Humans have colonised Mars and while there’s water on the planet it’s somewhat scarce and domineering corporations have control.
Many have succumb to the radiation of the sun, others through punishment, but a breed of mutants has emerged, coupled with oversized bugs which inhabit the planet there’s plenty of troubles for the group of Technomancer’s but that doesn’t stop our protagonist Zacharia from choosing to follow his powers in the journey of becoming a Technomancer.
As soon as the game start’s you’re introduced to the controls before stepping outside for a quick scuffle, you’re introduced to fighting with a handful of mini quests and while these tutorials are optional they’re highly recommended on your first play-through.
There’s 3 primary stances to master, firstly using an extendable staff, followed by a pistol & dagger, then finally a more defensive mace / shield combo.
Each offers a slightly different approach to your battles, but you’ll soon pick out your preferred ‘go to’ selection. Then there’s the Technomancy which can be used in any stance, you start off with the ability to electrically charge your weapon and fire a bolt of electricity through the veins of your enemy but both Technomancy and your three stances can be upgraded using their own separate skill-tree>
Levelling up your stance and powers are only the surface with attributes also requiring a watchful eye, strength, power, agility and constitution with each effecting a range of actions as you progress and then there’s the weapons, gear and accessories you can pick up on your travels to further strengthen Zacharia on his journey and that’s before you touch the various talents. which give a further six areas. charisma, science, crafting, stealth, exploration and traps/lockpicking, Many of these seem a little mixed up and over complicated, while I’m sure the aficionados will soon decypher it, I would have preferred to see talents and attributes combined into a simpler system.
RPG fans will be in awe of the level of detail you can go to when customising your powers and progression, although the control scheme for this can feel a little off putting, especially to those less experienced in role playing games.
The Back button takes you into the main gear menu, allowing you to access your bag, and sort through your equipment as well as the skill tree’s for skills, talents and attributes. Then there’s also the left-bumper which slows time to a crawl and allows you the chance to select and switch your technomancy powers on the fly.
Using a primary button for what could be held within one of the many menu’s seems a little awkward and even after hours of play I was catching LB causing an annoying pause mid-game when I was trying to use LT to access powers in the heat of the battle.
Thankfully controls elsewhere are more than adequate, sure there’s quite a bit to learn, but when you do get used to switching stances and using powers, mixed with the basic attacks and the all important dodge, you’ll soon be taking down groups of enemies in no time.
Due to the action orientated gameplay, things do feel a little Mass Effect at times, and I feel the developers Spiders, have taken quite a bit of inspiration from Bioware’s amazing RPG both visually and in how the game handles.
There’s the mixture of conversations, travelling, combat and exploration and each feels well made, some weak enemy Artificial Intelligence left me able to attack single enemies while their friends nearby watched on oblivious before they suddenly received an invisible boot up their back side and jumped into the battle, enemies are also fairly predictable, melee foes will run in close, while those with guns will keep their distance, but moving into a closed area would easily allow you to split them up, Boss characters while impressive in size are also on the weaker side of AI with a few sticking to a handful of attacks which simply vary dependent on how close you are, a few killed me a couple of times, but after learning their attacks you will quickly make short work of them.
This isn’t always the case, and level design plays a big part in this, giving you less options on how to fight, made the battles more demanding and while tougher, they also felt much more rewarding.
A.I extends to the NPC characters as well. While many RPG’s give you a real sense of a living, breathing town as folk go about their everyday lives, these central hubs feels somewhat empty, there’s regularly NPC’s standing around, but few can be spoken to, or even more from their pre-defined spot and many will sit in a small animation loop which means standing beside them for 10 seconds shows you their life story (a very bland, empty on at that) I can’t help thinking to titles like Fallout, Elder Scrolls or Indeed Mass Effect where you could follow somebody for ten minutes as they handle just a few of their daily duties and you still leave feeling like you’ve barely had a glimpse of what their day entails.
To give you a rough idea, in one of the central hubs, I fond about 1 in 10 people would actually talk, with only about half even moving around, It’s just a little difficult to get the idea of a busy hub, when only a dozen or so people actually feel real.
One area many of the major RPG’s do well has to be the graphics and sound, so I was very pleased when I first fired up Technomancer to see that the developers have done a great job in both areas.
Graphically as mentioned above, It sits beside Mass Effect 3, in both overall gloss and the level of detail in many of the characters faces, I’m not quite sure how next-gen they are, but they’re certainly heading in that direction, whether it’s the wrinkles on the face, or the animations of the characters, conversations and cut-scenes are certainly more likely to please onlookers, in game there’s obviously not quite the same level of detail, but the aesthetics mostly depends on where you are, out in the baron deserts, things looks quite dull, a somewhat bland mixture of architecture poking out of the desert, yet head indoors and the detail takes a step up and creates some very believable and interesting environments which can only be described as beautiful to witness, especially inside the main areas.
There are a few issues, I had a few characters pop-in as I turned a corner, and some textures inside are still pretty bland copy and pastes, and over delicate clipping means you’ll regulalry get stuck on the corner of the scenery,and the occasional camera issues aren’t a deal breaker but certainly require a mention. Overall the graphics have to go down as slightly above average even if a little off the mark at times.
Sound is above average across the board, sure I would have liked to have heard more chit-chat on my travels, but the majority you come across sounds like a flowing conversation, and for the main actors the voice-acting is on par with some of the best RPG’s, even though some of the NPC’s do feel a little too scripted.
Sound effects fill the game from the buzz of electricity to the footsteps are all well defined and alongside a varied and discreet soundtrack there’s little I can fault about the sound.
The story begins fairly slow as is often the case in a large RPG, but within half an hour you feel part of the story and beside having to spend the time to navigate areas to progress, the actual pace feels just about right, there’s plenty of depth, twists and turns and more than enough dialogue to keep you interested, and with about 30 hours of gameplay, it’s not a story you’ll fly though, add to that many of the optional side-quests and you’ll easily be looking towards 50 hours With both the story and your character evolving at a pretty stable pace.
With so many options RPG side on how to progress your character, I found it was best to concentrate on the area’s that stood out as elements I’d use more, such as the staff, because the mace and shield defensive stance doesn’t suit my play-style, It certainly served me well though time and time again I found myself overlooking my equipment and concentrating on my skills, which certainly made life a little more awkward for me.
There’s plenty of time to upgrade with your character levelling up at a steady pace, and unlock points awarded every 4 levels, you’ll find you’re not having to wait too long before having access to some of the more useful or exciting skills.