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Expeditions: A Mudrunner Game review - Rugged and messy but worth the journey

Dan Lipscombe

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Expeditions: A Mudrunner Game review - Rugged and messy but worth the journey

Featured Image Credit: Focus Entertainment

When I originally played Mudrunner and its superb follow-up, Snowrunner, they felt like very sedate affairs. Maneuvering off-road vehicles through difficult terrain felt more like a puzzle, you’d have to read the road, or in these cases, mud, rock, and snow, to deliver goods or establish services. These two predecessors felt quite open, a large map that would slowly unfurl as you took on jobs and worked through terrain that became harder to manage.

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Expeditions: A Mudrunner Game, now hereby known as Expeditions, does much of the same, except the progression feels more linear while an open-world is ahead of you. This is more of a driving adventure game, where you’ll set up outposts, scan the terrain for precious metals, tend to weather-beaten scout towers, or even assist with digging up fossils and dinosaur skeletons. Well, you don’t actually do much of that, because you never leave your vehicle, but you get the idea. You’re a jack-of-all-trades driver and it’s up to you to cross boundaries, borders, and frontiers.

Even the driving is very similar to the previous installments; making progress comes from puzzling out the best routes to take across treacherous ground, and using various tools to make the journey possible. It still feels a lot like a puzzle game as you hunt out smoother paths through rock slides, or cross watery fords without flooding your engine, except this time it’s more tedious.

Expeditions
Expeditions
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Now, I don’t want to tar the entire game with that claim, it’s not all tedious, though I expect it’s the core graphics engine and, more importantly, the physics that makes for a frustrating journey. You have to be aware, this is a simulator, of sorts. You’ll have to finagle your gears, deflate and inflate your tires to find optimal grip and switch from rear-wheel drive to four-wheel drive when needed to conserve fuel. This level of ‘realism’ means the physics of rocks and the car itself often give way to mind-bending movements.

For example, using the smallest car on offer, you might find you get stuck on smaller, loose rocks if they happen to end up between your wheels. This is sorted later as you lift the suspension in the garage, but it’s an annoyance. There are times when, no matter what vehicle you use, you read the ground a certain way and just end up sliding to one side, despite the path looking achievable.

Steep verges can at some points be conquered with 4WD, while at others the vehicle will just slide down and land on its side. I appreciate that each patch of land should feel different, but at times it feels unfair. Especially if you didn’t bring a vehicle jack with you - which flips the car back onto its wheels - and forces you to reset the whole journey back to home base, often putting you back more than 45 minutes.

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There are, conversely, times when the car will seemingly skid along the rocks and never flip itself over, making light work of a section that should, by all rights, be difficult. The mechanics, much like the ground of the Grand Canyon, are rocky.

Expeditions
Expeditions

And speaking of the ground; this may be fixed upon full release, but the texture pop-in is horrible. Often mud won’t actually look like mud until your wheels-deep into it, the craggy exterior of rocks can load slowly and it all looks a bit ugly. This is yet another frustration because when everything loads nicely, Expeditions is a drop-dead gorgeous game. At one point I was driving across a larger flat rock and in front of me were two large holes, until I got closer and the rock texture loaded in.

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I wish this was the end of my complaints, but to tell the truth some of the mission parameters also make for a tedious experience. Now, before we jump into that, let’s familiarise ourselves with the world of Expeditions. Unless you’re free driving across the three maps, you will be selecting jobs from the main menu and then loading into your chosen home base before tackling the task at hand. You’ll choose a vehicle, pick the tools you might need for the trip, perhaps you’ll hire a specialist to come with you, each of which buffs part of your vehicle or tools. For example, one specialist will allow your drone to fly further, while another might increase the wear rate of your tires. It’s a cool little feature that makes you think about what’s coming up.

You can head into the garage shop and upgrade your vehicles, or buy new ones, using the funds earned from completed jobs. After a few trips, you’ll start to figure out which upgrades you’ll need - an exhaust snorkel will let you drive through deeper water. Then you’ll load into the map and set off across the terrain.

As you travel you’ll find odd jobs that can be tackled there and then or saved for a free drive where you aren’t balancing fuel reserves for your main task. You’ll also come across airdrops where you can collect items that go towards unlocking vehicle parts, or just refuel your vehicle. There’s also a stock of spare parts which can repair your car on the fly, while out on tasks.

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Expeditions
Expeditions

The tasks are, by and large, pretty enjoyable. Driving out to scout areas can result in some photography, or lining up icons to scan the ground from overhead. You might have to ford waterways or build small bridges over treacherous gaps in the landscape, you could simply be delivering some much-needed supplies to a scientist’s camp.

Where’s the problem you may be asking? For many of the earlier tasks you will be driving across large swathes of land to reach your checkpoints or points of interest, oftentimes you’ll check off a task and the game simply asks you to ‘scout the area’ and plonks a yellow waypoint in the centre of a large circle. Your goal here is to just drive around. You can also use your drone to scan and fly around the area, but ultimately it’s just moving around with nothing much to do. It wastes fuel, damages your car, and honestly, is rather dull. On one task, I spent about 30 minutes just driving across bland, though beautiful, rocky terrain constantly checking my map to see how much of the area I’d uncovered. Side note: you can’t check this map while piloting the drone, so you just have to head out in a vague direction.

Back in Snowrunner, I never felt I was just driving around almost randomly. I was always towing something, delivering parts, or establishing a foothold. Of course, it should be noted that all simulators come with some form of tedium but in a game where you’re encouraged to monitor fuel reserves, and can only carry a set number of spare parts and tools, this meandering just feels like a waste of time.

Expeditions
Expeditions

Now, I don’t want this review to be overly negative because at its core, Expeditions is a very good game. The scenery is beautiful, the vehicles and their upgrades are a joy to mess around with, and the tasks to complete are different enough that you never feel like you’re experiencing the same missions repeatedly. And, when you conquer a particularly difficult patch of terrain, like an uphill climb covered in jagged rocks, the sense of achievement is brilliant.

There’s a sense of grandeur throughout Expeditions; you aren’t simply ferrying machinery parts across a map, but you’re discovering dinosaurs and their footprints, or discovering old buildings as they crumble towards the earth. You can be forgiven for thinking this is how Lara Croft gets about when she isn’t jumping from planes or dashing about in a speedboat. The idea of ‘get this unwieldy vehicle from A to B’ is an engaging one and a formula that consistently works, as long as you’re aware that a mission could take over an hour to drive to reach your destination.

And the game is filled with mini ‘moments’, like when I equipped my smallest vehicle with an exterior roll cage knowing damn well that at some point I’d need to roll it down a crevasse when I inevitably got stuck somewhere. This indeed happened not two missions later when I found myself stuck on a rocky expanse with little fuel left and though “YOLO” (do the kids still say YOLO?) and yeeted (do the kids still say yeet?) the car off the edge and rolled to general safety.

Without the gadgets and upgrades, Expeditions would be a disappointing game. Being able to use anchors that are drilled into rock in order to connect your winch and reach higher ground, is a godsend. As is the echo sounder which scans the depth of water before you wade in an trash your engine. After a short time, you have a Swiss army knife vehicle that can tackle even the toughest landscapes, and you’ll need it.

Expeditions
Expeditions

The three areas - Little Colorado, Arizona, and Carpathian Mountains - range in difficulty and scale slowly upwards. In the first, you’re trained on many mechanics and each task feels like a trip to the local shop. By the time you reach the mountains, you’re tasked with jobs of monumental difficulty that could take hours to complete. Of course, the sense of satisfaction borders on smugness when you conquer a difficult job, and that’s where Expeditions shines.

Yes, there are some flaws. The patchy textures can be fixed in an update and even the physics could be tweaked. There is a little too much tedium in the earlier tasks but you’ll soon be past those and venturing into mountain ranges, feeling like a proper adventurer. Despite the niggles, Expeditions is a bit of a rugged gem and it offers just as much joy as frustrations, which is a balance that will tip to the former depending on your mileage.

Pros: Gorgeous landscapes, engaging tasks, and rushes of dopamine from puzzling terrain

Cons: Some texture pop-in and wonky physics can annoy, and some tasks are meandering

For fans of: Mudrunner, Snowrunner

7/10: Very Good

Expeditions: A Mudrunner Game is available now on PS5 (Version tested), PS4, Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. Review code was provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Topics: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X

Dan Lipscombe
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