A remnant of a better game.
Remnant: From the Ashes has a terrible title. I’m still not sure what the heck it means, and I’ve played the game. From the Ashes would be better. So would Remnant. Shorter, simpler, to the point. The current title is repetitive, like someone lost the game of rock, paper, scissors that would determine what the title was and realized they were a producer and put it in anyway. Horrible title aside, what Gunfire Games has accomplished here is pretty good. I imagine that the idea for Remnant came with a bunch of people sitting in a room, talking about what that absurdly popular From Software Action RPG Series That Shall Not Be Named (because making comparisons to it are lazy and ruin it for when we actually need to talk about games that are like it) still needed. And someone, doodling in a notebook, looked up and said, “guns.” And then someone else pounded the table and said, “co-op. All the time.” And development started that day.
And really, if I was going to pitch Remnant to a friend as a game they should buy, and they said, “Oh, what’s it like?” I’d probably say, “Imagine [insert From Software Action RPG Series That Shall Not Be Named Here] with guns and co-op, and it wouldn’t be far from the truth. You start the game as an adventurer setting out on a boat for a distant tower where another hero went, slayed a dragon, and never returned. Your job is to finish what they started, though what that entails is vague. Your boat is upended by waves before you reach the tower, and you wash up on shore near Ward 13. Ward 13 is a small colony of survivors who are still holding out against The Root, a group of savage beings made of bark who look liked they were summoned to the world by a tree-hugging necromancer. The folks at Ward 13 agree to help you if you’ll do them a couple of favors, and then they equip you to go out into the world, which you do via an enormous glowy crystal.
"Most of what Remnant offers is well-worn: resting at crystals respawns enemies you’ve killed, and recharges your dragon heart, which allows you to heal a certain number of times and can be upgraded by finding items in the game world. Bosses are designated by a wall of fog you step through to begin the encounter and drop items that can be forged into unique and powerful weapons."
From there, the game follows the template that From Software laid down in 2009 and expanded on in 2011. You’ll make your way through (gorgeous) ruins of the world, traipsing between crystal fragments as you navigate an interconnected world. Most of what Remnant offers is well-worn: resting at crystals respawns enemies you’ve killed, and recharges your dragon heart, which allows you to heal a certain number of times and can be upgraded by finding items in the game world. Bosses are designated by a wall of fog you step through to begin the encounter and drop items that can be forged into unique and powerful weapons. Defeating enemies gives you experience, which can spend to level up attributes like health, weapon mod charge rate, stamina, and other abilities that are unlocked as you progress through the game. You can use the crystals to travel back to Ward 13, where you can spend the scrap you acquire by defeating enemies to purchase and upgrade weapons, armor, and weapons mods, which can activate special abilities after they have been charged by using the weapon they are attached to.
There are, however, quite a few differences. First, you don’t lose any experience you’ve gained when you die, though you will be unceremoniously thrown back to the lack crystal you reached. Secondly, the entire game is built of a series on randomizations. Each zone is made up of a series of randomized pre-made pieces that arrange themselves the first time a world is created. Similarly, bosses appear in a randomized order in dungeons (self-contained areas that are separated by the main map), which means that your first boss might be my third, or that I might not see it at all during my initial playthrough. Since bosses provide different traits that can be leveled up with the experience you accumulate, each playthrough will be very different. You can re-roll a world without losing your progress if you wish, but that’s meant more for replayability than to get yourself out of a situation you don’t like. Gunfire estimates that players will see about 45% of the game’s content on a single playthrough, which means that there’s a lot of replay value here. Better still, everything felt natural as I played it. The areas flowed well into one another and bosses seemed appropriately placed for where I was in the game, allowing Remnant to maintain a handcrafted feel while maximizing replayability. Had I not known that the game randomized these things, I wouldn’t have been able to tell.
And man, are the bosses and areas fun. My first encounter took place in the sewers against a boss named Shroud, a wraith with a bow who could teleport and regenerate health. The room he was in, a square chamber with multiple levels divided by stairs and catwalks, was filled with enemies, and avoiding his attacks, keeping track of where he was, and managing the seemingly endless waves of minor mobs while making sure he wasn’t having too many opportunities to regenerate his health made It extremely challenging. I died… a lot. But once I figured it out, he barely touched me. The next boss, a rolling monstrosity, as easy, especially with the help of my newly formed team. The next one was an enormous dragon named Singe, whose flames could light the Immolators in his area on fire, making them far more dangerous. Singe and his buddies repeatedly stomped us into the ground, and I can’t imagine taking him on by myself.
"The next one was an enormous dragon named Singe, whose flames could light the Immolators in his area on fire, making them far more dangerous. Singe and his buddies repeatedly stomped us into the ground, and I can’t imagine taking him on by myself."
The good news is you don’ have to. Remnant does support three player co-op and players can drop in and out at will if you have a public game going, though there are options for solo play and private rooms. You can’t really communicate in-game very well, but the co-op is still a blast and I enjoyed my time with it. The game ramps the difficulty up based on how many players are in your party, but the rewards increase accordingly, giving you incentive to play with others. Co-op also means you’ll probably want to differentiate your playstyle. Near the beginning of the game, you’re ask to choose an archetype, each of which corresponds to short, medium, or long-ranged play. Normally, I’d go for the Hunter, who excels at long range and starts with a rifle, but the Ex-Cultist, who specializes at mid-range, starts with an outfit that looks like it came out of a Western, a coach gun (think a shotgun that works at close to mid-range), and a mod that lets you drop a pool of healing energy on the ground. Being Clint Eastwood was too good to pass up.
While this choice does determine your starting loadout, it isn’t limiting. You can buy the other armor, weapons, and mods you would have gotten from the other classes with scrap, and new mods, weapons, and armor you gain throughout your journey can be used regardless of what you picked initially. You can equip a long gun and a sidearm, as well as a melee weapon, at any given point, and you’ll need to use all of them to succeed. You don’t carry a lot of ammo, especially for your long gun (my coach gun maxed out at 26 rounds), so determining how to take enemies out is a big deal. Early on, I relied heavily on the repeater pistol, which offered solid damage and could work at range, but as I got better, I started to use melee attacks more. Melee attacks aren’t flashy and they only feel okay – your character just swings at things – but it works, especially on smaller enemies. Thankfully, the guns make up for it. They feel and sound powerful (unless they shouldn’t) and enemies react to taking hits to vital areas, which can stagger them mid-attack. Aiming for the head is a necessity.
The real stars of the show, however, are the mods, Mods can be equipped to any gun, and using the weapon they’re equipped to charges them up. Once charged, you can activate their abilities. Initially, I had my healing mod equipped to my coach gun, but the fact that I wasn’t using it on anything other than bigger Root meant that it wasn’t charging, so I switched it to my pistol. The available variety is wide: one adds fire damage to your weapons’ rounds, while others summon decoys, attack with friendly monsters, or mark targets for increased critical chance, among other things. Picking your mods, and what guns they should be attached to, is a big part of what makes your character unique and allows you to really dig into how your character plays.
" Given how easy it is to die, and how rare and valuable ammo is, when and where these new enemies (which can include mini-bosses) spawn on you often determines whether your live or die far more than your play does."
For all of Remnant’s success, however, it’s still plagued by a few issues. The game is beautiful, but many of the environments are standard post-apocalyptic fare, with destroyed cars and vine-tangled buildings on every street. It reminded me of Gunfire’s own Darksiders III. That isn’t bad, mind, but it would have been nice to see something new here. The game also features some difficulty spikes. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue (every game has difficulty spikes), but the way they show up in Remnant feels particularly unfair. Initial enemy placement is decided once a world is created for the first time, but the game also has an AI director (think Left 4 Dead) who can toggle more enemies whenever it wants, often spawning them behind you with nothing more than a high-pitched noise to signal that something has changed. Given how easy it is to die, and how rare and valuable ammo is, when and where these new enemies (which can include mini-bosses) spawn on you often determines whether your live or die far more than your play does. In the early game, I was wandering through some sewers, often fighting dozens of enemies at once in small spaces. That was fine. I could predict where they were and how they would behave, and if they killed me, I knew how to deal with it next time.
But then the game director decided to spawn a mini-boss with a chaingun behind me. In a tight hallway. When 15 enemies were in front of me. I died. I also died when the director spawned another mini-boss, who cannot be harmed until he lowers his guard to attack you, behind me in another corridor when I was fighting enemies in front of me. Dealing with him meant turning my back on them. Dealing with them meant he would kill me in two hits. This pattern repeated itself several times until I finally got through, but it was enormously frustrating. I couldn’t tell what mini-boss would spawn or where, so there was no way to prepare for it. Dying over and over again to a random enemy that can appear anywhere in a game based on design that rewards persistence and practice against the same enemies, operating in the same ways, in the same places, isn’t fun. It’s just irritating. To be fair, this system works well much of the time. But when it doesn’t, it can ruin an otherwise good time.
That system’s flaws aren’t the only disappointing things. The game’s story, while initially intriguing, gets dull quickly, though there are good environmental touches, like old journals, scattered about. Similarly, the game’s loot system is a bit disappointing. New weapons and armor are rare, expensive, or difficult to craft, which means you’ll spend most of the game just upgrading your starting equipment because it’s more cost effective. This isn’t a bad system – I liked upgrading my guns, and it makes sense – but it can be a bit of a downer if you want to try something else or find a new gun.
"When the game breaks with the formula by introducing guns, mods, co-op, and randomization, it’s very good, even if there are a few kinks that still need to be worked out. It’s a fun game alone and significantly better in co-op, and the replay value is through the roof. "
Remnant: From The Ashes is very much a game based on the From Software Action RPG That Shall Not Be Named. There’s a stamina meter, you roll out of the way of things, checkpoints respawn enemies you have already killed, bosses are denoted by walls of fog you push through, environmental storytelling through item descriptions and collectibles is front and center, and there’s a hub area that you return to when you need upgrades. It feels very, very derivative, and not always to its benefit.
When the game breaks with the formula by introducing guns, mods, co-op, and randomization, it’s very good, even if there are a few kinks that still need to be worked out. It’s a fun game alone and significantly better in co-op, and the replay value is through the roof. But it never escapes the shadow of a seminal, genre-defining work, of being a remnant of a better product. It’s not a bad game, but it isn’t a great one. If you don’t mind a little déjà vu and have some friends, you’ll have a good time here, terrible title and all. But every second in its world reminds you that it’s built on the back of another game, and that a little studio in Japan did most of this, and did it better, almost a decade ago.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Excellent gunplay. Mods let you customize your role. Co-op is a lot of fun. Randomization means a lot of replayability.
Very derivative of a certain From Software series. Unfair difficulty spikes you can't prepare for. Limited loot means you'll often stick with what you start with. Looks like basically any other post-apocalyptic game.
Remnant: From The Ashes is a game with extremely derivative design, but good gunplay, solid co-op play, and smart randomization means it's still fun, if not original, solo or with friends.