The Technomancer is the latest action-RPG from development team ‘Spiders’, previously known for games such as Mars: War Logs and, most notably, Bound by Flame – a game which The Technomancer has quite obviously borrowed several of its mechanics from. The crafting and upgrade systems both return, alongside companions and stance-based combat. Unfortunately, The Technomancer – although offering a creative dystopian premise full of potential – suffers from a variety of issues, as well as a lack of polish that ultimately make it a far less enjoyable experience than it could have been.
It’s worth premising this review with the fact that I did not complete the main story of the game. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I physically couldn’t. The main quest line required me to speak to certain NPCs before progressing, whom I was unable to interact with. I spent hours trying to complete side quests in hope of triggering something, but after no avail, I can only be left with the view that my save is now broken and my only option would be to start again. Bear in mind that I was over 15 hours in at this point…
In fairness, Focus Home, who is publishing the game, delivered the review code several weeks before the game’s launch. which may be one of the reasons why many minor graphical and animation bugs were still present in my copy of the game (PlayStation 4). Things like characters materialising from nowhere a few feet in front of the player, characters continuously walking into you or scenery, as well as, at one point, a quest giver disappearing completely in a dialogue cutscene, before descending from the top of the screen like some heavenly figure. Some, if not all, of these may be fixed with a ‘Day 1′ patch, but the fact that I was unable to progress past the 15 hour or so point of the game due to a major game breaking bug, is in my opinion, unacceptable. Therefore, my review – although taking all this into consideration – will be based on my 15 hours or so with the game, rather than the full 20 – 30-hour experience.
In The Technomancer, you play as Zachariah, a rookie Technomancer (a sort of battlemage) from ‘Abundance’ – one of the powerful corporations that control life on Mars. These corporations are at war over water supply, a dwindling resource 200 years after the colonisation of Mars, meaning that the corporations hold all the power, causing life for the planet’s citizens to descend into chaos. The poorest, who are unable to find shelter, are left to the mercy of the sun’s radiation, turning them into mutants that live and work as slaves for the corporations. In The Technomancer, you meet, negotiate, heal, and fight the various factions and creatures on Mars as you find yourself on the run from the secret police of Abundance, the ASC, whilst in search of contact with humanity’s last hope for survival, Earth.
This set-up was one that initially drew me into the potential of The Technomancer; a decent dystopian sci-fi action RPG could be something to tide myself and many people over with until we see Mass Effect: Andromeda next year. Unfortunately, a few good ideas and almost mechanics are really all that The Technomancer can be praised for.
The first thing that people will notice (on the PlayStation 4 version, at least) is that the game’s visuals feel quite dated. Low-resolution textures are littered around the environments, and NPC models are especially noticeable in the early parts of the game. The first major hub you encounter is the city of Ophir, a surprisingly lifeless metropolis that is as empty as it is badly designed. We’ve recently seen games like HITMAN showcasing the technical possibilities of these consoles in terms of intricate locations and a surprisingly large number of NPCs on screen. In Ophir, you will see the same merchants and quest givers accompanied by a handful of non-interactable NPCs for several hours in the game’s opening.
On top of this, navigating the city is a huge frustration. Quest objectives are marked on your map and mini-map, but no option to set a route is available, and if you choose not to employ the slightly transparent map overlay you can bring up with R2, you will find yourself constant running into dead-ends. Many places can only be reached by using seemingly nonsensical routes, which led me to play most of the game (when not in combat) with the map-hud up blocking what little environmental interests there are. The game does improve when you move onto your next main hub, Noctis. A secret merchant city away from the imposing structures of the corporations, Noctis feels a little more like a living city, and is far more visually pleasing, which is a relief as you will spend plenty of time here completing story and side quests.
Missions will thankfully take you outside of these central hubs, but if you were hoping for some degree of openness, you will be greatly disappointed. Mission areas feel like narrow corridors that hurry you through room after room of enemies before a final encounter, and then often a long run back. The enemies you encounter on these missions do have some variety; humanoid enemies can wield several types of weapons, and the alien monsters can prove quite a challenge. One saving grace is that the alien enemy designs are quite inventive, especially the larger bosses, and I would have loved to have seen more of these, especially in the early game.
One of the game’s strongest elements is its combat. Similar to Bound by Flame, you are able to choose between three combat stances on the fly that switch up the types of weapons you wield, either the combat staff, blade and gun, or mace and shield. Although, in my hours with the game, I found that there was no real reason to switch up mid-combat from my weapon of choice, which was the staff. But some satisfaction comes from the acrobatic attacks and use of slow motion to signify a successful dodge. You are accompanied on your missions by a selected coupling of companions; they have specific combat styles, and you are also able to give commands to them mid-fight. But I generally found them to be less than effective at dispatching enemies, and more useful as distractions to allow me to split up larger groups of foes. The combat, in general, can prove to be quite challenging at times, with enemies seemingly hitting far too hard, especially early in the game, but the combination of attacking, dodging and technomancy abilities are by far the strongest element of The Technomancer‘s gameplay.
There’s a fairly deep upgrade and crafting system within the game, weapons and armour often contain upgradeable slots to improve their effectiveness, and you are able to place points upon levelling up in various skill trees that improve your ability to wield stronger weapons, pick locks, or control conversations. Although I found that I could always complete a certain task with the use of violence if all other options failed, this did mean that I would lose reputation with a certain faction. As you complete quests and dispose of enemies, you will find yourself levelling up, but due to quests and enemies having no information on whether they are suitable for your level or not, and no real noticeable improvements in your combat expertise (besides from a handful of new abilities) the levelling system comes across as fairly arbitrary, and feels more like it was included to satisfy an RPG trope.
It is difficult to give a full review of the games’ narrative due to not being able to see it through to the end, but from what I did see of the game’s story, I was left rather underwhelmed. The premise of the game is one that interested me greatly, but through poor voice acting, immersion-ruining bugs, and what sometimes seemed like glaring mistakes (one mission in particular requiring me to eavesdrop a conversation, in which I was spoken to directly if I was there, despite being hidden across the room, and then immediately told afterwards that they did not want to discuss their ‘private’ conversation of which they had included me in…). It’s moments like this that broke my immersion into the world, and coupled with complex social relationships and unexplained character reactions, I spent most of the time more confused than anything.
Game breaking bugs aside, the overall experience of The Technomancer is, unfortunately, a poor one. A narratively messy, visually disapointing and mechanically bland game that although shows some improvements from the developers previous action-RPG attempts, ultimately fails to deliver.