Occasionally there are those games that seem from beyond their time, pushing the boundaries of typical genres or creating new paradigms. The Technomancer is not one of these games. Developed by French studio Spiders, The Technomancer harks back to Bioware RPGs from the early 2000s – for better or for worse. I have to admit that I really hoped this game would be a hidden gem like the first Witcher game was for me, or at least a half-decent Mass Effect knock-off, but alas it was not to be. I’ll mention The Witcher a few times in this review as The Technomancer is a fairly similar game, only with lacklustre gameplay, an average story and clumsy execution. It’s a shame because you’d think a story about space wizards on Mars has a lot of potential.
Our story takes place a few hundred years in the future on a colonised Mars, ravaged by water wars, and so isolated from Earth that it has become almost mythical to the unfortunate inhabitants of the red planet. Radiation from the sun forced humanity to find shelter in massive buildings owned by Corporations, who control precious clean water, while also causing mutations in humans and the creatures brought to the planet by Earth colonists. Then, there are the titular Technomancers who have the ability to control electricity and seem to be the only ones actively seeking a way back to Earth. The setup for the story seems solid enough, it’s just let down in the execution. The Technomancer should have some solid lore to work with, but, for whatever reason, Spiders didn’t bother to flesh it out – completely leaving out logs or other information sources to learn more about the world.
You play as Zachariah, a newly minted Technomancer with a shallow backstory (there’s limited character customisation options and no choice in naming or gender) who very quickly finds himself thrust into the politics of his home Corporation – Abundance. Abundance is a cookie-cutter dystopian city of inequality where the elites lord over the poor and treat mutants like slaves or worse. While Zachariah is from the slums, nothing about his character seems to give him strong feelings one way or the other about how poorly its inhabitants are treated. He’s an incredibly bland character, and worse is that the game doesn’t give much opportunity to flesh him out further. Here’s where The Witcher did it better. Main character Geralt has a vivid backstory, which is obscured by a convenient amnesia. You learn more about the world as he does, and then choose the way he interacts with it – for example, he has the opportunity to exploit his reputation as a ladies’ man (despite unknowingly being deeply in love with another) by shagging everything that moves. The choices he’s given aren’t based on black or white morality – as The Witcher is a game that lives in grey – rather picking the lesser of two evils, or simply staying neutral altogether. It all ties together in a way that engages the player and gives them investment in the story – something The Technomancer completely fails to do. The characters and companions are largely forgettable, and the story takes so long to get going that there’s little to keep you interested.
The Technomancer is essentially a game full of good ideas that are implemented poorly. Combat, which makes up the bulk of the gameplay, is awkward and not particularly fun. There are three stances you can switch between during combat that also changes your weapon loadout – similar again to The Witcher’s combat. Each stance has its own skill tree, so inevitably you will invest more in one than the other. Attacking enemies is very clunky, and the game does almost nothing to help players learn about dodging, nor help much with enemies telegraphing attacks. Most combat is weirdly hand-to-hand, but the enemies who do have guns will stun-lock and kill you quickly. In fact, combat is incredibly unbalanced against the player, being extremely hard in a fun-killing way. Even from the start, seemingly easy enemies will wipe out your health bar in a few hits. Once the system is learned it starts to be fun, but only just. Outside of combat you’ll mainly be running from one end of the rather large maps to the other doing errands, usually involving combat or asking one question of an NPC. While the maps are filled with detail and have NPCs strolling around them, the experience still feels hollow – and the largeness of the maps feels like a cheap attempt to stretch the game out by making you trek about to complete quests.
Given that The Technomancer was made on a relatively small budget the game’s lack of polish can almost be forgiven, but it’s the little things that let it down. The menu system is a mess with so many layers of menu to navigate through, especially with inventory. Each piece of inventory has its own menu, which then can skip to other party members, but you have to exit out of that for equipping any other item. It feels like half the game involves going back and forth between menus. Quests are handled in a very “gamey” way, in that you’ll be told to find something without actually tell you where it is – but without any context, your map will have the exact location of the objective. Immersion ruined! Visuals in the Technomancer are average (the game was made with a relatively limited budget after all) and are used well to bring the decaying Mars world to life. It lacks the sort of details that make other games feel more “lived-in,” with more effort put into character and enemy design.
It’s always a shame when a game built on a foundation of good ideas falls over at the execution. The Technomancer is definitely a playable game with interesting concepts, it’s more a matter if you’re committed enough to devote the amount of time and energy the game demands. The plot isn’t engaging enough, the characters are bland, and gameplay is good enough to be functional yet not overly pleasant, but it’s still a playable game. It did spike a nostalgia hit of Knights Of The Old Republic and The Witcher, from which this game takes a good amount of inspiration, but all that did by the end was leave me wishing I had been playing either of those games instead.