Although developer Spiders previous release - Bound by Flame - left the Red Planet behind in favor of a fictional fantasy locale, The Technomancer is set in the same universe as 2013’s Mars: War Logs, returning players to the dangerous fourth planet from the Sun. Ambitious for a small independent studio, The Technomancer is quite a strong action role-playing game with enough content to warrant logging upwards of 40 hours to experience everything the game offers. At the same time, the game has the same rough edges that were apparent in both of their previous titles, but I wouldn’t be amiss to call The Technomancer the best game that Spiders has produced.
Set in the same universe as Mars: War Logs, the game revolves around dystopian corporations vying for complete planetary control of Mars, 200 years after the planet first became colonized. Players take on the role of Zachariah Mancer, a freshly minted Technomancer on Mars. As a small studio, budget restraints kept Spiders from developing both a female and male option when customizing your character, but they have improved the number of facial options compared to Bound by Flame. I do understand that some may be ticked off by this, but with the sheer amount of voice work included in the game, I think they made the right design decision.
Technomancers are beings with the ability to harness electrical energy, which in itself makes them feared amongst the civilians already living under the oppression of the tyrants aiming to control every resource on the planet. The combat system has evolved, but still heavily focuses on blocking/parrying and dodging attacks. Even on the lowest difficulty, The Technomancer is an unforgiving game, especially for the first few hours. I had a similar experience in Bound by Flame, and already knew going into this game that saving often is important. Like, after every engagement often. There are three different combat stances, Warrior, Guardian, and Rogue, and depending on your preference, you could finish the game without spending too much time in the other two, but you would be limiting yourself.
I did use the Warrior stance the most, as using the stance allows you to use an extending two-handed polearm. While unable to block in this stance, you can evade incoming attacks, as well as punish your foes with direct sweeping combos or area of effect (AoE) crowd control attacks when you find yourself surrounded. You’ll often be at a disadvantage in engagements, so it is highly useful skill. If using a one-handed weapon and blocking is more your style, Guardian provides you with a mace and a shield. It’s perfect for defensively focused players, as you must block and attempt to counter-attack. Anyone using the Rogue stance will want to keep moving, and try and surprise your foes with quick strikes from your deadly knife and a ranged weapon.
Being a Technomancer, you do have a fourth option for combat, used in conjunction with the other three stances. As Bound by Flame focused on Pyromancy (you should have guessed that based off the title), The Technomancer allows players to wield the awesome power of electricity, shooting crackling bolts of energy from your hands. There are plenty of various powers and buffs that you’ll unlock for your electric arsenal. At the same time, you can also infuse your weapons, wrapping deadly blue lightning bolts around them for additional benefits. All four combat schools have their own skills tree, adding new active abilities and even some passive ones based on how you want to play. These can be upgraded, taking your skills in different directions suiting your play style. Talents can bolster your crafting, lockpicking, trap making and charisma to increase your chance of successfully haggling with local merchants. Finally, attributes raise your character stats, one for each of the four schools of combat, such as strength, and agility.
Armor can be inlaid with upgrades allowing for damage reduction for various types of damage, such as poison, physical, electrical and more. This is only touching the surface of the game’s crafting system. Every armor piece and weapon will have upgradable components, to increase their value and usefulness. You will not have to worry about spending all your time alone, as your gain companions regularly to join on your adventure across the red planet. You will want to complement your play style, and I spent most of the time trying to perfect my own combat weaknesses, with companions that would help improve my chances of surviving engagements. There are quests for each of the companions, as well as unique dialogue options based on who is following you at the time. Their equipment can be customized, making it worth your time looting defeated foes to find upgrades not only for yourself, but for your companions. The game’s dynamic pause menu, slowing down the action to a crawl, allows you to provide orders to your companions, such as focusing on defensive skills or offensive ones. However, more likely than not, they will go head-to-head with foes and lose. Even during the game’s tutorial mission, your companion, who is supposed to be much stronger than you had close to zero health in every encounter.
Outside of combat, which feels better the more practice you have with the game, you’ll explore varied locations, including a few different towns to expand the lore of the game, pick up side-quests, and haggle with vendors. Unlike typical role-playing games where you stockpile quests, The Technomancer puts a timer on some of them, usually with a narrative element on why they must be completed within a set time.
While The Technomancer is not the first and won’t be the last title to have a different price tag based on platform (PC vs. consoles). At a cheaper price point on Steam (and just about everywhere else that sells digital PC games), the game’s jank can almost be forgiven at the lower price point, especially when coming from a small independent studio. Sure, there are parts of the game that I do not enjoy, but when you compare this to many AAA and full-priced games that have come out recently, The Technomancer includes much more bang for your buck. On console, however, that is another story altogether. As a full-price $59.99 game, I find it a bit harder to recommend the game on consoles until it can be purchased for a discounted price.
The Technomancer won’t be for everyone, much like Spiders’s two other released RPGs. The game’s main story has some serious heft, and many different side quests, although they do feel mundane and repeitious during the second act. The combat puts dodging and evading on a higher priority than anything else, similar to the combat mechanics in The Witcher 3. Despite the issues, I’ve found that I cannot stop playing this ambitious title, even after I have finished it. It is a bummer that the game is priced higher on consoles, but if you have an adequate PC, you should think about picking up the game.Note: The Technomancer review is based on a digital PC copy of the game, provided by the publisher.