Blood clouds my vision as I stagger toward the twisted metal beams of a long-abandoned hotel. Collapsing into cover, I press the pulsing dragon heart to my chest and sigh in relief as its warmth seeps into my aching bones. This momentary peace is interrupted by a ragged breath behind me that almost sounds like snapping twigs. Practically on instinct, my hand jumps to the flaming blade at my side and arcs it out to my right, swiping through the knotted wooden body of the sentient tree creature that was seconds away from devouring me. It shrieks as it dissolves into ashes. I sheath my blade and reload my gun with the stray bullets that fell from where they’d been embedded in the monster’s skin. I take a deep breath, steel my nerves, and chargeback into the fray.
- What is Remnant? A procedurally generated, third-person survival action shooter that contains the spirit of revolution
- Developer: Gunfire Games
- Publisher: A Perfect World
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Release Date: August 20, 2019
- Price: $39.99
Humanity Rises from the Ashes
Remnant begins with you, the unnamed protagonist, regaining consciousness on a storm-battered shoreline with only a sword and your determination to guide you. You’re headed for the Atoll, where you hope to find the secret to defeating the Root. The Root is a hive mind comprised of sentient plant creatures that have hunted humanity to the point of extinction over the last hundred years.
Although the design lacks the structure that comes with handcrafted levels, it feels as though Remnant is gently reminding you that the apocalypse was never meant to be tidy. It’s messy, confusing, and real.
After meeting the residents of Ward 13, one of the last remaining factions of humans, you’re equipped with better gear and sent on your way with instructions to find the ward’s mysterious Founder and use their knowledge to save humanity once and for all.
A Revolution that Transcends Worlds
As it turns out, Earth isn’t the only world that’s been plagued by the Root invasion. Players will travel through four different realms in their quest to defeat the Root, each with its own rich history and intricate connection to the invasive force. All four realms (Earth, Yaesha, Rhom, and Corsus) and their respective areas are procedurally-generated when you first set foot in them. These are balanced to match your current level and equipment to provide a consistent challenge throughout the campaign.
Despite its randomized environments and bosses, Remnant always manages to be immersive in its worldbuilding and cohesive in its design. I consistently found myself getting lost in the pieced-together twists and turns of decimated buildings and lush jungles of worlds uniquely built for me and comparing the experience to other end-of-the-world titles whose construction was a bit more organized. Although the design lacks the structure that comes with handcrafted levels, it feels as though Remnant is gently reminding you that the apocalypse was never meant to be tidy. It’s messy, confusing, and real.
The Soul of a Fighter
Remnant promises in its prologue that “you will fight for every step,” and this isn’t an exaggeration. Between drowning in waves of enemies and being dashed to pieces by daunting bosses (in admittedly beautiful arenas), I realized early on that the game requires a combination of quick thinking, instinct, and experience to survive and proceed to the next checkpoint.
I don’t generally like to invoke the “Souls-like” comparison in reviews because I find it cheapens the value of a game’s unique experience. But, with the obvious inspiration that Remnant’s gameplay seems to take from the Souls series, I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention the similarities between the two. As is the case with many of From Software’s games, Remnant pushes players toward wise stamina and consumable resource management while taking advantage of their i-frames to avoid hard-hitting attacks and capitalize on enemies’ openings. The player’s primary source of health regeneration is a replenishing resource that’s refreshed at world crystal checkpoints. These checkpoints also serve as fast-travel markers that respawn the area’s mobs when activated.
I never had much of a knack for the Souls games (read: I was terrible at them), so I was a bit apprehensive going into Remnant after hearing about the similarities. I’ve had a much easier time with it, though, and I’m not sure I could tell you the exact factor that makes a difference. Perhaps it’s the fact that the game’s focused on ranged combat more than melee, or that its design isn’t wholly predicated on the concept of insurmountability. More likely, it’s the fact that Remnant is more optimized for a cooperative multiplayer experience. Though the campaign is enjoyable solo, the fact that it optimizes enemy health, damage, and numbers for up to three players makes the game fun and challenging to play with a friend.
The Root of the Problem
Remnant approaches its storytelling in a quietly beautiful way, with the lore woven more subtly into the game. Basic plot elements are made relatively straightforward, but the history of the world, its characters, and the deeper story surrounding the Root is left for the player to discover for themselves through exploration and conversation. Unfortunately, this additional lore often comes in the form of extensive info-dumps. The character journals scattered about the world frequently contain multiple entries that pour out the underlying narrative in pages upon pages of character confessionals.
Playing through the campaign with a partner made this feeling all the more real — the more enemies you take down as you continue on your journey, the more you begin to believe that teamwork and determination will pull you through if you can hold out a little longer.
For all of this, the info-dumps aren’t lacking in voice — journal entries read like journals, and character dialogue feels honest. I’m grateful that the game retains its immersion even in these slower moments, and that some journals include hints on how to defeat challenging upcoming enemies. These helpful tidbits somewhat justify the hiccup in the game’s pace.
High Ground View
I’ve rated Remnant on its art elements as well as the appeal and replayability of the main campaign.
One of the first things that struck me about Remnant was its beautiful aesthetic design. Each realm has a unique color palette that sets it apart from the others, with each area bringing new assets and enemies that give it character while still retaining the common red, gold, and gray that ties it all together into a beautifully stylized whole. Character customization seems somewhat limited at first glance, but each option for your character’s appearance and voice is designed to fit with the game’s established look. It made me feel as though I truly belonged in Remnant’s world.
It’s worth noting that texture pop-in is a distracting problem while we’re still early in the game’s lifespan. As more patches are released, we’ll hopefully see a more cohesive product in the background and cutscenes that don’t pull attention away from the experience.
I have an affection for stories in which humanity is the scrappy underdog of the universe, so I found myself immediately invested in Remnant’s campaign. From the very beginning, the game works to instill in you the feeling that no matter the odds, humanity won’t go down without a fight. Playing through the campaign with a partner made this feeling all the more real — the more enemies you take down as you continue on your journey, the more you begin to believe that teamwork and determination will pull you through if you can hold out a little longer.
Because the campaign spans so many unique worlds, I never felt bored by the enemies I was fighting. There was a new challenge around every corner, with each procedurally-generated dungeon offering its labyrinthian coliseum full of enemies and rewards. Overall, I was enthralled with the story and look forward to experiencing it again with a new perspective.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of Remnant’s major appeals is the fact that the entire world generates dynamically. When your character first enters a new area, the environment is created by combining random tiles and populated with enemies varying in difficulty depending on your current level and gear. Each area remains the same throughout the rest of the campaign — if you ever travel back to a previously-visited location, it will appear the same as it did when first created.
Nevertheless, players can reroll the campaign at any time to erase all story progress and reset all locations while still retaining their character level and gear. This degree of control keeps the experience fresh. It allows you to visit new areas and spawn new bosses at an appropriate difficulty level, without the need to revert all progress entirely. If a player ever wants to experience the game from the very beginning, they need only create a new character.
This approach to level design worked well for me as a co-op player. I was able to carry over any levels and gear from my partner’s campaign into my own if I ever felt like playing alone. Since my campaign’s worlds were then generated with their own assets and at a higher difficulty level, however, a second playthrough felt like a new experience despite touching on the same story beats.
Game title: Remnant: From the Ashes
Game description: Remnant: From the Ashes is a third-person action shooter that challenges players to survive an onslaught of monsters in a post-apocalyptic world.
Art Elements - 6/10
Campaign - 8/10
Replayability - 7/10
Remnant offers a rewarding experience that allows players to combine quick reflexes and good strategic combat skills to combine quick reflexes and strategic combat skills to defy the Root as it threatens to wipe out humanity for good.
- Detailed and creative world
- Fast-paced and engaging combat
- Challenging and unique across multiple playthroughs
- Inconsistent pacing
- Closed-world design means more loading screens
- Texture pop-in is distracting and unpolished