The Mass Effect trilogy, specifically the second game, was the last truly great western RPG that I sunk my teeth into and, more specifically, a ridiculous amount of time. Enthralling characters, bigger-than life stories that made your contribution to the ongoing war even more engaging. Accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack, superb voice acting and a well-designed conversation wheel, these additions made it without shadow of a doubt one of the best game series of the last generation. Could The Technomancer live up to a game such as that, or even exceed it, especially in a genre that has been somewhat dormant for some time?
Since the game was first announced, the title has been shrouded in mystery. Trailer by trailer, screenshot by screenshot, we’ve started to relish in the lavish environments that we will be so merrily skipping around in as Zachariah, the titular Technomancer. As a Technomancer, you represent powerful corporations that fight over control over Mars’s most precious commodity, being water. Oh, and you can control lightning too, obviously. His personal story is slightly less intriguing and borderline cliche, being that he is on the run after a troubled past, but when compared to the larger story at hand, it pales in comparison.
In terms of story and how that is delivered, the game falters where it matters most. Sub-par voice acting plagues your experience, immediately taking me back to early PlayStation 2 levels of quality (Jak & Daxter not-withstanding) and often jarring facial animations from all characters, it’s hard to relate, let alone care about the choices and dilemmas that are laid out to bare throughout your time in this world. Graphically, the characters lack a certain pizzazz, but the environments make up for it, and then some. From the out lands of Mars to the slums, the populated cities; everything has it’s distinctive feel, and each feels incredibly expansive. This can be, however, sometimes to it’s detriment, more so with the slums that are accessible early in the game, as it often feels complicated for the sake of it, as opposed to enhance the feeling of a poverty-stricken underworld. This all being said, the level of detail that has gone into the environments is incredibly impressive, it’s core purpose to be to add to the lore and let the environment tell you all you need to know about the barren world that you find yourself an unfortunate inhabitant on.
Within an hour or two, you’ll find yourself accompanied by companions who sole purpose, apart from following you around no questions asked, is to aid you when in battle. Whilst I say no questions asked, that is specifically only in relation to battle. Outside of battle, if one of your companions does not agree with a moral choice you have made during a quest, they will make their feelings known, whether that be by voicing their opinion or by leaving your party altogether. You can find out more about your companions that you chose to accompany you at any time by talking to them in the field. Further into the game, you’ll be able to pick and choose your willing accomplices as you see fit, making sure their thoughts and feelings are in alignment to your own. Referring back to combat, whether they are genuinely useful is a different matter, as the impact they have in terms of damage dealt is minimal, but I always found that, as long as they were engaging and keeping enemies busy, it was good enough for me. Individual upgrade paths and gear were present for these AI controlled sacks of digital meat, but as stated, if they were getting hit and I was not, I was content.
Whilst I’ve sounded less than happy with most areas of the game, combat was the area of the game that I did truly enjoy, with there being two caveats to that. The first being, in conjunction with an often awkward camera, small environments did not only make the combat feel cheap but also not enjoyable in the slightest. The second, which was a larger issue, was that the combat lacked finesse, meaning that button mashing could often achieve the same results as a thoroughly thought-out strategy. Hit box detection was temperamental at best but, as a whole, combat was fluid and fast, specifically when masterfully used in conjunction with the multiple fighting styles; Warrior (Staff), Rogue (Dagger and Pistol) and Guardian (Mace and Shield). Being able to swap on the fly meant that you could adapt to the battle’s ebb and flow, defending one moment following up with an AoE sweep with your electrified staff. Each combat style, as well as a separate Technomancer style for lightning-based attacks, have comprehensive skill trees, and coupled with Zachariah’s talent tree that impact on persuasion, opening lock-picks, as well as many others, the depth that gaining experience provides is truly staggering. Whether or not it was useful is a different matter entirely. Sticking to one style, and often one plan of attack, would be enough for all situations.
I wanted to enjoy the game more than I did. I really, really wanted to. A nuisance every here and there, one being that it’s far too easy to skip a cutscene accidentally and, as stated earlier, sudden and jagged frame animations immediately pulled from this otherwise enticing game, and the combat could often feel epic, yet never too easy and straight forward. I hope that, soon after release, when the team at Spiders and Focus Home Interactive have been able to release a patch or two to help alleviate said issues, I will be able to jump in and truly enjoy what I’m sure will be a cult classic. For the moment, however, it stubbornly has it’s feet planted in mediocrity. With additional time and love, it could border on being good, but nothing more.