This week, Yahtzee reviews Remnant: From the Ashes.
Remnant...y'know, I'm torn on doing a dry heave here. I always dry heave when a new game tries to have a coloned double-title for the sake of the dream of larger franchising that, odds are good, will remain naught but a glint in the publisher's eye, but if you took the colon out of Remnant (HRUUH) From the Ashes, it would work perfectly well as a title. Remnant from the Ashes. Sure, a remnant is a logical thing to find in some ashes; if you're finding, say, bread bins or lollipop ladies in the ashes, that might be a cause for concern (or a sign you need to buy a hotter oven), but remnants? Sure, ashes are loaded with the fuckers! But then again, the point is to dry heave at unnecessary colons, and by any metric, that's what this is. So sorry fellas, rules are rules.
Remnant (HRUUH) From the Ashes is a third-person action-adventure with a grim tone set in a dying world- it's a Dark Souls clone, isn't it? "Yes, Yahtzee, that's why we thought you would like it, since you feel about Dark Souls the way a starving tiger feels about something tigers particularly enjoy eating!" Yeah, but it feels like half the original IPs these days are Dark Souls clones. You're like grandparents, you are; I show up to your house in orange trousers one fucking time and now you get me a new pair of orange trousers every fucking Christmas. So come on then, what's this one's gimmick? "Well, it's Dark Souls, but with guns!" So, Bloodborne, then. "NO, SHUT UP. It's Dark Souls with a full-on third-person shooter: over-the-shoulder, iron sights, the whole steaming cowpat." So, it's Dark Souls but combined with the other 50% of every game that comes out these days.
I suppose you could also say it's 'Dark Souls, but co-op,' even though Dark Souls is already my perfect coop game in that other people mostly leave me the fuck alone, but I can grudgingly call them in to help out if a boss is really kicking my ass and afterwards they immediately fuck off. The point being, that the environments and challenges of Dark Souls are not obviously designed around co-op multiplayer, whereas Remnant's most certainly are, meaning long, repetitive dungeon crawls full of streams of copy-pasted baddies, and every fucking boss fight has the boss call in his fucking Alcoholics Anonymous support group for your theoretical tagalongs to help deal with. There's one boss that is two bosses that both stay on either side of a narrow bridge the player's on, so for solo players, it's literally impossible to keep track of both at once unless you happen to be an owl, and it won't be less frustrating because the controller will keep falling out of your majestic talons.
So, Bread Bin: From the Ashes didn't make a good first impression; I know, because I have to talk about the plot at some point, and I've been stalling as I can't remember what it fucking was. It's post-apocalyptic, naturally; civilization has collapsed after an invasion by a strange, mystical alien threat called The Root, a name that was presumably not suggested by an Australian. We play a lone survivor who's trying to get...somewhere. I seem to remember a lighthouse being mentioned at the start; maybe we were late for the audition to be the protagonist in a BioShock game. Whatever, we shack up with a pocket of human survivors in a bunker, and that becomes our staging post from which to embark upon the usual Souls-like routine: go out into the world, unlock new bonfires- I mean...I fucking forgot what they renamed the bonfires to, as well- bonfires, find loot, upgrade your stats and weapons, die and die and die like First World War soldiers who've just been told that a new trench foot clinic has opened in the middle of no man's land.
But here comes the second act twist, listeners; Remnant is doing something right, because after a while I was getting into it. That's why I'm annoyed I can't remember how the plot started. See, I fell into a trance early on, going through ruined sewer after ruined sewer in a boring, Darksiders-esque apocalyptic city, but I awoke from my trance several hours later to find myself going through a bunch of stargates, following some kind of interdimensional Doctor Livingstone on safari through a multiverse of radioactive desert worlds and jungle planets, where enigmatic creatures offered alliances and less enigmatic but considerably more numerous creatures offered a variety of primitive bladed weapons up the rusty periscope. And I'd kind of like to remember how the fuck I got there! Somewhere along the way, resignedly trudging through the game for work had transmuted into engagedly playing through it for fun and I'm not sure where the line was crossed.
Not that it's a spellbinding game; the combat and environment switch up the bare minimum amount of times to keep things interesting and there's enough repetition that I had to have my podcasts on lest my brain turned into a great big kneaded eraser. But I think the game benefits from a strong gameplay loop. It is hard to fuck up over-the-shoulder shooting, it is the beans on toast of gameplay mechanics. But Remnant: From the Arses manages to balance standard combat to be simultaneously challenging and not so bullet-spongy that mowing everything down stops being cathartic; now there's a sentence that will get me flagged on a database somewhere.
Even playing single-player in my stubbornly obstinate way, the entourage boss fights were never so frustrating that they didn't feel quite doable after a handful of attempts. The all-purpose top tip for dealing with bosses with minions is focus on the minions first, 'cos you can't miss the boss as they waddle around the arena under the weight of their chemically-enhanced balls; it's the little sneaky knives up the gravy trumpet you need to worry about.
Still, I have gripes. When I find a new, extremely repetitive maze-like dungeon, it would be nice to know if this was one of the repetitive daze-like mungeon that will progress me in the game or if it's one of the optional depreciative raze-like luncheons that will just give me a new weapon or piece of armor at the end and then look offended when I don't seem appreciative 'cos Remnant has the Dark Souls problem where whenever you find a new weapon, if you're lucky, it'll only need about twelve levels of upgrades before it can compete with your starting weapons you've been upgrading all this time, the ones you'd gotten used to over the last twelve podcasts worth of repetitive combat, so most new weapons go right into the rumpus room cupboard forever 'cos I don't feel like kneecapping my own effectiveness for the sake of a newer model. A good lesson for everyday life, especially if you have a job developing new updates for Windows 10.
In summary, Remnant starts on a poor note, but with time, upgrades to a solidly basically okay. I hope you'll indulge me as I take a little philosophical curve now.
Throughout history, gamers and gaming correspondents have always divided games into the worthies and the unworthies, and this dichotomy has taken many forms: PCs vs. consoles; hardcore vs. casual; mobile vs. everything else. But for me, the split has always been thus: games that make you feel vs. games that make you numb. Some games challenge and energize your emotions and give you ideas and inspiration, whereas other games seek only to massage your rodent brain with repetitive pats to the head so you don't think dangerous thoughts, like "I wish my landlord wouldn't keep coming into my house and eating all my family's pies." And if I occasionally seem contemptuous at multiplayer-focused games, it's because they're almost always the latter; running around the same maps, shooting the same dudes, day-in-day-out until you run out of subscription money and then go sell your body to a young conservative's organization.
Remnant is a numbing game but for what it's worth, it's on the more positive side of the numbing coin. Occasional nice scenery and story moments, and a functional gameplay loop that gives your hands something to do while you listen to the Communist Manifesto on audiobook.
- All that remains: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- But I'll say one thing for numbing games, they're an astoundingly good metaphor for capitalism
- The root, the root, the root is on fire