The Technomancer is the standalone sequel to the sci-fi action RPG Mars: War Logs, from French developers Spiders. The game looks to blend elements of both the Witcher and Mass Effect series in terms of style and setting, but its failed execution leaves it feeling like a poor man’s version of those series. With a veritable laundry list of both gameplay and technical errors, the Technomancer seems to have fallen victim to its overly ambitious scope.
“What am I doing with my life?”
The Technomancer places you in the space boots of Zachariah, a wooden-faced young rogue who has been trained in the art of technomancy, which is essentially an innate ability expressed by a precious few to wield bioelectricity. The game takes place on Mars, where water is a scarce resource ruthlessly controlled by various corporations. Corporations behave like nation states, with a system of self-governance and their own separate hierarchies. The main two corporations on Mars are Abundance and Aurora, and they are currently at war with one another. We take control of Zachariah as he is being initiated into the Abundance technomancers, whose main responsibilities are to act as warriors on the frontline and peacekeepers in the capital of Abundance, Ophir. While their talents are useful to the powers that be, they also make them social pariahs and in Abundance they are generally feared by the general populace and kept on a tight leash by those that control the corporation. While they must kowtow to their superiors, technomancers of all corporations are united by two basic tenets: to protect the secret of their genesis (which is something that would severely affect the way they were viewed by Mars society) and also try and re-establish contact with the Earth they were separated from many moons ago. The people of Mars are effectively marooned on the red planet and have been for quite some time, and the technomancers are always looking for ways to go home. The game has you guide Zachariah as he discovers his powers and tries to find a way to reconnect with Earth, all while resisting becoming a pawn in the political games of the corporations.
Aurora technomancers: Not seeing is believing
“May I have this dance?”.
…you are told that there is a massive world with all these political undertones and intriguing events, but you never actually see the physical manifestation of it. There are only smatterings of people spread thinly across the handful of self-contained environments, and they feel like they simply don’t belong to the world they find themselves in…
This setting sounds promising on paper, but its premise is largely squandered by a middling narrative filled with poorly fleshed-out or straight-up uninteresting characters, and environments that are dull and utterly devoid of life. Much like one of my criticisms of the recent Mirror’s Edge reboot, you are told that there is a massive world with all these political undertones and intriguing events, but you never actually see the physical manifestation of it. There are only smatterings of people spread thinly across the handful of self-contained environments, and they feel like they simply don’t belong to the world they find themselves in. They also don’t appear to have lives, and if you were so inclined you could watch them repeating a predetermined loop of awkward animations forever. The game’s world feels like a flimsy diorama and it becomes extremely difficult to care about the interactions of its inhabitants. The various companions who accompany you on your quests have somewhat more character to them, but they react poorly to the things happening both around and to them. For instance, depending on how you play your cards your companions can turn on one another, and in my playthrough a certain situation drove one of my companions to kill another one in sweet vengeance. She appeared pretty devastated about the whole thing for about two seconds, and when I went to speak with her again she was right back to her upbeat, slightly sassy self. What should have been an earth-shattering moment of catharsis for her ended up having the emotional gravitas of a fart in a bathtub. This particular exchange perfectly represents the heart of The Technomancer’s problem in its narrative, in that at all times you feel disconnected and apathetic to both its setting and characters.
Gameplay-wise, The Technomancer is your standard third-person action-RPG (in the style of games like the Witcher), and initially its combat is enjoyable and the upgrade systems have a decent sense of progression. The combat’s most unique feature is the different stances at Zachariah’s disposal: Warrior, Rogue and Guardian. These easily switchable stances have specific weapons associated with them (such as a staff for the Warrior and a dagger and pistol for the Rogue), as well as their own upgrade trees and upgradeable attributes associated with them. There are also upgrades and abilities for your technomancer gifts (such as electrifying your weapon or shocking enemies with arcs of electricity), and these can be used concurrently with any stance. Initially the game made it feel like I would be required to switch between stances to adapt to situations, but the truth is it’s wiser to stick to just one and focus purely on its upgrades alone. After the first set of encounters with some low level insects, there is a sharp difficulty spike in the combat, and I found that the Rogue stance was the only one that offered enough mobility to be able to dispatch my enemies without being slaughtered. The more claustrophobic environments are frustrating to fight in, and getting painted into a tight space can often spell your death as you struggle with both the uncooperative camera and the fact that you are surrounded by an a tenacious and impenetrable throng of enemies. Once you get the hang of combat, things become substantially easier, but given that each stance has a fairly limited moveset it does end up feeling fairly one-note, and ultimately what starts as a strong feature descends into bland repetition. This is not helped by the fact that you are constantly forced into combat as you endlessly backtrack through the game’s lifeless areas to complete quests, and there isn’t a great deal of variation in the enemies, meaning you’ll be fighting the same monsters and humans in the exact same locations ad nauseam.
The bustling slums of Ophir
Let’s go kill some wildlife
…What should have been an earth-shattering moment of catharsis ended up having the emotional gravitas of a fart in a bathtub…
Of course, this is an RPG and you can also upgrade your weapons and equipment by obtaining blueprints and upgrade materials. These upgrade materials can be obtained from fallen enemies or looted from chests, and in fact these materials comprise about 98% of the loot you will find, so be prepared to be swimming in materials with scintillating names such as: Piece of Metal. Another material that can be scavenged from enemies is Serum, the game’s currency. Serum can actually be harvested from enemies, but harvesting it from humans results in you losing some moral fibre in the game’s black and white morality system (called Karma). With Serum acting as both currency and a source of health injections, this is potentially a cool mechanic whereby you are constantly forced to choose money or self-preservation over morality, but the reality is that you will have so much Serum you’ll be able to dive into a pool of it like Scrooge McDuck, negating the need to harvest it. It’s unclear exactly what tangible impact the Karma system has as well, although it is safe to say it probably plays into the game’s ending (one that I sadly did not get to see for reasons I will explain shortly).
Prostitute watching: As creepy as it was uneventful
The Technomancer is also fairly underwhelming in terms of its visuals, with the world’s fairly flat textures painted almost universally in dreary shades of post-apocalyptic grey and brown. Weird pixelated shadows play across the visages of the characters when you get close up, and the facial animation points seem to be oddly placed, giving the impression that a few of the characters are constantly smirking. The inventory screen is also a needlessly convoluted and cluttered affair, and simple feats such as selecting which gimp mask you want to put on your companions (see picture below) become a slow and tedious slog.
Although it has some glaring weaknesses in its gameplay and word-building aspects, by far The Technomancer’s most egregious crimes are committed on the technical side of things; much like the front of my Holden Astra after I haven’t washed it for three years, the game is a bit of a buggy mess. Quest markers sometimes don’t appear forcing you to search aimlessly for your goal, and when they do appear they’ll sometimes point to person or place where you can’t interact. Other quests simply have vague directions like ‘watch the prostitutes’, and in my playthrough no amount of prostitute watching seemed to suffice, and the quest seems for all intents and purposes unable to be completed. While these bugs actively prevented the completion of a handful of sidequests, they could probably be forgiven. What is much harder to forgive is the unfixable bug I encountered approximately 30 hours into my game which prevented me from progressing in the main story. As a gamer, there is nothing more disheartening than encountering a game-breaking glitch in a lengthy RPG; it devalues the hours spent and more or less makes all your progress up until that point completely meaningless. Even multiple saves weren’t enough to rescue the situation, and reloading one several hours prior to when I found the bug resulted in the same infuriating outcome. The idea of starting from scratch was too much to bear, and hence I had to put the title down before seeing its conclusion.
Equipping Jeffrey with a gimp mask was a highlight
Niesha recalls the horror of sitting in futuristic chairs
Despite the fact that The Technomancer has a substantial amount of issues both great and small, it is clear that the developers had a certain vision and probably no small amount of passion, but it simply wasn’t able to be executed properly. For a title with such a big world and such grand aspirations, every aspect needed more development time and money to make it all work. Unless you are suffering unbearable withdrawals after finishing the Witcher and irrationally crave an ARPG of any kind and are not discerning, The Technomancer is not a title I can recommend in good conscience.
Reviewed on Xbox One