended areas, Exodus still presents buildings, tunnels, and fields that seem meticulously handcrafted. Such care goes beyond merely looking the part. The game repeatedly finds new ways of selling just how desperately cruel its wasteland can be. Taking place two years after the events of Last Light and 23 years after a nuclear war, Exodus is thematically wrapped around the idea of hope. The narrative essentially boils down to the main character and his comrades clinging to the idea that somewhere out there is a place that’s better off than the irradiated, monster-infested hell they currently reside in.Even more interesting than chasing after such a dream is how that hope is tested. In pursuit of a better life, the characters have one struggle after another pile up. Seeing what outlandish circumstance presents itself next is one of the most fascinating parts. Players also get to witness how other people have dealt with the harsh realities of survival, whether it’s given them tremendous resolve or turned them insane. One of the reasons the journey is so investing is the fact that you’re far from alone, and the game does a commendable job of making the people you’re fighting for a consistent focus. The small group you’re with is around quite a lot in one way or another. They may tag along on a specific mission, issue information over the radio, or engage in idle conversation aboard a very important train, which serves both as a central hub and a welcome reprieve from the outside.It’s up to the player to choose how involved they get with these people, but there are plenty of opportunities. Just by walking around the train, you can have many conversations, and some of them are rather lengthy. Bonding with the crew goes well beyond words though, and you can go out of your way to snag items such as a guitar or teddy bear to provide a small amount of joy. Exodus does such a good job of creating space for interaction that it’s disappointing how the voice acting and animations can undersell a moment. There’s a fair amount of awkwardness, as if characters are trying to navigate through an emotion but can’t quite find the right level to land on. No one cause is to blame, and it’s the result of many small things, such as waiting just a bit too long to deliver the next line of dialogue or delivering it too quickly, making the lines step on top of each other.These infractions are noticeable partially because the game draws so much attention to its characters, and regardless of how you play, you’ll spend significant time talking with them. While such awkwardness is present for most of the game, it is somewhat mitigated by other factors. Even if you liberally explore the world, Exodus does a great job of maintaining its own momentum. There isn’t a single environment or situation that gets needlessly drawn out. Plus, the game does ultimately build toward something emotionally resonant, with a wonderful final act that feels greater because of what came before. The actual world is exceptional in many ways. Whether it’s an icy wilderness, scorching desert, or eerie woodland, each setting is carefully realized.It’s difficult to fully articulate why that is just because the game does so much to draw you in. Buildings and interiors are crafted in such a way that they often feel remarkably natural. There’s enough variety in placement and decoration that you’re constantly discovering something new. Of course, you will notice some repetition, but by and large, the effort does wonders to immerse you into any given situation. You may be moving toward a specific destination when suddenly you have to change course to avoid mutants loudly prowling nearby. Or, you may think you’re going to easily raid an outpost only for the situation to suddenly throw in something unexpected as you get farther in. These moments, and countless others like them, convey the sense that the world is a robust, independently operating force that you just happen to be a part of. Such authenticity is bolstered by the actual gameplay and various systems. As you explore and throw yourself into fights, a good deal of different needs will crop up. Venturing into heavily irradiated areas requires a gas mask which can be cracked in combat, and the filter of the mask must be replaced frequently.Deciding how many filters to craft is a difficult decision because it pulls from the same resources needed for everything else like medkits and ammunition. Weapons get dirty and need to be cleaned, otherwise they’ll jam up in combat and become a hindrance. Your flashlight requires you to crank power into it every so often or it becomes dim. Maintenance like this goes a long way in making you actually feel like a survivor, but what is especially appreciated is how gracefully its implemented into the game. These tasks crop up often enough that they can’t be ignored, significantly raising the stakes for both planning and actually accomplishing tasks. Yet Metro Exodus is never hopeless or tedious, probably because the upkeep is demanding but easy to accomplish. Thorough exploration will net sufficient resources to craft what you need, but things require enough materials that it still feels like there are tough decisions to make. It’s also easy to craft on the go, but you can’t make everything this way and have to visit workbenches to access all available options. Many enemies go down very quickly, but the same is true for you. Getting careless means swift death, so the world is as vicious as it presents itself.Because encounters are actually dangerous, stealth is a valuable approach and it’s almost always the best way to move forward. You’ll scavenge weapon parts that can be attached to each of your guns, and over time, you’ll probably cobble together something that’s substantially different than the weapon you started with. Such a DIY approach to weapon progression fits well thematically and feels remarkably realistic.It’s hard to predict which enemy guns will have worthwhile attachments, so taking the time to loot carefully is worth the effort. The game’s structure goes a long way in enhancing all of its individual elements. There are three open environments that give you plenty of room to chase after whatever you see fit. Sparse but useful map markers as well as a compass point you in the right direction without being so heavy handed that it dampens the joy of exploration. Of course, wandering comes at the cost of draining resources, so choosing where to go and when is as important of a decision as anything else. In between these more open-ended segments are linear ones that emphasize big dramatic moments that are spaced out enough that they do actually feel exciting when they happen. Yet just like the strange awkwardness can hurt the storytelling, it can also hurt many other aspects of the game. Boss-like enemies that are meant to be threatening really amount to little more than being bullet sponges, feeling removed from what makes regular encounters so tense. Thankfully, they’re not frequent. Regular enemies will sometimes behave erratically, constantly bouncing back and forth between two close cover points in a way that isn’t at all natural or strategic.A few times during our playthrough, the stealth kill prompt didn’t appear when it seemed like it should have, leading to needlessly alerting the enemy. In one instance, enemies kept incessantly repeating the same short dialogue, making what should have been a serious situation rather annoying. The game also froze a couple of times on PC, forcing a complete restart. Taking these issues into consideration, Metro Exodus falls easily into the “rough around the edges” category. Yet all of its issues are worth dealing with to experience the incredible amount of effort that goes into its world building. It does such an effective job of evoking fear and anxiety just while walking around. The shortcomings sometimes feel as though Metro Exodus is reaching beyond its own capabilities, but that same ambition is also what ultimately makes it such a powerful journey.Easy Allies Reviews are made possible by generous viewers just like you. If you like what you see, check out patreon.com/easyallies to help us make more. For just $1 a month, you can gain access to weekly updates, spoiler discussions, and exclusive shows. .