A strong premise and original concept can hold a game together, even when its chips and cracks begin to pull it apart. The Technomancer is point and case. Thrown into a futuristic steampunk world, this action RPG maintains its delivery of a cutthroat tone of desperation and survival on a war-torn Mars. You will explore the awesome powers of technomancy, crafting for you and your revolving party, and countless quests achieving the robust feeling every RPG seeks. Regrettably, it all feels squandered into a game experience that lacks fluidity, responsive controls, and the general modern elements of today’s RPGs.
The Technomancer sees the player many years in the future where humans have now colonized Mars. These are dark times, a War of Water rages. Factions have populated the red planet and they are all looking to take controls of its precious, dwindling water supply. The more water, the more power you hold. Structuring makeshift governments in an attempt to uphold the peace, a vital component to survival are the technomancers. They were created with cybernetic implants that grant them the power to manipulate and wield electricity.
You play as Zachariah, a newly made technomancer serving the Abundance. The Abundance is one of the multiple factions throughout Mars. As you begin your journey in the opening area of Ophir, you quickly learn of a hidden force known as the ASC. The ASC is the Abundance’s secret police, led by the garish Colonel Viktor. Continuing to serve The Abundance loyally mission by mission, you see the conflict between Zachariah and the ASC escalate to epic proportions. This takes Zachariah to new lands, new companions, and new secrets to unfold.
You begin in Ophir and your story eventually has you traveling to many new cities, slums, and areas on Mars. The first instinct I had was this is a game that suffers from its borders. Immersion is constantly broken by frequent loading screens while traversing in between missions and tasks. The locations are distinctive, but aren’t exactly booming, interesting areas either. Sure there are side tasks given by NPCs, but other than using the merchants and your room, I had no desire to poke around off the main path. I would have loved to see a more open world/free roam approach.
There’s one element in The Technomancer’s gameplay that I think developer Spiders explored deeper than other RPGs, and it really lent it its identity. The Karma System. It’s been toyed with before, but I’ve rarely seen it have such significance as it does here. In The Technomancer the currency is known as Serum. Now you can either get it as a reward for completing missions, loot from enemies, or killing for it. You will find that if you kill too many people for their serum, disobey orders, or any other wrongdoings, your party and other NPCs will actually dislike you. They will begin to back talk, ignore your commands, and even desert your party all together. I thought this was pretty neat how much your karma can actually shift your story and experience.
The Technomancer’s third person action comes with three different play types for combat. You can play as a Rogue, which equips Zachariah with a one handed weapon and a gun. A guardian, which is a one handed weapon and a shield. Then finally the Warrior, this gives Zachariah a long staff, this was my personal favorite. What’s pretty cool is that you can switch between these stances on the fly, allowing diversity and personal preference to the action.
Being a Technomancer means no matter what play type you select, you will also be able to cast electrical power attacks as well, and charge your weapons with a glorious lighting bolt coating for an extra buff. There’s a lot of options within each fight scenario. Along the way you will see an array of new weapons to swap and upgrade for each stance, preventing any sort of stagnant feeling with your gear. The one handed weapons range from cleavers, to hammers, axes, and swords. Guns go from nailguns, to assault rifles, high precision pistols, and more. That’s just naming a few, there are also numerous types of shields and staffs that you can keep buffing Zachariah with too. Nothing should feel more badass than a cleaver surging with electricity in one hand, and an iron spiked shield in the other.
Now a huge portion of The Technomancer resides in the combat. I’ve explained the awesome stances and weaponry, but here lies the issue, none of it particularly feels great. The combat moves at a slower pace than expected, and feels entirely too boxy. There will be instances where your attack animations will rear away from the enemy and you have to keep attempting to bring yourself back to your target. They do offer a lock on function, but trying to counter attacks from behind it will feel awkward and obtuse. As a matter of fact the entire counter attack mechanic felt unpredictable. I found myself just hitting the dash button whenever too many enemies started closing in. It’s not a broken mechanic, but it is one that just doesn’t have the finesse it deserves.
Like most RPGs, completing quests and defeating enemies grants experience to the player. There are many different ways to level and develop Zachariah. There are three different systems in which to do this. First is the Skills, which are broken up into Technomaner, Warrior, Rouge, and Gaurdian categories. Adding points to each enhance your abilities and unlock new ones. Second is the Talents section. This is where you level various things like charisma for dialogue, lock picking, science for better health regeneration, and crafting. Lastly you have the Attributes, which are broken into four sections of strength, power, agility, and constitution. Every time you level you won’t unlock new points for each category, so it’s important you choose wisely.
So you will notice a crazy amount of loot opportunities in The Technomancer. They do become redundant as you pick up a lot of the same materials, but that’s okay because crafting will utilize all of it. The crafting system is extremely easy to use which is very welcomed when working with so much inventory. Select items, whether its gear or weapons, will have open slots. In these slots you can craft additions to the piece with physical damage reduction, critical hit enhancements, increased attack, and more. When you craft, the visual appearance of the gear will actually change too depending on what you add to it. What’s even better is you can share all of your weapons and gear with your party. As you progress and become more resilient, so will your posse.
Okay the biggest and most devastating gripe to me is The Technomancer’s controls. Let me sum it up in one word: slippery. It was as if the ground was constantly covered in ice. It’s not like you can even hop around to pick up the slack, theres also an awkwardly missing jump feature. Trying to do any sort of precise maneuvering felt like pins and needles. Every single time I would approach a loot crate or fallen enemy, it would take a couple of times just to line myself up to get the “open” prompt. Let’s say you’re running and decide to stop and observe something, be prepared to keep rolling a few steps before you actually stop. The controls just feel loose and untuned, which is unfortunate for a game that shows real potential.
The Technomancer may take place in the future, but the graphics look very much from the past. Jaggy, bland textures occupy every environment, with little detail. Even worse are the character models. Everybody looks like they stepped out of a mid-gen Xbox 360 title. They’re missing and real expression and appear so generic. I felt like I’d seen each of these characters before in random action games over the years. A saving grace is the lighting effects. The Technomancer’s electric powers and weapons look great. They glow a bright soft blue and even cast shadows on the players, but that is the only standout visual perk. The presentation otherwise just looks low budget and dated.
There is a lot of dialogue to dissect in The Technomancer, and that’s fine. What’s not fine is the awful, empty voice performance of Zachariah. I mean it’s like old school Resident Evil bad. No matter the gravity and emotion of any scenario, I would immediately become deadened to it as soon as Zachariah spoke. What’s a shame is the other voice work is actually decent. They can somewhat hold the story up and make me intrigued, but Zachariah would instantaneously sabotage it. It’s as if he doesn’t know how to react or express human emotion. I don’t know if there was lack of direction or not, but Zachariah’s performance stripped away some of the story’s polish.
Spiders has a very ambitious RPG on their hands with their newest release, The Technomancer. Chock full of futuristic loot to grab, weapons and gear, various locations to explore, and an awesome original story arc, there’s much promise. I enjoyed my venture onto a war torn Mars, but not for an extended stay. I quickly felt homesick when confronted with the wobbly controls and the lack of modern features and mechanics you’d expect from the genre. As you play, the appeal of the world fades, and the shortcomings begin to shine. It’s a playable adventure, just not a re-playable one. I give praise to the concept and story The Technomancer boasts, but not the game it’s built within.
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