Of all the varied genres in the realm of video games, Role Playing Games are some of the most beloved out there. This genre has also seen a dramatic number of changes over the decades, with recent iterations catering more to action and adventure and venturing further away from the “pencil and paper” roots of it’s early predecessors. One of the most enjoyable and well-liked franchises is Knights of the Old Republic; simply saying the title of this game around old-school gamers is likely to start up quite the conversation, and is equally likely to bring back great memories of gaming on the original Xbox console.
I mention that game in particular because Technomancer, developed by Spiders and published by Focus Home Entertainment, is so very similar to a mid-2000’s Bioware release that I found myself questioning what year it was. All of the hallmarks from the height of the science fiction RPG genre are here: deep character and skill customization, weapon and armor collection and improvement, intricate if nuanced combat, and a rich narrative told through interspersed sections of action and dialogue.
It is worth mentioning, however, that this game will certainly not appeal to everyone, even though it really should. This isn’t a game that likes to hold your hand and walk you through what’s going on, though it does take great care in making sure you can figure out where you need to be going next. The game also isn’t perfect, but where it’s good it excels. Let’s take a closer look.
Get Your Ass to Mars
Technomancer takes place on Mars, where colonial life has sprung up centuries after colonists left earth to sow their seeds among the stars. But as is often the case with science fiction in general, things are not going well for our astral pioneers. Colonial life on Mars has been separated into a caste system, with all walks of life represented. Corporations control access to water in the form of Serum, which is essentially the most important resource on the entire planet. These corporations vie for control of territory that gives them ready access to various resources, including the ever-important Serum.
You play the game as Zachariah Mancer, a newly initiated technomancer. Technomancers are able to exude electricity from their bodies and channel it into attacks, improve weaponry with temporary boosts, and gain unparalleled control over electronic devices with ease. Given their superhuman abilities, you’d think they rest at the top of Martian society, but you’d be wrong. Corporations use the technomancers as lapdogs and soldiers, and once you’ve been discovered as having an affinity for technomancy, your life is essential forfeit to them. But the technomancers themselves harbor a very important secret, and only they are allowed to know it. I won’t spoil it here as I think it would really hurt the narrative should you decide to play the game.
I can’t say much about the story here, either, but I can assure you that it’s pretty solid and I had no major complaints during my time with the game. Characters felt pretty well fleshed out, even though some of the voice acting did feel a bit hammed-up and cheesy. That being said, the narrative itself is top notch and rewards those that are looking for an immersive science fiction epic to take part in.
I Know Kung-Fu
As I’ve previously mentioned, technomancers are used as soldiers in Martian society, so it stands to reason that they’re trained from a very young age not only to harness their abilities, but to also become proficient with simple arms and martial arts techniques. The game gives you the choice of using a staff, a mace and shield, or a pistol and knife. Each of these combinations is suited to a particular playstyle, and they each have strengths and weaknesses. Staff combat is all around pretty strong and is seen as the trademark combat form for all technomancers, regardless of specialty. Mace and Shield are intended for a more defensive style of combat, offering you the ability to block attacks and counter with a vicious shield bash. The knife and pistol combination are intended as all out damage and are great for those that prefer to strike and move.
Each weapon or combat proficiency not only comes with it’s own skill tree, but it also prefers a specific stat. If you desire to be good at using a staff, for instance, you’ll need to focus on strength. Each of the stat distributions made sense for what was required of that specific path, and I feel that some pretty decent thought was put into the whole system.
Aside from the basic stat choices, you also talents that improve your character in a variety of ways. Most of these abilities don’t relate to combat, and help you progress your character outside of fighting. You could improve your ability at picking locks and being sneaky in general, for instance. Or you could focus on science disciplines and become more adept at making serums and potions. One of the most useful talents is the charisma, which allows you to persuade or even intimidate the individuals you come across in the story. This allowed me more avenues for exploration outside of just fighting everyone, and as far as I could tell was the only way to complete quests in certain directions.
No RPG would really be complete without a bevy of weapons and armor to aide you in your journey, and fortunately the game doesn’t disappoint in this category. Not only are there a wide selection of armor and weapons to choose from, each has various upgrade potential and you’re rewarded for putting time and effort into these selections. Weapons each have various “nodes” that you can attach upgrades to, and most pieces of armor will have reinforcement options that drastically change the appearance of the item in question; this visual change applies to weapons as well.
I’ve always regarded my character’s appearance with the utmost importance in an RPG as I feel that it not only helps immersion, but also gives you a visual indication of progression and change. The added bonus is that the way you modify your armor is reflected on it’s outward appearance; i.e., adding more damage reducing plates makes your character look heavily armored, while choosing speed-enhancing fabrics made you look more stealthy and quick.
In addition to your own modifications, many pieces of armor and weapons come with innate bonuses built-in to the item that give you an edge for that particular set. Some grant you talent bonuses, such as the Vory Jacket that gives you +1 to Lockpicking (it’s named after the Vory street gang, so it makes sense).
All told, this isn’t a type of game you really see anymore, with great attention to detail given to almost every facet of the game. From the detailed and interesting environments, to the customization and character upgrades, you’re unlikely to run out of things to do while you’re playing this game.
I don’t feel as though citing combat difficulty is ever really a valid complaint unless the combat system is broken. I’m reminded of a time when Dark Souls had come out and people decried it as a “bad game” simply for being punishingly difficult. Technomancer isn’t as difficult as Dark Souls, but it does punish you for making bad decisions or not taking the combat seriously enough. I felt as though I was given all the necessary tools, and any failing was mine and mine alone. The camera and controls were responsive and quick, and I can only recall two instances of terrain collision with the map and camera during 20+ hours of gameplay.
I would definitely recommend this game to fans of the bygone RPG era of Bioware, science fiction fans, or those looking for something different and unique.