In all the hype surrounding the breakout hit RPG GreedFall, my own included, I remembered with some regret that I had never really played Spiders’ last game: The Technomancer.
It’s not for lack of trying.
I purchased a copy of the game for PS4 shortly after it came out thanks in part to a gift card from my girlfriend, then died to an early fight and lost several minutes progress due to not saving recently.
“Oh it’s one of those sorts of games. It still looks cool, I’ll come back!”
I forgot to come back.
My second chance came this past April, when The Technomancer went free as part of Microsoft’s Games with Gold program on Xbox.
But then I spent the last several months mostly playing Switch and PC games.
Whenever I find myself liking a game, I like to delve into that company’s back catalog and see how far they’ve come.
I played a healthy chunk of Spiders’ first two Bioware-style Action RPGs, Mars: War Logs and Bound By Flame.
Both of those games were quite fun…though not fun enough for me to put more than five or six hours into them.
GreedFall is a dramatic step up…so dramatic that surely, I thought, the game in the middle had to be some kind of bridge between this newfound quality and the work they’d done in the past.
I dusted off my neglected Xbox download, and dove in. Within minutes the link was more than apparent.
Indeed, GreedFall is basically The Technomancer 2.
So if you’re enjoying Spiders’ latest game and feel like another go when you’re done, I’d urge you to sprint to the Techomancer’s door.
That name is great and stupid, isn’t it?
They just shoved together Technology and Necromancer and I love them for it. It evokes an era of games where things weren’t quite so serious.
The game presents a story about a stratified society on a human-settled Mars, with a zombie-mutant caste at the bottom and a clan of Mage Warriors named Technomancers at the top.
Without spoiling anything, you’ll learn almost immediately that this society is predictably built on lies and deception, and embark on a grand quest as the newest member of this mage/fighter order.
Almost every game mechanic in GreedFall is built upon work done in The Technomancer.
The skill system, deep crafting, and combat all have their roots here, and aren’t that much different from the new game.
Character creation is more limited. You’re stuck playing as a dude named Zachariah.
The world is a little thinner on content, without the big sprawling island of GreedFall, but still holding plenty of nooks and crannies and optional items to find.
Also, the most exciting design choice here is totally absent in Spiders’ other games:
A moral choice underpins every combat encounter in The Technomancer.
When you fight human enemies, defeating them doesn’t outright kill them, and you’ll have to press an additional button to drain them of valuable resources and murder them in the process. You can still collect loot on their person either way.
That’s a really neat idea, honestly.
I’ve spent the last few decades of my life murdering all sorts of bandits, rogues, and soldiers in RPGs without giving it a second thought.
As I’ve aged, every once in a while, a little voice in the back of my head shouts “TO WHAT END” as I crush yet another adversary.
The Technomancer changes this in a way both mechanical and story-driven.
BioShock tried to do the same thing, but it was confined to specific choices regarding the Little Sisters.
Here, it’s spread across the whole game, and that alone is interesting enough that I’m going to stick with it till I see credits this time.
Graphically, The Technomancer still holds up in spite of being a lower budget production.
The textures and the lighting in particular are marvelous, just like in GreedFall. I know that realistic materials are nothing new in video games thanks to physically-based rendering, but I still get a kick out of a good implementation.
Upon release, The Technomancer was perhaps unfairly compared to Mass Effect, when in reality its much closer to Dragon Age or The Witcher.
Mass Effect is firmly in shooter territory, but here the combat centers around fantasy weaponry with a dash of sci-fi flair, and although you can carry a gun they overheat pretty quickly.
It’s a little weird that the warriors in this future society fight mostly with staves, swords, and magic…but then again in an industry dominated by copies and sequels, sometimes “a little weird” is just what I’m looking for.
Since it was never really recognized as a cool game, and is now overshadowed by its new more impressive younger brother, The Technomancer goes on sale all the time.
After I’ve finished it, unless it takes a huge quality dive after its opening hours, it might even make it into my Essential Games collection.
The Technomancer perfectly blends delightful weirdness with a solid mechanical foundation, and visuals that have somehow stood the test of time.
I wish the industry would take chances on games like this more often.