- Magnificent atmosphere of a ruined Martian colony – mature and dismal, but not without a certain charm;
- A great emphasis on choices, consequences and relations with factions and companions;
- Captivating story, well written and well acted dialogues;
- Very good character development and combat mechanics;
- Quality audio and video layer; still approachable system requirements;
- Nice interface – transparent, aesthetic, functional.
- Lots of backtracking;
- Poor facial animations; a little short on cut-scenes;
- The game world is not really lively;
- Regular crashes;
- Smaller mistakes such as funny AI, problems with camera in narrow spaces, poor stealth elements and other bugs.
I admittedly was not sure about the quality of The Technomancer as an RPG until the very end... i.e. until I have launched the game. I was sort of impressed by the promo materials: graphically impressive trailers suggested the game aims for a high standard. On the other hand, I couldn’t get Spiders’ back catalogue off my mind: Mars: War Logs, Bound by Flame weren’t really bad, but they lacked polish and grand scale, hence becoming boring pretty soon. How is it then with The Technomancer, a project seemingly much more ambitious than the abovementioned titles? The developers stick to their guns and don’t change the formula, which was being improved with each game, and now it seems that I can recommend The Technomancer with clear conscience. This game has its flaws, but every fan of The Witcher 3 should take a closer look nonetheless, since the new game by Spiders offers a similar model of gameplay, with the main difference being the setting.
And the setting is among the greatest advantages of this game. The events take place in unspecified future on Mars, a couple of decades after a human colony has been established on the planet. Before the terraforming processes could be finished, and the surface suited for humans, a mysterious cataclysm shook the Solar System, cutting off all communication with the homeworld. The colonists were alone. The cities had been erected under huge domes, protecting the colonists from deadly cosmic radiation, equally deadly fauna (mutated animals brought on the planet by the first colonists), and... other corporations’ troops, which are trying to capture valuable resources – mainly water. Although life on the Red Planet is hard, rather sad, and devoid of purpose, Spiders have managed to infuse an exotic tone into the grim reality, which renders this world very intriguing; captivating the player from the first minutes.
Those of you more familiar with Spiders’ games, will notice that the events of The Technomancer take place in the same universe as one of their previous games – the 2013’s Mars: War Logs. The events are parallel, and the background is identical – the war between the Abundance and Aurora corporations. You don’t have to know this previous game to enjoy The Technomancer, and there’s no save-import possibility. The fans should appreciate the opportunity to look at this conflict from a different perspective, and see an unknown chapter of this original universe. Too bad there aren’t too many old friends from Mars: War Logs we can meet.
In this world, we play as Zachariah – a rookie within the ranks of the eponymous technomancers, the elite of the Martian society; a mythical caste of warriors, who are able to control electricity, and whose mission is to preserve the Earth’s heritage (especially knowledge), and to look for a way to communicate with the planet. However, in the area controlled by the Abundance Corporation – of which the protagonist is a member – the technomancers are officers of an army. Thankfully, our avatar is not just a simple errand boy – he pursues the brotherhood’s mission, cooperating with its masters, and realizing his own goals by cooperating with other factions. The intrigue becomes more complicated when the ASC, a secret police, seizes the power over the Abundance, and its leader, lieutenant Viktor, accuses Zachariah of high treason.
When it comes down to the mechanics, The Technomancer is generally pretty close to the previously mentioned The Witcher 3, the main difference being that instead of an open world, we’ve got a collection of separate locations consisting of squares and intertwining hallways. Save for this difference, completing the main and side quests boils down to the same elements: exploration (prowling around nooks), conversations with NPCs, looting and crafting, character development and combat. The latter holds a substantial difference between this game and The Wild Hunt, namely, the tactical layer is much deeper: most of the times, there are two characters fighting alongside us, which we can indirectly control by issuing basic commands; the rest is pretty much identical. Third-person perspective, fighting based on learning enemies’ move patterns, dodging, and looking for a chance to land a hit. A nice touch is the fact that Zachariah can employ three styles of combat, which can be switched on the fly: using a stick, mace and shield, or poison dagger and a pistol. Then, there are different technomancer powers, which can be used regardless of the style of combat, and elements of stealth.
That’s the theory – how’s practice? In most cases it runs very well. During the initial hours I spent with this game, I couldn’t believe how big of a technological leap have the Spiders managed to achieve with this game when compared to Bound by Flame. Starting from the graphics, nice animations, through a compelling artistic vision, to very precise controls, especially in combat – you can see the developers have learned their lesson and did their homework. The contents have also been improved: the plot is pretty intense (chiefly the thread of trying to reach Earth), the dialogues read and sound very good, and each character feels like a genuine person, with their own set of psychological features (apart from the villains, they’re pretty stock). This point is very much proven by the squad mates of Zachariah. It’s been a long time since I have seen an RPG in which companions would play such a big part in the story. Not only do they comment on almost everything we do, share their own stories, engage in intimate relations, and expect the protagonist to help them to complete their own quests (which are exceptionally complex as far as side-quests go), but they often play an important part in the main story, and react to all our decisions.
The choices are another remarkable element of The Technomancer. Instead of pummeling anyone who steps into our way, we can often resort to persuasion or try to utilize our scientific knowledge or technical skills (or simple let the money do the talking) in order to solve different issues without a bloodshed. This means that quests can be completed in many different ways, and the decisions we make will influence the following stages of the game. This rule applies mainly to factions which commission quests to the protagonist. Contradicting your principles will deteriorate your reputation, which may mean the organization will refuse to lend you a helping hand later on, when you will really need it. If your cooperation with a criminal group called Vory becomes too cordial, one of the members of your squad will leave you. Now, I don’t claim that the system of decisions in this game is perfect – there’s still a lot of holes and inconsistencies here, but compared to the offer of contemporary RPG giants, the game by Spiders has nothing to be ashamed of. The way the main and side quests have been intertwined is especially praiseworthy; for example, when trying to acquire vital information from a priest, we can bring to his attention the fact that we had spared the life of his son, even though he was poisoning the population of a city.
One more thing worth noting is the karma system. Once an opponent is knocked down, they can be finished off and harvested for serum – a substance doubling as an in-game currency used for crafting med-kits, among other things. The problem is, every person we kill damages our karma, which, in turn, can lead to some of Zachariah’s companions turning their backs on him. Unfortunately, the potential lurking in these interesting mechanics (present also in Mars: War Logs) was wasted – it’s too easy to get rich using other methods for the human harvest tactic to be even remotely useful.
Besides, The Technomancer also shines when we need to beat some sense into an opponent – and such necessity arises frequently. As I have mentioned before, the combat system is extensive and refined, making the fights a pure, satisfying joy. The satisfaction is all the greater, because the skirmishes can be very demanding (especially early in the game), and the animations of the hero's combat moves look—pardon the colloquialism—wicked cool. Hand in hand with the combat system go the character progression mechanics, which also deserve some praise. We have four skill trees with dozens of perks to unlock, and nearly each invested point is clearly noticeable during the game – especially when it unlocks (or improves) new attacks, technomant's powers and other special abilities. Then, there is a separate talent screen, where we develop our charisma, scientific knowledge, crafting skills, exploration, stealth and lockpicking, which significantly affect our ability to complete tasks and search locations. Interestingly, talents can also be improved by building good relations with our companions and wearing appropriate clothes (like in the Fallout series). As for the equipment, during our adventures we amass a lot of various junk that we can efficiently (and effectively) improve.
Unfortunately, not everything in The Technomancer is as polished as we’d like it to be. The most severe drawback of the game is backtracking – the action takes place mainly in three major cities / hubs (and several smaller locations in the "wilderness"), and the bulk of the tasks requires us to traverse them over and over again. While initially it is hardly bothering, because the locations are beautifully designed and full of various nooks and crannies, in the long run it can get boring – especially when we are dealing with constantly respawning opponents. The issue of backtracking will especially affect people who like like their side quests numerous and completed, all the more so because the game offers a lot of quests indeed and they are sometimes intentionally drawn out – The Technomancer provides us with up to 40 hours of fun. The players limiting themselves to the main story should be done in roughly half the time... assuming they can deal with the challenges while ignoring the opportunities to gain experience points and develop their character. In addition, the virtual world creates a rather clumsy illusion of a living environment, despite the use of tricks such as a day and night cycle. The NPCs on the streets are almost static and barely react to the player's actions (e.g. when there's a fight raging a few meters away from them). The characters could use a richer set of gestures and facial expressions in the dialogues. Also, I wish that the narration was accompanied by a greater number of cut-scenes – especially since the handful that has been prepared is very nicely directed (especially the wonderful intro which smoothly transitions into gameplay).
Furthermore, during my time with the game, The Technomancer was troubled by a significant number of technical issues. First and foremost, the game regularly crashed to desktop – interestingly, It happened mainly when viewing the map. Fortunately, the game can be saved at any time, and it boots up fairly quickly, so the issue is not that severe. On several occasions, when trying to heal my character during a fight, I noticed dozens of med-kits (or even my entire stock) at a time evaporating from inventory, instead of the single one I intended to use. The enemy AI has its share of mishaps as well – sometimes the enemies suddenly stop fighting our companions and head back to the spawn area, or remain oblivious to how we sneak right under their noses. Zachariah's companions, by the way, are of the same stripe. The camera work can be painful, especially when fighting in confined spaces; the game could use the option to toggle (or at least implement) walking, because it's genuinely hard to navigate a constantly-running character in a narrow location. Fortunately, most of the abovementioned problems should be easily eliminate with some patches.
The one thing the patches certainly won't need to repair is the optimization. Despite charming visuals, the framerate held a constant average of 40-50 frames per second when playing on high settings (in 900p and with TAA enabled) on a PC equipped with a Core i5-4570 (3.2GHz), 8GB RAM and Radeon R9 270.
To sum things up, The Technomancer is a surprisingly good – very good even – proposal for RPG lovers. Spiders have proven that they can learn from their mistakes, and have the potential to join the pantheon of the best developers in the genre. Although at first glance their new production may look like a clone of Bound by Flame or Mars: War Logs, the creators have made ??a big qualitative leap, both in terms of gameplay mechanics and visuals, as well as contents (plot, climate, etc). It is clear, however, that the team could use some more resources, and above all a bigger budget – if only to be able to stretch the story across a larger number of locations rather than have to flog dead the few sites they have prepare. Therefore, I hope that The Technomancer sells well and lets its creators spread their wings even further. Should their next work be at least as good as this one, I'll let them take me on an adventure without a moment of hesitation. The one thing I find regrettable is that this game has practically exhausted the potential of its futuristic setting, making one more visit to Mars a highly unlikely event.
Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com