While it’s most certainly a great quality to have, ambition is a double-edged sword. All too often, ambition is to blame for lackluster games; either there wasn’t enough of it, or the developer flew too close to the sun like Icarus and the game suffered for it. There’s most certainly a balance in the amount of ambition a developer should have for their games — restraint needs to be shown.
Ambition is the greatest strength of The Technomancer, the new sci-fi action-RPG by Spiders. Set on the desolate planet of Mars, it follows the journey of Zachariah Mancer, a legendary Technomancer on his mission to find Earth. The story starts with an extremely slow burn as you follow Zach from his formal initiation into the brotherhood of Technomancers to his rise as Lieutenant, slogging through the so-so quests that are thrown at you in a very boring introduction. After around the five hour mark, though, the game’s story is set in motion with a satisfying plot twist, and what follows is a rather engaging narrative that’s heavy on grey morality, involving political corruption throughout Mars’ multiple factions.
It’s not on the level of BioWare, but then again, it’s not trying to be; The Technomancer never pretends to be anything more than it is, and for that, it succeeds. While the scope of the game is most certainly grandiose in scale, it never feels like it’s trying too hard with what it presents to you, allowing you to absorb yourself into the game’s admittedly cheesy atmosphere. It understands its identity well, choosing to following in the footsteps of a series like Mass Effect or The Witcher without trying to one-up them.
Speaking of The Witcher, fans of the franchise will feel right at home with this game, which offers a similar combat system with its own unique spin. Rather than giving you a class like most RPGs, it introduces a concept known as “stances.” There’s the Rogue stance, which lets you wield a dagger and gun; the Guardian stance, which lets you wield clubs and a shield; and then there’s the Warrior stance, which lets you wield a staff. Each stance offers its own advantages. The Rogue stance gives you a boost in speed and lets you poison enemies, while the Warrior stance offers crowd control and the Guardian stance lets you block and parry. Additionally, you’ll have access to your electrical-based technomancy powers, which offer unique combat advantages, such as electrifying your weapon or creating a shield around you.
These stances can be switched on the fly, and in between dodging onslaughts of attacks, you’ll have to know which stance will benefit a specific combat situation. It’s because of this that you’ll want to pump upgrade points into the skill trees for each stance, no matter which one is your preference. While you can also upgrade your technomancy, there’s no real reason to; in fact, one of my biggest gripes with the game is that technomancers feel more like wannabe Jedis than the powerful, mythical beings that they’re presented as. Enemies even feel like they’re stronger than you are, robbing you of a sense of power that the game tries to convince you that you have.
Combat is still the best part of The Technomancer even if it can be frustrating at times, and I found myself eager to fight when I ran into a crowd of enemies. That being said, because it can be extremely hard no matter what difficulty you’re playing on, it’s absolutely essential that you have a full party with you. I appreciated that I was always kept on my toes and had to be mindful of dodging and switching up my stance, but sometimes I felt certain fights were unfair.
The game gives you some freedom in story choices, too. Perhaps you want to disobey your commanding officer and arrest a criminal rather than kill them, or maybe you have enough points into charisma that you can avoid a nasty battle and rationalize a situation with the enemy. These situations have a major impact on the story in its later hours. I never felt like I was shaping Zach as a character per se, but I did feel like I was shaping the story and I appreciated being presented with truly branching paths that made me feel like my decisions mattered, rather than just being presented with the illusion of choice.
Graphically the game is far from impressive, with textures that look like they belong to last-gen hardware. The music isn’t anything to brag about either — it’s a boring, synth-focused soundtrack that doesn’t quite nail the epic feeling the game tries to go for. Voice acting is a problem too, as actors’ delivery is often as flat as soggy cardboard.
Unfortunately, after about 17 hours into the game, I encountered a game-breaking bug. I was tasked with having to let my companion Amelia create a bomb to help complete a quest line. When I got to the place she instructed me to go, which was her shed back on Ophir, nothing happened. No matter how many times I asked her about the bomb, she’d just tell me she’d need to go to the place where we already were. There we no contextual prompts or anything, which prevented me from finishing the quest, and thus the game itself.
This frustrated me greatly, not just because it meant that I had spent almost 17 hours of my life in vain on a game, but that I had spent almost 17 hours of my life in vain on a game I was genuinely kind of enjoying. The developers are currently still releasing patches, but I had updated to the latest version when I encountered this issue. We here at RPGFan make it our policy to complete every game we play before a review, but that just couldn’t happen in this case.
Aside from this bug I encountered, there are other things that I felt impacted my experience with the game. These include a very weak character customization system that only allows you to select a handful of pre-set features, and a stealth system that seems unnecessary since the game rarely makes it worthwhile to use. Both of these features could have been expanded upon greatly, but with their bare-bones inclusion, it all feels very tacked on.
In the end, though, what I played of Zach’s plight was relatively fun, and I enjoyed his companions and their optional side-stories (which includes three potential romances). Whether or not it was intentional, The Technomancer has the charm of a thoroughly enjoyable SyFy Channel original series; it’s pretty cheesy, but it’s also entertaining. Players looking for a good, sci-fi RPG on modern consoles could do a lot worse. Had I been able to complete the game, it would have had an overall score of 70%.