The Technomancer reminds me of one of those relationships before I got married. It’s dynamic and I enjoyed it, but ultimately I got to this point where I knew our time would have to end. Much like those relationships, it probably lasted a bit longer than it should have, but that doesn’t mean that it was a waste of time. Far from it. Regardless of your opinion of nitpicks like whether or not the faces compete with modern powerhouse franchises or exactly what genre it should be labeled as, The Technomancer is offering a throwback to the complete package of RPG we saw often last generation. That wouldn’t have made it stand out were it not for the fact that a title like this is somewhat rare these days. Sure, everything is going open world, but releases of RPGs that heavily integrate decision and story are somewhat scarce and especially if you’re looking for sci-fi or cyberpunk. So despite its flaws and not necessarily being able to keep up with its more established peers, The Technomancer is a worthwhile experience.
I’m guessing not many played developer Spiders’ first title Mars: War Logs, which you may be surprised to know is now available on PC and even Xbox One thanks to 360 backward compatibility (also on PS3). It really is the early version of what would eventually become this title and established the lore of human colonization on Mars and the core of what the technomancers are. That title was short, the combat was harshly integrated (especially for gamepads), and while I liked what it was doing I couldn’t get too invested. Having played Mars: War Logs did allow me to appreciate how far Spiders has come in its sophomore effort on the concept, but it’s in no way necessary as a buffer for this title. Newcomers and veterans alike will be introduced to Zachariah, a graduating technomancer that is coming to terms with his newfound powers and prepared to utilize them in an effort to keep the peace and eventually find a way back to Earth. He’s not unique, many technomancers work for Abundance, a mega-corp that provides security on Mars and all technomancers are to guard the order’s secrets in an attempt to discover a way back home to Earth. Beyond that you are free to hit the ground running in an open-world chock full of icons that represent main and side quests. Along the way you will inevitably face combat, both in and out of hub locations, where your action fighting skills will be tested from start to finish. I’ll return to the combat in a minute, but it’s important to note that the separation between non-combat zones and combat zones is blurred here, which I don’t often see in the modern world of RPGs that includes MMOs. It may not be much of a change, but it struck me as somewhat unique.
Your battle system is based on three main fighting skills – and as a side note so are your skill trees – that will no doubt be the biggest factor in what you think of this game and perhaps the most divisive aspect of it. You can change these fighting stances on the fly and use any of them at any time, however your gear and upgrade paths will affect each stance’s usefulness. I think the problem is that despite Spiders best effort to make the game seem designed around these three skill types, it’s most polished with only one of them and the game suffers for those that don’t use it. I play as a pacifist rogue in these types of games so my interests focus on stealth, lockpicking, quick bursts of small damage, and agility to get me through. Despite being told to vary my upgrade path, I focused almost solely on those attributes and was handsomely rewarded for it. Missions were much easier once I’d fully leveled my stealth and could knock people out in one blow. Battles with clusters of enemies were made much easier by the use of the rogue’s dagger/gun combo to keep certain enemies at a distance and hack away at the bigger slower ones. In fact, the only area where I struggled were certain boss battles, but I could just switch to another style and mop the floor with them regardless of my lack of upgraded stats. Of course I tried the other fighting styles to see what life was like as a warrior brandishing a large damage hitting staff or a guardian with a shield and heavy tank weapon, but I found little I liked about them. When you’re a warrior the problem is letting your guard down nets large damage and you’re not as nimble as a rogue to get away and heal up. The same is true of the guardian, who can avoid damage almost completely with his personal shield and then return fire with a massive weapon for mega damage, but if even one enemy gets behind you the whole thing falls apart and ranged weapons ruin your day. I’m sure one can get through the game with these other types of classes, but I feel like I would be grinding my teeth along the way. Perhaps I’m mistaken and the game isn’t so rogue focused or perhaps I’m so used to playing this class that it just comes naturally to me, but I have a suspicion that this may not be the case so you knights and shield users may want to take caution. It was great to have all of the fighting styles available at the onset to allow the more ambidextrous of the gaming world the ability to really etch your character into whatever you want without having to respec or the taxing process of navigating a menu instead of a pair of button presses. Even with the rogue, however, that’s not to say combat is easy. I found myself falling in some of the most foolish ways and even up to the end any encounter could have meant death if I wasn’t careful. Couple that with a rough lock-on system – albeit one that resembles other equally poor lock-on systems in beloved titles – and the fact that your companions are ultimately of little use, combat can quickly make or break your experience.
As a contrast the story and quests were a treat. Main quest hunters will find a somewhat linear path that has you dungeon crawling with a great deal of combat and a hint of diplomacy across Mars to further the plot. It’s switched up slightly because there is usually never a single main mission for you to go after, but The Technomancer is guilty of retreading old locations to make tasks harder than they need to be in what I suspect is an attempt to pad playtime. It’s unnecessary but the mission length and tasks are varied enough that I was able to excuse it in the back half of the game where the retreads are more noticeable. Side quests do start off with a great deal of fetch questing but quickly open up into a diverse mix of both gameplay goals and side stories. You’ll want to shuffle in side quests as you progress in main quests not only to have graduated leveling for larger missions but also because this method keeps things feeling fresh. I dig the lore here and while the plots and stories are not on the level of larger scale RPGs, neither is the world of Mars you’re in so the decision makes sense. These days I feel developers are focusing too much on the action-to-action gameplay and even studios that nailed in the past are phoning in lore in side missions. Much of the politics and personal stories conveyed in the side missions helped me invest in the world and I appreciated that fact that I didn’t only need to do loyalty missions to get into the meat of a side plot. You also have a dialogue system that allows you to utilize skills like science and charm to get what you need, but the decisions are very grey. In fact, most of the time you are making important decisions you are rarely given the common context that the decision lives in. You’re going to have to crap-shoot your way through some of these choices and live with the consequences you may have never intended, which I appreciated. At the same time your side quests will also work against one another because you can’t do a robbery mission for a crime boss without causing conflict with the authorities and visa versa, so completionists like myself will need to live with abandoning certain paths or embrace that no one will be a strong ally in this world.
Beyond the combat and the story, I have to admit that The Technomancer has a balance of what I tend to see from other high budget released of today. Graphically this title was sharp and detailed with visuals that impressed. I will say it’s not competing for a “visuals of the year” award, but there’s no doubt that the power of modern hardware is required to create Spiders’ version of Mars. I was also surprised to see a notable composer of mine, Olivier Deriviere, returning to the cyberpunk genre after previously handling Dontnod’s Remember Me to give The Technomancer a real 80s vibe with the soundtrack. It’s straight out of a John Carpenter film and assists in getting me pumped up for the events that are transpiring, especially with the notable theme that accompanies loading up your game and prepares you to return to Mars. Unfortunately the engine doesn’t seem to quite have the attention to detail that the visuals and audio received because you’ll see some interesting hangups along the way. Enemies will become frozen in time, run into a corner and get hung up, or completely fade out of existence and then pop in a moment later. It’s few and far between, but definitely noticeable when it happens. A couple of times along my journey Zachariah was talking to someone and looking completely off into space while he did, not focusing on the person he was speaking to or the camera. When this happened the person he was speaking with was completely absent, so I was hearing dialogue from a ghost and had no idea what the character looked like until the cutscene was over. Loot and gear are also not up to snuff with other titles in the genre as the changes are minuscule, the parts to upgrade end up being feast or famine on certain items, and rare loot was dismissed as an afterthought after I completed half the game without any rare items to speak of. All of these are little items that helped more to be forgotten aspects rather than detriments to gameplay, but this forces you to focus more on story and combat to find your fun.
The Technomancer has arrived guns blazing with a style that we haven’t seen in a while and amidst the summer rush of mostly small indie titles. I have to admit I’m impressed with the updates Spiders made in this second iteration and it works perfectly to cut through the typical summer landscape in gaming. I will admit that the game being designed around my play style and focusing on what I find important does make a strong case to be somewhat of a perfect storm, but I hardly feel I am alone here. Setbacks are aplenty and I’m concerned about the fact that combat will be the most common activity most players participate in and it’s sure to be divisive. That said, I can’t deny the fact that I enjoyed all of the 20+ hours I put into this title and could have probably stretched that a little more if I’d wanted to. I think it comes down to what you think is most important about a game of this type and what you are willing to excuse in those interests. Personally the engaging story and vivid world get me a long way although even I have to admit that this title gets long in the tooth as you start digging into the halfway point. Dare I say that the game wanes heavily in the back end despite the story ramping up heavily in terms of quality and stakes. The Technomancer may not be the best ARPG in science fiction setting that I’ve played, but it blows away most of the efforts I have seen this generation especially with this genre being plagued by co-op gamplay focused titles like Destiny and The Division that I simply don’t care for. Those in search of a single player campaign in an open world that hints to the likes of a BioWare title may very well find what they’ve been waiting for with this. It may not have been “the one” but it’s definitely a title that I’m glad I got to experience.
Final Score: 4 out of 5
A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Technomancer is available digitally and at retail for an initial price of $59.99 on Playstation 4/Xbox One. It is available for $54.99 at retail on PC and $44.99 on Steam. A mix of the campaign and a mix of random side quests took approximately 24 hours to complete, but this can vary based on decisions made in terms of character, fighting class, etc. This number could increase significantly if every side mission and companion mission is completed.