For an action role-playing game, there is one thing that has to feel right: the combat. For everything that The Technomancer gets right within its world, this one glaring fault holds it back from being something greater. This isn’t a bad game by any means, just one that could have used a little more playtesting.
While it’s not completely obvious, The Technomancer is the sequel to developer Spiders’ Mars: War Logs. The sequel is set on the wasteland of Mars in the midst of a war among corporations. You play as Zach Mancer, a novice Technomancer about to take his initiation. These guys are basically cyberpunk wizards who can control electricity.
The story itself can be rather complicated if you choose to dive into it. There is a lot of flavor text here, but unless you are really invested, it tends to drag on. You aren’t really able to ease into the lore. Instead, everything is explained right away, losing the momentum from the rest of the intro. The dialogue itself can be a little bit and miss. There are a lot of well-acted lines here, but some characters like Zach just sound stiff and angsty.
On a more positive note, the cutscenes themselves were actually quite impressive. They were very well directed and maintained a high-quality, cinematic feel. It’s a shame then that characters’ faces had to ruin the momentum. These really is the only big downside to the game visually. For some reason, the only movement on a character’s face happens below the nose. This is especially frustration since the rest of the body movement has a fairly natural feel.
What did impress us was the world design. You would think that the large red planet would get old to look at very quickly. This is certainly not the case. Instead, we are treated to varying landscapes and cityscapes. Walking outside a city, you get some surprisingly stunning visuals of distant cliffs and mountains. Head underground and you might find plenty of manmade domes suspended by a network of walkways. Even the larger cities of Ophir and Noctis have very distinct appearances. Ophir is a large metropolis with a utilitarian feel. It’s clean, organized central area is surrounded by crowded, messy slums. On the other hand, Noctis is vibrant and full of various cultures. It’s a place that is free from corporations and that is reflective in its appearance.
This visual quality holds true for the combat as well. The attacks look fluid and the special abilities have a nice affect to them. Sadly, that quality doesn’t refer to how it feels. There is a delay to everything from character movement to the attacks themselves. Rather than feeling complete control over the character, instead it feels like you’re instructing the character to move a certain way. Because of this, combat can feel clunky. You may have moved on to a different tactic, but your character is still going through the animations from your earlier moves.
On top of that, the game likes to throw as many enemies at you as it can. You might hit one enemy with a stealth attack, only to alert half the enemies in a mission. They can all attack at the same time, and this leaves you in a bad situation. With other games, the responsive controls can get you out of this mess. In The Technomancer, you are forced to pray that no one follows when you run away.
This unnatural difficulty holds true throughout the entire game. Even if you have a solid party backing you up, the enemy always feels much more capable. There are even enemies with fully automatic guns that you’ll never be able to equip. This would be alright if they didn’t have the ability to shoot at you off screen without any indication. If Technomancers are supposed to be these mystical heroes, shouldn’t they be able to survive more than a handful of hits? Other games like Bloodborne often pit you against much tougher foes, but those offer tight and responsive controls that allow you to get better and master them. An action RPG should feel like you are mastering the controls to overcome your foes. Here, it feels like you’re scraping by out of luck.
It’s a shame that the fighting drags down what is actually a pretty robust RPG system. By leveling up in The Technomancer, you can ascend four different skill trees. Three of them reflect the different play styles of Warrior, Guardian, and Rogue. The fourth tree focuses on the Technomancy spells. Additionally, every few levels allows you to upgrade other stats like lockpicking or charisma. All these combined give you the chance to truly create unique characters from other players. Even weapon and armor upgrades have the same complexity. Using scraps you collect around the environment, you can level up various slots of an item to increase its attack, defense, and more. Such an intricate RPG system would be well-received if it had the fighting mechanics to back it up.
The Technomancer is not a bad game by any means. Often times, it has moments of greatness that show you what could have been. The environments, cutscenes, and RPG elements all have the makings of a truly great game. However, an action RPG lives and dies by its core controls. This is where the game fumbles. If you’re dying for a cyberpunk trip to Mars, go ahead and try this one for yourself. If you’re just looking for another RPG to play, you’re better off looking elsewhere.