PROOF OF LIFE ON MARS
Spiders’ The Technomancer has just released, and hopes to live up to its promise of intense combat, intriguing storylines, and realistic character interactions. Is this new RPG an example of technological wizardry or is it the result of overblown hype? You may be pleasantly surprised.
While The Technomancer flew stealthily under my radar initially, it hooked me the moment I glimpsed some early gameplay footage. As I read up on its premise, wherein players find themselves on Mars centuries after colonies were established, my mind dizzied with the potential. It didn’t take long before my hype meter reached it’s capacity, which worried me greatly, as that can be a dangerous thing. Luckily, Spiders delivered on all of its promises.
Taking on the role of Zachariah Mancer, a trainee for the Technomancer caste in the Abundance corporation’s army, I was initially disoriented. Opposing factions, plentiful castes, dozens of characters, and branching storylines are initially thrown your way at a rapid-fire pace. As I struggled to absorb this information, it gradually become clear just how fully realized this tattered world was. The city of Ophir, overseen by Abundance, makes for a great introduction.
Fleeting disorientation aside, I found myself engrossed in the politics of this red planet, where the corporations originally deployed to Mars flourished into complete cities as time progressed. While roaming Ophir and hearing idle chatter from non-player characters (NPC’s), whispered rumors and public outcries against an oppressive government all serve to explain things to you in subtle ways.
While you will be new to this place, it helps that Zechariah himself is also somewhat of an outsider. As a young man gifted with the ability to harness electricity and emit it from his body, of which all Technomancers are capable, he faces adversity from multiple fronts. The Technomancers are a tight-knit group with secret origins, and are simultaneously feared, respected, and hated by the other castes. Used as weapons in wars against opposing corporations, they struggle to hold onto each other, their ideologies, and secrets.
Being a Technomancer as well as a Lieutenant in Abundance’s army, Zachariah is well versed in multiple combat stances. Each stance features a different set of weapons, like the Warrior’s whirling bo staff, Guardian’s mace and shield, along with the Rogue’s pistol and knife. Zachariah’s Technomancer abilities can also be paired with any of the stances, often making you feel like a powerful Sith Lord disguised as a good guy.
Every stance feels unique and features various pros and cons. The Guardian is slower and more strategic, giving off a slight Dark Souls vibe. The Rogue is incredibly fast and furious, recalling memories of Batman: Arkham Asylum’s bouncy free-flow combat as you pinball from enemy to enemy. The Warrior is more balanced, offering flashy animations and fantastic crowd control during larger battles. While other RPG’s may force you to choose only one of these paths at the very beginning, The Technomancer allows you to switch between them on-the-fly. This allows each style to coalesce into a fun, varied combat system — one entirely customizable by the player.
Every stance has its own specific skill tree, and each one will drastically change the way you fight. Once I unlocked the Warrior’s nigh-unstoppable Tornado technique, in which Zachariah twirls his staff in a guided direction to hurt anyone around him, I found my preferred path. Others may prefer the Guardian’s eventual ability to automatically parry, or favor the Rogue’s poisonous attacks. Will you level them all up evenly, or become the unchallenged master of one stance? The choice is entirely up to you as, while some enemy encounters are easier for a particular stance, you are never forced to adopt any one strategy.
As previously mentioned, the Technomancer abilities can be used in conjunction with other combat tactics, in such methods as electrifying your weapons for added damage and disruptive power. Conversely, you could also focus on its skill tree entirely, flinging more lightning than Zeus himself. Zapping foes with little more than a pointed finger never got old and Zachariah’s electrified right hook is something to behold. Your are limited only by his fluid reserves, which increase as you progress through the game. While an attack may use a unit of fluid, it will regenerate within seconds. Certain techniques, like the aforementioned electrified weapons, can also use one unit permanently — or until you turn it off, at least.
In addition to combat, Zachariah’s latent skills are also decided by you. Will he be charismatic and capable of smooth-talking anyone? Perhaps he’s a ninja, preferring to move in shadow, drop deadly traps, and take out combatants with a one-hit stealth attack. Is he a powerhouse with devastating damage output, an unkillable tank with endless health, or a nimble roadrunner with lightning-quick reflexes? It all comes down to personal preference.
For you fashionistas out there, The Technomancer also boasts some great customization for armor and clothing. While the loot found in the very beginning at first seemed bland, it serves a purpose. Abundance is a dreary, cold, and industrial place. As such, those early pieces of loot came in the thrilling form of “worker’s shirt,” “beggar’s clothing,” and “soldier’s uniform.” This only increases the reward when more unique options are awarded or discovered. By the time I completed the game, Zachariah looked like a deranged Stormtrooper with roid rage… and it was freakin’ awesome!
This is due mostly to the crafting system, which is what allows the customization mentioned previously. Each piece of equipment (weapons included) has a base look, but most will have at least one upgrade slot. Upgrades not only add stat boosts and skills, but also change the look of each item. As I sought to imbue Zachariah with the highest possible defence, his clothing turned into large, bulky suits of armor. On the flip side, someone favoring speed and disruptive capabilities will get something lighter and sleeker.
It’s a good thing these options exist, because some players may be disappointed by the lack of customizations options elsewhere in the game. The character creator was surprisingly limited, though I was still able to make a Zachariah who was satisfying unique. These limits exist because we aren’t assuming the role of a blank slate like Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard, but rather someone with an existing personality along the lines of The Witcher’s Geralt of Rivia. To that effect, Zachariah will often behave in ways you don’t necessarily approve of in conversations, frequently seeming snarky and embittered by default. However, every major decision is left up to the player, and Zachariah is molded more and more to your liking throughout the course of the game. To this effect, my initial disappointment soon turned to gratitude. Developer Spiders could have easily limited character creation to hairstyle and eye color, but offered us something more instead. When at last my time with The Technomancer drew to a close, I had been fully assimilated into Zachariah’s predicament, and felt like my choices truly mattered.
This was evident even further in my experiences with Zachariah’s band of gathered companions. Taking inspiration from BioWare’s excellent character interactions, Spiders presents us with a cast of memorable friends (and possible rivals) to grow close to during this journey. This cast includes people like Dr. Scott Seeker (who I suspect is based on Fringe’s scatter-brained Walter Bishop), foul-mouthed but adventurous Amelia Reacher, the intriguing Niesha, world-weary Andrew, and more. While they fit nicely into established archetypes at first glance, it is your job to delve into their pasts and earn their loyalty — or derision — while trying to uncover the secrets of Mars.
In many ways, you almost affect your companions’ lives much more than Zachariah’s. Key decisions often put me in tight spots, and by the time I found myself executing a former friend for their unimaginable betrayal, it became clear that Spiders achieved something great. Moments like that remained constant, whether one companion formed murderous hatred for another, romance blossomed, or my most loyal ally was forced from the group because of my decisions. These were thoroughly engrossing times, many of which I will remember fondly for years to come.
Indeed, what Spiders has done with The Technomancer reminds me of BioWare’s great catalogue of games, as well as CD Projekt Red’s humble start to their The Witcher series. While I previously enjoyed their Faery: Legends of Avalon from last generation, the sheer scale of The Technomancer in comparison to their past work is truly impressive… but not without its faults.
This game lacks polish in some minor areas, which is obvious from the start. Transitions into and out of conversations can be abrupt and, on occasion, disorienting. While your companions can wear anything Zachariah could feasibly equip, not every piece of clothing fits every character perfectly, leading to slight instances of clipping. There were also moments when options within the dialogue menu referred to NPC’s by the incorrect gender or title, bringing some unintentional humor.
More noteworthy than that, one conversation with a character featured two lines of spoken dialogue that were switched. However, the subtitles were correct, which salvaged the exchange. There were also two occasions where dodging while using a health item resulted in my entire stock of them being deleted. As the game saves prior to entering most doors, I needed only to sacrifice a minute or two of gameplay to correct this, though the bug may have been more bothersome if noticed too late. Such issues were funny at best, annoying at worst, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
The graphics will not be winning any awards, though they do well enough to suck you into the experience. All of the important characters appear quite lifelike at times, with realistic skin textures, varying emotions, and other small touches. Seeing ears light up with a translucent red glow when exposed to sunlight is an especially nice detail. Even so, the lack of life in the eyes of some characters is noticeable, and conversational mannerisms are limited to subtle hand or head movements.
The Abundance corporation’s tightly-packed, industrial districts worried me from the outset, as did the brown color palette seen so often in gaming. These worries vanished upon leaving Abundance and seeing locales like the sandy Mutant Valley, Noctis’ Persian architecture, and many more places I dare not spoil. However, it will take some time before you see every new location. Each destination is spaced out across the game’s story.
If there is one major complaint I have, it is about how often quests or sidequests will send you back to the opening city. Abundance is a large place, mind you — with multiple layers, districts, and a complex series of tunnels beneath it — but you will know every inch by heart with some time. This may not be an issue for those who skip a lot of the optional sidequests, but completionists will take some issue with this design choice.
What also exacerbates this quibble is that the other places are more interesting. The Technomancer’s mutant population, deformed by the sun’s radiation and forced into slavery, have been assigned a Native American-esque nobility. Upon finding a hidden refuge where a freed tribe resides, you cannot help but want to learn more about them. Likewise, Noctis and its city full of merchants, spies, and warriors is a welcome sight after spending time in the militaristic Abundance. These separate places, all of them with distinct styles and atmospheres, all serve to make this world feel fully fleshed out.
As for the main plot, it kept me engaged throughout, even if the war between corporations is mostly brushed aside. As a greater focus on the secrets of Earth come to the forefront, things become interesting, but somewhat predictable. Ultimately, it is clear that your Zachariah’s unique decisions bring about the most interesting aspects of the story, and a final epilogue nicely outlines exactly how you brought change (or maybe ruin) to Mars. Whether there is room for a return trip to this world remains to be seen, but I certainly hope to see more.
Lastly, while there isn’t a whole lot to say on the matter, the game’s music was refreshingly subtle throughout. Its techno beats and constant rhythms were not only refreshing, but also brought to mind certain 80’s science fiction movies, like Total Recall or Tron.
THE VERDICT: 8.0 OUT OF 10
The Technomancer filled me with the same feelings last felt in BioWare’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins, which should further emphasize my appreciation for this game. It really feels like a traditional BioWare game both in quality and content, which is the most impressive aspect of Spiders’ efforts. Whether they do a sequel to The Technomancer or not, I simply cannot wait to see what they do next.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale. This game was provided to us as a review copy.