|Platforms||PC, PS4 (reviewed), XBO|
|Publisher||Focus Home Interactive|
|Release Date||June 28, 2016|
This game was reviewed using a key provided by PR
The Technomancer is a cyberpunk game which is set on Mars sometime in the future. You play as a titular member of this religious order – people with abilities not dissimilar to that of mages, who are some of the more formidable warriors of the world they inhabit. This is a world ruled over by corporations, who have become their own nation states and are constantly at war with one another, on a Mars that has seemingly been abandoned by Earth.
It really feels like I’ve played this game before. The Technomancer attempts to splice together the ideas and mechanics found in many of the RPG’s that have come before it. Its DNA is constructed from forebearers such as Mass Effect (which is very clearly a major influence on the game), Dark Souls, Deus Ex and others. It’s a sense of familiarity that helps ease you very quickly into the game and its world. After all, it’s easy to jump into something familiar than something more alien. This familiarity, however, quickly becomes The Technomancer’s worst enemy.
I spent the majority of my time with The Technomancer waiting – the game starts out with a tutorial section that also doubles as an introduction to what appears to be the story. We’ve lost contact with Earth, and The Technomancer’s have been collecting “relics” in an attempt to find out what happened and how to re-establish communications. It’s actually quite a promising setup. The gameplay is fairly solid and while protagonist Zachariah Mancer is a bit dull, the premise is interesting. The game even adds a moral dimension to the gameplay, whether to kill or simply incapacitate your enemies.
And then you return to your home city of Abundance, are promoted to a full Technomancer and shipped off to the military. It’s a long time before what you assume will be the main plot of the game even gets mentioned again. You spend the majority of your time waiting for the story to even really kick off. After the tutorial level and some interactions with certain characters it becomes painfully obvious what “twist” is coming. Instead of dispensing with the “twist” straight away, it’s hours before it happens (no spoilers). In the meantime you’re left completing side quests masquerading as main quests, which feel an awful lot like padding.
Basically it’s hours before the story even really gets going, and what I thought was the main story was relegated to background noise, with the characters seeming to make some kind of unspoken agreement to not really speak of it again (until the time is right, anyway). Every time The Technomancer threatens to start telling its story in a main quest that has actual consequences, you’re yanked back and run through a gauntlet of quests that feel utterly pointless, other than to pad the running time and space out the actual meat of the story.
The Technomancer isn’t helped by a painfully dull cast of characters (except Phobos), each of whom come with their own side stories that feel equally pointless (except Phobos). These stories also feel like they’re well worn at this point (except…well, even Phobos, but he makes up for it by being an interesting character). Both the main story and these personal stories don’t ask questions that haven’t been asked many times in this genre, which on the face of it I have no problem with. The problem I have is that the journey and the answers have also been presented many times before in this genre.
And that’s where the sense of familiarity becomes the rope that The Technomancer hangs itself with. It tells a story you’ve more or less seen before, in a way you’ve more or less seen before, with duller version of characters you feel like you’ve already met before. It wastes an interesting premise by putting too many obstacles in its own way, forcing you to spend hours running errands you’d rather not be running just to see if the next part of the story is where the story actually decides to start.
The Technomancer’s morality system suffers the same fate – initially it’s quite interesting, if nothing you haven’t seen before if you’ve played an RPG since the late 90’s. You interact with characters and factions to raise or lower your relationship with them, and a karma system is in place to let you know whether you’re a nice guy or a dick. These moral choices feel purely mechanical, rather than ever letting you feel like your decisions and actions are impacting the world in any meaningful way. It honestly feels like you’re affecting these numbers purely because the genre of the game demands that these numbers exist for you to affect.
The morality system makes two critical mistakes. It’s first is on its reliance on random chance. You can try to be a good guy and fix the Mutants tools, to avoid having to beat him to get him back to work, but only if your crafting skill is high enough. You can avoid combat only if your Charisma stat is high and you pass the percentage chance diplomacy roll. And so on. Basically, you can only be the kind of character you want to be if you’ve leveled up the correct stats at the right time. All of these moral choices and numbers equate to nothing more than a scoreboard that dictates certain events in the last act of the game, rather than anything substantial.
It’s a shame that the game is so boring, because its combat systems are really interesting. You’re given the ability to switch between three different stances, which are essentially The Technomancer’s version of classes. Where other RPG’s lock you into a single class before you’ve even had a chance to try them out, The Technomancer allows you to play as all of them, and switch between them on the fly. You’ve got a Guardian stance with a shield and mace combo for tanking, a stealth-and-ranged-based Rogue stance that uses a knife/gun combo, and a Warrior stance that makes use of dodges and arms you with a bo staff. You can also use your mage-like Technomancer abilities to augment all three.
Being able to switch between classes on the fly is a great idea, allowing you to be wholly adaptable to your circumstances. It’s undercut somewhat the further you progress into the game, as each stance has its own separate skill tree that you upgrade as you level, and you’ll need to specialise to stay effective in combat. So while I don’t think this system works entirely as intended, it’s still nice that you can get a real feel for each of the classes before you commit to any one of them.
The combat in The Technomancer is mechanically sound, if a little on the clumsy side (there’s a lock-on ability you’re going to want to ignore unless you like getting an arse kicking). I found myself gravitating towards the highly agile Warrior stance, and found that the dodge and attack style of gameplay that stance afforded was what truly sustained me through the slog that was the games story. Combining this style of gameplay with the various Technomancy-based lightning attacks never grew old.
Even after I had mentally checked out of the events happening on-screen, to the point where I was literally skipping 90% of the dialogue, the gameplay kept me in the game a heck of a lot longer than I otherwise might have stuck around. The Technomancer’s combat skews towards the “Action” part of “Action RPG” – it’s fast and immediate, playing mostly like a more standard third-person action game. There are plenty of RPG mechanics under the hood – multiple skill trees and new gear incrementally increases your damage, as well as your charisma, stealth, lockpicking etc. The RPG elements are perfectly fine and exactly what you’d expect.
There’s nothing technically wrong with The Technomancer. It works fine, with an art style that fits the aesthetic of the game and music that seems appropriate for the world you’re inhabiting. Although the voice acting is pretty bad across the board, with characters inflections simply not fitting the context of the words that are coming out of their mouth. The hubs that you find yourself running around are also a bit lifeless, with the different districts of each city blending into each other thanks to the rather unified design.
The Technomancer is a fairly forgettable and derivative experience. It’s hard to recommend even to hardcore RPG fans because there are games out there that have already done what The Technomancer does, but better. Its story is boring, filled to bursting with missions designed for seemingly no other reason than to pad out the running time. Its characters are dull and uninteresting, and you’ll constantly forget which one is which and what their whole deal is (except Phobos). Its approach to morality makes some fundamental mistakes that make you question why you’re even making moral choices in the first place. It’s a shame too, because The Technomancer is built on a solid foundation of decent combat mechanics, with fun to play and interesting fighting.
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