The Technomancer is the sequel to a game called Mars: War Logs, which was released back in 2013. The game was set on Mars after humanity had colonized it, and was reasonably received. The sequel is here now, and we got a chance to give it a go and see what life on Mars is like.

Mars itself is a pretty damn bleak place, with people fighting each other for resources, mostly water. War has made things a bit unpleasant, and Mars has lost contact with Earth in the ensuing mess. Exposure to solar radiation has also started mutating people and animals on Mars, so on the whole, it’s gotten less fun than it used to be. A group of people have emerged who can manipulate electricity and electronics, and these people are called Technomancers (like “necromancer”, but for tech, geddit?). One young Technomancer named Zachariah finds himself in some measure of direness of strait after taking the initiation rites. To make things worse, the Mars secret police want his head, and the heads of his companions. Zach must find a way to stay ahead of them while trying to understand the secrets he’s unfolding, and also find a way to get back in contact with Earth.

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The Technomancer boils down to a science-fantasy RPG set on Mars, with some pretty damn ugly monsters roaming around. And that’s just the police. Combat is mostly in real time, and you have a choice of styles and weapons to fight with. I said “mostly”, because there are point at which you can pause combat to look around the battlefield and choose a target. And also, there are times when it’s not going to matter which method of combat you’re going to choose, because whatever you’re up against is big, ugly, and soaks up damage like a mountain. Like many modern RPGs, you have a wide variety of sidequests, subquests, and morality choices ahead of you, so on the surface it looks like it should be a winner.

But then you start digging into the combat and things don’t feel as rosy. Unlike similar games such as Mass Effect, there’s no cover mechanism, for starters. And unlike games such as Fallout, there’s no percentage to hit when using a gun. This has a downside when your enemies are armed to the (literal) teeth and have the aiming skills of Wyatt Earp. Furthermore, it seems that no matter how much you grind, you can never get quite as powerful as your enemies, which feels a lot like it defeats the whole “super ultra powerful fighter” thing. It’s a massive hole in the feel of the game, which destroys the fantasy of being a technomancer in the first place. The can also make boss fights an excessively dreary experience, because you’re simply performing the same moves over and over again until dead (whether you or the boss is left as an exercise to the reader).

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The more I played, the more minor niggles I found. The character models and animations felt very 2008, and while retro is currently a thing, I don’t think this is what the developers were aiming for. I’ve honestly not seen such wooden expressions on faces since the original Tomb Raider. Furthermore, the camera was…shall we say “enthusiastic”, and was just as much an enemy of my playing as the foes onscreen. It takes a while to get used to its foibles. I played the Steam version of the game, so I can also attest to some moderate loading times. On the other hand, I did like the story. I’ve always liked Mars as a setting, and this game fleshes it out nicely, even if the dialog and speech was a bit cheesy. The one thing this game does for me is wish there was a book so I could read more about the lore of the place.

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And then you start looking into the character upgrade trees and it’s not quite as bad. The game uses a standard EXP/Level model, with some abilities unlocking at every level, and other unlocking every couple of levels. And if you’re done tinkering with the characters, you’re also given a fairly robust crafting system that allows you to mod your weapons provided you’ve picked up enough of a given resource in combat. Both aspects are a good incentive to get into those fights and collect the spoils afterwards.

In theory, the game is attempting to be a sort of Mass Effect, or perhaps a Dragon Age set on Mars. The character skill trees and combat all seem to point in that direction, but the game feels like it falls a little short of the ideal. The RPG system itself is solid, and I like the ability to craft and hone your weapons. However, it’s nowhere near the level I’d expect of a AAA game, and the problem is that The Technomancer is punching beneath its weight class. Don’t misunderstand–I liked it, but I didn’t love it; as a somewhat average experience, I can only give it a similar score.

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