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The Technomancer: A Second Opinion

The Technomancer developed by Spiders is a sci-fi action RPG set on a colonized Mars that has long since lost contact with Earth.  The game is set during the War of Water, a conflict between the corporations that occupy Mars over the scarce supply of water.  The player takes on the role of a newly inducted Technomancer, Zachariah from Ophir, the capital city of the corporation Abundance.  As Abundance fights a losing battle against its rival Aurora, the Abundance Security Committee (ASC) a secret police section of the corporation hunts for traitors and spies within the corporation.  It is up to the player whether to ally with the corporation and ensure its victory in the War of Water or side with any of the other factions that vie for power on the red planet.

Despite the interesting premise The Technomancer received mixed reviews, with critics describing the character models and animations as stiff, voice acting as monotone and character expressions as non-existent.  The games combat system was also heavily criticized, being labelled as clunky, unplayable and infuriating.  The technomancy abilities available to the player have also been slated due to later-game enemies wearing armour that negates electricity based attacks (Which all technomancy abilities are).  The game was however praised for its rich, detailed environments, excellent world building and interesting story.

With gameplay elements drawing from previous RPG hits such as the starting city of Ophir being reminiscent of Taris in Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic and the combat system replicating the system used in the Witcher series, albeit with several tweaks to fit the futuristic, dystopian setting.  With three different combat stances to choose from, the defensive guardian, ferocious warrior and swift rogue, each stance offers a different style of combat, allowing the player the choice of how they want to face the threats of the red planet.  However, this did not stop critics from labeling the combat as difficult and unplayable at times with the idea of the protagonist being beaten by common thugs to be ridiculous. But in a time when games such as Assassin’s Creed have combat that requires the same two button combo at the right time to execute an enemy (Black Flags being a major offender) a game that requires a bit of practice may be a welcome addition, especially if you don’t want to tackle behemoths such as Dark Souls or the new Nioh.  The combat is made more dynamic and interesting to watch with slow-motion dodges, attacks and parries when you score a critical hit or last minute evasion.

The one glaring issue with the combat is the confusing decision to give enemies fully automatic firearms.  Being able to deal damage at an alarming rate as well as stopping you from attacking due to the need to constantly be dodging, it is a puzzling inclusion within a game that focuses on melee combat.  Without a prompt to warn of an income gunshot like that seen in the Arkham games or the ability to deflect projectiles like in the Witcher unless you are playing as the guardian class, the firearms in the game are a game breaker.  While many games compensate for ranged damage by weakening ranged enemies The Technomancer doesn’t use any such balance, with enemy marksmen being as durable as other enemy classes.

“lacks technical polish and storytelling finesse to a sometimes-painful degree.” – IGN

The Technomancer’s morality system doesn’t represent any choice as being fundamentally right or wrong, with decisions being made based on the players own opinions rather than a light-side, dark-side divide.  The Technomancers themselves maintain a code against killing due to “all life being precious on Mars” the player is not forced to abide by this code and can instead choose to kill enemies by extracting fluid, the currency within the game from their body.  The choice to kill has some consequences when interacting

The narrative of the game is where it really shines, with various factions on Mars that you can ally with and each faction occupying a grey area, rather than the black and white morality of other games.  Revolving around the questionable motivations of powerful corporations and people in control, the game questions the legitimacy of those in positions of power.  While the voice acting has been criticized for being emotionless and amateurish, it is refreshing to see a game that makes use of voice actors without lazily turning to Nolan North or Trey Baker.   The story could be expanded upon with more companion centered content as the potential for character development is present but is never truly embraced.   Companions then resemble the usual sci-fi RPG archetypes,  such as the mad scientist or brooding outsider without the game digging much deeper than giving them a quick companion quest and some personal dialogue for character background.

The game places importance on the strategic positioning of points into the various skill trees, with poorly placed points increasing the difficulty of the game.  With a variety of crafting and gear modification options available, the player must equip each of their party members with the gear that best suits their combat style.  As well as a range of non-combat talents, including science, stealth and exploration which can be bolstered by equipping certain gear but at the cost of improved stats.    Improving your own character isn’t the only character you will have to prepare, as each party member has their own strengths that can be bolstered through the gear modification system.  That doesn’t mean that the games combat will become a walk in the park, with new, stronger enemies being introduced as you increase in level that will force you to change your strategy and prevent the use of the same two abilities in every encounter that many gamers are guilty of.

However, a saving grace of the game is that many of the issues within the game are explained through the games story, the presence of guns is due to the futuristic setting, yet their scarcity is due to the loss of technology following an unexplained event on Mars.  It could be argued that many of the features that make the game more intense would have been criticized for being absent.  For example, the use of electricity immune armour is an obvious weapon against technomancers and had it been absent, critics would have stated that if the soldiers were aware of the dangers of technomancy why not take precautions against such a threat.  With such a great amount of planning in terms of the story and a combat system that has a solid basis, it is difficult to not admire the attempt which Spider has made.  Even if the combat isn’t suited to your tastes, it is refreshing to see a new game that isn’t a sequel or remaster with a setting that has gone underused in the past and a story that hasn’t been attempted before.

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