There’s a lot to gain for many in this industry by exploiting the supposed contrast between AAA and indie games. That leaves out one aspect of the equation, though; B-list games from lesser-known developers like Spiders. These exist in a sort of limbo between AAA and indie – they can’t throw out the kind of money that big studios do, but they also can’t bank on “just one guy made this” as a marketing strategy. That means that games like The Technomancer, a psuedo-sequel to the little-known RPG Mars: War Logs, can end up left in the lurch.
The Technomancer casts you in the role of the titular space wizard, Zachariah Mancer, who is customizable to a limited degree not including gender or name. People are named after their jobs, y’see. It’s still kind of dumb, but that’s what you’re stuck with. Zach lives in the corporate colony of Abundance, where he’s beholden to the wishes of the Abundance army, the citizens living there and even the Technomancer cabal itself. It’s not easy being Zach, and it’s even harder when he learns a dark secret about the cabal that could bring the whole system crashing down, causing him to question his loyalties on every side and sending him on the run from the space Gestapo.
This is basically a setup to the typical open-world RPG we’ve come to expect from series like The Witcher and Knights of the Old Republic. Zach has urgent business to attend to, but often you’ve got the time to slow down and get sidequests done. Completing them earns you money (called Serum here) and experience points, completing many of them results in gaining levels and eventually you’ll have completed enough to finish the game.
Character development is associated with those levels. Each level earns you a point to boost one of your skills, which are divided between the stances we’ll discuss later. Every so often you’ll also gain a talent point, which boost your non-combat skills; there are quite a few of these and they vary in value, with the most useful appearing to be diplomacy and lockpicking, but you can make up for low scores in a given non-combat skill using gear. The least common points add to your attributes, which provide a significant boost to Zach’s stats and determine what gear is available to use. Zach’s class is always the same, but your point investment can significantly alter the way the game plays out.
Zach’s adventures are generally interesting enough, and certainly you’ll be more likely to pay attention to what’s going on than you would in Mars: War Logs. You’ll travel from place to place in a Mars rover and scour the world for new quests to do. The version of Mars we’re shown here is fascinating both in terms of the actual setting as well as the political intrigue and tension between factions that serves as the focus of the game. The various missions and sidequests all offer chances to learn more about the world, which is nice; my only real complaint is Zachariah’s voice acting, which is absolutely horrendous and kind of an issue when he’s the character who talks the most throughout the game.
Questing typically involves going to beat up baddies, and The Technomancer uses a variation on the combat system seen in Mars: War Logs. Zach carries several weapons, each associated with a particular stance; Warrior stance uses a staff, Guardian stance a mace and shield, and Rogue stance a knife and pistol. Each has their own benefits, focusing on area attacks, defensive combat and high damage respectively. You can switch between them as you’d like in battle along with commanding electrical Technomancer spells that are generic between stances. Your defensive capabilities are much less impressive, and enemies tend to do Dark Souls levels of damage, so you’ll need to practice dodge rolling and stay away from your foes to stay alive.
This probably sounds more complex than it actually is; I ended up spending most of my time in Warrior stance. This stance’s powerful staff attacks are helpful, but more importantly the stance features an enemy-disrupting kick that turns most fights into a joke. You can kick enemies out of their own attacks with little risk whenever you see them starting to swing, cancelling their attack and letting you get in some jabs of your own. Combine this with the powerful Technomancer spells and most battles will be over in a snap, though things might be a little less cut and dry on higher difficulties.
The Technomancer’s presentation is…passable, I suppose. It’s definitely not the prettiest thing you’ll see on consoles, but it’s on par with Spider’s previous title Bound by Flame; I wouldn’t be surprised if this could run on a PS3, but it could be worse. Characters’ voice acting is generally acceptable with the aforementioned exception of our hero, who alternates between sounding like he’s trying way too hard and sounding like he’s just in the studio for the paycheck. I didn’t run into any bugs during my time with the game, though load times could be significant, which encouraged me to save often just in case so I wouldn’t have to replay any portions of the game I’d already finished.
If you’ve already finished The Witcher 3 and its lengthy DLC campaigns, then I’d be surprised if you were still hungry for more of the same style of gameplay. Still, The Technomancer is here for you if you just can’t get enough. It’s not going to be anyone’s favorite game, but it’s a solid B-list game in an era where B-list games don’t get a lot of love. You could do much worse than an expedition on Mars, and this one just might tide you over until Mass Effect: Andromeda launches.