I’ve been a sucker for action-RPGs ever since I was 14 and disobeyed my parents and played Diablo for the PC. Who would know that the genre would become my favorite type of video game? This is why I bought Mars: War Logs by Spiders. It’s published by Focus Home Interactive, who gave us the Divinity series as well as 2 crappy Game of Thrones games. Yes they actually exist, and the 2nd game was endorsed by George RR Martin himself. Anyway, Mars is told in a cyberpunk (high technology in low technology environments/situations) narrative. The game takes place in well, the planet Mars and you play as Roy, a captured POW, and he has no plans of staying for long.
Visually the game is pretty, especially on the environments, but sometimes the textures get a bit pixelated. The voice acting is a rollercoaster of amusing to irritating, with Roy sounding a lot like Steven Blum (Wolverine in Marvel cartoons). Storywise the game is a mess and unfulfilled, and the writing is downright horrible, especially the dialogue where you hear a swear word in almost every F@#KING sentence. I have no qualms on expletives but it gets very old very fast when you keep hearing it consecutively. Of course, you don’t expect everyone to be sophisticated and classy, they’re not exactly in stereotypical UK.
Playing this for around 8 hours now and I feel like I was playing Dragon Age 2. You go around, do fetch and fight quests, navigating the compound feels like being in Kirkwall. The places are all confined and close together, it’s easy to go around. Much like Dragon Age 2, talking to people usually results in having multiple branching reactions, which in turn influences your reputation. More on reputation later, but your choice of words may directly affect quests. You CAN fail quests by picking the wrong thing to say, and the outcomes of characters depend on it, positive or negative.
The game has its own version of building characters. It has a skill tree, so obviously there are builds. Each skill can be upgraded twice, and new skills are unlocked depending on your branch ranking. Some skills have pre-requisites, such as ranking Apprentice in a branch, or the preceding skill has to be level 2/3. There are no stats in this game for your character, so your combat performance will depend on skill levels and personal proficiency.
There are also perks in this game called feats which enhance your character even further. Feats, just like your skills have pre-requisites of their own in order to be unlocked and purchasable. Some require you to kill 15 enemies, loot 10 bodies, or even need a certain feat to be already learned. Some feats require a certain level of reputation, so be mindful on how you treat people! Pro-Tip: try to maximize your item looting feats, you’ll need all the materials you can salvage and scavenge for crafting and upgrading your gear. Speaking of crafting…
Equipment, such as weapons and armors are upgradable, and the number of upgrades you can put are determined by the number of slots. An armor for example may have upgradable shoulders, knees or wrists. The kinds of upgrades it has are shown, and the required materials to “craft” these add-ons are listed on screen, along with its positive/negative attributes. Although you can’t un-upgrade a gear, you can choose a different upgrade for said slot.
For instance, this screenshot’s particular shoulder part has 3 upgrade choices: Leather, Reinforced Leather and Metal. If you already gave it the Reinforced Leather upgrade but decide you want the Metal upgrade instead, pick the Metal upgrade and the game will automatically undo the Reinforced Leather and return all the materials used up on said upgrade. This level of customizing is awesome. You may also craft the usual items such as potions/ammo. Materials are SCARCE, so think wisely if you want to recycle your gear for parts, or sell it for money. You have to loot materials from enemies’ bodies and junk lying around, so if you followed my pro-tip earlier, you won’t have much problems.
The combat system is where this game shines. It’s unforgiving and difficult. You can’t just go around and Rambo your way to kill enemies. The AI is smart, they will start blocking and evading your attacks if you spam your moves over and over, so you’re forced to alternate normal attacks and guard breaks. Some enemies can’t even be attacked from the front (dogs: the 4-legged shrimp) so you’re forced to do a barrel roll to get to their backs before beating them up. Learn to dodge and block attacks or YOU WILL DIE. A LOT. There are only 3 status effects: wounded that slows enemy movement/attack, blinded that makes enemies attack each other (since they can’t see where they’re swinging) or stunning. These status effects will depend on your skill levels and equipment upgrades that you crafted. Use these to your advantage!
Unfortunately, to make up for the incredibly smart enemies, your companion Innocence is dumber than a box of hammers. He should be renamed to Stupidity. Of course, should you feel the need to take a breath, open up your tactics menu to send the game in deep slow motion (but not in complete pause) to issue orders to your useless comrade. Take this opportunity to map your skills.
Overall, despite the obvious letdowns, including the inability to use a controller or rebind controls for right-handed players and a lame arrow-to-the-knee joke, this game’s a good recommendation to all you new indie game appreciators out there. Although the game is being compared to The Witcher, even Dark Souls when it comes to combat, don’t let these challenges make you shy away from an otherwise enjoyable game. If this $20 budget title is too much for you, wait for it to go on sale then, but personally, the asking price was worth it.