Technomancer is a very deceptive game. Watch the trailers and you might expect a game in a similar vein to Mass Effect or Dragon Age, maybe with a little Alpha Protocol and Witcher thrown in, set in an unusual and innovate sci-fi universe. Don’t be fooled, Technomancer isn’t in the same league as any of those games, and while fun can be had with it, you’ll never quite get away from the constant disappointment.
As a sort-of sequel to Mars: The War Logs (although abandoning the name thanks to that game’s poor reception), Technomancer follows the story of a new recruit taking on missions and uncovering mysteries in a range of mostly dreary red and blue landscapes and abandoned facilities. The game looks surprisingly gorgeous, with impressive lighting and a real sense of scale, with a huge draw distance that lets you watch enemies milling about below. Unfortunately this sense of scale is created by huge empty spaces, and you’ll be finding loads of these. Even the main hub city where you’ll be doing your shopping, is almost entirely empty and means you have to run for ages to get from street to street. On missions you’ll find yourself travelling from enormous cavern to enormous building to enormous nest, but with no interesting details or purpose along the way. It’s like a budget game has been artifically blown up into something that could look at a glance like something Bioware had created, even if it doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. The cynical critic in me feels that this might have been exactly the point. Perhaps the developers were simply too ambitious and bit off more than they could chew, but it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that they managed to make things look right, even if it covers up the massive failings underneath.
The combat is incredibly guilty of this impressive facade with nothing underneath. You select from three different fighting styles then a range of abilities and spells are layered on top of that. In motion it looks quite fluid, with your character darting around, flipping, battling large numbers of enemies at once, and having to use all of their abilities to stay alive, while your NPC teammates do the same. In reality none of the attacks have any punch, all the magic is electricity based and dull to watch, more often than not your attacks (and the enemies’) will just whiff through the air completely missing, and at no point does the combat feel balanced. As you progress through the game more and more of your opponents are armed with guns, and they can absolutely destroy you as you have no real efficient way to close the distance, and when you do get close, they just pull out a sword and can beat you with that too. To get through these sections we ended up finding exploits with the AI where we could hide behind a corner and take out the few that were willing to give chase while the ranged ones just stood there gormless until all their friends were kind of dead. Bosses suffer from the same problems, your attacks seem completely ineffectual other than reducing the life bar a little bit, and they just repeat the same attacks in a predictable rotation over and over until the fight ends. There’s no nuance or innovation, it’s just a matter of working out how many hits you can get in at a time, then running away until they go through their routine again.
The crafting system too, appears quite good at a first glance. Each item has a number of crafting points, allowing you to modify, for example, the blade and the hilt of a sword. In practice the modifications are dull and don’t change the gameplay much, while gathering the crafting resources is an incredible grind that involves you standing over every single enemy and either searching them or skinning them if they don’t have pockets (leggings fans beware!). The morality system is also there in name only really. You can gather a few more resources from enemies if you want by draining them, but this kills them. We’re meant to assume that when you electrocuted that guy and shot him three times in the face you really just put him to sleep, unless you decide to drain him. Whether you choose to be a mass murdering psychopath or just rely on your firm belief that no-one you attacked actually died doesn’t really change much as far as we can tell beyond some dialogue between your team members.
Overall Technomancer is impressive for a small team with a small budget, it looks pretty great and it is a long game. But so much of the game is lacking that it’s simply no fun to play. Even the very first mission becomes a tedious grind, and it never lets up. For an RPG to be this focused on combat you really need the combat to be first class, and with that being more of a frustration, this game completely fails. Avoid.