In an industry that has seemingly forgotten how to make a proper RPG, Spiders have to once again remind us what an actual RPG looks like; and that RPG is The Technomancer. Developed by Spiders and published by Focus Home Interactive, The Technomancer is a third person RPG in the same vein as its predecessor, the criminally underrated, Mars: War Logs.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So it's a good thing that The Technomancer's weakest link happens to be redeemable. The Technomancer puts you in the shoes of Zachariah Mancer; a newly initiated Technomancer that is contracted to work with a powerful corporation on Mars. Unfortunately, revealing any more of the story would spoil too many of the twists and reveals. Oddly enough, many of the big twists aren't all that surprising, but the smaller, more character specific reveals, are much more surprising. The main story in The Technomancer isn't all that interesting or engaging, and mainly serves as a means to shuffle you along from one place to another.
Luckily, this is easily redeemed by the fleshed characters you meet along your journey. Zachariah isn't alone on his quests. You will also have two companions with you at all times, and you are able to choose from a large, diverse cast to bring along with you. Taking the time to speak to your companions is crucial as it not only will that unlock new quests, but it also allows you to get to know them. Almost all of you companions feel like real people with real goals. Given the desolate nature of the game, you will often hear a saddening story from a companion's past that is genuinely believable due to the writing and delivery by the voice actor. I haven't genuinely cared about a cast of characters like this since Mass Effect 2 from all the way back in 2010.
The world of The Technomancer feels well crafted and each location's culture and populous differ from each other. I can't say that it feels like a living, breathing world as you play because it doesn't. Sure, you will occasionally pass by groups of NPCs in city hubs talking about events that are unfolding, but these interactions are few and far between. Locations can range from giant mega cities constructed by corporations with a government run purely by corporate interest in mind, to slums put together over decades by people with scrap metal they happen to come by, to baron wastelands once inhabited by early settlers of Mars. Once you begin to tire of a city hub, you will be introduced to another filled to the brim with even more lore and quests.
One feature The Technomancer would have benefited greatly from was a codex for all the lore and characters. The world of The Technomancer is one of the most original and interesting I've seen in almost 10 years, but the only way to learn more about the game's lore is to ask certain characters about locations and factions or eavesdrop on NPCs speaking to one another.
Being that this is an open world RPG, you will eventually have to make moral decisions that will affect who lives and who dies or your own personal karma and reputation with other characters. Most of the choices you will have to make are fairly binary that have little lasting impact on you. The biggest punishment you'll get is a lowered reputation level for a certain faction, but that may also cause you to no longer be able to receive quests from the faction you scorned. In fact, there are a few decisions that are some of the most morally ambiguous I've ever seen in a game, especially for some of the companions and quests towards the end.
As a third person RPG, The Technomancer could have gone one of two routes; it could have been a generic cover shooter or it could do something original. Thankfully, we got the latter. Technomancers, themselves, are highly skilled warriors that are capable of using mage-like abilities to control electricity in battle for offensive and defensive purposes. The Technomancer focuses almost solely on melee combat, of which, there are three combat stances/modes: Warrior, Rogue, and Guardian. All of which are just as important as the others.
Warrior allows you to wield a two handed staff that swings somewhat slow, but deals a considerable amount of damage. You won't be able to block with Warrior though. Your only defence is to dodge. Rogue gives the player a short blade in one hand and a gun in the other. The attacks from the rogue stance are quick, but don't deal a lot of damage. The gun in this stance is similar to Bloodborne's as it is more of a defensive weapon to disrupt attacks with. Again, you can't block with this stance, but you can still dodge. Guardian, the final stance allows the player to wield a blunt object and shield. The attacks are about as fast as the Warrior stance, but you can actually defend yourself with the shield.
Initially, it seemed as though all you had to do was tap X until your enemies died, but you'll quickly realize that will only result in your own untimely demise. The enemy AI will adapt if you begin mashing one button and promptly counter you dealing massive damage. So you should be ready to change stances quickly, and adapt to the enemy and situation as you'll find one strategy isn't strong in every case.
Technomancer abilities do seem seem a bit underwhelming with their extent being electrifying weapons and shooting lightning from your hands to temporarily stun your opponent. You do feel a sense of superiority as a Technomancer since you hardly ever face enemies that have similar powers. Although this will amount to nothing if you take the combat as a joke because you will quickly realize that, if you aren't thinking, the enemy can get the upper hand and kill you.
In The Technomancer, exposure to the sun on mars will cause severe radiation sickness and transform people into mutants with deformed bodies and altered DNA. This is something that is explained in the opening cutscene and through a few other cutscenes along with the existence of the mutant factions in the game that have been exposed to the sun. Since The Technomancer already has a day/night cycle, this idea sounds great. You would only be able to leave cities at night to avoid the exposure to the sun resulting in the death of you and your companions. Sadly though, this isn't an actual gameplay feature. The only times that the sun's radiation is any danger to anyone is during cutscenes. Otherwise, it's purely aesthetic. That is such a missed opportunity for a unique gameplay mechanic.
You have no idea how refreshing it is to play an RPG that has the guts to tell you that you can't have every perk and ability in one playthrough. You will have to play through The Technomancer multiple times to see and experience everything it has to offer. For me, that's a proper RPG. You are more than welcome to level up each combat stance and pick new perks, but you will have to choose wisely. Often times you have to choose between perks such as doing more damage in a certain stance or increasing the likelihood of getting a critical hit. You can't have both. The Technomancer also isn't afraid to throw you in a big world and let you figure everything out. After a short combat tutorial, which you can choose to skip, you are on your own. It feels wonderful not being treated like a child and being led around by your hand.
Creating a game with a lived in world, compelling characters, and fully fleshed out combat just wasn't enough for developer Spiders. On top of everything The Technomancer has to offer, you are also given an in depth crafting system not unlike the crafting in Spiders' previous game, Bound By Flame. Almost every item of clothing and weapons can be upgraded and health items can be crafted.
In the world of The Technomancer, you will be able to find varying qualities of metal and leather, and misc items in containers and on defeated enemies in order to craft and upgrade items to survive longer on Mars. The upgrades for articles of clothing typically fall under three levels of damage reduction, disruption, and energy regeneration. Whereas, weapons can be upgraged for either increased damage, increased disruption, or increased critical hit chances. Again, just like the skill system, you can't have it all at once and will be forced to swap out and choose each upgrade.
You will often find yourself digging in trashcans or dead bodies looking for the last ingredient for your upgrade, or scrounging up enough money to afford a recipe to craft better upgrades. The crafting system is much more in depth and involving than I thought it would be and is almost a game in itself. Some enemies may be more susceptible to disruption, and some enemies are mainly susceptible to critical hits, so you will need to swap out your increased damage upgrade for an increased disruption upgrade or critical hit upgrade.
Don't expect the latest AAA lensflare simulator when picking up The Technomancer. Textures aren't anything to write home about, but some of the vistas can be downright breathtaking. There were multiple times where The Technomancer rendered me immobile as I stared at the awe inspiring view. As for texture models, they are serviceable, but in the current year just don't stand up to most games released so far. But if you only care about graphics, please stop playing video games.
The version of The Technomancer I played the most was on Xbox One. Obviously, it wasn't as graphically appealing as on PC, but some of the textures were surprisingly bad. Character and weapon textures were okay, but many of the rocks and buildings in the world looked almost untextured and seemed to be only a flat color. Despite this, the Xbox One version ran smoothly and hardly ever fell below 30 frames.
I mentioned briefly before that the voice acting is delivered well enough to compliment the writing and make characters believable. That is with the exception of whomever is voicing the playable character, Zachariah. His performance is constantly fluctuating between perfect delivery and "that tone has nothing to do with the situation." It's a shame really, because his performance is crucial to keeping players emotionally invested in the story, and I believe that's partially why I found it so hard to actually care about the main story. It's a good thing that your companions and the actual world of The Technomancer make up for that make up for it.
The soundtrack for The Technomancer can only be described as synth slathered supremacy. It is a large conglomeration of many instruments, but seeing how this is a cyberpunk game, synthesizers are the star of the show. The Technomancer knows when to expertly cut through a tense moment with a brooding 80's synthesizer that even Charles Bronson would approve of. And then the game knows when to play a soft melody during an emotional scene. Every track compliments the given situations and never feels out of place.
The Technomancer achieved everything it strived for. A non-linear, proper RPG with an emphasis on storytelling and combat. Admittedly, it stumbled over a few hurdles, but was still able to finish the race gloriously. For me, it's safe to say that The Technomancer is one of the best game of 2016. An indie developer was able to make a cyberpunk RPG to rival Mass Effect, one of the biggest AAA franchises on the market. Take that in, and do yourself a favor, don't miss out on The Technomancer.