Friday, July 15, 2016
The Technomancer (Xbox One) Review
The Technomancer is an action RPG set on the planet Mars, where a young technomancer must struggle to survive. If part of this sounds familiar, it is because the game is made by Spiders, and set within the Mars: War Logs universe. As was the case with that game, I really like the setting, society and world created for the game. There is a lot of thought into how it all evolved, and it works well.
As with most other RPGs, you will be walking around towns and dungeons, conversing with people, looking for treasure and getting into trouble. I'll give the game that it has lots of nooks and crannies that have loot in them, and there are valuable skills (like lockpicking) that have more than a few places to give you even more. However, I still have problems with this part of the game. First is the smaller problem, which is the camera. When you are not in combat, the camera is just too close to the character for my taste. It cuts off the feet, making it harder to see things close to the ground. I didn't see any option to zoom out, which I would have liked.
Second, and much more annoying, is the character's move speed. It's just too fast. I know it sounds like nitpicking, but when it is obnoxiously easy to overshoot treasure chests and run past enemies you were trying to sneak up on, it gets in the way of enjoying the game. You can move at a much more acceptable pace if you slightly tilt the stick, but having to constantly monitor that is annoying. Strangely enough, you can hold down a button to run even faster, which I found totally unnecessary. If the hold button speed was what he moved normally, and his normal speed was a bit slower (or had zero momentum to his run), basic movement in the game would feel much better, and would not be a constant negative to the game.
Of course there is also combat in the game, and lots of it. If you thought the run speed was the only thing getting in the way of me enjoying the game, then you've got another thing coming. Fighting in Mars was rough around the edges, unforgiving and needed you to use your gun with way too limited ammo to make it through the game. The Technomancer somehow takes this in the wrong direction and has made combat even more convoluted.
Now you have three different stances, each with its own set of weapons. In theory, it is really cool, so you can quickly switch between sets to fit your playstyle or the situation. First is the mage stance that has a staff as a weapon, which is great for area attacks. The second is the warrior stance, which has a mace and shield. The mace is in the middle, speed and damage wise, and the shield is the most useful thing in the game, allowing you to block and parry attacks. The third stance is the rogue stance, which uses a speedy knife and the gun. The knife is underwhelming, but the gun tries to make up for it at least.
Early on, you get a small taste of what could have been. There are some really weak bug-like creatures that rush you in groups of 4+. The mage stance is great for them, since the staff can hit areas and kills them in 1-2 hits. This part of the game works, and gave me hope that the stances had some strategic use to them. However, it was not to be. I had to rely on the shield for just about everything else, since blocking is so necessary. Enemies are not just dummies for you to beat on until they are dead, since they back/side step every other hit, and counter you almost constantly. It's really annoying, not to mention that it makes the game a lot harder. That's just too much for the 'normal' setting in my opinion (which this is, obviously).
Trouble is, the whole game is basically like that, but worse. Fighting an enemy one on one is actually fine and works well. Two on one is a little tougher, but can still be done with next to no problems. Unfortunately, they game routinely throws 4 or so enemies at you at once, which had me getting pummeled and reloading every minute or so. They also shrug off hits while attacking to give you some more cheap damage. I suppose that's why there is a disruptive attack, that doesn't seem to actually do damage. Besides moving all the time to dodge and counter, enemies like to surround you, so your block won't work. Well, at least you can dodge, right?
Yes, but it's not very good. It doesn't seem to offer much, if any, invincibility. To add insult to your poor technomancer's injury, it queues up button presses so if you mash (to make sure it actually gives you the roll), so you will likely roll twice. It also likes to not dodge in the direction I am pressing, which always bugs me in games. Even if all of that worked, when fighting multiple enemies, they love to basically poke at you when you are trying to hit another, making safe combat take much, much longer than it should. If the enemies were like the bugs, and died in a few hits, this might actually work. Unfortunately, they seem to have much more health than they should (again, on the normal setting), bottoming out the fun-o-meter.
Did I mention some enemies have guns? No? Well, they you can be as surprised as I am when I take a bullet to the back in the middle of fighting two guys in the corner. These guys can do a lot of damage before you even know they are there, since they don't stand out from the rest until they are actively pointing a gun at your face. At least the bug creatures have a bigger model for the ranged ones, so you can identify and eliminate them quickly.
The combat is also very unforgiving. You die in few hits, which add up quickly when you are trying to fight several people at once. Frequently I found myself low on health in a matter of seconds, which not much I can do about it. Strangely, the boss fight at the end of the tutorial was easier than any encounter with humans. That just shouldn't be the case. I found the button combinations for using skills and switching stances to not be very intuitive, which then takes me precious time and attention to look at the screen to do. Yes, this got a bit better with time, but it caused me several headaches (and reloads) early on, which is not a great way to welcome players to your game.
The difficulty was something that bothered me a lot in Mars: War Logs, and it is disappointing to see it not addressed for a sequel. It is more sad to see improving fights not only ignored, but almost laughed at by adding another layer of complexity (the stance switching). It just makes combat in The Technomancer much more awkward than it really should be. At its core, it should be fun, but it's just slapped with the Dark Souls stick to make it an overly difficult mess. If the combat were at least slower, to give you time to go through your various abilities and react to things before punishing you, it would probably make it tolerable at least. I tried setting it to 'easy' at one point in an attempt to make it better. It didn't really seem to make a difference.
Well, now that we got pretty much all the negativity out of the way, I can cover a few small high points to the game. The equipment upgrade system from Mars is again present. You find a lot of raw materials that can be used to strengthen weapons and armor by adding mods to them. The mods (and even the equipment itself) can be broken down to reclaim materials and slots to use again. It takes some practice to fully understand it, but I do like the way it is done.
Stat and skill points are gained at various levels, and can be placed in many different places for various effects. Skill points can also be used to modify the powers you get and change the way they behave. This is pretty cool, but it does take you a few hours to have the points to really start playing around with the system. I can see lots of potential ways to build your character, but you should evenly distribute your points across the trees, since you should be using multiple stances throughout the game. This does hurt the illusion of character choice, however.
The game is supposedly about 20 hours, but that would definitely not account for all the loading you will be doing after each failed fight. Or maybe it just adds a lot of time for me (I could just be terrible at the game and everyone else is great at it). There's also a few different endings, and romance options with the party members to add some nice replay value. As briefly mentioned before, there is a difficulty option for any masochists out there (you can set it two levels higher for some reason), and of course achievements/trophies.
I really wanted to like The Technomancer. The world the game has is cool and I would love to see more of it. The idea of the stances in combat is solid, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I could honestly get past the awkward buttons, fighting and high movement speed if the combat wasn't so punishingly difficult. It's just too high for my tastes. Instead of fixing what was bad about Mars: War Logs, it seems like they just wanted to make it appeal to the Dark Souls fan base with its cheap difficulty and bad controls. I would like to see the developer go back to the more simple, fun and balanced experience of something like Faery than this amalgamation. What parts of the game I do like just can't be overcome by all the things I didn't like, big and small.
Just like Mars: War Logs, the setting and premise of the game are really good.
Too bad the combat isn't. If I didn't say "awkward and difficult" enough in the review, here it is again.
Honestly, if they made the combat turn-based, it would probably work out, and I'd like to see that. Or, just make the 'easy' setting actually easy and not '5% less hard'.
(Review code for The Technomancer was provided by the publisher)