“The Technomancer is a sci-fi RPG set on Mars, featuring dynamic combat and an epic story line, where your choices will affect the fate of the Red Planet. You are a Technomancer, a formidable warrior harnessing destructive electrical powers. Embark on a perilous journey across a planet torn apart by conflict and infested with mutant creatures.“
– The The Technomancer Steam page (http://store.steampowered.com/app/338390/)
Mars seems to be a popular setting within pop-culture these days. Be it in the movies, music or video games, the Red Planet has shown up quite a lot over the last few years. It’s no surprise really – there’s a certain amount of intrigue and mystery behind the planet, something that’s evident in The Technomancer.
The Technomancer is the latest release from developers Spiders, offering an RPG experience that mixes up gameplay elements from a few different games. You’ll spot a bit of Mass Effect, the Arkham titles, even a little bit of Final Fantasy VII – it really does wear its inspirations like a badge of honour. However, whilst those games are considered classics, The Technomancer doesn’t manage to reach the same heights. It’s certainly an enjoyable release, but it never really manages to go beyond ‘enjoyable’.
The game is set in a semi post apocalyptic Mars that’s in the middle of a war between different factions. You take on the role of Zachariah, a newly appointed Technomancer who has passed his initiation and started working within the Army (Abundance). Because of their mysterious powers, the Technomancers are somewhat alienated and feared by normal citizens – something Zachariah has to deal with not only with the citizens of the city but also with his fellow soldiers in Abundance too. Life is never easy for a Technomancer and when Zachariah refuses to divulge secret information about the Technomancers to one of the city leaders he ends up as a wanted criminal, sending him on a perilous journey out of the city and into the dangerous Mars terrain.
The story of The Technomancer is entertaining enough, but there’s nothing new on offer. You’ll predict each twist and turn of the game before it’s happened, whilst the characters you meet are fairly stereotypical and their actions incredibly predicable too. That’s not to say I didn’t like the characters of the game though – they’re certainly a colourful bunch and fairly unique among themselves. There’s just nothing on offer in the game that you wouldn’t have seen plenty of times before.
The feeling of familiarity doesn’t really change within the gameplay either. The Technomancer feels like it wants to be a Bioware game, with plenty of gameplay mechanics that feel like something straight out of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. The most obvious inspiration is the Karma system. Throughout the game you’ll have plenty of good and bad actions that you’re able to take, be those simple conversational choices or your method of completing a mission. If you start threatening people to get information you’re going to get bad karma, whereas if you’re nice to them you’ll get good karma. If you kill one of your fellow soldiers because they were spying on you you’ll get bad karma, but if you show mercy and let them live you’ll get good karma.
It’s something we’ve been doing plenty of times before in other video games, though The Technomancer does add one extra element to the system that can greatly change how you are perceived by those around you. Whenever you defeat an enemy you simply knock them out; however, you’re also able to drain their body of serum (the game’s currency) at the price of some bad karma. I haven’t seen an option like that in any Bioware game, though it may seem a little familiar to those who’ve played Bioshock…
The combat differs from Bioware titles, although it does feel a lot like the fighting from the Arkham series of games. Fast combos? Check. Quick and responsive dodging? Check. Plenty of button mashing and unique special moves? Check. The familiarity of combat can’t really be held against The Technomancer, especially since it works so well in-game. There’s a variety of different approaches you can take too, with three different battle stances on offer for Zachariah.
You can either battle with a staff, a mace and shield, or a dagger and gun. Each stance feels completely different and offers their own pros and cons, though admittedly I pretty much stuck exclusively with the staff throughout my playthrough. Each player will find a style that suits them, but the power and range of the staff worked best for me. You also have access to Technomancer abilities, allowing you to use electric charged powers against your foes in combat. Abilities are easily mapped to different button combinations on the controller, leaving combat feeling easily accessible from the get go.
Whilst combat functions well in-game, there was a severe lack of set pieces to offer excitement to each encounter. It simply felt like I was moving from one group of enemies to another with nothing exciting happening in between. There are a few boss encounters that add a bit of a thrill to the game, but otherwise there’s not a whole lot of variety to keep you engrossed in the game’s competent combat mechanics.
You can take companions into battle with you, though you’ll never actually notice them do much. Whilst they will take enemies down, most of the time they’d meet a quick demise – especially against tougher groups of enemies. You can arm them with better weapons and equipment, though in the end it doesn’t matter too much. They are a useful distraction to keep groups of enemies off your back for awhile mind, though I’m sure that isn’t what the developers had in mind for them when creating the game.
The bulk of The Technomancer is spent completing a variety of quests for an assortment of key characters. Unfortunately I couldn’t help but to feel that each quest felt the same – go from point A to B and beat up a few enemies on the way. Some quests varied things up a little, though 80% of quests follow the same simple routine.
When The Technomancer did vary things up though the quests became a lot more interesting. Sometimes you’d have a variety of different options of how to complete your objective too, be it resorting to violence or simply convincing characters to follow your line of thought. I maxed Zachariah’s charisma quite early in the game so most characters I met listened to my voice of reason, though it was nice to have a variety of means to reach your goal. One thing I particularly liked about the variety of choices was that you could either lie or tell the truth to the mission giver about the outcome – whilst I typically tried to take the ‘good guy’ approach towards each mission and let people live, I’d often report back fabricated tales of violence and bloodshed to the mission giver.
Some of The Technomancer’s best quests actually come from your companions. You’re able to interact with your companions in a variety of ways and eventually build friendships; alternatively you can make them suspicious of you if you rub them up the wrong way. If you manage to build up a decent amount of friendship your companions will ask you for some favours – if you’re really smooth you might even be able to spark a romance with them too. Oo-la-la.
The game offers plenty of depth with its levelling up system, with Zachariah able to level up four different skill trees that relate to each of the combat stances as well as his Technomancer abilities. You’ll unlock a wide range of new skills as well as earn passive boosts across your stats, slowly developing Zachariah into an unstoppable fighting machine. Every few levels you’ll also be able to level up core stats including strength and power, whilst key skills such as crafting, charisma and science are also improved every few levels too.
You’re also able to craft in-game, customising a wide range of equipment and weapons for your team to use. There’s plenty of different ways to improve each item, though it all simply boils down to improving their stats. It’s a neat addition and something that’s worth investing your time in as you progress to some of the more difficult areas of the game.
As you can imagine given the game’s setting, there’s a lot of drab looking rocky environments to explore in The Technomancer. I was surprised by how little red was on offer mind, with the game instead going for a dreary look. The Technomancer is never ugly though – whilst the game is far from a graphical masterpiece, it still manages to provide an interesting world that’s attractive to look at.
There are a wide variety of locations to explore too. Starting city Ophir is a high rising technologically advanced city, but it also features a seedy slums area – it actually reminded me a lot of Midgar from Final Fantasy VII. Then you have locations like the Middle Eastern feeling Noctis that features plenty of sand, markets and a Palace with a Prince who is in charge. Locations are constantly varying up and always interesting to explore, which is fortunate seeing as the game forces you to backtrack a lot during some of the missions.
The Technomancer doesn’t do much wrong and actually provides an entertaining experience throughout its fairly lengthy campaign. It plays things a little too safe though, offering gameplay mechanics and the kind of story we’ve seen plenty of times before – unfortunately they’ve been done better before too.
Still, The Technomancer is an ambitious title and something RPG fans will get a lot of enjoyment out of. You won’t be amazed at anything it offers, but it doesn’t really matter when it manages to do things so competently.
Developer: Spiders (www.spiders-games.com)
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive (www.focus-home.com)
Release Date: 28/06/2016
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), Playstation 4, PC