Spiders are an interesting developer who know their niche and run with it. They aggressively tackle the narrow market of small scale, mostly linear RPGs. And to give them credit, every title they put out iterates on the formula or adds quirks that does move their now signature genre forward. The problem is, that the steps they make are so slight that by the time their new title comes out, their games feel dated as the game industry moves ever forward into the future. This remains true of Spiders’ recently released The Technomancer, a game which should’ve came out shortly after the very first Mass Effect back in 2007 if it wanted any chance to be looked upon favorably at all.
The Technomancer has you controlling, customizing, and leveling-up Zachariah Mancer, a member of the Technomancer faction with each individual member having the born talent of harnessing and projecting electricity. The world Zachariah lives in is a bleak one on the surface and tunnels of Mars. Radiation, dehydration, corporation control, crime syndicates, and mutated monsters are a daily threat in the corporation-city of Abundance. Zachariah is tasked with the ancient objective of the Technomancers which is to reestablish communications with the borderline mythical Earth colonies, which will require you to make choices throughout the game on who to align yourself with, make rivals of, and who to sacrifice in the pursuit of getting the hell off of Mars.
Generic? Yes, but the eternal potential of science fiction is that complicated themes and philosophies are baked into the foundations of science fiction, which very few other genres can claim. And The Technomancer, while being entirely predictably and surprisingly lacking even the simplest plot to follow, does try to comment on modern social issues like racism, discrimination, class warfare, and the horrors of scientific progress. But these topics are awkwardly explored, if even begrudgingly done as The Technomancer touches just about every sci-fi cliché out there, so in the progress a little bit of everything rubs up against it like an explorer trying to cut their way through a jungle. But instead of a city full of secrets and riches, all The Technomancer will discovery is mediocrity and the nagging question if this was just a gigantic waste of time. Well, was it?
I will say that on the mechanical side of what I would expect from an RPG, The Technomaner does deliver. There’s a ton of skills to invest on the multi-facet upgrade tree, different weapons you can craft and enhance with materials you’ll collect, engaging with dialogues with different characters and romantic interests, a good amount of side quests to complete, and the choices you can make at least signals that you have some input on how the story does resolve by the end regardless if you’ll care about it or not. The Technomancer has a class system which are tied to class specific weapons like Technomancer lightning, Warrior staves, Rogue daggers, and the Guardian mace and shield combo. With the classes tied to the weapons, it keeps everything nicely tied together and clear as to what exactly you are improving and how you are getting better.
But once you get past The Technomancer’s menus and calculating critical hit percentages, the actual combat in The Technomancer feels cheaper and more poorly considered than its story. The Technomancer’s combat system is a horrible combination of Batman: Arkham Asylum rhythm combat and Dark Souls animation priority and difficulty. You’ll be watching enemy animations to block or dodge their attacks, trying to manage your own flow between enemies to keep them away from you and your compatriots, and cycle through your abilities as they come off cooldown. The inherent contractions between these two different styles of combat system is revealed in the very first few encounters. Batman is hardly a challenging game and is more about keeping your monumental up and maintaining a combo flow; Dark Souls has more calculating combat where slow and predictable animations help leash an extremely difficult and unforgiving game. Their difference cannot be any more apparent and inconsolable, and this is what ultimately breaks The Technomancer and made it one of the more frustrating games I’ve ever played. And it just feels fundamentally flawed.
As The Technomancer asked me over and over again in its myriad combat encounters to be upbeat and to be calculating and to be constantly poking but to be aware of your large interruptible attacks and to also make sure you never take a hit but also make sure your idiot AI companions live just long enough to draw enemy fire, I realized how broken the entire thing is. While one-on-one fights are entirely manageable if not fun at all, anything more than that will instantly destroy you as enemies will bounce back and forth, perfectly timing their attack animations and obliterating you. This results in most fights in The Technomancer involving me just dodge rolling until my lightning spell recharged, firing it, rinse and repeat. And if don’t engage with the combat at all, when the required fights or boss encounters come around, you’ll be totally boned.
And strangely enough on the production end, The Technomancer is first of the Spiders titles that looks to be pursuing a more AAA quality. Some of the environment are surprisingly technically nice looking which none of the Spiders games have achieved up until this point with great lightning here and there. But this is also undone thanks to horrible combat, cut scene and facial animation quality which reminds me of now ancient stuff like Dragon Age: Origins, which even back in the day looked horrible, and now borders on the unacceptable. The score is a collection of unremarkable electronic sci-fi sounds, with zero personality whatsoever, just like The Technomancer’s uninspired urban sci-fi aesthetic.
In its pursuit to be everything from a Bioware RPG, to develop a large science fiction universe, a lightning quick Batman action game, a challenging and thoughtful Dark Souls combat experience, and all the while trying to chase a AAA budget production, The Technomancer ends up being nothing but an uncharismatic annoying mess. It’s not entirely broken by any means, but I honestly have no idea why you would want to play it. And if Spiders keep up making only small marginal amount of improvements for each new title, which in the case here in The Technomancer is a better roleplaying experience, then their future titles will begin to border on the unplayable.
TWO OUT OF FIVE
(A bad game with an abundance of flaws which outweigh its positive aspects)