As I made my way through Gunfire Games newest IP, Remnant: From the Ashes, I found myself loving the experience in spite of some early frustrations. Remnant is an unapologetically difficult third-person survival-action shooter that draws inspiration from the notoriously punishing Soulsborne games. As a fan of that particular genre, I figured I’d be right at home, and — for some unknown reason — thought I would breeze right through. As you might imagine, I was incredibly wrong and changed my attitude after I got torn apart a few times.
In Remnant‘s opening moments, I set out into the unknown of a post-apocalyptic world armed with nothing but a ratty old sword. The first enemies I encountered were demonic, tree-like creatures later identified as the Root, the game’s primary antagonist. The Root is a nearly limitless, hive-mind evil whose sole purpose is to corrupt and consume. Once they overcome one world, they move on to the next.
As I stumbled forward with no healing items or equipment aside from that dusty excuse for a sword, I eventually came across what sounded like someone else struggling against the Root. As I rounded the corner, a cutscene triggered, and the primary hub area was introduced. Much like Firelink in Dark Souls or the Hunter’s Dream in Bloodborne, Ward 13 serves as the player’s constant and safe haven as they progress through the worlds of Remnant.
The first thing I noticed about Ward 13 — and its outlying area — was how storied and lived-in it all felt. Even though nearly all of its surroundings had been abandoned and left to the Root, you can still find old camps and other evidence of survivors that had presumably passed through or got lost along the way.
In Ward 13, you are met by a group of mostly friendly survivors, some friendlier than others. Each of the NPC’s the player can interact with serves a different purpose and has their own unique story that you can explore through conversation. While some of the character arcs are certainly more interesting than others, I always felt compelled to exhaust every dialogue option to learn as much about them and the world as I could.
With that being said, the next thing I noticed while talking to each of the NPCs in Ward 13 was the facial animations. The voiceover work and writing are great, but the faces themselves are extremely robotic and a bit strange. While poor old Reggie was introducing himself and offering assistance, I couldn’t help but laugh at his creepy puppet-like mouth, and the same can be said for most of the other characters. The most notable exception to the quality of VO performances I came across was the player character. When you defeat a group of enemies or a particularly tough enemy, the player shouts a goofy “Come at me, bro!” tier quip. They’re cringy at best, and at odds with the overall tone of the game.
After spending a bit of time getting to know the characters in the ward, I moved on to my first main objective, which was to help Ace start the reactor. Once you meet up with her, she notices that you lack any real equipment and presents you with a choice of three separate archetypes and corresponding gear sets so you can help her defend the reactor once it’s been activated.
Each archetype is designed to suit a different playstyle; the Scrapper, a close-range tank; Ex-Cultist, who provides mid-range support; and the Hunter, a long-range damage dealer. While you are by no means locked into this loadout for the rest of your journey, it does drastically affect the first few hours of gameplay since you have to earn the resources required to purchase the other archetypes’ mods and equipment.
In games like this, I typically prefer up-close tank-style combat, so I chose the Scrapper for my first character. It worked out well enough for me in the fight with Ace after starting the reactor, but I quickly grew to regret that decision.
Following the reactor encounter, a large crystal emerges in Ward 13, allowing the player to resurrect upon death and travel to others that have been discovered — Remnant‘s equivalent of bonfires. This is when the game opens up and begins in earnest. I used the newfound crystal in Ward 13 to transport myself to the first major level, and in true Soulsborne fashion, it was like someone flipped a switch in terms of difficulty. I had to approach combat much more carefully than I had been up until this point and make much better use of the equipment I had just been given.
After about two hours or so progressing through the first level as a scrapper, I made it to the first boss. The first boss, for me at least (more on that later), was essentially a buffed version of a ranged enemy I had already encountered called Shroud. The arena was basically a run-down mess of metal catwalks surrounding some sort of defunct industrial equipment. There was also an area below full of various bits of machinery that could be used for cover.
Every character (regardless of archetype) carries a melee weapon, and a handgun, and a long arm, which is usually some sort of rifle or shotgun. Having chosen the scrapper, I had a heavy two-handed hammer for melee combat that was just as powerful as my guns. My long arm was a simple shotgun, and my handgun was a repeater pistol with low damage but a high rate of fire. Considering my kit and archetype, I do my best work in close quarters, and based on his appearance, I knew the boss was going to be attacking from a distance. Before long, I naively thought I had come up with the best approach — rush in and try to overwhelm it by dealing as much damage as quickly as possible.
Obviously, that was a terrible idea. Just as I got into range of the boss, dodging his attacks along the way, he teleported to another location in the arena. By the time I realized where he had gone, I was being overrun by lower-level enemies. This came as a bit of a shock to me — when I imagine a Soulsborne style boss fight, I definitely don’t think about endless waves of added enemies. I imagine a larger-than-life, foreboding monstrosity that is both threatening and exciting with a distinct identity. There are some exceptions where added enemies are a core mechanic, but definitely not something I would expect from every boss encounter. This felt more like a powered-up version of an enemy I had already faced in a busy arena than a memorable fight.
While taking on the Root and preparing to move back to the boss, I thought, “Okay, this isn’t too bad. I will just clear out all the little guys then focus on the boss.” Again, it’s never that simple. I suppose I might’ve been disappointed if it was, but boy, that didn’t stop me from becoming irrationally frustrated each time I died to a surprise attack while focusing too hard on one target. By the time I was able to clear out one wave and move back onto the boss, I’d only get a couple of hits in before the boss either teleported away or another group of minion rushed in to distract me and soak up my precious ammo.
After dying a few times, I decided to change it up to more of a hit-and-run approach. I would hit the boss a couple of times, then run out of his field of view to clear out a few minions before I was overwhelmed, all while listening for the audio cue to a distinct and devastating attack from the boss, which will connect regardless of his location if you don’t dodge at the right time.
This strategy made the encounter take longer because I could only do a little damage at a time, but at least I felt like I was making progress. However, this approach was made infinitely more difficult thanks to my loadout. A shotgun and repeater pistol are not great for quick long-range hits on a boss that will teleport out of melee range. I can see how this loadout would be fun in co-op, with the scrapper running around tearing through adds while the hunter focuses on the boss and the cultist provides support, but in this encounter, it did not lend itself well to solo play at all. However, when playing solo, that’s actually a plus.
Certain loadouts won’t be effective when you are playing alone if all eyes are on you. This encourages the player to experiment with other weapons and mods which can all be purchased relatively easily from the various vendors in Ward 13. After I cleared the first boss with the base scrapper loadout, I decided to play through the first few hours of the game again, this time beginning as the Ex-Cultist, just to see how it affected my experience up to the first boss.
I immediately felt safer and more at home with the cultists’ mod, which allows an extra bit of healing in a pinch. I then decided I didn’t love the starting long arm — a double-barrel shotgun called the coach gun — so I purchased the hunting rifle; a mid to long-range repeater rifle. Alongside my trusty repeater pistol and a slightly faster melee option with the scrap hatchet, I had finally found my sweet spot. I continued upgrading that equipment and carried it with me throughout much of the game, only swapping occasionally to try new boss weapons or for a particular encounter that required a loadout better suited for close-range combat.
Even more important than my loadout, I immediately noticed that the world was a bit different this time around. Each time you roll a new world, either with a new character or via the crystal in Ward 13, the map, enemy, and loot placements all change — each player’s world will be slightly different from the next.
While I understand that design philosophy in terms of replayability, I don’t love it from a gameplay perspective. In a game that expects you to die repeatedly, learning the ins and outs of the world and enemies, this sort of randomization is self-defeating. I found myself progressing through areas because I didn’t encounter a particular enemy that had been shredding me earlier. While I was glad to make progress, it felt hollow and unearned because I never actually triumphed, but rather avoided something that simply never showed up. I know that enemies are supposed to spawn dynamically, but it’s hard to tell if their occasional absence is a deliberate design choice, or merely a technical snafu.
I then ran into the same strange feeling when I reached the first boss using my second character (here’s the “more on that later” bit I mentioned earlier). For starters, I was up against an entirely different boss, which was a bit jarring. I went in with a longer range loadout, expecting to use my experience from the last attempts to burn right through the encounter. To my surprise, I was met with a totally different enemy, whose mechanics were essentially the opposite of the first — an unrelenting melee-focused boss with minions that would periodically run up to me and explode, inflicting a status effect that halves stamina, making it even more difficult to escape the boss’ attacks. I essentially went through the same experience again on a second character. In Remnant, it seems the player is better off rebuilding an existing character to suit one’s preference rather than re-rolling all together and losing progress — there’s no way to know what you might be up against the second time around.
Enemy AI and player interaction with the world can also be a bit wonky sometimes. When taking on the first boss with my second character, it just stopped moving or attacking at the end of the encounter, so I was able to finish him off with no effort at all. Once again, I was left with a hollow victory and no real sense of accomplishment. I didn’t defeat the boss, it just gave up.
On the opposite end of that spectrum, I got stuck inside of a wall after rolling during a fight in one of the later levels. Instead of being handed a victory, it was ripped away because I was unable to move and got stabbed to death by the angry spear-wielding natives of the town I was ransacking. Sorry fellas, gotta get that iron.
I absolutely understand that bugs crop up and sometimes slip through the cracks to release, but these types of issues, in particular, are hard to overlook in a game where split-second decisions can mean the difference between victory or defeat. Dying is frustrating enough when it’s my own fault, doubly so when it isn’t. I will say that instances like this were few and far between, so while they were extremely frustrating in the heat of the moment, they are far from game-breaking and doesn’t really ruin the experience. Still, they are worth mentioning.
Nevertheless, the combat, on the whole, can be incredibly fun barring those isolated experiences. Defeating bosses is satisfying and rewarding, though some are more enjoyable than others. The quick blend of gunplay and melee feels great, and experimenting with different loadouts as you come across new bits of gear is a blast. There were plenty of times where I went back to areas I was familiar with just to farm upgrade material to try out a new weapon at its full potential.
The world design is absolutely gorgeous as well. Each area has its own unique and unmistakable identity with a wealth of lore and rewards for exploration in spite of the randomization. The narrative is also much more present and digestible at first glance than the typical Soulsborne game, while still having a fair amount of ambient storytelling for the player to discover through journals and other various collectibles. For example, there were enemies on Rhom and Corsus that I knew how to approach before I had even seen them thanks to a journal entry that a survivor left behind in the Labyrinth, a kind of hub that connects the game’s various worlds.
Overall, Remnant: From the Ashes is, despite its flaws, a surprise hit for me. Even with the occasional frustrating experience and minor gripes with boss encounters, it makes for a great time, especially in the latter half. The sense of wonder from exploration and the snappy combat alone are enough for me to keep coming back, despite a few niggling issues. There is so much more to see and experience than I originally anticipated. Remnant is one of those games I’ll continue playing for some time, and hopefully, this will mark the beginning of a successful new series from Gunfire Games.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A copy was provided by Perfect World Entertainment.
Remnant: From the Ashes is a creative diversion from what one might expect in your typical third-person survival-shooter. While not without its share of flaws, it should be on every Soulsborne fan's radar.
Remnant: From the Ashes