The Technomancer: 2016's First True Disappointment | A Short Pause Review
2016 was to be a year full of promising new games. From Rebel Galaxy to Quantum Break, I knew coming into this year that I’d have my hands full with a variety of brand new experiences. Rolling into the summer – my backlog bursting with titles from earlier in the year such as Doom and Ratchet & Clank – I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of The Technomancer. The trailers I saw prior to launch showcased what appeared to be a Mars full of dangerous creatures and a combat system reminiscent of the popular Batman: Arkham series. I tore into the game with baited breath, only to find my first true disappointment of what’s so far been a banner year for gaming.
Title: The Technomancer
Release Date: 6/28/16
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
The Technomancer is a sci-fi RPG from Spiders — the folks who brought you Bound by Flame — which follows the trials and tribulations of Zachariah Rogue Mancer. Set on the barren planet of Mars, the story follows Zachariah and the Technomancers — a group of individuals gifted with electrical powers — and their quest to re-establish contact with Earth once again. Along the way, Zachariah gets swept up into the middle of an ongoing war between the various factions trying to establish their dominance on the Red Planet. He’ll fight together with a number of the planet’s leaders utilizing not only his powers and different fighting stances, but the relationships he’s built up with these groups throughout his journey.
Hot off of the disappointing “showing” of Mass Effect: Andromeda at this year’s EA E3 showcase, The Technomancer comes across as a game looking to fill the void left by Andromeda’s delay into 2017. Peppered with tons of quests, sidequests and deep upgrading systems, fans looking for that next sci-fi time-sink unfortunately may not want to settle on this trudge through Mars. It’s clear that a lot of inspiration was taken from Mass Effect itself, however, The Technomancer often feels like a disjointed mash-up of popular elements from the seminal Bioware games that players enjoyed. Cheesy and often poorly acted dialogue paired with a random reputation system that doesn’t make its intentions clear — nor how you might influence a faction or particular character of interest one way or another — doesn’t do any favors for the already mediocre story on display. There’s also an overly complex upgrade system that seems poorly thought out, and it makes the road to feeling like the badass-force-to-be-reckoned-with that a Technomancer should be an exceedingly long one.
Maybe it’s because I haven’t played a ton of Mass Effect (or really many of these “time-vampire” RPGs) in the past, but I found playing The Technomancer on Normal to be overly challenging. It got to the point that I was so frustrated I just knocked the difficulty down to Easy and never looked back. Even though he’s supposedly a gifted being able to cast electric attacks out of his hands, Zachariah sure feels like he’s constantly against the odds as he battles many of the game’s generic human enemies. Battles often play out with Zach trying to dodge bullets from the enemies with guns, while also slowly chipping away at the 3-4 goons looking to pummel him while the gunner reloads. More often than not, I found myself mobbed in a corner trying to fight my way out in order to get some distance between myself and my foes to try and heal my character, only to end up with a bullet in the back leading to my demise. Even melee enemies only need 3 or 4 hits to kill you. On the other side of the coin, you’ll be doing a lot of kicking and swinging to eliminate just a single enemy as your teammates likely lay slain behind you. While combat can be a grind at times, I played through The Technomancer on the PlayStation 4, and I can at least say that the developers did a great job implementing the touchpad into the moment-to-moment gameplay. It became a crucial component to my success as I could simply swipe left, right, up, or down to use the items or powers that were assigned to these respective directions on my active pause screen – a screen otherwise accessed slower by holding L2 and pressing the face button tied to the needed ability or item.
The poorly implemented skill trees further keep poor Zachariah down as his powers are lumped into the same upgrade tree as his weapon stances – Warrior, Rogue and Guardian. This causes players to constantly have to decide if their crowd-controlling electrical powers or their chosen class stance need that upgrade point for additional damage. On top of this, there are 2 additional skill trees of which you sporadically earn upgrade points. One deals with various attributes relating to which pieces of armor and weapons you can equip, while the other one focuses on your extra character abilities, such as lock-picking and crafting. Due to the slow pace at which you earn upgrade points, I felt the game was often working against my need to equip better gear that might help even the odds during those frustrating battles.
Further putting a damper on the experience is the mission structure on display. Main missions are extremely generic and vary from fetch quests to escort missions (my favorite!). One particular mission left me with no clear way to progress. I was then funneled into a bland side mission with the hope that I could finally continue the main story upon completion. On top of that, the story itself is a generic political affair between the different factions vying for their stake on Mars, all of whom use Zachariah as a tool to further their own agendas. While it offers a world of promise, The Technomancer fails in every facet to deliver that “something special” that sci-fi RPG fans are currently clamoring for.
It’s not all doom and gloom with The Technomancer. There are a number of creatures that players will encounter throughout their travels that throw would-be Technomancers a proverbial gameplay curveball and offer up a unique combat experience. These massive, bug-like creatures require a change in tactics as you learn and react to attack patterns rather than dodge bullets and soldiers. These battles are a drastic change of pace and a welcome breath of fresh air. The moment you slay one of these foul creatures is the moment you truly get that sense of bad-assery that should come along with being a Technomancer. Unfortunately, there are only a small handful of these showdowns throughout the game and, while they are without a doubt the high point of the title, there just aren’t enough of them to salvage the overall underwhelming experience.
The Technomancer came to me as a title with great promise. Seemingly boasting an interesting world to explore and a story with great potential, I was extremely bummed at the experience that awaited me after booting up the game. A political agenda-driven tale is the last thing I was expecting – or hoping for – when I first stepped foot on Mars. The hit-and-miss voice acting further put a damper on any potential enjoyment I could have found within the story, as even some of the likeable characters eventually wore out their welcome. Mission progression is unnecessarily vague at times and seems to only be remedied by engaging in side missions that feel like an obvious layer of unwelcome padding as, more often than not, they serve as mere busy work. I never felt like a force-to-be-reckoned-with as a Technomancer, and I remain baffled by that fact. As someone who can shoot electricity out of their hands, this should have been a given. The overcomplicated skill trees feel as though they work against poor Zachariah, as his more powerful abilities are unlocked at the cost of much needed upgrades to your preferred combat stance. While the small variety of creatures and battles against the larger beasts came as a much needed breath of fresh air, they’re not enough to overlook the endless amounts of generic soldiers you’ll try to beat down on your journey to reconnect with Earth. If you’re looking at The Technomancer as your stopgap between now and the next epic from Bioware, tread with tempered expectations. The Technomancer will fail time and time again to scratch that itch genre fans have for the next great sci-fi RPG.
A review copy was generously provided to us by the fine folks at Focus Home Interactive.
- Creature boss battles are awesome
- Helpful touchpad integration on PS4 version
- Poorly told/acted story
- Unnecessarily difficult and clunky combat
- Confusing mission structure
- Poorly implement skill trees