Gunfire Games’ ‘soulslike with guns’ is exactly what you'd want from a sequel
It's fair to say that REMNANT: FROM THE ASHES was a surprise hit in 2019.
A post-apocalyptic third-person shooter, it dumped players into a grey, ruined American hellscape with rotten buildings and ruined cars littered the city streets.
It is a setting we’ve experienced a million times already in video-games, an end-of-the-world zombie shooter with some inventive twists, but the gameplay was electrifying.
An extremely tight combat-system that drew on the best elements of fromsoft’s souls series, dodging, stamina meters, bonfire like checkpoints, Estus flask health recovery, coupled with giddy fast-paced third person shooter combat in the vein of Mass Effect 3 or Gears of War.
Remnant dared to embrace the weird-end of sci-fi fantasy, envisioning a very different and expansive take on the post-apocalypse, eventually sending players to fantastical worlds in an interdimensional quest to end the threat of the plant-like monsters that had doomed Earth.
Remnant II refines everything that worked in the original, if Remnant: From the ashes was a sleeper hit, Remnant II might be the breakthrough blockbuster for Gunfire Games.
WELCOME TO THE LABYRINTH
Post-apocalypse games are everywhere (possibly because we’re all terrified of the impending climate collapse).
We know the plot-beats of these games all too well. Something has up-ended civilization as we know it.
You’re a rag-tag survivor, scrounging through city ruins for gear and items - perhaps you’ll meet a crew of new friends out on the fringes who’ve set up a scrappy base where you’ll start to piece together the remnants of a community.
Remnant II dumps you head-first into this cliché in its opening moments as you stumble into Ward 13; the bunker-base for a crew of misfits who are fighting the aforementioned zombie plants - The Root.
After a very short and dull introductory quest, you're shoved directly into the wider multiverse to embark on an interplanetary journey across multiple alien worlds - each more fantastical than the last.
Remnant II’s main plot and writing is pretty flat, you travel to different worlds, find the big bad guys there, take their mcguffins and return to the nexus of the universe to unlock a portal to The Root homeworld.
Your main character quips like a himbo in a classic ‘fish-out-water’ scenario at everything around him. It’s all very Ken and Barbie wandering about the real world. The urge to skip cutscenes is powerful and real at all times.
The worlds themselves though - that’s the true heart of Remnant II.
Your campaign adventure in the game is randomised through procedural generation. The world you first land on is different each playthrough and the storylines, bosses, dungeons and items that you find will shift and change for different players.
Upon touching the Worldcrystal for the first time, my hulking himbo and his pet dog found themselves in Yaesha - a formerly beautiful twilight forest world from Remnant I.
But time has been cruel to Yaesha and the Root have found their way to the forestlands, sending tendrils of infected plants and wildlife into the forests.
My character’s story led them to making a pact with the goddess of the realm, an immortal alien from a race known as The Pan - defeat the heart of the infection in the forest and win their favour.
Other players may have an extremely different experience.
My second character crash landed from the Worldcrystal onto N’Erud: a ruined desert planet in the centre of the universe, orbiting a giant black hole.
Gone were Yaesha’s jungles and elaborate stone-ruins and temples, replaced with a grim landscape filled with organic architecture and hostile robotic soldiers.
It all creates a sense of wonder. What’s the next world around the corner? What weird sidestory will I uncover next?
Part of what makes this work is the level design, this is not Final Fantasy XVI, Remnant’s worlds are not linear corridors to shoot through.
Each procedurally generated dungeon is filled with meaningful reasons to explore their every nook and cranny, puzzles and secrets are everywhere in Remnant II - and their rewards are always worth it.
The multiverse hub-world Labyrinth features portals that shift to different locations - a mistimed use will see you appear thousands of meters in the air and fall to your doom. Porting at just the right time means landing safely to a ledge and a secret weapon.
Yaesha contains a series of puzzles that allow you unlock an entirely new character class that you can choose to play as - a summoner who can command root-monsters and send them to explode upon their enemies. There's even a character class that's been locked behind a series of challenges that could only be discovered by datamining the game's code.
Exploration is always richly rewarded in Remnant II, there is always a cool weapon, an interesting piece of jewellery or some cool lore behind every corner in its shifting world.
Gosh, the combat in Remnant II is really good y’all. All the best parts of Dark Souls are here.
You’ve got dodge-rolls with iframes, a stamina system that rewards you for careful combat and it’s all mixed in with some really meaty gunplay.
Guns start off as the usual archetypes: There’s a sniper rifle. A pistol, an SMG and a shotgun.
Later down the line you’ll start unlocking some truly wild boomsticks - I unearthed a disc-thrower that shot bouncing projectiles that chained their attacks across enemies.
Other guns shoot cubes of energy or spikes that trigger electrical blasts (an echo of a certain fun gun from Returnal).
A large majority of weapons can be slotted with interchangeable mods - which are crafted by boss-drops.
The mods you find in your play through will come down to what bosses procedurally generated for you - by the end of my playtime I had the ability to summon health-leeching tentacles, an army of space-crabs and a whirring storm of fire.
Gear is unique - you won’t be getting hundreds of the same gun with slight attribute variations dropping like a borderlands game here.
Instead you’ll be upgrading your favourite weapon with resources like a souls-game, it stops your inventory from feeling cluttered and allows every weapon to feel like it fits in a particular gameplay niche.
No weapon feels the same in Remnant - and melee weapons have a variety of different combo animations, powers and uses.
I found an energy sword that allowed me to chain my dodge-attack combo into a huge slashing AoE attack.
Rings play a crucial role in your load out as well, each piece of jewellery has a unique benefit and combining your four ring slots and amulet allow you specialise in interesting directions.
Mutators are another important piece to the puzzle - slottable items that go into your weapons that confer even more bonuses. Even your Estus flask item (your relic) can be swapped out for different versions that heal in different ways or convey new buffs.
All these little pieces come together to allow some truly fun build crafting - that feels more like you’re playing a Diablo-like ARPG than a generic third person shooter.
My first character settled on a build that used health-regeneration to replenish the use of their weapon mods - while also stacking multiple sources of health-regeneration. By the end of my first run through the campaign, I was summoning space crabs and fire-tornados every 10-15 seconds due to a steady supply of endlessly regenerating health and mod power.
I played mostly solo for my review experience - but Remnant II’s combat and character build systems come to life in cooperative play.
You can build medics, support buffers and tanky front liners to work together and there’s friendly fire in multiplayer, which adds another layer of complexity and fun to the experience.
Remnant II is a triumph of a sequel. It’s procedurally generated worlds, tight combat and world-hopping mysteries and puzzles are worthy of multiple playthroughs.
I can’t wait to touch the Worldcrystal and dive back in.