Developer Spiders has built an engrossing science fiction world with more than a few problems.
The Technomancer is an ambitious and occasionally impressive game that harkens the RPG golden age. After limited character customization, you’re put in the shoes of Zachariah Mancer; a roguish warrior forced to act as a pawn for corporations seeking to control the planet Mars. As a Technomancer, you’re sworn to protect the organization’s deepest secrets from the outside world — a job that proves difficult as the game goes on. The initial moments of the title are so promising and delightful, but once you really bite into the title, it’s hard to ignore the moldy taste.
Technomancer’s best features are its overarching plot and rich world design. Spiders nailed this aspect of the game so well, in fact, some moments feel eerily similar to Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic franchise. Sure, some of the initial concepts like warring corporations duking it out for natural resources on foreign planets may not be something entirely new for the sci-fi genre, but the way Spiders has created a deep lore within the game’s premise feel human and relatable. The poor and mutated fight and die for corporate elite that are too busy politicking to care about the common man. What I loved the most about the world was that it felt like it was there before I picked up the controller, and it felt like it would be there long after I was gone. In the sci-fi and fantasy genre, it’s not easy to make a world that feels like it mirrors society, but Technomancer pulls it off masterfully.
Although I have high praise for the overarching story, I felt that much of the banter and conversation writing felt amateur and borderline cringeworthy at times. One of the worst offenders happens to also be one of the most interesting characters. Amelia, the group’s no non-sense mechanic is probably the most compelling characters, but moment-to-moment interactions with her morph her from a determined and focused companion into an angsty teen. Amelia isn’t alone, though. Throughout the story, each of characters had moments where they would reel off attempts at humor or snarkiness that left me cringing.
Much of the gameplay and mission design in Technomancer is entirely reliant on fetch quests. At first, missions are presented as ways for the player to get familiar with new areas, but the charades quickly become tiresome and mundane as you’re forced to retread the same locations ad nauseam. One particular point of frustration comes when one of the primary levels in the game gets militarized halfway through the story. While I initially found the move to be a nice change of pace narratively speaking, it made traversing the open area an absolute nightmare. Paths that were once open became closed off by shin high sandbags that you can’t climb over resulting in moments where you can see your objective but cannot reach it.
I’ve already praised the game for having a world that feels old and grounded in reality, but I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the extremely diverse and detailed locations in Technomancer. As the game progresses, you’ll slowly be introduced to new locations around Mars. Ophir, the starting location, is a posh metropolitan city with slums packed with dangerous gangs and terrorists. One of my favorite areas is Noctis, which feels like a Mad Max inspired merchant city. These places feel distinct from each other, and there are even different cultures and lifestyles that keep exploration fresh. As previously mentioned, you’ll be running through these cities repeatedly during a myriad of fetch quests, so they admittedly lose some of their charm in the game’s later hours.
From a visual standpoint, Technomancer is entirely serviceable. At times, the graphics look dated, but for as a smaller budget title, it’s far from a mar on the overall experience. Thankfully the interesting locations more than make up for some of the technically bland areas.
Combat in Technomancer is extremely customizable thanks to three different fighting styles and a massive skill tree. There is also a KOTOR-like combat menu that allows you to slow time and pick out what power-ups you’d like to use. Along your journey, you’ll also find and equip gear and armor that will make you and your companions more powerful. This structure allows for engagements to operate on your terms.
In later acts, more enemies will be thrown at you and flaws in the combat system become apparent. For example, I had scenarios in which enemies fired guns through each other to hit me. Other times, I’ll roll out of the way of melee attacks and still receive damage. One of the most frustrating issues comes from an attack you used called the “tornado” where you spin your staff around your body and attack enemies on all sides. While effective in large groups, the staff will actually clip through enemies and leave you open to attack. As someone who’s played (and beaten) the past two Dark Souls installments, I’ve become very in-tune with games that feature accurate hitboxes. This is not one of those games.
Within your first hour with Technomancer, it was easy to pick up on Spiders love for old-school KOTOR games. Elements like branching dialogue and a morality scale play a pivotal role in establishing friends and enemies on Mars. To my disappointment, relationship management and karma level feel watered down and occasionally trivial compared to other RPGs. Instead of having a Karma scale like Bioware, Technomancer will simply say whether you have good or bad karma with little detail about how good or bad you are. Additionally, as you finish quests and decide the fate of enemies and allies, your relationship with certain groups will also go up or down based on the decisions you made. After one mission, my relationship with a faction got a minus one then immediately got a plus one — meaning my relationship didn’t change with the faction.
The Technomancer is a content-rich and ambitious game. Early on, Spiders makes a lot of promises about gameplay that ultimately feel like careless whispers. Still, hidden beneath the grime of inconsistent combat and cringeworthy dialogue, there’s a compelling world and narrative that feels mature and occasionally bold. You won’t find Bioware or CD Projekt Red levels of depth in the Technomancer, but if you’re a sci-fi fan, there might be enough here to satiate your hunger before a bigger, better RPG comes along.
The Technomancer was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of Spiders and Evolve PR.
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