From the developer simply known as Spiders, The Technomancer is a new installment in the Mars: War Logs series, and the company’s biggest adventure to date. This title takes players back to Mars, where several large corporations run everything by controlling the planet’s most precious resource—water. Humans have been forced to live their pitiful lives under large metal shells that hides them from the sun, which has mutated many left to its harsh rays. Others live mostly in poverty, except for the few lucky enough to join the military. The spearhead of that military force though is a talented group of people who have the ability to create electrical discharges, Technomancers.
I had heard the name thrown around a lot, but didn’t see anything on the game until it came up on my slate. The trailers do an amazing job of setting up a world as well as showing off an experience that most would want to play and see in action, but I have to say they are a bit misleading in visual presentation and gameplay. The story however is some good science fiction that gets deeper and kept me interested in the world and what could happen there, and it will be slightly different for everyone based off of their choices. It has a Chronicles of Riddick vibe, in a good way, for what little good that movie had.
We play as Zachariah Mancer, a freshly graduated Technomancer. After a small customization section, I was disappointed that the character’s voice did not fit with the face I was looking at in the slightest. Actually, much of the voice acting is meh, which doesn’t help when the NPCs are droning on, but there were a few gems in the main cast that just couldn’t fill in the gaps enough. The game looks nice, even if it doesn’t have that sweet crisp image the trailers showed off. Mars is a desolate wasteland, so it fits that the backgrounds and structures are bland and lacking in detail. I enjoyed the lighting graphics, which help to solidify the bleak atmosphere, but it all needed more to catch the eye. The music affects the tone and almost seems alien, but in a way that it is sad and depressing and regrettably unmemorable. Even the spots where it picks up just don’t stick out as players travel around the vast areas.
Exploring the cities and their underbellies is fun—minus the loading screens—because parts of the environment work to help build the world, but nothing takes you out of the moment like passing the same two NPCs and seeing them stuck in circular loops or glitching out against a table, even after reloading the game. My version of Zachariah had some cool looking scars that unfortunately caused some facial glitches, and several cutscenes had odd blurriness and something almost like a tearing effect where the backgrounds didn’t match the character movements. To note, I played on an Xbox One copy. I hate that, because these things detracted from otherwise neat looking segments.
I was given some points to start with, opting to major in strength and stealth, which seems like a mistake now. My stealth ability was often not enough to help me much in combat, even when I successfully snuck up on someone—a rarity. Also, many of the weapons I picked up required other stats for me to use, and it takes a while to get more points for those categories, meaning they set in my inventory forever or were recycled for parts. There are also gear and weapons with their own stats and modable slots. These are assisted by a crafting system that has a good system and presentation, but never seemed truly necessary.
Combat was certainly the worst part of my experience with the game. There are three stances that use different weapons, which grant some versatility and keeps things interesting. Players have basic and area attacks as well as their Technomancer powers that help to damage or stun opponents. There is no real way to block or efficient counters and hits go through each other, creating a chaotic and uncoordinated series of flailing. It all feels floaty with dodging seeming ineffectual and moves not connecting. My slow motion critical strikes fail to actually hit and basic attacks do little against multiple opponents. Most of the time I felt hindered, one step behind my opponents and weak outside of a one-on-one fight, even though the story keeps building me up as a badass. The player has no way to dictate the pacing of combat and can be put down easily. Overall, this was the most frustrating part of the game, and it often led me to look for other ways to complete quests, cursing when combat was unavoidable.
Since the world can be quite lethal, don’t hesitate to team up. There are available companions that have their own skills, gear, and personalities, and I like that they actually questioned my actions at times. See, there is a karma system, mostly based off of killing and/or taking serum from fallen enemies. This serum kills the person if stolen from their bodies, but players need it as currency. Doing things like this too much could cause a companion to actually abandon Zachariah. Some of these teammates have their own stories as well as limited identities and there are some romantic options possible. There are also multiple factions the player will have to deal with, choosing to align or become enemies with, which will help shape the story.
This action-RPG isn’t an open world game, but it makes Mars feel enormous, dry, and hot, with the depression of living in a derelict society where everything is drenched in futility. I was sad that exploration of the world and cities was lacking though and lost its luster quickly. What isn’t lacking though was the amount of content, as the game is sizable with a lot of main story and side quests to keep players busy, because some of it does feel like busy work. Quests can be completed in multiple ways, with combat, stealth, or conversation being the main ones. I wish there could have been more of this, as it felt promising in the first few hours, and some options weren’t very clear. I hear there are multiple endings, but I am not sure how different they are, or if they’d be worth replaying a chunk of the main adventure for.
To be fair, I can’t say I’d make it through everything even once. The end product Spiders gave has some great ideas and a story I wanted to get into, but the mechanics and pacing of it were not making me want to push on. If I do decide to pick the game up again later, I appreciate that there is an in-game guide for basic commands and combat maneuvers if players have forgotten things. There are several games we could compare The Technomancer to, and most of those have done large chunks of what this game tries to do better.