Spiders’ The Technomancer is a disappointing dystopian science-fiction role playing game that if more polished would’ve been an enjoyable experience. Furthering its story and even exploring the world was a chore, as most of its mechanics feel archaic in the modern video game landscape.
Set in Mars, you play as technomancer named Zachariah, a soldier with the modified ability to manipulate electricity and deemed a dog of the military by society. Despite the game having character customization at the beginning of the game, the protagonist’s name and gender are fixed, which makes for a bland customization system that only affects your basic abilities and face.
There was not a single noteworthy event that took place in the narrative besides fighting a giant parasite at the very beginning of the game. And even then, it was only dramatic because I was still coming to terms with the game’s mechanics. Technomancer introduces too many new ideas, words and organizations at once and doesn’t give the player enough time to process each, making for a convoluted narrative.
The game threw me into a scene where my character is brought into the technomancy cult shortly after introducing the origins of technomancers in an unnecessarily complex way. There’s a hyperbolic level of seriousness to everything you’re doing but it’s never entirely explained why it matters and the reasons behind it. Dialogue is so overwhelmingly cliched and cheesy, with as dull lines as “leave it to me, sir,” and “Here is my report on the rogue captain, sir,” coming from the main character. I felt little emotion or expressive language in dialogue sequences to the extent that I felt the need to skip dialogue. The delivery of these lines are just as awkward and it ruins the immersion of the game.
The Technomancer’s voice acting is abysmally poor. The player’s occupation as a soldier in the military, again, doesn’t excuse them from having the driest voice possible, responding to every dialogue outcome with short affirmative statements. Companions are spread out in the game’s hub world, although they don’t do anything to break up the monotony. They are all uninteresting, one-dimensional, and are incredibly fragile, dying quickly in battle.
Even the doctor who is characterized as “quirky” and “on edge,” comes across as awkward and clunky because of poor delivery and timing in between lines of dialogue. There is very little character development as each character is very one-dimensional. I couldn’t distinguish two technomancers apart because they were both hardened, blond, round-faced and bulkily-built soldiers in military uniforms.
What’s more, combat shows promise but is disappointingly clunky. Battles are fought in real time and the player can switch between three stances, although I never found the need to switch between them. The guardian stance relies on defense as the player equips a shield and mace; while a more agile fighter can be found using the rogue stance equipped with a knife and pistol. I found myself mostly using a staff and the warrior stance, which involves flashy vaults over enemies in an effort to outmaneuver the enemy.
Dodging is key to combat encounters as a standard enemy can take you out in three to four hits which makes scenarios with two or more enemies, or a boss enemy, extremely challenging and frustrating. Ironically so, battle animations are quite slow as it took several seconds for me to swing my staff at an enemy that had already fired a couple of bullets towards me in the same time span. Close-quartered enemy attacks are often slowed down just before impact to remind you to dodge, although if you miss this cue, you can easily lose half of your health as punishment.
This system in theory sounds like it could be rewarding if you’re patient but I found it quite exhausting as each combat encounter felt like an excuse to delay me from advancing further rather than an interesting battle.
Technomancy was the most enjoyable aspect of the game’s combat. As a technomancer, the player is able to cast electric-based spells that while few, provide a change of pace to the nulled tone of combat. Technomancy is a scarce resource, as each spell uses one of your mana orbs – you start with two – which can be replenished over time or by using a potion. Some of the spells include enchanting your weapon with electricity, firing a wave of electricity towards nearby foes, and propelling yourself towards an enemy with an electric-enchanted fist.
Players can also customize their gear, equipping new gear found in chests and as loot for defeating an enemy. There is also a simple upgrade system whereby the player can advance a set of skill trees for the three battle stances and technomancy, unlocking new abilities such as an electric-enhanced punch in the technomancy tree, and by advancing the warrior tree, improving the scope of your staff attacks. Another set of skill trees known as attributes dictate your base stats (power, constitution, strength, and agility), and skills such as science and charisma (which both open up new dialogue options that have a initial 25 per cent chance of being successful, and can be increased as you advance that skill) and sneak can be upgraded in the talents trees. I didn’t feel that these stats mattered that much in my play through considering you obtain skill points for them every second level.
The game’s presentation is also disappointingly bland, especially in the modern video game landscape. Despite being set in the barren wasteland of Mars, areas are colored in a tone of brown and grey that isn’t flattering to the eye. None of the areas’ cities really came to life, with the marketplace lacking the sounds of people, business, or even non-playable characters who weren’t whimsically standing around.
I noticed several cliffs and possible exploreable secrets in the distance that I couldn’t reach because of invisible walls or huge drops. If I could’ve been able to traverse the landscape as freely as I had wanted, the game would’ve felt far more open than its narrow level design. More frustratingly, I mostly followed linear paths with an optional shortcut that never rewarded me for my willingness to explore. This was only made worse by the lack of a jump button and often one small area where I could climb down from a large wedge in a valley.
Developer Spiders’ Technomancer had the potential to be a great role playing experience if it weren’t for its many problems. The combat, while plentiful and entertaining when using technomancy, feels stiff with an over reliance on dodging and ineffective stance system. Character development is as scarce as it comes and made worse by poor voice acting and characterization, which are possibly the most immersion-breaking issues of the game. Character customization is surprisingly limited and the overuse of brown and grey colors in visualising the game’s world left me significantly unimpressed.
SCORE: 1.5/5 – BAD
This review was first published by Twinfinite on the 4th of July 2016.