PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
July 25, 2023
Gearbox Publishing, Gearbox Software
You don’t need me to tell you how monolithic the Souls or even Souls-like genre is now. Kicking on for some time, we’ve now seen dozens upon dozens of games taking inspiration from the likes of FromSoftware games, or we’ve even seen downright copycats. Few become more than one-off attempts or pale imitations. Transcending this entirely is Remnant II, the follow-up to the wonderful 2019’s Remnant: From the Ashes. There’s a good reason that this is one of the only Soulslikes to get a sequel. That is simply because, like its predecessor, this continuation is bloody good and a must play.
Remnant II has a post-apocalyptic setting that soon becomes something of a multiverse affair, seeing players visit different realms and realities in the hopes of triumphing through incredibly domineering bosses and various lower-scale assailants. You and up to two other players take refuge at Ward 13, your hub that is used to chat with locals, collect quests and upgrade gear. These characters aren’t necessarily all that intriguing and can largely be ignored. You’re tasked with tackling the great big bad of each world, gathering the precious material that they hold. It’s a very threadbare plot, but it doesn’t matter: Remnant II’s focus is spectacle and spectacle is what it does best.
While the first game was by no means an unattractive game visually, you could see some of the rough edges that came with its procedurally generated areas. It’s clear the budget has expanded tenfold for the follow-up, however, and it pays off in creating some incredibly memorable and picturesque environments. The dying forests of Yaesha are home to ancient courts that give way to involved temples and the occasional clearings. N’Erud is located on a desert planet where you’re shrouded in fog, quickly engulfed by extra-terrestrial and robotic threats. Selfishly, my favourite of the bunch is the Victorian-era world Losomn, which feels very much like Bloodborne‘s Yharnam, with cobblestone streets meshing with harsh underground sewers before delving even more weirdly with its ethereal binding to fantastical Fae-ruled biome.
These environments are very cinematic and exciting compared to those found in the predecessor, but that’s also something of a double-edged sword. What this ends up feeling like is a ‘Greatest Hits,’ set of locations not too foreign for the Souls-like genre. There’s nothing too wrong with that, but it will be something very apparent to those that prefer visual cohesiveness with their action RPG titles. The closest consistency you have between any given world is the giant red crystals you’ll find peppered throughout each of them, the very spot that marks a checkpoint and means of teleporting out of a given area.
Though the human characters you interact with at home at Ward 13 are neither here nor there, there’s rich and exciting lore everywhere you turn. The extra-terrestrial NPCs you meet steal the scene, often revealing quests for you to embark on or giving insight into some of the dilemmas that occur in Remnant II’s world. Each is unique and striking in design whether that’s an eerie Jester residing on a pile of bones or the ethereal and gigantic Fae Goddess known as Nimue.
The well that is the world of Remnant II goes immensely deeper than what appears on the surface. It is doing truly awe-inspiring and unique things for the genre that we haven’t even seen in FromSoftware games. Often, it changes and challenges what it means to be an Action RPG. No individual playthrough of the game is the same as the one preceding it. Remnant II has procedurally generated maps, meaning while they may share the same theme of the world or realm you’re on, the map changes. Here, the realm of possibilities opens up. There are characters, quests and items I didn’t even discover in the game until I used the provided Adventure Mode. This is a function that lets you re-roll the world state, keeping character progression but allowing you to start the exploring process once more.
I love this function and want it in more games of Remnant II’s ilk. Games like this can be deliberately vague. Too often are quests or key items easily missed or left incomplete due to obscure requirements that aren’t immediately apparent. The ability to return to these cleared-out worlds completely fresh, now understanding the pieces of the puzzle is incredibly welcome. This too actively fosters replayability. When you’re more familiar with a game world, you’re more daring and experimental. Getting to experience these familiar worlds in a new light means you can be more daring with the assigned difficulty you choose or even your build type.
As someone that feels a lot of games invitations to replay and revisit them are artificial, the approach here feels natural. I understand this approach to the game’s world won’t be for all as once again the randomly generated design can affect the environmental consistency. Still, it’s worth it for the end result of a game that for once actually feels replayable.
“The well that is the world of Remnant II goes immensely deeper than what appears on the surface.”
Builds are clearer and easier to invest in than in many similar Action RPGs prior. This is thanks to the ‘Archetype,’ gameplay mechanic where players can choose from four (five, if you have the preorder DLC with Gunslinger) starting classes that they can base their items and weaponry around. These are Medic, Hunter, Challenger and Handler.
I went with Handler, which provided me with an AI Dog companion that could use a heal to pick me up if I got downed, be used as a meatshield for foes to mitigate damage and also slowly buff me and my teammates. This is a perfect all-rounder for co-operative play and solo, which is what I’m all about in games, feeling equipped for every scenario. My partner in the game opted into Challenger, a tanky class that can get a free self-revive. Together, with their might and my adaptability, we felt like we could overcome anything.
Developer Gunfire Games means business. With up to 10 archetypes available to be chosen from and the potential to later run two at a time, the combat world is your oyster. I find these archetypes refreshing guidance into how exactly to shape your build. When all your passives and abilities for a given archetype are present and easy for you to read and make sense of, quickly you’ll find the best-accompanying rings that will add extra stats to your character. This means less time in menus and more in the thick of things, getting into some good old-fashioned combat.
My only critique of the builds and archetypes is that melee isn’t as viable an option as the game would lead you to believe. Sure, you’ll always be able to equip two firearms and a melee weapon, but perks, stats and certain buffs make it seem like you’re going to get more in the face of enemies with a sword and the like. While this can be true for the mooks and lower fodder you’ll be fighting on your journey, many of the bosses will be giant flying masses not immediately in arms reach or too fast to even get a swing in. Yes, the community has aptly labeled the Remnant experiences as “Souls with guns,” but that tease of a melee build potential is still there, leaving players like my cooperative partner who wanted to throw their weight around a bit wanting.
Experimentation with what weapon combinations work for you is joyous and creative. Crafting with rarer materials obtained from bosses nets players boss weapons, wielding powerful results. My old reliable of the bunch is a laser disc shooter that has its ammunition bouncing around between foes. It’s a handy crowd killer for the boss encounters that come with lowly mooks and assailants to also juggle handling with.
Boss design is always paramount in titles like this. Thankfully, Remnant II knows this and revels in getting a little weird with it. There are plenty of boss encounters where your foe is fast-moving or domineering in an arena requiring you to just learn the pattern, dodging and damaging your way through it. These are as you’d expect but fun to learn. However, some of my favourite boss fights are entirely gimmicks. In The Labyrinth, a futuristic and brutalist hyper-space environment that serves as your portal between worlds, there’s a boss fight that has you navigating a maze, trying to destroy giant floating cubes that rest above you in the sky. The problem is on the ground level with you are cubes rolling towards you, ready to crush and kill you instantly. Quickly this becomes a chaotic game of juggling the objective and being the prey in a game of cat and mouse. The only breathing space you have in this situation is the clever shooting of weak points on your cube pursuers, creating a crater on some of their faces that you can duck under.
My favourite boss is in fact the final boss, one of the most challenging feats I’ve ever had to triumph in gaming, taking dozens of tries. Without spoiling too much, it’s a tough one to topple, remaining as simultaneously a gimmick and pattern fiend you must learn from. I only completed this when embarking solo without my co-op partner. This is indicative of some of the latency issues that can occur in online play. Mileage may vary here, but this is just one of the few slight quality-of-life issues at the moment such as not fantastic default keybindings. Small patches and fixes will soon resolve this no doubt.
- Memorable and hauntingly gorgeous environments
- Complex and detailed lore with exciting ethereal NPCs
- Rerolling world states to pick up missed quests is a godsend
- Build experimentation is engaging and rewarding
- Tackling bosses in seamless(!) co-op is the genre at its best
- Melee builds aren't as viable as the game would lead you to believe
- A patch or two away from being peak technical performance
Remnant II is a best-case scenario for the genre. The anticipated follow-up sequel ups the ambition and it pulls off immensely well, providing one of the best non-FromSoftware Souls games we’ve had yet. It’s the true complex Action RPG without any of the fuss. Co-op play is seamless with getting teammates in and out of the action. Menus are clear and concise while experimenting with builds is a rewarding and deep experience. Environments are tenfold more detailed and exciting than its predecessor, providing some of the best setpieces and boss encounters I’ve seen in a while. Deep too is the lore and exciting world to uncover, all well worth chipping away at. Little is holding it back bar a quality-of-life update or two. Remnant II is golden, magnificently making moves in the now crowded game space it has found itself in.