The fifth RPG from developer Spiders, The Technomancer is slowly shaping up to be an promising sci-fi adventure to Mars. The trailer shows Zachariah, our protagonist and young technomancer, as he frantically attempts to contact Earth as the secret police charged with reining in rogue technomancers hunt him down. We see a nice variety of locations, from the barren desert-scape of the Mars surface, to the technological underbellies of massive cities. Spiders shows us strange, alien creatures and twisted mutants among these sights. It feels refreshing and new.
Throughout the last few years, Spiders has been getting closer and closer to the RPG they wanted to make when the studio was founded. For a long time they lacked the employees, the time, and the money to fully realize their dream game, taking slow, baby steps to achieve their long term goal. Two years ago Spiders released Mars: War Logs for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. War Logs was the first game set in the universe of that dream game. Though technically flawed and suffering from a painful lack of budget, War Logs had a lot of heart and a thoroughly interesting setting. The Technomancer returns to the world established in Mars: War Logs, expanding it and bringing it into a new generation of technology and two more years of development experience. It is worth noting that The Technomancer is not a prequel or a sequel, though it takes place in the same universe and will have limited nods and crossovers with War Logs.
The Mars of The Technomancer is one far in the distant future, long after humanity has successfully colonized the new planet. While the initial colonoization and terraforming efforts proved to be wildly successful, a mysterious cataclysm eventually rocked the planet, turning the land into a near-barren desert-scape. Humanity survived, though many acquired genetic mutations from the new solar radiation that washed the surface of Mars. these mutants are frequently enslaved and treated as sub-human by the remaining citizens of Mars. However, most importantly, the cataclysm resulted in the loss of contact with Earth. Isolated on Mars, the two largest water drilling corporations formed separate nations and began a desperate war for control of limited water supplies. The two nations, Abundance and Aurora, gradually formed vastly different attitudes toward life on Mars. Structured more like a military, Abundance rules its citizens with an iron fist through propaganda and secret police. Aurora formed into a theocracy that venerates a small group of individuals known as technomancers. Technomancers are individuals born with the ability to channel and generate electricity, basically electrical Jedi. Technomancers are rare and must go through training to be formally inducted into their secretive order. The Technomancer begins at the end of Zachariah's training as he formally becomes one of the order and learns the secret that they are all sworn to keep. This secret is part of what makes Zachariah a target for the secret police that hunt him relentlessly as they search for a way to control the dangerous technomancers.
On his adventures, Zachariah will make his way through numerous hub cities and locations filled with NPCs with whom players can interact. Over 80 quests are scattered throughout the game, some of which are locked unless players have a certain companion character in their party. There are five total companions, only two of which can accompany Zachariah at any given time. These companions, like the hulking mutant Phobos, will open up new areas to explore and conversation options. They will also react to the alliances the player chooses to forge. There are six factions in the game like the army, mob, or the rebellion. Companions might join or leave the party depending on what factions the player chooses to aid.
I was given the opportunity to see the first mission in action. It picks up as Zachariah heads out to finish the final trial to become a technomancer in an old settler's dome that the first colonists lived in when they originally came to Mars. These sites are prized by bandits for the valuables they still contain and this one in particular houses the technomancers' most closely guarded secret. The trial involves protecting the dome from a group of bandits who have come to lay claim to the site. As Zachariah makes his way through the enemy camp, he can switch between three different fighting styles on the fly: the medium-speed staff, the quick and tricky blade and gun, or the lumbering shield and mace style. Each style has a core attack and alternate ability that can each be used in either a quick attack or a longer, more powerful strike. In addition to these, Zachariah has access to a number of technomancer abilities, the most basic of which empowers his weapons with electricity, significantly increasing their power or striking the ground to create an electrical shockwave. Players can also choose to be tricky, relying on stealth to backstab enemies and lay traps to use in battle.
As players progress through The Technomancer, they'll find different diagrams and upgrades that can be used for crafting. Every piece of equipment in the game can be improved and modified and those modifications will be reflected not just in the stats, but also in visual changes to the in-game models. Companion equipment can be upgraded as well.
As Zachariah finishes off the last of the bandits and enters the dome, it becomes clear that something... alien has made the dome its home. A number of spider-like enemies rush the player and it becomes clear that this was not part of the intended training. Bound By Flame fueled Spider's desire to include large, intimidating monster encounters and they've carried that over to The Technomancer. The first boss encounter, and the conclusion of my time seeing the game in action, revolved around a fight against what they called the Diggernaut, a gigantic, burrowing spider. An intense fight, full of crackling electricity and speedy spiderlings was a good way to give an idea of what else might be in store for players when The Technomancer releases.
I've been following Spiders' work since Mars: War Logs and while their games have all had some glaring flaws, I think they also have a lot of heart, originality, and effort behind them. I'm rooting for this to be the game that really takes their studio to the next level and shows what they can do with more resources and a clear vision.
Right now, The Technomancer is slated for release in 2016 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.