Spiders is a French game development studio with a chequered track record when it comes to releasing RPGs. In 2013 it was Mars: War Logs, an ambitious but poorly-realised action role playing game set on, you guessed it, Mars. Then in 2014, Bound by Flame made its way onto the new consoles, which also didn’t set the world alight.
A combination of clumsy writing, so-so graphics and awkward combat systems ham-strung both games, so you’d think that with their third RPG, Spiders would have learned their lessons and improved things. While on some fronts it appears that yes, they did, on others it’s clear that the same ambitious designers are still limited by their less-than-AAA budget.
The Technomancer is that third game, a semi-sequel to Mars: War Logs. I say semi-sequel because it takes place on the same planet, except this time around the Red Planet’s been cut off from Earth and the remaining colonists have split off to form separate corporations, all of whom are now competing against one another for power and influence.
No place like your home corporation
It’s into this tense political climate that the game opens, with you, playing as Technomancer Zachariah Mancer, serving your home corporation – Abundance – in your capacity as an electricity-wielding law-enforcement officer of sorts.
After a brief tutorial in which you explore your “technomancy” – your ability to shoot electricity from your body – the world opens up a bit and you’re tasked with following orders from the army you’ve joined that have you breaking up worker rebellions, running various fetch/kill quests and basically coming down hard on any perceived threats to Abundance’s, er, abundance.
As so often happens in games, things eventually go pear-shaped, and Zachariah ends up on the run from the very people he was working for. He must find out what’s really going on and put a stop to it, all while trying to protect his Technomancer secrets.
If that sounds like it’s got a lot of potential to be really cool, you’d be right. Unfortunately, Spiders’ execution is not quite there. The world is split into levels, each rather large on their own, but all of them are sadly lacking in character. They’re too big, with too little to do, and too few characters to interact with and places to visit. And they look quite nice, too, which is part of the disappointment – it makes their emptiness so much more noticeable.
That levels are attractive is good, because you’ll be spending a lot of time running through them. They’re so big, and quests sometimes so far spread out that it takes several minutes at a time getting from point A to point B.
At the start of the game this isn’t too bad, but as time stretched on I found myself wishing for some sort of Fast Travel option within levels. Especially as towards the middle of the game, levels are populated with more enemies than before, who respawn every time you pass through the area (which you’ll do a lot). While in theory that’s a great way to farm XP in order to level up, it can be a little annoying when all you want to do is turn in a quest.
I must admit, The Technomancer’s combat system annoyed me at first, but it got better the longer I played. At the start of the game I felt rather underpowered and clumsy, but as things progressed and I unlocked better skills in the game’s skill trees (and learned the ins and outs of the game’s combat dynamics), I found myself actually enjoying it.
There are four classes in the game: Warrior (fights with a staff, great for battling multiple enemies at once), Technomancer (electricity, the game’s “magic”), Rogue (dagger and gun, the closest the game comes to a ranged class) and Guardian (mace and shield style, essentially a tank). Switching between the classes requires a change of “stance”, and is often necessary to deal with different enemy types.
You can’t, for instance, expect to take out a group of human enemies as the Guardian’s mace and shield – those are better handled by the Warrior and his area-of-effect staff attacks. Learning when to use which stance made the combat a lot better for me, as did mastering the art of dodging. The game doesn’t feature Dark Souls levels of combat finesse, but what is there proved sufficiently satisfying.
Each fighting style comes with its own ability tree, which unlocks one additional combat enhancement every time you level up. You also unlock points to upgrade Zach’s skills and attributes, although these don’t get points every level.
Upgrading just one class’s abilities can be the difference between a late-game Rogue who dances almost imperviously around the battlefield poisoning/shooting enemies and pulling off crits that do ludicrous damage, and a multi-skilled character that isn’t quite as effective.
The controls also take some getting used to (I played on Xbox One), but you can at least slow things down mid-stream and change stance, choose healing items and switch targets quite easily. Eventually, they became almost second nature.
So yes, combat in The Technomancer is fun, but you’ll have to stick with the game for its first ten or so hours before you’ll start to notice. Which is a bit of a shame, really, because it’s likely those first ten hours will turn a lot of gamers off.
No narrative payoff
Sadly, while combat isn’t terrible, there isn’t a lot of payoff in terms of narrative. Zacharia’s story isn’t exactly Mass Effect, and the characters he meets along the way aren’t brimming with complexity. Worse, the voice acting isn’t great. Zach is particularly bad – the actor delivers his lines with the enthusiasm and intensity of an elderly patient on a bedpan.
As disappointing as the game sounds, it’s actually a tighter overall experience than both Mars: War Logs and Bound by Flame, indicating that Spiders has, indeed, learned from their previous experiences, so if you enjoyed either of those games this one may hold some attraction for you.
Flawed but fun in places
As the hours rolled by, I found that I eventually grew to appreciate The Technomancer despite its foibles; sure, it’s not a relentlessly polished triple-A game with fine controls, it doesn’t have a stellar cast or a story to rival that of Mass Effect, but its particular brand of B-grade cheese grew on me.
Should you grab it at full price? Probably not, but perhaps consider picking it up when the price drops. The devs could certainly use the support, and who knows, if they get the chance to keep making games, maybe the game after this one will do a better job of fulfilling the designers’ vision.
- The Technomancer was reviewed on Xbox One. Review code was provided by the publisher.