Remnant: From the Ashes Review – Soulslike Gunslinging Takes Root

Remnant: From the Ashes brings guns and friends to the Soulslike table, and playthroughs remain engaging despite its several flaws and bad tendencies.

Darksiders 3 developer Gunfire Games’ Remnant: From the Ashes is the newest Soulslike, introducing high-intensity gunplay and online co-op to the well-trodden genre while still aping a sufficient amount of Dark Souls series elements to fit the trendy criteria. This surefire formula means that combat and exploration are decently rewarding, but the game inherits its antecedents’ worst annoyances in the process. Its post-apocalyptic story settles itself somewhere between the dark fantasy of the Souls games and the gritty sci-fi setting of The Surge without borrowing much from either, but its efforts to craft the caliber of universe, lore, and characters that defines the genre cumulatively miss the mark. Luckily, Remnant: From the Ashes‘s core gameplay loop is engaging and difficult enough to carry both solo and co-op players through to the end of a semi-randomized campaign, but it’s a far cry from the infinitely replayable adventure that Gunfire touts.

Setting the stage on an alternate history Earth ravaged by an alien force known as the Root, a hive mind of tree-like lifeforms hellbent on the complete entropic destruction of life across all worlds. Minus the tree thing – which, at the very least, makes for some interesting enemy and world design on Root-infested Earth – Remnant: From the Ashes‘s story isn’t exactly groundbreaking, retreading a tired premise that’s been explored to far greater effect by the likes of the original Halo and Mass Effect trilogies. Of course, the Soulslikes’ main quests are rarely particularly imaginative or well fleshed-out, so the unoriginal concept deserves a pass here.

Related: Vicious Circle Review – Messy Multiplayer With Potential

There are many attempts by Gunfire to contrive the mandatory lore that Soulslike fans crave and a few heavy-handed text logs that spell stuff out, but its the search for the Founder – the only one who knows how to stop the Root at its source – that sends players on a circuitous journey across multiple worlds to kill almost everything they meet. Most of the game is a blur of near-constant monster slaughter, and interspersed among protracted combat sections are a few moments where Remnant: From the Ashes‘s creativity is allowed to shine through. However, none of these moments really pertain to or enhance the main storyline. It’s expected that the drama should take a backseat to gameplay, but even the most seasoned and cynical players will likely be surprised at how anticlimactically and abruptly the central plot thread slams the door shut on playthroughs after hyping up the ending over a lengthy course of playtime.

The barebones story’s lackluster payoff does sour the final hours of a Remnant: From the Ashes playthrough, but the focal point of the game is obviously combat, which does a more than serviceable job of delivering players from start to finish without descending into monotony. Its emphasized gunplay is punchy and satisfying, and it feels consistently great to stagger rushing enemies with shotgun blasts and devastate harassers at range with precise headshots. Though weapon variety is fairly limited during a significant portion of most initial playthroughs, the six starting guns can be outfitted with a diverse assortment of mods that temporarily alter weapon behavior or grant player abilities after filling a damage meter. Melee combat is also an option, but it’s far more situational than in other Soulslikes due to its lack of power and zero stamina usage, relegating it to crowd control and a risky method of ammo conservation.

Although it misses the chance to flip the script on Bloodborne‘s brilliant fusion of ranged and melee combat, Remnant: From the Ashes isn’t shy at all about lifting most of its mechanics and ideas straight out of FromSoftware’s other titles. Though most lack the nuance of their inspirations, there are tough-as-nails boss battles (blocked off by fog gates, even), an obligatory stand-in for Estus Flasks, a stamina meter, and a Bonfire-like system of World Crystals and checkpoints that enable fast travel at the cost of global enemy respawns. The prescribed approach is slightly subverted by exchanging risk-reward Souls for permanent experience and Traits, though it’s hardly an imaginative change. Its biggest additions are gunplay and online co-op, the latter of which makes the game innately more fun despite seriously killing atmospheric tension and tipping gameplay balance severely in the favor of bosses.

In picking what Souls elements to incorporate, Remnant: From the Ashes chose to take after its forebears’ worst habit: padding out boss fights with droves of cheap fodder. Confoundingly, this mistake was entirely avoidable. It was most present in Dark Souls 2 before being addressed in its sequel, meaning Gunfire had five years’ worth of hindsight and still actively chose the worse alternative. It’s a shame, too, because Remnant: From the Ashes has great boss designs and a few with some truly formidable move sets. Rather than give players a genuine sense of accomplishment after mastering more intimate battles against hulking opponents dangerous in their own right, the game instead over-relies on overwhelming players with frustrating quantities of common enemies. Remnant: From the Ashes‘s best bosses are those that deploy only a small number of additional elite minions at a time, but these gratifying encounters are too few and far between.

This approach of throwing large waves of enemies at players works a lot better in Remnant: From the Ashes‘s regular environments, and the difficulty here also scales much better based on player squad size. Mowing down scores of grisly adversaries is the name of the game here, and it’s obvious that Gunfire went to great lengths to ensure that the core combat remains engaging dozens of hours in. The act of clearing areas of common enemies in normal ARPG fashion is regularly punctuated by the appearance of elite enemy types that require advanced tactics and greater firepower. These stronger combatants keep players on their toes and contribute to a consistently frenetic experience, and it never fails to spike one’s pulse slightly when hearing the distinct warning sound and seeing the sudden Left 4 Dead-like rush of lesser foes that herald their arrival.

That said, this core gameplay loop quickly grows predictable, but that gripe can be attributed more to overly simplistic level layouts than to enemy patterns. Whereas most Soulslikes pride themselves on cleverly funneling players around complex, interconnected areas that build a sense of real place within their worlds, Remnant: From the Ashes instead settles almost exclusively for series of corridors of varying dimension. Coupled with the relative small size of disparate areas within each world, it becomes apparent that the game is so densely populated with hostiles in order to artificially lengthen the amount of time and resources needed to reach the next checkpoint. The feeling of being a monster exterminator is further reinforced by the inclusion of a mini-map that reveals paths as they’re navigated. This concession was likely made to cater to the game’s online nature, but it considerably dulls the thrill of exploring the unknown.

While its environments are shallow, enemy design in Remnant: From the Ashes is the full package. Non-boss enemies leave little to be desired in terms of their disconcerting visages and solid variety, and they’re an effective vehicle for effective environmental storytelling. Each world sports unique collections of foes, and no faction outshines the Iskal on the primordial swamp planet Corsus. Brainwashed and enslaved by the manipulative Fairy Queen, the once peaceful Corsans have been made hosts to an incredibly aggressive species of parasite. When first exploring this world, shambling humanoids with amputatable legs at first seem like generic aliens. That is until later on while encountering eerily familiar Corsans that have yet to fully turn, culminating in the introduction of their more heavily affected peers that degenerate into their fully devolved form mid-battle. Gameplay-driven discoveries like are far stronger plot devices than anything found in the main story or flavor texts, and the game would be stronger overall if it had shifted its focus more toward this direction.

Even though it won’t set the Soulslike genre alight with its well-implemented but ultimately minor additions and tweaks to the formula, Remnant: From the Ashes is an intensely compelling gameplay experience, doubly (or triply) so when played with friends. Even when it sabotages itself with its abortive narrative, cheap boss tactics, and undervalued enemy design, it still emerges from the ordeal as a solid shooter with a high amount of polish and decent replayability. Though it remains to be seen if Gunfire can fix the present issues and expand the game into the infinite time sink that the studio promised, Remnant: From the Ashes will no doubt inspire genre fans to hang up their swords and shields for some time in order to dive into a chaotic universe, guns blazing.

Next: Telling Lies Review – A Thoroughly Immersive, Interactive Story

Remnant: From the Ashes is now available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided a PC code for this review.

2019-08-25 09:08:53

Phillip Tinner

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