You know I am desperately waiting for August to come when I can finally dive back into the Deus Ex-Universe. So, imagine my joy when, while browsing through the E3-coverage, I found The Technomancer, a Cyberpunk-RPG which I thought might get me into that specific Cyberpunk-mood. It does indeed.
This game is set on Mars, where Corporations rule. The corporation our hero Zachariah was born into is called Abundance, whose capital city Ophir counts three separate levels: The Exchange, where the army and government are located, the Slums, which most of everyone else calls home, including the so-called Mutants, and the Underground, where a host of critters dwell.
I have just finished playing the game on my PS4 on Normal, so I can try to give you a rough outline of what to expect of The Technomancer. There may be minor spoilers.
Zachariah Mancer (that’s not his last name, but a description) was a kid in the Slums when found by Scott Seeker, a scientist, who recognized his Talent as a Technomancer and gave him to that elite sect which acts as the spearhead of Abundance’s army.
After completing his training Zachariah, recently initiated into the very dangerous secret of his sect, is given to the army as a lieutenant and presented with two subordinates, one a countryside kid, the other from the Slums like himself. With that duo tagging along Zach now sets out to make a name for himself in Ophir. His reputation can range from upright, tight-on-protocol and loyal soldier to shady, double-dealing rogue, depending on the choices the player makes.
Since I don’t want to give away too much, let’s just say that not all is at it seems in Ophir, Noctis and Mutant Valley, the game’s major cities, and it is a very great joy discovering what the numerous factions are up to.
The Power of Choices
In a previous blogpost detailing my expectations of E3 I described The Technomancer as “Dragon Age Inquisition set on Mars”, not least of all because Zach has special abilities, namely the power to harness electricity and turn it into a deadly weapon.
But that is not all: There are several ways the player’s decisions influence Zach’s development. For one, life is sacred on Mars, so sparing lives will increase Zach’s Karma and taking life will diminish it. Which is why, whichever class you choose, you’ll not kill your humanoid oponents (critters are an exception), unless you consciously bleed them out to gain Serum, Mars’s actual currency, after you have downed them in the previous fight. So far I have yet to find out what good or bad Karma does in the long run, but I like the rather pacifist approach. Besides: you can find Serum and other stuff useful for crafting while searching your unconscious victims and always go to the Underground and hunt critters to harvest it from them.
There are a ton of missions Zach and his two tagalongs have to fulfill, some legal, some not so, and in the end Zach will always be given a choice that will influence his own reputation within the factions.
Unfortunately, the choices Zach makes are not reflected by later dialogue options which I, for one, find disappointing. But then, truth be told, Zach is not a character to get really invested in. He’s good for cussing at, though.
Abilities and Talents
Zach – you’ll get to customize his appearance in the very beginning – is a Technomancer, which means he can produce electricity and use it in combat. You can choose from three different combat styles – staff, blade/gun and blade/shield – that come with different skill sets. I opted for the staff and am happy with it, ever since I’ve developed my specific skill trees. But I realised later on that, once the story has progressed and the guards in Abundance have toughened up, you’ll really need to develop the other two combat classes too.
There are three skill trees, one for combat, one for talents like lock-picking or crafting, and one for abilities like strength or agility. You’ll have to tailor those to your fighting style. Also, you are not set in your class, which, as mentioned above, is very good indeed. If you develop all ability trees you’ll be able to switch styles very easily and adapt it to your companions (you’ll find more on that here). Another plus: You are able to use stealth no matter what style you choose, giving you the opportunity to silently knock out enemies from behind or steal their stuff. Which is nice. Very nice.
Crafting allows you to upgrade your gear as well as brew serums to help you regenerate health. Since you and your companions share the inventory you can easily outfit them with better gear fitting their combat style. Merchants also sell gear and upgrade schematics. Finding a crafting station is not hard, using the mini map you’ll be able to locate one easily. Don’t forget to improve your companions’ gear too! Did I mention I love the way the mini-map is being super-imposed on the image? It makes navigating the sometimes labyrinthine levels much, much easier.
Since at one point Zach will have a very specific set of skills it is nice to have companions that can boost the efficiency of the team with their own talents, like exploration, science or lock-picking.
There are, apart from the mentioned Jeffrey Hunter and David Ward, with whom Zach will part ways sometime later in the game, five potential companions. Most are set in their combat-classes. There’s one, Andrew, who can change his class, if you so desire. He’s become one of my fave members of my team, but you’ll find out that it’s not always favorable to have two Technomancers on your team of three. Yes, indeed, you can only take two companions and you also have to take two. They don’t die in combat, they simply get knocked out and, should you manage to defeat your opponents on your own, will rise again, all shiny and new, once the fight is over. They also do that when it is you who goes down. Charming.
Your relationship to your companions is something you should watch. Beware, though, approval does not automatically mean that this specific companion is actually friendly. He/She might just have their own agenda and what you are doing simply suits them. Talking to your companions from time to time is therefore a must, not least of all because they offer useful information and insight on people and places.
Gameplay and Combat
I confess I am not the quickest study when it comes to gameplay and controls and I get frustated easily. Still, I don’t think there’ve been many games I played where it took me that long to figure it out as was The Technomancer. I remember not being able to conclude the introduction of the fighting styles because I did not understand how to assign abilities to the quick wheel. Maybe, though, that was due to the sometimes horrible translations into German (I play with the dialogue in English and the rest of the settings in German). I am happy I’ve persevered, though, for especially combat is a lot of fun. I even won the Curiosity Arena tournament! And even the most frustating fight situations will grow easier with developing your specific skills.
At first, The Technomancer did not impress me that much. I was especially disappointed by the lack of facial animation, but at some point it stopped bothering me. And when dear Zachariah finally showed some emotion right there, in the very end, I was like Okay, so you’re not Botox-Boy after all. Fulfilling the side missions to gain the trust of the various factions was great fun, almost like some political game, with me having to decide when to cheat and when to lie or tell it like it is. I admit I made some bad choices that cost me, but I persevered, even if I had to side with the Vory in the end and have Anton Rogue call me a “Roguemancer”one last time. I love Anton…
So, if you are into Cyberpunk and badass combat, you’ll play this and hopefully enjoy it as much as I did.