The Technomancer PS4 Review

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Developed by French studio Spiders, whose previous work includes the 2013 release, Mars: War Logs, an ambitious title which had mixed success on a shoestring budget.  The Technomancer is the spiritual sequel set on the same red planet during the War of the waters, where Mars has been colonized for some 200 or so years and the barren dust bowl has very much panned out like Arnie’s holiday adventure in Total Recall.

Here you take control of Zachariah, a freshly promoted cadet, part qualified Technomancer, which is a mixture of a Judge Dredd style enforcer and a member of the Sith, wielding magical electric shock powers. Zach is employed by Abundance, one of a number of factions vying for control of this rust bucket of a planet.

At the beginning, there’s a quick combat tutorial to try out the 3 fighting styles you’ll be using, followed by a ‘live fire’ taster test Vs. some of the planets more colourful and interesting creatures which appear to have evolved into effective killing machines before your initiation into the brotherhood, which includes a secret you’ll be forced to take to your grave.

I found the story missions and side quests varied and although most had elements of fetching and delivering information or beating they advanced the story along nicely & after about 10 or so hours the game started to come alive.  There are a number of people you can talk to as the tale evolves which uses a fairly limited but competent dialogue tree. As you run missions for certain factions can have a negative effect on your standings with others, so as one door opens wider the other may shut; eventually you’ll have to align yourself with one of these corporations which will likely cut out missions from the others as a working relationship becomes irreparable.

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Traveling between Martian cities is completed by a Mars rover to which gives you a number of levels and areas to explore, there is a map which you’ll be referring to quite a bit as waypoints aren’t provided as you explore the different areas of the cities each with their own styles and environmental changes.

I really enjoyed the combat styles, the 3 stances offer short medium and ranged attacks which can be changed by the touch of a button smoothly and are necessary depending on the enemies. Rogue offers a knife and pistol, which allows you to fire a small number of shots which stuns the enemies to knock them off, guard. Guardian has a shield and mace equipped and the Warrior stance for combat in the Darth Maul style. Each of these stances can be levelled up separately, so a choice will have to be made if you want a balanced character or if you favour one particular mode of violence, although the enemies you face offer different threats which do mean you have to mix it up, and this can sometimes be a bit trial and error. For myself, I preferred the Rogue option as I appreciated the benefits of a long distant weapon to fend off some enemies who were armed with more superior firepower.

The defensive moves are generally just a combat roll away from the enemy and early on at least you’ll be using that in every battle in conjunction with the health syringe. Along with striking your enemies your electrically charged Technomancer skills are available on a cool down timer and can be mixed in when necessary. To complement the weapons there are crafting tables around which when Zach is properly skilled up allow upgrades & boosts to your gear to generate extra damage when in combat. The combat is generally fast paced with some elements of slow-mo action. Very early on in one of my first combat based missions I had to retry a ridiculous amount of times, as my skill level and damage output was low and the enemies were taking me out with 2 or 3 hits due to one having a gun taking pot shots whilst the other was getting slaps in at close range, the save option offered no saviour  as I was thrown straight back into the cut scene ready to be manhandled again. At one point I even considered starting again from scratch but persevered through sheer stubbornness.

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There are 4 skill trees which are aligned with your combat stance, allowing a boost the Rogue, Guardian and Warrior fighting styles along with the electrical Technomancing skills. In addition, Attribute points to level up core skills such as strength and agility and finally Talent point awards which can upgrade charisma lock-picking and crafting amongst others.

You can recruit 2 others to assist you and mostly act as distractions for enemies in combat, where you can kit them out with any weapons and any gear that you may have looted, in addition to having conversations with them about their views on people & places as your relationships develop which opens up further story arcs for you to explore.

Graphically Tecnhomancer has not offered anything jaw dropping or inspiring, the dark redness of the planet and metallic structures are only offset by the brightness of the planets radioactive mostly hostile creatures that have evolved there. There were never any issues with frame rate dropping, but when for most parts this resembled a superior PS3 title it should never show any signs of struggling on the current hardware.

We’ve been treated well with gloriously detailed cut scenes recently and in the character details here it’s fallen short, the mouth movements appear independent from the stone still expressive face. In some occasions Zac’s helmet was miraculously removed during cut scenes, only to return once the dialogue has concluded. On the opposite end of this, I felt the voice acting had real emotion from most characters and added to the immersion, but I felt this was slightly taken away by the use of bad language from some characters and felt tagged on when it possibly wasn’t necessary.

Tiredness Kills. On your way to your summer hols you’ll likely to see this message on the side of the motorway, this is also true for young Zach, there is a fatigue system in place which insists you take a break every so often, like a hidden health and safety initiative, not resting for Zach loses him an experience bonus in combat, and also makes him less effective in battle scoring less hit points on his opponents, and it’s vital you expend as much damage as you can as it’s plausible to bite the bullet after 3 hits from an opponent.

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The currency system  is serum, which can be found as loot in chests & even in fallen enemies in exchange for their life & a negative hit on Zach’s Karma levels; for which I never lost any sleep over. With water being so short in supply I would have thought this would have been the currency of choice, but no, it’s serum, this can then be exchanged with market traders for weapons or protective attire.

This could be the next step for anyone who’s burnt through everything Witcher 3 has to offer, it’s not as polished or beautiful or as deep, but if Sci- Fi is your thing it will provide you with 25 hours+ of gameplay & an engaging fantasy adventure once you get passed the initial slow paced beginning.

It’s to its benefit being released during the dry spell of the year, nearing Autumn in silly season this title could have fallen into a black hole of releases, but as it is, it should have far more exposure than its predecessor and give Spiders a platform to realise their ambition of their next project.

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Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms Early Access Preview

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Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms

PC

Developer: Games Farm

 If you’re like me, you know about as much about Kult: Heretic Kingdoms (Shadows’ predecessor dating back some 9 years) as you do heavy crossbow ballistics. To be clear, I know absolutely zero about heavy crossbow ballistics. Having had a quick squizz at some info and screens for the 2005 game however, it looks like it’d be right up my street. I wonder how come I missed it? Ah, probably youthful exuberance and heavy drinking are to blame, as they were for so many poor choices back then.

Still, now relatively sober, I’m in a position to explore the richness of a new RPG world, and as such have dived in to Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms – a game which at the very least should win some awards in the category for Most-Generically-Named-RPG-Of-2014.

Falling somewhere between an action-RPG like Diablo and a slower paced, Neverwinter Nights-style role-player, S:HK is a game that spans two fantasy themed worlds at once. Once past the Tom Baker (yes, that one) voiced introduction, you arrive in the shadow realm where your demon main character – The Devourer – kicks off proceedings. In traditional ARPG style you wander around and smack the crap out of spooky ghosts and what-not, sucking up their precious souls and exploring dark recesses. Once you find your first vessel however, things start to get interesting.

screenshot03Shadows takes an interesting approach to traditional RPG party building, by making it somewhat similar to Trine, insofar as you hot-switch between characters, but only control one at a time. Your first choice comes in a Charnel House, where three recently deceased heroes are entombed; you must choose a body based either on whose story you find most engaging or -probably more likely – you work out which one is the ranged hero, which the tank and which the mage and choose on that basis.

You can only take one to start, so hoover-up your character archetype of choice and journey out into the world and re-unite the kingdoms, or smash it apart or kill the king or devour his children, or whatever the plot is supposed to be. If that sounds somewhat ‘handwave-y’ and non-specific, there are two reasons for this. Firstly, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is in Early Access and fleshing out and developing the way in which the story is delivered is still likely to be very much a part of that process. Secondly, the characters that you pick to become your avatar and the choices that you make with them allow – according to the developer – for a multiplicity of potential story paths and endings. At the very least, it’s nice that the game changes significantly based on your selections in ways outside of ‘how do I kill this kobold?’

screenshot02Back to the fighting and exploring mechanics, you explore a variety of locations causing mayhem and death. Enemies drop loot, although not at the levels you’d be looking for from an ARPG. Interestingly, healing items are pretty scarce, which causes the players to try and be more careful than might at first seem suited to the game style. There is a different mechanic used for healing and resurrection than you might expect, which draws upon the idea of the ‘two worlds’, since the Devourer can harvest souls in the dark world that can be used to heal heroes in the light side. Switching between the two worlds is as simple as tapping the W key, which changes your avatar to the Devourer. Heal up your characters and send them back into the fray, or switch out one avatar for another and let them take punishment for a while. The game is designed in such a way that the player must switch between the two worlds in order to solve puzzles and make progress, in a manner reminiscent of Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain. Also like that game, the transitions are appealing and add to the players’ immersion with the world.

Both worlds are crisp and cleanly designed – at times very visually appealing – however, like the title, it can tend to err towards the generic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, as there is nothing wrong with familiar and comfortable tropes if employed with style. The stylishness from S:HK comes from its branching storylines and its characters’ dialogue which is lively enough to keep  you clicking through the story.

Shadows_Heretic_Kingdoms_Screenshot_2Destroy enough monster scum and you can level up your characters at the same time as improving their gear through loot drops. The skill trees looked a little overwhelming at first, but are actually straightforward once you take the time to explore them and think about how you’d like to build your characters’ abilities. Of course, going forward you ideally want to create a party with a range of complimentary powers in order to tackle the range of scenarios the game is going to throw at you.

My only gripe with S:HK so far is that currently, I think the combat lacks surety and solidity. Like the dice-rolling Neverwinter type RPGS you can miss an enemy standing next to you with an axe-swing which is always frustrating. Likewise, there doesn’t always appear to be accurate feedback for the player both on hitting and being hit, which detracts from the enjoyment in this combat heavy title.

I’m looking forward to seeing the final version of Shadows: Heretic Kingdom and playing through it further with different characters and seeing how the story changes. There is already a solid RPG here for the price of the entry fee which will hopefully only get better as time goes on.

 

Karlos Morale

Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is available for £22.99 on Steam