In 2013 game developers Spiders brought us Mars: War Logs, a futuristic action role play game set on Mars. In a traditional tale of sci-fi crossed with typically bad forward planning, humans had colonised the red planet, but soon found themselves severely lacking in clean and drinkable water. This caused war amongst the people, as factions fought against each other for control of this most precious resource. Set some 200 years later, The Technomancer is a sci-fi role-playing game sequel that follows on from Mars: War Logs, with corporations fighting each other in the War of Water in an attempt to secure a future for their people.
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You play as Zachariah, a man just starting out on the path of being a Technomancer. A protector of the people, Technomancers are described as the "spearhead of the army" for which he fights. Starting off in the totalitarian Orphir, the capital city of a corporation known as Abundance, your job is to complete missions assigned to you by those in charge. Collect your pay for your hard work, bask in the glory of a job well done, then start plodding on to the next. Lather, rinse, repeat.
You get to customize Zachariah's facial features at the start of the game, which adds a nice personal touch, along with an initial talent, such as lock-picking and crafting. Levelling each talent will give you more options in the game, and how you choose to play - for example, there are loads of locked boxes, scattered all over the place, each of which requires a certain level of lockpicking skill to open. If it's a level 3 box, and you're only level 1 in lock-picking, you won't be able to find what goodies lie inside. In general, said goodies tend to be ingredients used for crafting - another talent option that lets you craft yourself better armour and weapons, to increase your performance in fights.
Next you choose an attribute to spend a point in. This determines how well you will do at your chosen fighting style. If you want to be a Warrior then you will need Strength to improve hand to hand attacks, Agility is needed for being a stealthy Rogue, Power boosts the attacks of a Technomancer, and Constitution builds up a Guardian's health and overall sturdiness.
The special thing about Technomancers is their ability to control electricity. They can electrify their weapons, giving an extra shock to those on the receiving end of an attack, which has the added bonus of potentially leaving them stunned for a couple of seconds - something which comes in handy, as it lets you get in some extra hits before you find yourself having to duck and dive away again. They can also shoot arcs of electricity from their fingers, Emperor Palpatine style, and create a force field around them that will knock back any attackers.
Combat in the game is played out in real time, button mashing style, and you have three different combat stances to choose from, which you can switch between at any time. With a choice of attacking with a staff, mace and shield, or gun and blade, you can change your tactics at the touch of a button if a battle isn't working out for you. We favoured staff mostly, as you can get a few hits in and then dodge out of the way by performing and acrobatic spin.
You'll soon find out that although the people you defeat are knocked to the ground, they weren't actually dead, but just unconscious - you can finish them off, by collecting what's known as Serum from their bodies. This item is hugely important in the game, as it's used to make Health injections, an item you can use at any time to heal yourself. We found it was pretty vital to have a stack of them at the ready, as losing all your health means reloading from the last save point - which might have been some time away. Serum is also used to make Focus injections, which it's also well worth keeping a stash of - you can use Focus to activate your Technomancer abilities, like sending out arcs of electricity to zap your foe.
With the combat system thoroughly mastered (as you can see in the video above), off we went, completing any and all the quests that the people of Orphir set for us. Now and again, you'll even have the chance to make a decision, which can affect the way the story unfolds. For example, if you capture the leader of a group of rebel spies, should you let him live, or execute him, to make an example out of him? Or, should you take the middle ground and arrest him, before dropping him off for the officials, to let someone else decide his fate? We actually favoured letting them go. Sure, we didn't do the duty expected of us as a Technomancer, but our humanity remained intact.
For one particular quest, we had to prevent the rebellion of a group of mutants being kept as slaves. We could have simply attacked them to quieten them down, but it's not in our nature to be so cruel. Instead, we went the more amenable route, and convinced them to go back to work by doing them favours, such as healing their sick and fixing their tools. This sounds simple enough, but such tasks required level 1 in the science and crafting talents to undertake, which was beyond our feeble abilities at the time. So off we trotted to find some monsters to bash, in order to earn the experience we needed, and go up a few levels. Luckily, it didn't take too long - and it was well worth it too, as each extra quest we did to gain experience had its own unique story, all contributing to future events. For example, we helped one of the enslaved mutants get work with a friendly merchant, sparing him from the hard labour he was previously subjected to. It later turned out that he was an important man amongst his kind, and our compassion had earned us a powerful ally.
However, as the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished - and we have a feeling all our do-goodery caused what happened next. All of a sudden, we were accused of being sympathisers with Abundance's enemies, and suddenly found ourselves in a spot of very serious bother - so along with a couple of allies, we fled the city. It wasn't quite the thanks we were expecting, but it made sense, as it gave us a reason to leave Orphir and truly begin exploring Mars. We do wonder how things would have gone if we'd done our duty better and followed our instructions to the letter, but we got the feeling that events would have been manipulated some way or another to result in our exit from Orphir.
Throughout the game you can take up to two companions with you. You can change their armour and weapons as well, to help them keep up with all the inevitable fights you'll get into. In general, we found ourselves taking Phobos, the big, friendly mutant, and our one armed friend Andrew… mainly because we felt sorry for him, and he has some history with Zachariah, so it felt good to have a friend around. They all have their own story and reasons for helping you, so whenever you can have a little chat with them, ask them what's going on in their lives - you'll increase your bond with them and strengthen your alliances too. Whoever you decide to take with you, though, you'll need to bear in mind each character lives by their own moral code - and if you do something that goes against this code, they'll make their feelings known. For example, most of the characters don't feel comfortable with killing, so it's best to avoid this, or you risk them leaving your group. As each character can use specific weapons, you can put together a balanced team to suit your needs. Do you need someone with a gun for ranged attacks, or a big bag of muscles to run the enemy down and smash at them with a mace?
There are a few different difficulty settings on offer, too - and, being something of a wuss when it comes to games, we went for the easiest setting when we were first starting out. Funnily enough, though, it's surprising quite how hard Easy is. It wasn't exactly uber challenging, but being the lightest setting, we thought it would be a bit more of a walk in the park than it was - yet we still found ourselves dying a lot, and barely making it out of some scrapes. You'll definitely still need to be strategical in a fight, even at this setting.
We liked the look of The Technomancer from the beginning, as it has a slight air of Skyrim and Fallout 4 to it, sharing a detailed storyline, plentiful side quests and big worlds to explore. Being set on Mars gives it a great "what if" feeling too, as who knows what our actual future with that planet might be? We'd definitely recommend The Technomancer to any role-playing game fan, as the options to customise Zachariah and his helpers, and change the path of the game with your choices gives you plenty to sink your teeth into. Fingers crossed the game does well enough to deserve a sequel to round out the trilogy, as who knows what might be happening on Mars in another 200 years' time!
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4