Gather around the bonfire, children.
Wait. No, no, wrong game! Sorry. Let me try that again.
Gather around the glowing crystal, children, and let Old Man Mordaith tell you a story about some issues that Earth has been having. Namely, it’s in shambles, and I blame the folks over at Gunfire Games. You know the ones! They don’t seem to really like Earth that much if their Darksiders series is anything to be understood. Remnant: From the Ashes is just their latest turn at kicking our home planet while it is down. For shame. Sure, the Darksiders series is excellent fun, but come on, Earth isn’t full of candy. Stop kicking it!
Jokes aside, the Darksiders are an excellent pedigree of games, and the studio’s experience there really shows in the execution of their newest game.
Remnant: From the Ashes is set in a world where horrible root creatures from another dimension have destroyed everything. Now the protagonist needs to try to push it back, or the last vestiges of humanity are doom. It launched on August 20th, 2019 and is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4.
Getting Blood from a Stone
So I have a big problem with this game — a huge problem. That problem is that folks are knocking on my door telling me that it is like Darksouls. First, that is high praise, I think. I say “I think” because I don’t like Darksouls. Played about thirty minutes of it, got frustrated, and tossed the controller away. Haven’t looked back. I ain’t saying that Darksouls is a lousy game. Hardly! It’s just not for me.
However, I would argue that Remnant: From the Ashes shouldn’t be clumped in with something as unforgiving as Darksouls. It’s a hard game. I would say one of the hardest I’ve played and enjoyed in some time. I often died, horrifically, and in a variety of ways. But I always was allowed to reflect on why I died, come back with a new strategy, and pull off a victory. Victory, even if I had to jump into the grind loop for an hour or two.
The game loop is pretty simple to understand. Throw yourself at the bad guys while progressing through the story until you just can’t. Gather materials to improve your gear (all of your gear, don’t be stingy, even the stuff you don’t use. Trust me.) You have armour and weapons that you need to upgrade, traits to unlock and spend points into, and trinkets to find and equip.
Upgrades are pretty easy to understand. Get the materials, go to the friendly NPC at your base, spend some scrap along with the materials, boom you have a plus three whatever it is you are wearing. Once you upgrade it to a particular point, you need a different quality of material to improve it. What you need for upgrade drops, seemingly based on what you currently require.
So, if you have a load of items in your inventory that require regular iron to appear, you are going to get a large stockpile of regular iron rather quickly. I struggled to find the next tier of upgrade materials because I had a bunch of items I wasn’t using and as such, not upgrading. So I think the game kept feeding me the first tier materials. Once I took a breath, upgraded every single thing in my inventory, I started seeing the next tier materials dropping with much higher frequency. (This occurrence could have been a coincidence, but I don’t think so.)
And getting that upgrade stuff is darn essential, almost as important as spending your trait points. Now you might be a pro gamer person, but if you are like me, you are going to hit a wall in the story campaign. You will come upon a boss monster that you can’t beat, and you need more training. So that is why I am glad for the adventure mode, which is also the reason that I will keep saying that this game feels more like a Diablo-like game than a Darksouls game.
At launch adventure mode was not in the game. Honestly, I can’t imagine playing it and having a good time without the adventure mode, but that’s likely just me. The mode allows a second instance of the game to run alongside your story campaign. You can pop back and forth between the two different game modes at your defacto headquarters. The adventure instance is slightly randomized, will include fragments of the story campaign, and offer materials and item drops. You grind away at a series of maps generated for your current level, get what you need, and then go back to the primary campaign with renewed vigour.
Now hold on, you may all be thinking right now, “But Old Man, that sounds like a simple gameplay loop,” and you would be right. It is simple. And in that simplicity an elegance. That is right. I’m using the word ‘elegance’ to describe a game that involves evil versions of Groot trying to kill everything and has a host of cannibal humans. It is my word hill, and I will die on it — several times. Like I did in playing Remnant.
It’s a very transparent system. I think too many games try to dazzle us with an overwhelmingly complicated system of upgrades. Not this one, and that’s a good thing. There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on in Remnant, and an overly complicated game loop for upgrades and leveling would detract from it. The game wants you to be a rooting-shooting (or is that just root shooting?), hacking-slashing badass and doesn’t want you too hung up on learning how to build this character optimally or how to min-max.
Through levelling or just finding books, you find traits, and you spend them into abilities. Unlock these abilities by accomplishing things in-game or completing different plots. I unlocked one trait by completing a story mission, another I unlocked after scoring enough hits on enemy weak spots. Every unlocked trait was clear in how I acquired it and spurred me onwards to explore and experiment to open more.
Like Ash on the Wind
I flail around. When I am in a fast past action sequence of a game my old man brain takes over and starts screaming, “Why is everything so fast and loud?!” While this happens, I default instinctively to two responses: To mash buttons madly, and bite my lower lip in growing self-disappointment.
This flailing honestly happens regardless of how tightly designed a control scheme is. I want to blame it on a dimensional drift or something cool like that so that the kids will like me more, but it’s likely because I tend to throw myself at a system, let my corpse get torn up by it, then figure out how to get less torn up the next go around. Hey, don’t knock it, different folks learn different ways, and I have elected the path of pain.
The flailing happened with Remnant, but what is important to point out is it isn’t a horrible experience. Conversely, it was a gratifying experience, and this rewarding sensation comes from the well put together controls of the game. With many of these games – the over-the-shoulder, fast-paced action ones – their controls can go very badly for me. But Remnant’s controls do what I want them to do when I want, and honestly that sometimes feels like a rarity these days. It made aiming, shooting, dodging, hiding and reloading all very easy. I always felt very much in control of my character. This fact meant two important things for me. First, my flailing and weeping was a minimum. (Thankfully, since I was streaming this game.) Second, I was able to appreciate the visuals and audio of the game. And as it turns out, the audio portion is essential.
I know lots of you young folks like to plug your cyberpunk earmuffs into whatever disco machine you have, shutting off the in-game sound, and just letting your tunes be your companion. That is fine, in many cases, but not here. In previous reviews, I stress my love of good audio. The audio in Remnant isn’t just good – it’s bloody mandatory listening.
Several times in the game, my character survived an otherwise-deadly ambush only because I could hear a creature coming up behind me. The audio cues some enemies give are the only warning you’ll get before they unleash hell on you; if you don’t start dodging at the right moment, kiss your butt goodbye. Not only that, but I could identify enemies by sound. I remember creeping around the sewers of poor busted up Earth and hearing the very clear footfalls of a particular elite monster. Knowing it was lurking around nearby likely saved my (virtual) life.
Controls and audio work great in this game. They conspire to make the player feel powerful, aware and in control. Combined with a well-designed grind loop, incredible visuals and creature design, and above-average voice acting, the world feels like one worth saving.
I was surprised, several times, by the lore of this world. There are lots of files and notes to read — evidence of experiments, mistakes and attempts to do good in a bad situation. Each is lovingly crafted, giving a distinct voice and pathos to the fictional author. I cared more for this story than I expected. I figured I would breeze through any fluff I discovered, so I could get back to mashing monsters and looting boxes. Nope. I found myself taking breaks and reading every scrap of lore I could find.
One last word about the look and feel of the game. Character customization is a thing. You can design your avatar to go tromping around the worlds, and it offers a surprising amount of customization options and allows a small selection of character voices. The gear that you find is all dynamic on your character. So when you put on that floppy cultist hat or super creepy tree mask, you see it reflected on your avatar. Also, when you add mods to your weapons, you can see them physically change as well. The mod that adds a strange root ability to my gun grows vines down the barrel, for example.
A World Worth Saving
I think it is pretty clear that I enjoyed this game. I will stand by my thoughts that this feels more akin to a Diablo-like game than Darksouls. It’s easier to say, however, that this game stands out on its own. I expect I will continue to enjoy this game for some time to come, and its replayability is built directly into the core mechanics.
There is no world breaking reinventing of the wheel here. When you sign up for Earth protection duty with Remnant, you’re getting tried and tested game mechanics. There’s a refinement to the mechanics here, bringing them into sharp focus. It allows for a considerable amount of agency and understanding with the controls. It gives you a lovingly crafted world with unique creatures and environments.
Remnant is challenging without making you feel like an idiot. It lets you tackle things at your own pace and gives lots of breathing room when you want it. Gunfire Games has made a setting and system that is as rewarding to explore as it is to kill through. I am very interested in seeing what future content is released because they still look like they are hard at work on what comes next.
8.5/10 Would happily stand against a tide of horrible evil Groots again.
Review by Joshua Smith (Old Man Mordaith)
Edited by Jesse Roberts