Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Perhaps best known for their earlier titles, the downloadable Mars: War Logs, and the PS4 game Bound By Flame (the dev never got an Xbox One dev kit in time to bring Bound By Flame to the Xbox One), developer Spiders has crafted a new RPG for Xbox One, PS4, and PC entitled The Technomancer. Like their first release, it takes place on a war torn Mars and features real-time action combat and a robust RPG system featuring loot, dialogue trees, and dynamic relationships with party members and factions.
In The Technomancer, players will see characters visiting bars and other seedy establishments and there are prostitutes in the game as well. Players can also enter into a romance with male or female squad members once the relationship between the characters has been developed far enough. However, these scenes do not contain any nudity, though a male on male romance scene will obviously be discomforting to Christian players. These scenes are entirely optional, and can be skipped if the player so desires. There is no explicit violence or even blood in the game as most enemies are only knocked out once defeated. Players do have the choice to finish off unconscious foes by extracting serum ( the game’s currency) from their bodies. There are some instances where foul language is used in the game though it is minimal. While one location does have a preacher and his son, a specific real-world religion is not referenced and it appears that this preacher and his followers worship the sun.
Please note that this review was conducted using an early review copy of The Technomancer, however this is the same version of the game that players will have access to when it launched on June 28th.
The Technomancer is set in the far future where life has moved from Earth to Mars, however, life on Mars is not what it appears to be as several corporations and factions are currently at war over the red planet’s most valuable, and rarest, resource: water. As newly inducted Technomancer Zachariah, players are thrust into the middle of this conflict and must work with five unlikely allies to unravel the mysteries of the Technomancer Order and find a way back to Earth. Along the way, the party will be pursued by the Secret Police, led by a man named Viktor, who is hell-bent on eradicating the Technomancers and controlling Mars. Fleeing from Zachariah’s home city of Ophir, the group must contend with mutants, princes, and other groups and factions to complete their journey and save Mars, all while avoiding Viktor and his Secret Police.
The Technomancer is very similar in play style to the first two Mass Effect games. The key difference is that combat is melee focused as this game does not have any shooter elements, though one of the combat styles does allow the use of a pistol. Similarities between the two series include the ability to resolve certain quests and conflicts without having to fight based on your charisma or science level, and your relationship with your squadmates can affect the overall story in a big way as some quests will be inaccessible if you anger a certain character too much. Some party members may even attack you or leave the group entirely if you push them too far. Another similarity to RPGs like Mass Effect is that if you are in good enough standing with a party member, your character can engage in a romance with them which will provide that particular party member with additional bonuses in stats and will make them more effective in combat.
One interesting feature of The Technomancer that is not found in many other RPGs of this type is that your standing with certain factions in the game will affect your ability to complete side quests or to get new quests from certain NPCs. For example, in my playthrough, I angered the Vory, a mob-like group of thugs in the slums of Zachariah’s homeworld of Ophir. Since I angered their leader, I could complete the final quest he gave me until I increased my standing with the group. Depending on which group players are trying to build favor with, they may also need to lose favor with a party member. For example, the Vory might want you to execute a target after knocking them out, however, if you extract serum from a defeated enemy and thus kill them outright, you will potentially lose favor with one of the party members that is currently traveling with you if they do not condone killing. While some might say this feature doesn’t allow for full completion of the game, I would say that it offers tremendous replay value and encourages players to really think about who they support and why and build their own story for Zachariah from the decisions they make in-game.
Combat itself revolves around the use of one of three distinct fighting styles, all of which can be upgraded upon each level up via a robust skill tree. For more intimate one-on-one fights, I primarily stuck with the Warrior fighting style, which allows Zachariah to wield a staff in combat. This style allows you to flip around like a a Jedi as you dodge and parry enemy attacks. This style also allows for a stun attack which can be used to leave enemies vulnerable to further damage. There is also a Rogue style, which is most effective against large groups of four or more enemies and allows players to fight with a dagger and gun. The dagger is used for primary attacks and has a secondary attack that can poison enemies, while Zachariah will fire his gun up to five times in succession to damage and/or stun enemies and open them up for a combo attack. The final fighting style is the Guardian. This style allows Zachariah to wield a combination of a mace and a shield. The shield is used for bash attacks and disruptions and allows players to guard against enemy gunfire; the mace is used for slow, but powerful, blows on tougher enemies. Combat in The Technomancer is mostly reminiscent of The Witcher 3 as there is even an ability wheel for spells and traps that slows down the action in combat to allow for more tactical options such as Zachariah assigning combat roles to his squad members. Players also have access to electric powers and disruption attacks which can damage, stun, or break an enemy’s guard. Using this in combination with the staff fighting style made me feel like Darth Maul a little bit as I would shock enemies and then beat them down with my staff while they were stunned.
Despite the plethora of combat options there were some areas of the game where the combat difficulty would spike substantially, even on non-boss encounters. This ia especially frustrating seeing as how my squadmates would do little in the way of helping me defeat enemies as they would almost instantly die when we entered combat. However, completing each team member’s loyalty missions will greatly enhance their survivability and prowess in combat. There is also a steep learning curve for the combat system at first as most players will try to get through fights using only button mashing. This will get players killed often. Dodging about and/or blocking attacks with the Guardian fighting style is key to victory in most combat encounters. For crowd control, especially against the monsters you will fight in many of the games dungeons, I would recommend using the Rogue combat style as most lesser creatures can be killed in a few shots from the gun as they often take far more damage than human enemies.
The Technomancer also has a strong emphasis on crafting to improve weapons and gear. The best part of this system is that unwanted gear for Zachariah can be used to outfit your squad as all weapons and gear are shared between Zachariah and the rest of the party. Crafting recipes and upgrades can be purchased from vendors on one of the game’s many hub worlds and offer bonuses to things like damage, defense, and disruption attacks. Equipped gear will show on each character and female party members can wear all the same gear and wield the same weapons as male party members.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with The Technomancer though there were some issues that came up that unfortunately spoiled the experience for me. To start, I was level 15 and about 10 hours or so into the game before I ever got my first permanent party member or made it off the first hub world. While this is not inherently bad, it does mean that the game’s prologue drags on entirely too long before players can experience the real meat of the game. Also I encountered several broken quests that could not be started and even some that could not be completed as the quest would not track on the in-game map nor would any quest updates appear after exploring every accessible environment and speaking with every NPC. An unfortunate side effect of RPGs like this one, is that if players don’t watch their saves and only really use one save file, it is entirely possible to create a save in a place or situation where you will no longer be able to advance in the game without having to restart from an earlier save or from the very beginning. However, at the point that I am currently stuck at the time of writing my review, this does not appear to be the case as I have completed all side quests and have three main quests open that will not update so I cannot currently proceed with the story. I also noticed that, while the character creation system is not as robust as something like Mass Effect, there is absolutely no option to create a female version of Zachariah. While I wont outright condemn Spiders for not including this option, it seems that in 2016 for a character creator to not include the option for female characters, especially with the option to romance at least one of the male squad members, might come off as bit offensive to some. They are essentially locking out a good portion of their potential fan base as a lot of female gamers will not play the game unless they can create a female character.
Despite these issues, it would appear that other players were also lucky enough to get their hands on an early copy of the game and I did see that another player not only beat The Technomancer but also unlocked every achievement for it along the way. This indicates that my issue might be isolated to only myself and a few other players and should not discourage everyone from checking out this game. After playing for roughly 30 hours so far I have still only scratched the surface of the content available in The Technomancer. While I did not play either of Spiders’ earlier games, I will say that if they continue to build upon the foundations they set with Mars: War Logs, Bound by Flame, and now The Technomancer, they could potentially become the next Bioware and create many more fantastic RPG experiences.
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The Bottom Line
The Technomancer is a fantastic new sci-fi RPG with some unfortunate technical issues holding it back. I would recommend this game to fans of the original Mass Effect, The Witcher series, and also the KOTOR games. With a unique cast of characters, shared gear, an emphasis on crafting for gear upgrades, and a deep and complex combat system The Technomancer is a surprising newcomer in a genre that is normally populated with games featuring mages, dragons, castles and the like.