Imagine a future where mankind has colonised mars. After almost a hundred years of occupation the planet suddenly falls out of orbit and slips much closer to the sun. This disaster sets in motion a chain of events which has left Mars a barren wasteland where humanity is divided into different enclaves with no contact with planet Earth. Life on the planet is harsh and the survivors are constantly suspicious of one another. In The Technomancer you take control of Zachariah Mancer, who is based in the town of Ophir (owned by a corporation called Abundance), a man who recently got promoted into the ranks of the technomancers.
But what exactly is a technomancer? Is it a DJ? Nope, not quite. A technomancer is an individual who possesses the power to harness and control their body's electric signals to, for instance, shoot lightning out of their hands. It's basically a band of electric warrior monks that try to reinstate contact with Earth. Of course, for some reason there is an organisation that doesn't like technomancers and this faction goes under the name of the ASC (Abundance Secret Police), and they're led by the heinous fascist, Colonel Viktor.
The game's story is fantastically written and really exciting, and the world is well realised. We like interesting touches like the fact that every character's last name is based on what that person's role in the society is, what they do for a living. All technomancers use Mancer as their last name, for instance, so in this world it's hard to hide who you are. The relationships between the characters are gripping and the player really gets this sense of hostility about everything surrounding Mars, based on how it's been designed and how people around you act. That doesn't mean that there aren't any beautiful places to admire on your adventure, though, and it's all accompanied with a nice sci-fi soundtrack.
The Technomancer is a love letter to fans of slightly older role-playing games such as Knights of the Old Republic, but there are also elements of the modern hits like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt present. The game borrows from Bioware's old book of game design and that's not a bad thing. Here you'll find a well written story with interesting characters, and it's full of missions and side quests to embark on with a squad of buddies who'll support you - just like in KotOR.
Unfortunately it isn't just in terms of design that The Technomancer reminds you of older games. Technically the title looks dated, with character models that feel stiff and unnatural. Best case scenario, The Technomancer can be compared to Mass Effect 2, with a modern finish. On the other hand we get a solid frame rate of sixty-per-second, which makes the dated graphics a little easier to swallow. The combat animations are smooth, luckily, and it flows well in that regard.
And while we're talking about combat it's worth noting that it's one of the game's strong suits. There are three primary styles/categories to choose from, and the transition is seamless. First off there's the rogue type who favours pistols and daggers, then there's the guardian with a club and shield, and lastly we have the warrior who sports a two handed staff. The fourth skill tree is dedicated to technomancy and it focuses on your electric attacks. We played mainly as a rogue with a good chunk of technomancy thrown in for good measure.
A stain on this otherwise excellent game is, unfortunately, the voice acting. While the game does feature a good script and the dialogue itself is captivating, some of the acting performances aren't up to today's rising standards. This includes the main character Zach, whose acting constantly sways between decent and underwhelming. It isn't bad enough to ruin the game entirely, but it definitely is a source of frustration.
As you progress through the game you will come across and beat down bandits, ASC thugs, mutants or other monsters on the red planet. There's also some fun boss fights with special attacks that expand the enemy fauna significantly. The environments aren't that varied, though. The larger cities ooze Blade Runner aesthetics, and there are desert landscapes, but the feeling of apocalypse follows you wherever you go. This is obviously a conscious choice on the developers part.
The Technomancer offers an interesting mechanic in the post-battle gameplay side of things - after you've defeated a human enemy they will lie on the ground, unconscious. After you've looted their body for items and such you will get the choice to end their life in exchange for serum, which acts as the game's currency. By taking human life you will effectively decrease the population on Mars and get penalised (or rewarded, depending on how you look at things) with bad karma. The karma system affects how you're perceived by your companions, and if you play too loosely with it you might find yourself in a situation where you're betrayed by one of your friends. It's interesting in its design, from an ethical standpoint. Of course you want your support characters to have your back, so gambling with their trust by going on a killing spree is risky. But on the other hand you can buy new armour and upgrades and so on with a surplus of serum. There are other ways to earn it but the "evil" way is one of the easiest, so the choice isn't always obvious.
The player is always rewarded with experience points for giving an enemy a good smack and every time you level up you will get to upgrade one of the four skill trees, but you'll also regularly get points to funnel into talents like charisma and crafting. You can also upgrade Zach's attributes in strength, agility, power and constitution, and these dictate which armour Zach can wear, as well as parameters like health, chance of critical hits and focus.
One thing we really liked about the game is its mission design. It always feels like the choices you make out in the field have consequences. If you decide not to help a companion in need with a problem, he might not want to follow you the next time and just stays put in the base. An important character might not want to aid you when you most need them later in the game. Certain choices could even lead to you losing a companion outright, so there's good reason for multiple playthroughs for the player who wants to sample other possibilities.
In summary, The Technomancer was a profoundly surprising game. That a studio as small as Spiders Studio, with a relatively modest budget (we'd have to assume), succeeded in making a game as well crafted and immersive as this surprised us. It caught our interest after a mere hour and kept our attention throughout. Granted, that is partly because we really appreciate older role-playing games, but we truly feel that The Technomancer is a diamond in the rough that will be appreciated by fans of the genre.