Back when you were 11 years old and your mum and dad made you sit at the kid’s table during big family gatherings? You’d try so hard to be mature and earn that spot with the adults but you were relegated to an undersized chair where your knees constantly hit the bottom of the table and your little cousin would flick food all over you every time they spoke. Despite your attempts to look like an adult you just weren’t there yet and even your best efforts couldn’t hide the fact that you were an awkward tween.
Spiders’ The Technomancer is much like that 11-year-old, it’s trying so hard to be a Witcher 3 or a Mass Effect and rather than standing out amongst these epic experiences it instead shows its faults as a much lesser experience.
The games setting is Mars and you are Zachariah, a human blessed with the ability to harness electricity. You are, a Technomancer. Starting out in the Martian city of Ophir, Zachariah learns that he has been betrayed by those he trusts and after escaping, he is thrust into a mission to find a beacon that will once again establish Mars’ connection with Earth. Just before you step into Zachariah’s shoes, you are put through a character creator and here, right at the start, is where you see the conflict of big ideas versus a small budget. The character creator offers limited number options and no choice to switch to a female. I don’t think this has anything to do with not wanting to be equally representative and more to do with not having the available funding to animate and voice an second character.
Jumping into the game you’ll find the plot fulfilling, at times interesting, but for all intents and purposes stops short of being captivating. Stiff animations and monotonous voice work hold back The Technomancer from drawing you in. On many occasions, you’ll find yourself staring at nothing but a forehead when having a conversation with a companion and is just one mention of many little glitches you’re likely to stumble upon in the game.
If you were to look for redeeming features, something that helps pull the game out of “buy in get one half price” territory, it’s the combat. While enemies aren’t massively different, often quite predictable, the skills you have at your fingertips are done fairly well. Rather than forcing you into one type of fighting style The Technomancer allows players to switch stances on the fly from mace-and-shield guardian to pistol-and-dagger rogue to staff-wielding warrior. All of these stances also allow Zachariah access to his technomancy abilities where he can charge up his weapons and fire off bolts of electricity to his heart’s content. The fairly deep skill tree system allows players the freedom to pick and choose where and what they want to truly focus on but at no time is the ability to switch between them all taken away. Unfortunately, while you can develop skills in your skill tree you never truly attain any game changer abilities that freshen up the combat for later on in the game. What you do when you start will invariably end up being what you do at the finish.
As open world RPGs go, The Technomancer provides more than its fair share of side quests to keep you busy. Sure they’re mostly predictable in terms of what you’re doing — ie: murder this guy, get that thing — but it allows you the freedom to take on a ton more than just the main storyline. Of course, while you can roam the cities of Ophir and Noctis as well as the dusky landscapes of Mars, one can’t help but feel that it comes across as rather empty. This might be more of a personal thing, I’m not entirely sure, but even populated areas that had NPCs wandering around felt cold, devoid of any real personality, and just plain lifeless. If that’s the tone Spiders was going for then I must have missed the memo because I certainly expected a bit more vivacity to a planet under the siege of greedy corporations bordering on a populace revolt. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, the environment design itself is spectacularly well done with gorgeous vistas and very distinctive hub areas. It’s just a shame that those graphical wonders are so hindered by the lack of life to fill them up.
Spiders does an admirable job of providing depth to The Technomancer when it comes to the sheer amount of character development and customization systems in place. The fairly bland character creator aside, there is still plenty to sink your teeth into from reputation building, weapons crafting, companion recruiting, abilities, talents and more. In this area, despite everything not being done to perfection, The Technomancer belies its smaller budget and looks bigger than it is.
Even in light of its technical glitches, predictable narrative and total personality flatline, The Technomancer isn’t necessarily a bad game, it just isn’t a good one (in my opinion). It exists as an example of how Spiders dreamed of making an epic, open world RPG but ultimately was limited by its resources. Sadly, in its attempt to be like so many other great RPGs we know and love it loses its chance to be anything unique. As a serviceable RPG to fill the summer void, it might keep the diehards happy but will have a hard time finding an audience that truly cares about it.