It’s no secret that this game has already earned itself a reputation for being a third-person Dark Souls game and despite the career I’m currently investing a lot of my time into, I’m not exactly drawn to describing it as such. I know it’s the meme that game journalists describe anything that’s difficult as Dark Souls and then a lot of dorks on the Internet get all pissy because “How dare you besmirch the work of Miyazaki?”, but the fact of the matter is that Remnant: From the Ashes isn’t like Dark Souls.
It borrows some design ideas from the iconic series of RPGs but I think it largely stands on its own. It would be a disservice to both games to say they’re like each other, but I would also be lying if I said it wasn’t clear where Remnant draws a lot of its inspiration from and while what it does innovate on is enjoyable it does still stand-out as a very clear, slightly rough first attempt.
Remnant is a game that wants you to get sucked into its loop, a process that can be both incredibly enjoyable and very dull at the same time. Starting off with the barest of equipment, you’ll receive orders to find Ford, the Founder of the human refuge Ward 13, because only he knows how to stop The Root, a strange parasitic alien race, from spreading across the entirety of Earth and destroying everything in its path. You’ll do this by running through a series of linear levels sectioned off by glowing doors and killing many, many creatures.
Remnant is a third-person shooter that wants to both empower the player and make them especially vulnerable at any given time. In the midst of combat, you have very little defensive options, save for a good offence, so while your enemies will go down fairly easily with a few well-placed shots, so will you. Your character is a glass cannon, able to dish out copious amounts of damage as you spend scrap to upgrade your weapons but you’ll never be able to withstand more than a few hits. It’s a frantic shooter that’s only made manageable by the careful control of the crowds that will swarm your position. Remnant excels at simulating a fight between technology and primal savagery, even when the story takes a more esoteric turn.
Without spoilers, Remnant’s story goes places I never expected it to and while the writing was your standard fare of archaic English and grizzled survivor jargon, it definitely sets itself apart from other post-apocalyptic stories. While I was never engaged with the narrative, I’d be lying if I said the many strange characters and locations didn’t intrigue me although that might have something to do with the game’s incredible environmental art-design. The levels, while being fairly standard linear corridors, have some increasingly pretty aesthetics that always challenged what I expected each new area to look like. What starts as a drab, fairly cliché vision of ruined Earth turns into some gorgeous vistas, many being a mix of modernist fantasy and classic sci-fi. What should amount to a game that presents as messy somehow just…works.
Which is something that can also be said for the game’s core loop, albeit for less enthusiastically. Ploughing through droves of enemies and exploring the environments will yield some currencies to pour into weapons and armour so as to better equip yourself for tougher enemies but the process is just never as satisfying as you’d like it to be. Weapons and equipment are dolled out far too slowly to really compete with most of the starting equipment that’s already been upgraded to a much higher level considering you’ve had them from the start.
While the robust Trait system does allow for players to build their characters in a way that would encourage strategic improvements made to weapons that would go along with their desired build, the progression is too incremental to really feel substantial. I found myself ignoring nearly all the new unlocks I would come across because the gear I’d been using from the start was already so much better and to get this spiffy new crossbow to a higher level would require me to grind for materials, a process that probably would have been simple enough but felt like unnecessary padding.
It wasn’t the equipment upgrades that kept me playing Remnant: From the Ashes, now was it the fairly uninspired level design, but rather the thing that I think most people will enjoy about this game: The bosses. You’ll have to face down plenty of bosses during your time with Remnant and they are easily the best part of the experience. Which one plays with one’s own style, requiring different tactics to properly eliminate; just aimlessly firing a magazine off into their faces isn’t enough to bring these monsters down, you’ll have to be a bit more clever than that. Playing with a friend, which I highly recommend, by the way, we were pushed to work together to take down some of the more difficult opponents in fights that reminded me almost of a raid in Destiny. They required communication, teamwork and trust so much so that every hard-won victory was exhilarating. While I did initially take issue with a large part of these fights being made more difficult through the addition of fodder enemies, I understand now that without extra grunts splitting our attention the fights would have been far too easy. Manufactured difficulty? Perhaps. Yet I think Remnant knows that I chose to go with a necessary evil.
Remnant: From the Ashes is definitely one of the surprises of the year. Despite some fairly lack-lustre gameplay elements and some hit-or-miss writing, I think it sticks the landing for the most part. What strikes me most about Remnant is how successful of a first attempt it is; it has a lot of small issues that temper the experience with some frustration and annoyance but these are largely balanced with some moments of exceptional combat design.
If anything, Remnant: From the Ashes serves as a really good game that also represents a fantastic first attempt at something new and lays the groundwork for a sequel to fix the problems of this first game and take this potential sequel to exceedingly high places.
Last Updated: September 10, 2019