I vividly recall wondering to myself as I resurrected for the fourth or fifth, or was it the sixth time, under the broken skyline of a shattered cityscape – Am I actually good enough to review this bloody game? Sure, I had lain waste to many of the city’s minor denizens, beings twisted by a pervasive alien infestation known as The Root and remade into horrors. I had even helped in the destruction of a couple of the world’s gatekeepers, corrupted monstrosities whose pain, suffering and anger transformed them into creatures of pure nightmare. So, I logged out and took an hour or so to gather myself. Upon re-entering the shattered world, I was joined by a couple of friends, and together we not only triumphed where I had failed numerous times before, but I began to see why I failed, or more accurately how the game had failed me, but I will get to that in a bit.
Remnant: From the Ashes is a third-person action RPG that’s taken a page or two from the Dark Souls handbook and added a bunch of guns and the ability to team up with friends to fight back against the corruption that has destroyed the world. The game starts poorly, with some vague scene-setting and a boring brown opening level with not a lot going on. The first NPCs are dull but well-acted, and it started to look like I was about to plod through yet another lacklustre ARPG with a whole bunch of borrowed parts, and not much more. Thankfully things soon started to get better, and the more I explored, the more fun I was having. Sure, everything was painted in the standard post-apocalypse pallet of brown on brown, but I could see glimpses of something rather wonderful peeking out from the pitted and rusted surfaces every time I encountered a new enemy. They are interesting, they are dangerous, they are unrelenting, they are beautiful, and they are smart.
It is the enemies that make Remnant what it is. Every creature from cannon fodder to towering monstrosity is rather glorious in its design and execution. Stunning to look at and challenging to fight. They use the environment, will find cover, flank, and work together in order to bring you down. The variety of enemies is not only numerous but also diverse. The real stars of the show though are the bosses. Every single one is a thing of nightmarish beauty. From giant walking trees to robotic hunters, mutated humanoids, and multi-armed aliens, they are the core of the game and the reason why you will keep playing even after dying time and time again. Defeating a boss in Remnant is one of the most satisfying feelings I have ever experienced in the video game, it is also helped by the fact that everyone will drop an epic piece of loot, and that unique item may change depending on how you defeated it — making killing a boss rewarding not only as an achievement but as a means to improve your character.
Loot drops from Bosses usually result in a crafting item that can be taken back to your base and made into a unique weapon mod or weapon. Mods can be attached to a weapon that gives the player a new active ability. This can be anything from summoning a monster to fight with you, to group healing, turning your weapon into a radiation spewing laser, unleashing a plague of insects, and so much more. Weapon Mods are game-changers, but they’re not the only tools in your arsenal. You will pick up new weapons along the way but know this is no looter shooter. New weapons are scarce, so don’t expect to pick up a new one regularly. Armour, rings, and necklaces can be found randomly in the world or purchased from various vendors. Each has its own unique passive bonuses as you’d expect and helps to hone your preferred build.
When it comes to your character, there is a lot of depth to how you can build it. There are three base classes that pretty quickly become irrelevant. There is the up-close, mid-range, and long-distance archetype, but as any class can use all items the distinction ends up being moot, and it will be the player’s own playstyle that dictates what their character actually is. While you can level up your weapons and equip mods and gear to refine your build, it is the game’s Trait system where you get to define how your character plays. With over 30 traits to earn and collect, you’ll have no shortage of options in making your character feel right for you. If you want to be a sniper who can remain hidden, or a badass tank, or something in between, it really is in your hands.
I really like Remnant; it is a smart game with fantastic enemy design and a pretty solid procedural generation system that makes every player’s game just different enough. Every player will have a slightly different experience with different bosses, layouts, and loot drops. I’ve been told that any single run will only give you about half of the available content, so jumping into another player’s game can be rewarding by giving you access to places and loot drops you may not have in your world.
While Remnant can be played solo, it is best experienced with others. With up to three people working together, the game really does come into its own. Being able to strategise, respond dynamically to threats, revive fallen comrades, and scream frustration at each other as things devolve into a shambolic mosh-pit of death and shattered bodies makes the game feel so much richer. The pep talks prior to re-entering the meat-grinder, and the shared triumphs and tragedies are the glue that holds the whole experience together. Actually, I need to qualify this statement. As I mentioned at the top of this review, the game failed me due to a glaring flaw, and that is co-op with strangers is a far inferior experience. There is no in-game chat I could find. No emotes, or gesture system. There is no way at all for three strangers to communicate in-game in any meaningful way. In my case, this led me to die due to my teammates failing to effectively work together and causing a series of stupid and avoidable deaths. It’s an oversight I cannot overlook, and one I cannot forgive. Soloing is better than playing with strangers, and in fact even easier in a lot of places. The vine dragon that killed our team half a dozen times, I killed solo on my first attempt. This is by far the biggest issue I have with the game, but it is not the only one.
There are a few niggles that lessened my enjoyment. The procedural generation system occasionally makes levels that don’t flow as well as I would have liked and did cause a few instances of déjà vu, where a level block gets reused a few too many times. Vendors can only be accessed by one player at a time causing queue when upgrading gear or crafting new items. And then there are the bugs…
The most dangerous enemies in the game are the bugs. I experienced over a dozen disconnects, a couple of freezes and countless times where I could not interact with an object, including not being able to revive a teammate because the prompt would not trigger. There were some severe latency issues which made some fights literally impossible, and a few minor graphical glitches that were more annoying than actually problematic. Hopefully, there is a day one patch to address some of these, but most importantly I hope the game’s servers get an upgrade because that is a real game-breaker.
With that all said, I think Remnant: From the Ashes is a rather special game. When played with friends with voice chat it provided some of the very best gaming moments of this year and is a game I want to keep going back to. Each of the game’s four worlds feel lived in and distinct from the others. Each has its own unique lifeforms and ways for them to kill you. It is tough and nails, but it is also fair, and when running smoothly, death never feels cheap. If you are looking for a rewarding co-op experience, then look no further.