French developer Spiders is among the most widely misunderstood companies in the game industry. Their games – from Mars War Logs to Bound By Flame – have been panned left and right for dodgy mechanics and poor quality control. But if you take a hard look at what they’re trying to accomplish, it’s hard not to be impressed by their ambition. They aim to infuse modern action RPGs with the design sensibilities of old school games like Baldur’s Gate – branching storylines and skill trees that make every playthrough feel different. It’s a tough design challenge – and they’ve had mixed results with their previous games – but with The Technomancer they may well have cracked it.
Set in the same dystopian universe as Mars War Logs, The Technomancer casts you as – what else – a technomancer. Armed with special abilities that allow you to control technology, you act as an agent of Mars’ neo-communist government, scouring Earth for old treasures and fighting enemies of the state. In fairly short order you’ll discover things that throw everything you think you know into question, and from there you’ll get to chart your own course through Spiders’ strangely believable sci-fi universe.
Instead of having you follow a single branching storyline, The Technomancer asks you to deal with six different opposing factions, each with their own goals. Every choice you make will raise or lower your standing with these factions, and you’ll need to choose carefully since you can’t keep everyone happy. Faction systems are a lot more dynamic than binary moral choice metrics, and studios like Obsidian have used them very effectively to create living, breathing worlds like the Mojave Wasteland in Fallout: New Vegas. It can be a little tricky to keep track of everything in a game like this, but if Spiders’ writing team can pull it off, they’ll be able to deliver a sense of player agency like few other AAA games.
The Technomancer also gives you a great deal of control over how your character interacts with the world. Using a modified version of Bound by Flame’s skill tree, the game allows you to customize your characters to suit your playing style. Whether you prefer weapons or magic is up to you, or you can put points into softer skills that allow you to solve problems in different ways. Passing charisma checks will allow you to bluff and negotiate your way out of trouble – an option that too many modern RPGs either neglect or oversimplify.
Spiders already excels at storytelling – they’ve crafted some of the most engaging game worlds in recent memory – and one of these days they’re going to release a game that takes the world by storm. With The Technomancer it looks like they’ll finally get the gameplay side of the equation right. They still have some things to work out – the in-game HUD is a little confusing, for starters – but the game is already thoroughly impressive. With a year between now and launch, they can polish it into something really special.