Remnant 2 feels like playing seven games at once, and all of them are great | Top Gear
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Remnant 2 feels like playing seven games at once, and all of them are great

Who’s up for a spot of co-op-Soulslike-randomised-looter-shooter action?

Published: 28 Jul 2023

In the not so distant future when game development works by typing a string of prompts into ChatGPT, Remnant 2 feels like what you’d get if you entered ‘Combine all the games’ in the prompt box. It’s an over-the-shoulder shooter with Gears of War’s melee feel, taking place in a vast world connected by Soulslike bonfires, and where procedurally generated dungeons hold tantalising loot in decidedly Diablo fashion.

Frame the camera carefully enough on the trad-fantasy cloaks and torches in certain areas and you could be playing Dragon Age: Inquisition; pan in another direction and you’re in one of Destiny 2’s barren sci-fi landscapes. And as if it wasn’t content with drawing all of those lazy journalistic comparisons, the opening tutorial mission feels like being dropped into an alternate universe version of The Last of Us right after that prologue, where everything’s the same as our own universe except the guns and shoulder pads are slightly bigger.

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Sounds a bit derivative.

Well, yes and no. It might not be in line to hoover up any awards for auteurship, but the constantly shifting form of Remnant 2 feels like a breath of fresh air if you’ve been knee-deep in risk-averse triple A releases lately. Its influences are clear enough, but the way it combines them feels like genuinely new ground. So much so that it’s even disconcerting at times.

For example: after the aforementioned tutorial in which you’re politely reminded how to shoot a gun and that jumping is within your repertoire, you find yourself flung out into a barren planet where toxic gas has collected at ground level like noxious mist, and where a sentient white orb sat at the top of an enormous beacon. It speaks to you. Come and find me, it says telepathically. Cool opener.

It isn’t until you start some further reading into Remnant 2 that you realise this was only one of three locations you could have found yourself in after the tutorial finished. You might just as easily have begun in earnest on a completely different planet, but the procedural algorithms deemed that this time you’ll start by dodge-rolling through toxic gas while shooting at drones. As a by-product of that RNG, the dog who you take into battle as a Handler class is pretty much useless. He’ll woof very aggressively at your adversaries. He’s doing his best. But since they’re hovering 10 feet in the air above him, his best does very little to their health bars.

Are you sure you’re not just bad at it?

No, that’s true too. But it’s a difficult game, this. Maybe it’s just that Remnant 2’s marriage of Dark Souls’ reactive defensive rolls and Gears of War’s rollicking gunplay takes a moment to acclimate to, but you will find yourself getting absolutely destroyed by uncaring robots and evil red plants more often than not.

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And that draws the focus into the grindier elements. The stern difficulty level puts a real imperative to make all the numbers go up on your character screen, the hope being that once you cross a certain threshold of battering robots in Ne’Rud, you and your slobbering mate will become a unified unstoppable force of extraordinary violence. This kind of number-crunching isn’t always especially engaging, and indeed even the mighty Diablo IV can leave you alienated within a few hours once you started to feel like you’re playing the game to make the numbers go up, rather than the other way around. But in Remnant 2 there’s no such feeling.

So the quests are actually memorable?

They are. And that’s down to the way it randomises elements so boldly and wields its influences so brazenly. It means that every separate session you spend with it feels bespoke, like a game development mad lib. What if a herd of giant sentient cubes started chasing you?  What if you went from that fight to a medieval village full of crazed fanatics shouting about killing the outsider? And have we had a giant Eldritch horror boss fight in a space station yet? No? Alright, throw one of those in.

That’s what really stands out about this game. Elsewhere in co-op titles, distinct experiences are thin on the ground. Vermintide 2 is wonderful, but there’s only so many ways you can butcher wave after wave of cockney rats and in a game with such deep persistent progression you’re bound to exhaust the variety of missions before you exhaust the grind. The same goes for Back 4 Blood and Sea of Thieves - after a few hours the realisation sets in that you’ve seen the full gamut of experiences.

But Remnant 2 hasn’t shown the extent of its scenarios yet, nor does that look likely for the next - ooh, 400 hours or so. Gunfire Games’ principal designer Ben Cureton recently tweeted that “no one” has seen 100 per cent of the content, not even players with hundreds of hours logged.

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Does all that content feel like filler, though?

That’s the thing - it doesn’t. And that’s so disconcerting. It achieves such a high standard with so many vivid and outright bizarre moments despite all that randomisation. It’s clearly been created by a fearsomely smart team at Gunfire Games, but it has the feel of something created by a fearsomely smart AI. There’s something unnerving, something Uncanny Valley, about the way it throws together disparate artistic reference points like Tolkien and 2001 and medieval castles within one experience. It feels like Remnant 2’s saying to you: the data suggests that you like these things, so have them all at once. It’s not just that it does this, but that the end product actually works.

All this futuristic thinking extends to how the game’s rendered, too. Built in Unreal Engine 5, it’s one of the first games to use Nanite technology. Where before there were painstakingly assembled polygons making huge demands on your hardware, now there are Nanite meshes handling billions of polys, creating really complex and detailed environmental geometry without the performance hit.

And that feels like Remnant 2 in microcosm - a new, slightly unsettling solution to the problem of escalating triple-A game development demands. Something that doesn’t seem like it should be possible, but there it is, right in front of you. The way it’s able to deliver a distinct experience for basically everyone who plays it is beyond the grasp of my grey matter, but you can see just enough of what it’s doing to both respect and fear it.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we've got a dog to level up.

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