Okay, so without being all that aware of developer Spiders previous efforts it’s safe to say that the studio’s latest game, The Technomancer, is a fairly decent story-driven RPG. In a lot of ways, it looks and feels like a cross between a mid-2000s BioWare game and a Japanese RPG with real-time combat from the same time-period. Now, that’s not an analogy used to lazily explain away how it plays. Even though it kind of is. But it’s more used to put across the point that The Technomancer clearly aspires to sit alongside some the great computer RPGs from about a decade or so ago.
Unlike its modern counterparts The Technomancer doesn’t feature a vast open-world to explore and tackle in any order that you see fit. Instead it offers up the sort of city-hubs and multi-path levels that drove the genre a generation or so ago. That means cities with separate districts and an almost maze-like layout of pathways and dead-end alleys. It certainly feels like a throwback to a different era, and if you played Knights of the Old Republic in 2003 you’ll feel right at home. But underneath this nostalgic surface lies an RPG that also features a number of forward thinking mechanics in addition to a story that aspires to reach the same sort of heights as genre greats.
The fact that it doesn’t isn’t in anyway a reason not to play The Technomancer. As is the case with most middling sci-fi stories, they actually work a lot better in videogame RPG form. It might take a dozen or so hours to get there, but if the idea of a story set on a futuristic Mars where human factions, mutants, and genetic beasts all co-exist in a state of unrest and conflict appeals to you, then you could do a lot worse than picking up The Technomancer. For a non-AAA release created by relatively small studio, The Technomancer is an impressive accomplishment. The fluid combat that lets you switch seamlessly between combat styles during encounters works great, and in a lot of ways is better than what you’ll find in something like The Witcher III. But that’s based on the idea that The Witcher III’s combat is borderline untenable.
The various combat styles in The Technomancer also serve as the game’s version of classes, so being able to try everything out and progress each skill tree individually as the game progresses is a nice touch. Action takes place in real-time, and outside of some questionable timing for stuff like applying med-kits, it all works well. As for the title itself, players take on the role of a Technomancer, a human hybrid that can use the power of electrical currents to zap enemies, or power weapons for that extra bit of kick. In the game’s futuristic Mars setting, Technomancers are quasi-religious figures that are used by the powers that be for their own ends. The shades of KOTOR are certainly strong in the early parts of the game.
In terms of characterisation The Technomancer is more Japanese RPG than BioWare, with the sort of two-dimensional faces and architypes that you’d expect to see in Final Fantasy type experience. But outside of the characters, once the story gets going the world of The Technomancer goes from a fairly boring sci-fi mash-up of ideas to one that feels like its own thing. With some truly great beats thanks to the karma system and the feeling that you get to steer the outcome in meaningful ways. Again, that might be due to the fact that middling sci-fi stories work a lot better in videogame RPG form. But it has probably got more to do with the more lavish locations to visit and more colourful characters that join your party as the story takes hold.
The Technomancer isn’t a great RPG, but it’s close. There are issues with the combat that pop up from time to time, and the whole setup of the side-quest system quickly devolves into a matter of running back and forth between places you’ve been to over and over. Also, the whole character customisation system is pretty basic. But if given enough time, the story begins to grow into a worthwhile experience. The combat begins to feel more assured and in-depth. And every now and then, the feeling of playing a classic BioWare RPG from a decade or so rises to the surface. Which can only be a good thing.