Posted on 29 Jun 2016 by L Coulsen

The Technomancer

The Defence

Developer: Spiders
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Action, Role Playing
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 28 Jun 2016

The Prosecution

Minimum
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 3.3 GHz
AMD FX 3.6 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 560
AMD Radeon HD 6950
RAM: 4 GB
HDD: 11 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

In the last few years, Spiders have gone from being a tiny Indie studio, with a budget of fifteen dollars and a packet of chewing gum. To being…well, pretty much the same thing, but considerably better known. Since partnering with Focus Home Interactive, their efforts have reached an increasingly wider audience, and their efforts have borne out beautifully. If one thing, more than anything else, stands out about them, it’s that Damn! But do they know how to spend a budget. So here we are, with their latest epic RPG. At almost one a year since 2013, one has to ask how they manage to do it. But more importantly for us, we have to wonder, has The Technomancer suffered for it in any way? Or perhaps the extra year they took between this and Bound by Flame has ensured there won’t be a repeat of their other, same universe, Mars: War Logs that kicked their meteoric(ish) rise off.

The Trial

The first thing that strikes one upon their return to Mars is how damn pretty it looks. There’s a notable amount of aliasing, even at high resolutions and spamming so much anti-aliasing that it skirts the realms of dividing by zero. Especially on things like stairs and background shadows. And that’s rather disappointing, not gonna’ lie, but when that is the only, and I do mean only, complaint that can be made about how the game looks, you know you’re onto a winner. Well, okay, the facial animations are a bit stiff too, in places, but far from the very worst I’ve ever seen. Oh yeah, and sometimes the female character models have boob swellage when they talk, by which I mean their bosom will seem to inflate and deflate at random intervals, mostly as they move their arms to gesticulate. Likely something to do with the way the character mesh is built, which would seem to have the breasts themselves attached to a character’s clothing, rather than the body beneath. It’s odd, but also rather amusing, so hardly game breaking.

Me Tarzan, you squished.

On the subject of game breaking however, there is presently a persist, and infuriating, bug with one of the companions which comes close. After leaving the starting town, which is some 10+ hours of gameplay, quests become available from several companions relating to them specifically. Loyalty Quests, as you see with a lot of games these days. One in particular involves a former Technomancer who has lost his skills, which requires talking to another companion, a Doctor. On its own, not the worst thing in the world, but when you start a loyalty quest, the initiator (in this case Andrew) is an obligatory part of your squad until the quest is finished. Which is just asking for trouble at the best of times. Unlike Spiders’ previous two titles, you can now have two NPCs with you, offsetting some of the frustration. But hot diggity is it annoying!

Lastly, the combat system is a bit on the clunky side. There are now three combat styles to choose from, along with your technomancy (magic) skills. You can switch between them pretty much instantly, which is really cool, because all of them very clearly have their uses. The Warrior style, trademark of the Technomancers, consists of wide, sweeping staff attacks. Great for crowd control and damaging groups of enemies. It’s also, arguably, the most effective method to knock enemies to the floor. Though it has no, distinct, defensive capabilities thus demanding you stay mobile.

The Rogue style is equally risk/reward, again having no true defensive capabilities. Making use of knives and a nailgun however, it offers the most mobility, highest attack rate and excellent ranged skills. Technically, the only method for doing damage at a distance, though technomancy can be used with combat style and has its own ranged capabilities. This one is also great for dealing with crowds, but with a focus on picking off one enemy and quickly flitting between them for a few quick stabs, or rolling away and firing off a quick shot. Though the nailgun overheats rapidly, so you can’t just spam it mercilessly like you could when it was a hotkey item (in Mars: War Logs), but since the knife has the highest critical rate, that easily makes up for it.

Let’s cruise around the city and look moody.

Finally, the Guardian style is the slowest, tank stance. Pairing maces and hammers (occasionally axes) with a heavy shield. Speed and mobility pretty much go right out of the window, in favour of holding up your shield and just taking the hits. Simultaneously both the most broken and, well, the most broken on the three. When there are more than a couple of enemies around, your chance of getting a hit in is almost none existent. But the chance of them getting a hit on you is equally unlikely. Pretty much nothing can break your guard, so you can effectively stand there and block until the end of time. The best course of action here, is to grab all the aggro and let your companions whittle the enemies down.

The problem is when one comes to dodge. The game has a lock-on, which (obviously) keeps your focus on one enemy. It’s great when your intention is to hang back and use the nailgun, but in all other instances it can rapidly become an exercise in frustration. See, when trying to dodge, you will invariably begin circling the locked on enemy. And since the dodge is far from a guarantee of avoiding damage, it’s not at all unusual to avoid one enemy by strafing right into another. Especially frustrating when trying to move in a specific direction, because the game is adamant that you can either move left and right or forward and backwards. No diagonal movement. This can easily be offset by not locking on, which allows you to just dodge in whichever direction you press, but then you lose the ability to effectively focus on one target at a time.

The Technomancer is still a superb game. Continuing Spiders’ clear trend of expanding on the gameplay mechanics they have built with each game before. One thing that is nigh impossible to ignore, is that they are always bringing in new things. War Logs had one fighting style backed up by lightning attacks, Bound by Flame has two and flame magic. Now we have three, and their next game will likely have four. But the point is, where Flame was built to allow you to focus on one style and still be versatile enough to succeed in almost any situation, Technomancer constantly pushes for switching it up. And whilst it does make gameplay interesting, it can be a tad irritating. But only a tad. Overall, Flame was simply a functionally more cohesive experience.

Darlin’ you light up my life like...death!

Expanding combat to allow a second companion also helps offset the awkwardness, allowing players to better tweak their final approach to each situation. No more are we tasked with the unenviable choice between a damage dealer and a healer. The short version. There are simply too many new things being tried here, most of it works, but a few bits and pieces needed a little more tweaking. None of it ruins the game however. It’s just one of those Star Trek things. The even numbered films, or games in this instance, are better than the odd numbered. But with Spiders, each game is still overall better than the one preceding it, simply because each one really does add more.

The crafting system, which has become something of a staple of Spiders’ RPGs, has seen a comparable increase in quality. For the first time, you can not only equip new weapons and armour for your squad, but customise it just the same as your own. This becomes powerfully apparent as the game progresses to tougher encounters. Comparing a character that has just joined you, with one that you’ve been kitting out along the way, you’ll find even your weakest armoured squad member become like a God compared to the fresh faced rookie. Equally, giving even basic armour to the new guy increases their survivability exponentially. Rapidly propelling them from a walking meatbag that falls apart when faced with a stiff breeze, to a…okay, they still tend to get twatted faster than the main character, but they’re at least going to stick around long enough to soften your opponents up a bit. And even get a few confirmed kills once in a while.

The largest thing to be, well, enlarged in Technomancer is the narrative. Whilst the main plot is fairly straightforward, tasking you with finding a way to make contact with Earth. A lot of your time is spent on tasks that feel a bit lateral to this. It’s not accurate to go quite so far as to say most things are side quests, though there are a significant number of those too. But there are a lot of things along the way that will pull your attention in a different direction for a while. However, it never feels like a distraction, not really. Even the actual side quests all give the sense of being part of a larger whole. Whether it be more laterally in the sense of building a universe, or more directly related to building a rapport with someone who has offered their help, but has asked you to prove your trustworthiness first. The latter happens a lot, a hell of a lot. But it works. The things you are asked to do still feel very much like they are progressing you toward a tangible goal.

Hmm, I think I see the problem.

Currying favour with Mars’ various factions is a big part of the game. Functionally demonstrated by pop-ups indicating increase and decrease of numerical value. Such as +2 Reputation with the Mutants for example, but in a more nebulous sense. You quickly begin to feel the changes around you. Little things like a single line of dialogue about something you did earlier, often much earlier, come back to affect the flow of a conversation. It’s not perfect, this kind of thing never is. The reputation shift notifications make it difficult to step away from the gamey feeling of twinking the system. But discernible shifts in conversation give the secondary feeling of agency, far more poignantly than seeing a morality bar going from good to bad.

The Verdict

Whilst I would not go so far as to say The Technomancer is Spiders’ best game, it is certainly their most ambitious. It never ceases to amaze me just how much Spiders are able to do. They’re a small studio, clearly working on a restricted budget, and they pull so much out of their as…assets it puts studios with multi-millions behind them to shame. Much like the first game in the Techonmancy universe, there are some obvious flaws that needle almost constantly, but they are easy, so much easier, to look past and see the bright gem beneath. Like having a diamond with surface cracks on it. A superb game that I cannot recommend enough.

Case Review

  • Companions: You can have two at a time now! Woot.

  • Narrative: Even sidequests are still discernibly part of a larger story.

  • Visuals: A large and beautiful world to play in, even though it’s all brown and red, it never feels dead.

  • Combat: The versatility of the fighting styles is cool and all, but the massive emphasis on shifting can interrupt the flow of gameplay.

  • The Star Trek Effect: Most of the new features are great additions, some of them are still in need of a little work.

  • Animations: Facial expressions are a bit lacking in expression.

  • Anti-antialiasing: Shadows and some background textures are noticeably jaggy and especially disappointing considering how pretty everything else is.

4.5 Score: 4.5/5
A polished diamond with a few, superficial cracks on the outer surface.

Evidence

  • Visuals: All of the usual options are present, tweakable and offer a wide range of customisability. The anti-aliasing solution doesn't work as well as it could, but everything else does what it says on the tin.
  • Audio: The most important options are there and adjustable independently. A good thing tool, because the default sound balance can make hearing some conversations awkward, as the music kicks up and demands your attention like a wet kipper swung right at your face. You only need to drop it by about 20%, and the music is amazing, but dialogue is kinda' important.
  • Controls: Offering full customisability of the keyboard to exactly the way you want it, controller support is a little more limited. The default layout is absolutely fine, but still a little disappointing that it can't be edited within the game. Either control scheme is efficient and both can be used regardless of which option you have currently selected.
  • Game: Most game options can be accessed and changed at any time, including some adjustments to HUD placement and, thankfully, turning off tutorials. However, game difficulty can only be altered when starting a new game.
3 Score: 3/5

The Technomancer is stuck in that no-man’s-land of gaming between the good games and famously awful games; it’s just kinda boringly mediocre. The game exists in a setting comparable to Mass Effect with combat that wants to be Dragon Age, but doesn’t have Bioware’s billion dollar coding team and combat less dimensional than SNES sidescrollers.

To its benefit, when The Technomancer tries to stand out, it does it well. Small innovations like making the choice between looting unconscious bodies for minor loot or killing them on the ground for more equipment adds something to the extremely generic but present karma meter. The gargantuan monsters are properly horrifying, and look significantly more freakishly alien than anything in the Mass Effect universe. Even the crafting is somewhat interesting since you can level your crafting, change how your weapons looks, and make minor tweaks even if it’s meager buffs like damage or critical hit chance instead of something more game changing like Fallout 4.

But all those things are small blots of light in a deep, dark pit of messes. Combat can only be described as stiff, characters have all the personality of generic MMO create-a-characters, voice acting and lip syncing can be more horrifying than the monsters you’ll find on Mars. Simply put it’s just not very fun. It’s an RPG that tells you to value morality as you wander around cities and ruins knocking out uninspired humanoid thugs with all the flow of a frozen wooden block with standard Action RPG button mashing and rolling. It’s completely playable with plenty of story and monsters to see, but for $45 I’d be expecting more than a dramatically poorer wannabe Mass Effect.

4.5 Score: 4.5/5

Science Fiction is a beloved genre amongst many generations and the fascination of a technologically advanced future based on the surface of Mars is a popular subject that is explored in media many times over. The small French development team Spiders have created some very unique RPGs in the past, one of which was based on a future of Mars (Mars: War Logs) and in 2016 have returned with a new title within that same universe. The Technomancer is a science fiction RPG set 200 years after humans colonized Mars and the War of Water has taken a toll on the inhabitants of the planet. You play as Zachariah Mancer, a technomancer at the end of his training who is entrusted with the secrets of technomancy and a member of the Abundance faction. Technomancy is a common sci-fi/fantasy subject that deals with the intertwining of technology and magical properties or elements. It is seen in many books, movies and also games media.

The Technomancer offers an exuberant amount of RPG gameplay from multiple branching skill trees, to extensive equipment customization and item crafting/upgrade functionality. There is also a companion system that allows for separate character progression alongside a trust system that affects relationships with NPCs over the course of the campaign. Lots of extra backstory can also be learnt through discussions with these characters and can be initiated within or outside of mission areas. There are 3 main fighting styles each coming with their own specific advantages and disadvantages. You have a ‘blade and shield combo’ that has a strong focus on defense style gameplay in which you can block and parry incoming attacks at the cost of mobility. A ‘staff option’ that allows for wide sweeping attacks that can stun multiple enemies and is recommended for use with large groups that have lower HP and lastly there is the ‘blade and firearm option’ that requires careful dodging and a focus on agility stat progression. This style also has the highest critical damage output. Each weapon you hold in your hands can be imbued with technomancy powers to add shock damage at the cost of focus energy resource while upgrade slots allow for extra stat increases as you progress through the campaign.

Technomancy powers are a core part of The Technomancer‘s gameplay, your abilities will cost focus energy which is a slowly regenerating resource which can be upgraded as the campaign progresses. Powers can range from ‘area of effect’ to specific target attacks and are extremely stylistic in design. The user interface in The Technomancer is very minimal but displays all the information you need without getting lost. It works well whether using a mouse and keyboard or a gamepad/controller setup. This comes with 2 map screens – one that shows the world and its various hubs and a local map screen that show more information regarding NPCs, mission objectives and special locations. The game does a wonderful job on story presentation, all cutscenes are in-engine and show off what is capable in the not so popular Silk Engine which has been used in previous Spiders games such as Bound by Flame and Mars War Logs. The Technomancer campaign has a wealth of content with a minimum 25-30 hour campaign and many side quests based in several major hubs in which you will meet new characters and tackle new challenges. The difficulty is quite punishing at first and learning how to upgrade equipment and your character level is essential for progressing through the game. This is a must play for all RPG lovers.

Comments (3)


Posts: 341
L Coulsen
Posted 01 Jul 2016, 10:15
Scott stopped responding to the talk prompt. He just stood there and stared into your soul. Making it impossible to continue with the quest to help Andrew

Posts: 3
Alex Cicala
Posted 01 Jul 2016, 06:57
What kind of bug was it, I can't remember must have been minor

Posts: 341
L Coulsen
Posted 30 Jun 2016, 12:40
The conversation bug, with Scott, has been fixed by the way. That was fast