After surviving the fearsome depths of the Metro below Moscow, the newest entry of longstanding Metro series, Metro Exodus by 4A Games is almost upon us. With the atmosphere clearing from the devastating nukes of World War III, the light is finally breaking through and life is slowly returning to the surface, offering a desolate forgotten world to be explored. But before this, let’s trudge through the tunnels of the Metro once more and delve into the story so far in both Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light. We’ll also take a look at the original novels Metro 2033, 2034 and 2035, which inspired the games, written by Dmitry Glukhovsky.
So, ready your gas mask and check your ammunition as we explore the story of Metro 2033. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead for the game as well as the novel.
Metro 2033 is where our story starts, playing our protagonist, Artyom Alekseyevich Chyornyj. Artyom is one of very few survivors the original blasts of nuclear fire that rained from above, and although he was too young to remember, he was raised by his mother in Timiryazevskaya station. This was till the station was overrun by a horde of rats, which festered and attempted to feast on the inhabitants forcing the survivors to flee. Little did Artyom know this would be the last time he’d see his mother, who sacrificed herself to save him. Saved by Sukhoi, who becomes his adopted father, or uncle as Artyom calls him, he grew up in Exhibition station, known as VDNKh in the novel.
In the game, the story sticks to the novel, but there are some differences. The underlying theme is still survival and follows Artyom reaching the centre of the Metro to warn of the oncoming danger from the Dark Ones. The unfortunate reasoning for the Dark Ones being within the Metro, however, is because of Artyom. As a child, he and some friends dared to venture into the Botanical Gardens near his home station. There, he saw the sky for the first time, albeit at night, however in doing so after fear of being attacked by “monsters” they fled the station leaving the once sealed airlock open.
Metro 2033 the game is a story-driven, action-horror, full of gunfights, Nosalis and creatures alike in the depths of the Metro. The novel sees Artyom in a more grounded world: Readers experience him spend his time working through guard shifts, sipping on mushroom tea and sharing stories of mind-altering weed. In game what starts, Artyom’s journey is him fending off an attack of Nosalis alongside his uncle and a ranger called Hunter. This is when the two plot points meet between game and novel. Hunter is still key and after defending the station he makes it his duty to fight back at the Dark Ones living by the code “If it’s hostile, you kill it.” He then instructs Artyom if he is not back by morning to travel to Polis and warn of the incoming threat of the Dark Ones. This is the same for the novel, but instead of fighting off Nosalis, Artyom and Hunter share a secret with one another: Artyom tells Hunter of the misadventure to the surface as a child and leaving the airlock open, and Hunter decides this is where the Dark Ones are “attacking” from and heads there. Just like the game, Artyom's story begins.
Although the game explores frightful Metro tunnels, with creatures lurking below and the threat of Nosalis around each passing station, the novel is rather tame in comparison. Creatures and Dark Ones still show, but Nosalis are not present in the novel, even so, the others are few and far between. The game is heavy in atmosphere with horror in its environments and enemies. The novel delves more into the survival of humanity and the people Artyom meets. First of which is Bourbon, who is not met after surviving a bombastic caravan attack on the way to Riga station in the game, but instead after rescuing his crew from a pipeline gas leak on the way towards Prospekt Mira. Seeing that Artyom was unaffected by the gas, he offers to pay him to accompany him. In both game and novel, the offer is virtually the same: cartridges, food and his weapon. The game has you explore the dead city on the surface, as for the novel, you journey through the Metro across the Sucharevska line. Still, the fate of Bourbon is similar, although with no opposing threat from bandits and demons. Instead, it becomes a supernatural trip, experienced briefly in game, but instead of surviving, it seals Bourbon’s fate as he perishes into madness and dies. Much less action-packed, but it is at this time, both in novel and game, that Artyom encounters the mysterious Khan.
In game Khan is shown as more of a spiritualist, leading Artyom through tunnels warning him of the ghosts of the Metro as well as guiding him through a passing anomaly. Khan is not as prominent as in the novel, but more is learned of Khan and his personality. Khan shares his last name, Aitmatov and sees himself as a wolf among jackals. Moreso Khan believes he is the last incarnation of Genghis Khan, hence the chosen name, and speaks more philosopher-like, and doesn’t believe in the constraints of time. It’s learned in the novel, that since the Metro follows a singular time, with lack of sunlight, the clock at the central station is shared between stations and is regularly maintained. It is of such importance to the Metro that anyone who interferes would be severely punished. Khan does not believe in this, and that only the sun can provide true real-world time and says that time is different for one another, this is why it passes slowly for one and fast for another, for this reason, he manages his own time and judges himself.
In the novel, Khan is first alluded to early on as the magician in the Metro by Artyom’s friend Zhenya but isn’t met till later on after finding Artyom trying to drag Bourbons body towards the nearest station. Joining Khan on a new route towards Polis, it is his encounter that leads to an unfortunate and heart-wrenching circumstance involving the survival of inhabitants of a diseased station. After reaching a fork in the Metro, Khan conveniences Artyom to stay with him. He could have stayed with the others, thinking survival in greater numbers, but instead followed Khan. This proved to be the right decision as the survivors were not heard from again. It is after this that he and another called Ace, who fled others and joined, are escorted to another station. While it’s peaceful at first and Artyom gets to see a different way of life first hand, he soon gets separated after fascists attack.
Metro 2033 in both incarnations contain factions that run and survive in the Metro. Only a handful are mentioned and are featured in the game, but the novel explores these further. After all, the novel is more about the survival and security and these factions are a huge part of the society people have created within the Metro. The game features the fascist Fourth Reich, communist Red Line and capitalistic Hansa. The novel further expands and includes Revolutionaries who idealise Che Guevara, Jehovah's Witnesses and an encounter with a ferocious cannibalistic cult who praise a deity called “The Great Worm”.
In the game, Artyom finds himself in the frontlines of combat between the Reds and Nazis, still fighting over past ideology. It’s an action-packed area, allowing for stealth or combat, but in the novel things are more gruelling and believable and is also the first time Artyom kills. After the attack separating Artyom from Khan, he meets an old man named Mikhail and his grandson, Vanechka at Kitai Gorod. As they travel through the metro they are caught by the Fourth Reich again, this time there was no escape. Fearing that Mikhail and Vanechka would be killed, Artyom in defence kills an officer. His companions are shot and he’s captured, beaten and taken away for execution. Believing this is where he’d meet his end, Artyom is rescued by revolutionaries who storm the fascist's station and escort him to Paveletskaya station, a station similar to the game’s Cursed Station where Artyom and Khan defend against hordes of Nosalises and have to destroy the tunnels to stop more from entering.
The novel delves further into Artyom's journey through the metro. He befriends a man named Mark and bets in a rat race, in order to get visas for passage through Hanza controlled stations, but loses, forcing them to shovel manure. Eventually, he escapes through a hidden tunnel and he meets with the brothers of The Watchtower, a religious monastery which gives Artyom asylum and shelter. Although, this is short lived once again as he decides he must pursue his mission to Polis.
This continues in the novel as Artyom arrives at Polyanka station, greeted by two friendly men and a cat. There he hears about Metro-2, an underground subway system designed to connect government buildings in case of disaster, which eventually leads to D6. As Artyom continues he passes the last tunnel eventually arriving at Polis where he is met by the leader of the Rangers, Melnik, known as Miller in the game. Bringing the news of the impending danger, Artyom is told to allow a day for the council to discuss. It’s here the novel and game follow in the same vein as the Polis council decides whether to help, Artyom tells of his journey, the situation of his home station, Hunter and their fight to stop the Dark Ones. As a crushing blow to Artyom, they choose not to help.
Luckily for Artyom, he has allies at this side and they help him search the great library for anything that would lead to D6. In the novel, this is the first time he reaches the surface and experiences the post-apocalyptic ruins of Moscow first-hand, where the air has become unbreathable. Melnik and two stalkers, Ten and Daniel join him. Just like the journey in game, reaching the Library had little difficulty, but once inside things take a turn. Splitting up, they search the halls of the library looking for anything that would lead to D6. The Librarians, mutated creatures within, are disturbed and attack, and although the group fight back Daniel is mortally wounded, impaled by a Librarian's claw. Artyom finds him bleeding out and in his dying moments, he tells him to search his pockets for something he found that would help. Seeing a Librarian behind Daniel, he shoots through him not only killing the creature but Daniel too. Making his way back to Melnik and Ten, Ten is wounded as well and told they must return to Polis and Artyom is to make his way to Smolenskaya alone.
In contrast to the game, Artyom travels with the Polis stalkers at his side, but Daniel is known as Danial in the game is a combination of Ten and Daniel. He is wounded by a demon that strikes through the library’s main hall forcing Miller to take him back to Polis leaving Artyom to explore and find the documents to D6. Combat is brutal with Librarians scouring the areas stalking Artyom. Once found by the Rangers, Artyom again makes his way to Smolenskaya, which is the Sparta Base in game.
Plans are set into motion both in novel and game, to seek out the entrance to D6 and launch the pre-war missiles on the lair of the Dark Ones. The game streamlines the destination of D6 and it is found with relative ease, with some encounters with Nosalis in between. The novel delves deeper and has the group head to Kievskaya station, a sparsely populated station in search for Tretyak, a missiles expert with knowledge of D6. Upon learning of the disappearance of children from the station, Artyom joins security officer Anton, whose own child, Oleg has disappeared. They go to patrol the adjacent station, Park Pobedy, which is supposed to be abandoned but is discovered to be now host to the cult of the Great Worm, a cannibalistic group of fanatics protecting the entrance to D6. They believe that the Metro-2 contains the worm and will devour anyone who enters. Artyom and Anton are captured by the cult and learn of their nefarious brainwashing and ritual. Fearing the end, they are rescued by Melnek and his stalkers. From here they enter the mysterious Metro-2 with lines to D6.
Discovering no such worm creature within D6, they do encounter a huge entity, which is a large biomass boss-like mutant in game. In the novel, it has psychic powers drawing its victims in and consuming them as they submerge themselves into it. While it is a threat to their mission, they manage to make it retreat by throwing an exploding flamethrower canister on to it. In the game, the biomass has spread itself over the reactor within D6 and Artyom has to avoid amoeba pods that explode on impact. Using a crane, Artyom has to lift cells of the reactor start it, the biomass with its tentacles tries to stop, but once the reactor is started it too quells and retreats.
In both novel and game, once the team arrives at the command centre, the team splits and Artyom joins Ulman and travels back to the surface to setup the laser designator and point it to the lair of the Dark Ones. Before this however, in the novel Artyom asks to return to his home station of VDNKh only to discover that he was too late and that it had been overrun by Dark Ones, but fortunately, his uncle is still alive and they share a reunion before Artyom leaves once more for the surface.
This brings us to the climax of the game, where Artyom and UIman reunite with the rest of stalkers and Miller and travel to Ostankino Tower. In the game they fight their way there, taking down demons and hordes of Watchers. Miller accompanies Artyom to the top of the tower, but is injured by a demon leaving Artyom to reach the peak. With the designator in place, the Dark Ones reach out to Artyom dragging him into his subconscious. This is where the game’s morality system offers two conclusions. If positive choices are made throughout, then Artyom can choose to destroy the designator, saving the Dark Ones, realising that they only wished for peace.
The canonical ending called If it’s hostile, you kill it, sees the Dark One’s try to stop Artyom. Deep in his subconscious, Artyom hears Hunter’s voice and runs towards him he hands him a revolver echoing his code “If it’s hostile, you kill it”, Artyom turns to face the approaching Dark One and kills it, bringing him back to consciousness on the tower. The missiles are then launched at the Botanical Garden destroying the Dark Ones. As for the novel, the ending that saves the Dark Ones is mere fantasy and despite seeing visions of the Dark Ones reaching out to Artyom pleading with him, explaining that he is their chosen one and they wish only for peace, it is too late. The missiles launch and strike the heart of the gardens and Artyom can’t help but watch in dread as the voices of the Dark Ones fade from Artyom’s mind as they perish.
In the novel’s epilogue, Artyom is stricken with guilt for his actions and believes he is a monster and deserves death. It is not a happy ending, despite the belief of VDNKh that he is a hero and a saviour. By the end, Artyom has no choice but to continue his endeavours, believing that if he had tried to explain to the people of VDNKh what the Dark Ones really were he’d be mocked. Instead, he chooses to live with the guilt, knowing that he allowed the Dark Ones to reach out, becoming their chosen one only to be their destruction. This also the game’s canonical ending. Artyom’s story continues in the sequel Last Light, with redemption is in his grasp when it’s learned of a survivor, a young Dark One.
The story continues in part two: Metro Last Light, and its adaptation Metro 2035. As well as Metro 2034, a standalone novel sequel within the Metro universe.