Deep from the Soul(s)

HIGH Intense and entertaining combat.

LOW The attempts at worldbuilding.

WTF Useless melee weapons in a soulslike?!?

I believe it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one who deems 2011’s Dark Souls a pivotal moment in modern gaming. Aside from all the memes, the core of that experience remains a high point that many developers have often tried to replicate, but there’s a catch — it’s not structurally comprised of a handful of building blocks. It’s not even an experience that can be described as “bigger than the sum of its parts”. It’s something else – a game where every single inch of it serves a purpose. Even the most basic enemies earn the right to be remembered by the player, and that’s to say nothing of the nightmarish bosses and the cast of half-insane characters we meet.

As many will testify, learning to play Dark Souls successfully will elicit growth in the sense that we learn to deal with challenges by memorizing geography, which enemies spawn where, and which corner hides what. A similar task awaits us when taking on the bosses — take the well-known Artorias encounter, for example. Observing and reacting to his animations during a fight is crucial, and a learned skill.

Remnant: From the Ashes manages similar qualities when it “clicks”. Thankfully, that “click” happens quite early, soon after the opening sequence ends. However, the way it happens is something I really didn’t expect.

First things first, Remnant is a soulslike through and through. In this third-person realtime action, death comes swiftly, healing items are limited and replenish only at a ‘bonfire’, and resting causes all defeated enemies to resurrect. Also, there is a stamina bar that depletes when we run or roll. This is all straight out of the FromSoft playbook, but where it differs is that we carry three weapons at once — a primary long-range weapon (rifle, shotgun) a secondary long-range weapon (pistol, SMG), and a melee weapon that… doesn’t do enough damage? Other differences include a world that is procedurally generated and can be ‘re-tailored’ with the push of a button, the fact that we lose absolutely nothing upon death (no corpse-runs here!), and enemy positions — even boss locations — are random!

The camera also plays a key role in Remnant, but be warned that it feels ill-suited towards the player at first. It hangs on either shoulder — but quite close! — so we can’t easily spot enemies approaching from the flanks, nor any sharp objects being thrown at us.

Remnant doubles down on this feeling of claustrophobia as enemies attack in large numbers. In order to shoot, we must zoom the camera even closer in while aiming. Attacking without aiming prompts a swing with the melee weapon, but that (at best) deals damage to only the smallest of enemies. Larger foes are merely pushed away.

Picking swarming foes off one by one is no easy task. They’re able to dodge, and a few will usually attack from a distance, safely from behind the front lines. Combine that with the narrow field of view and the time it takes to reload a gun or use a health item, and soon every encounter feels exciting and gripping. I can’t count how many times I was on the edge of my seat, keeping a close eye on my stamina bar while trying to create space and holding my breath on the countdown ’till the next reload – it’s exhilarating to successfully send a bullet to its target amidst such turmoil. It may not be mechanically the same, but these scenarios successfully replicate the feeling of the most intense battles found in Souls proper.

One place where the devs took a gamble with appealing to soulslike fans are the boss battles. Their combat patterns consist of shuffling only three or four attacks, but what they lack in terms of diversity, they make up for by relying on adds and mob-spawns — there is never a classic one-on-one fight in Remnant. Some might be disappointed by this and I felt that way initially, but I soon started to accept the hectic battles and desperate search for respite as an effective substitute.

Remnant was notoriously buggy upon launch as the Not-A-Review from 2019 will attest. During my playthrough, I did encounter some… uh… remnants of that frustration, but nothing too significant — the game refused to load my character next to an already discovered ‘bonfire’ once, and I had only one hard crash. Not perfect, but it seems like a significant improvement from three years ago.

As a fan of these kinds of games, I can say that Remnant: From the Ashes is a type of soulslike that I would have probably passed over in favor of something more traditional, but after giving it a fair shot I’m glad to say that it’s the successful spin on the genre that I didn’t know I wanted.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

— Konstantin Koteski

Disclosures: This game is developed by Gunfire Games and published by Perfect World Entertainment. It is currently available on XBO/X/S, PS4/5, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the story, and the game was completed. All of those hours were spent with the option for co-op enabled, and around 3 hours were spent in a team with 1-2 other online players.

Parents: This game has received an M rating from the ESRB, and contains Blood, Strong Language and Violence. The official rating summary reads: “This is an action game in which players assume the role of a hero in a post-apocalyptic world. From a third-person perspective, players explore different landscapes and battle demonic creatures, mutants, and other human survivors in frenetic combat. Players use pistols, rifles, lasers blasters, and melee weapons (e.g., hatchets, swords, spears) to kill enemies. Battles are accompanied by realistic gunfire, large explosions, and screams of pain. Enemies emit large spurts of blood when shot and killed; a handful of sequences depict bodies lying in pools of blood. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” are heard in the game.”

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does offer subtitles, but they are not able to be resized or altered. As for sound, due to the strange way that enemies suddenly appear, I’m afraid that audio is quite important. The limited field of view often demands that players listen for freshly-spawned adversaries based solely on sound cues. The appearance of a mini-boss is often not accompanied by enough visual cues, especially if the enemy spawn offscreen, or while the player aims at something in front of him at that moment. Obviously, such situations are a lot more manageable when playing co-op, but solo players might feel a tad overwhelmed or even outgunned. So, I’d say that this game is only partially accessible.

Remappable Controls: This game offer a controller diagram, but the control scheme is not changeable. It is easy to get used to, though, as attacking is done via the bumper buttons, pressing the movement stick will prompt the character to run and the face buttons are used for dodging, reloading, etc.

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