Remnant II is a third-person action/shooter/RPG that comes to us by way of Texan studio Gunfire Games and is, of course, the sequel to their 2019 offering Remnant: From The Ashes, a decent but fairly forgettable title that mixed a bit of post-apocalyptic misery with some looter-shooter gameplay.
The original game had you facing off against ‘The Root’ which was an inter-dimensional corruption that had found its way to the Earth and ravaged it until all that was left was devastation. Against that setting you fought your way to its source to destroy it there and while that seemed to do the trick, here we are two DLCs and a full sequel later, fighting it again like the alien Japanese Knotweed that it is.
In this sequel you play as a nameless survivor who arrives, after a bit of a tutorial, at Ward 13 which acts as the hub world for the main game. Here you’ll meet lots of NPCs, some of whom will sell you weapons, trinkets, resources, consumables and so on. You’ll also meet Wallace, the guy who lets you pick your class (or ‘Archetype’ as its called here).
As with the first game, there’s a focus on online co-op here (three players are supported) and so I went with Hunter, the glass cannon sniper build, while Gareth (who reviewed the first game for us) picked the Handler, who has a handy dog that’ll chomp on, and slow down enemies, and can also revive downed players. The tanky Challenger and a less useful Medic class are also available from the start. What’s not apparently immediately is that you also get to add a second class later on, giving you access their traits, perks and abilities too which is a very cool addition.
Remnant II has an odd world design. After your initial tutorial and familiarisation, you’ll be faced with a giant red crystal which is used to teleport you into the first of the game’s five major areas. These areas are large open spaces with entrances to other smaller sub-areas (known as dungeons). In these areas you’ll usually be faced with a lot of enemies and maybe a puzzle. And, of course, they’ll feature a boss battle too.
What’s odd is that you’ll encounter one of two storylines in a major area and they are assigned at random. So trophies for meeting specific NPCs or beating certain quests won’t be available until you replay the area. Thankfully, you can replay any beaten area by opening it up as an ‘Adventure’ game session. It’s a bit fiddly in an already quite complicated interface but it’ll make sense once you do it.
The areas themselves are actually pretty cool. The first one isn’t though. N’Erud is a foggy wasteland where you’ll start throwing up if you go too far into its invisible boundaries and will need to turn back or you’ll die outright, which will send you back to the last checkpoint in single-player or leave your co-op buddies without your services until they go to a checkpoint themselves. Checkpoints work like any Souls-like in that they’ll heal you up and replenish your resources but will also repopulate the area with enemies. Anyway, the first area is grim, bland and unpleasant and reminded us of the first game’s environment, giving us flashbacks of playing Returnal but with even less charm.
However, later levels really mix up the aesthetics with some beautiful scenes that recall Destiny, Resident Evil 4 and maybe a bit of Tomb Raider/Uncharted. Some of the visuals are really impressive and there’s a good mix of enemies and a good range of awesome bosses. It’s definitely a step up from the first game which we struggle to even remember (despite completing it).
The other area where the game shines is in the gunplay. There’s a real slickness and impact to the shooting (especially when playing as the Hunter). Sure, the auto-aim does a good share of the work but it feels great popping off headshots and evading incoming attacks. And, for the most part, the enemies are interesting and fair enough to keep you motivated to carry on.
However, there are a couple of areas where Remnant II could be improved. As a looter-shooter, the loot aspect is just not as compelling as it could be. From the fact that we found it easier to just stick with our starting weapons and upgrading them rather than taking the incremental ups and downs of a new weapon. There’s certainly no kind of Borderlands, Diablo or Destiny excitement as you suddenly get a new weapon with serious improvements.
This goes for the rest of the stuff the game offers you from perks, traits, weapon mods, mutators and relic shards. There’s a lot to learn about and take in, and quite a bit of configuration required to optimise it all but ultimately it’s for very little gain. Why do I want a relic shard that lets me change weapons 1.23% quicker or one that improves critical damage rates or reload speeds by similarly unimpressive amounts?
These things can all be upgraded but by the time we’d completed the main campaign (which took around 14 hours by the way), we were still on our starting guns with relics and mods still having a pretty small effect. And that was with us looking in every corner of every map and grabbing any resources we could.
It’s a shame that the looting isn’t more compelling as that would have driven the addictiveness up but the core gameplay is still good enough for the game to be a very positive experience. And what we really liked was how well the challenge flowed from area to area. Enemies level up with you, so pretty much you’re never bossing an area regardless of your upgrades, but it all seemed to be a nicely balanced difficulty curve with each new area providing a good challenge and bosses being impressive, fearsome but ultimately beatable with the right tactics. Indeed, for the most part, the bosses were a real highlight of the game being fun to play, varied and standing out as memorable encounters in a way that we’ve not seen since Resident Evil 4.
That is until a point. The final boss, a charming little encounter with a being called Annihilation. The last area of the game is certainly a bit of a step up in difficulty compared to the progress leading up to it but we were doing well and then we met this guy. An airborne boss, Annihilation is tough to hit (and indeed tricky to keep tabs on the position of) and deals huge damage from some very hard hitting attacks. My glass cannon build definitely struggled but even Gareth, a veteran of many a Souls-like title, was having a hard time.
Anyway, after a few miserable attempts we finally beat him. Except we didn’t. For the first time in the game, this boss actually had a second form. And this form is a son of bitch. The battle switches the perspective and setting multiple times, turns everything black and red, puts glitchy visual effects all over the screen (see below), ups the ante with laser orbs that rinse you, makes healing each other impossible and is just generally the least fun boss experience we’ve had since the final boss rush section in Final Fight: Streetwise. Combine that with the fact that our L1 healing action was only working about 25% of the time that we tried to use it and it was a recipe for disaster.
Hours of failed attempts, futile searches on YouTube for guidance, pitiful attempts to use consumables and improve our builds all made no impact as we ate mouthfuls of total shit from this boss across two evening sessions. Eventually, it looked like the answer was to try again with the Technician class. However, we hadn’t unlocked that one. It turned out that we had to go back to N’Erud and find an item to unlock him. The item, it turned out, was in a secret area behind to vomit-inducing poison fog. Completely unintuitive and something you’d only find out by Googling but fine, we went back, replayed much of that area, got the item and went back to the boss fight after an hour or two and then went right back to getting our arses handed to us.
Even now I can’t tell you exactly how we beat him. The Technician’s turret helped a little but wasn’t a game changer. From my experience my L1 heals popped off a little better than before, my evade dodges were a bit more successful (even though I found the visual mess and the audio cues barely helpful in reading the boss) and I managed to squeeze off all my ammo before dying another peasant’s death. Although for fun the battle also has a third phase but thankfully this part was easy enough for us to clear it first go.
While that victory was one of the most adrenaline-enducing, dopamine-drenching experiences of my gaming life, it was also what the Dagestanis might refer to as ‘number one bullshit’ and honestly before that victory this game had gone done in my head from an 8 to a 6. Sure, it’s back to an 8 but, be warned, expect misery at that point. 99% of posts about it on the internet complain about the boss. The other 1% are those pricks who say ‘I don’t see a problem. This was easy.’ Yeah whatever, buddy.
But now, on the other side of that nightmare, free to replay the earlier areas of the game to find the other bosses and events, we can say that Remnant II succeeds as sequel. The gunplay is the star here, the visuals provide plenty of interest, there’s lots of exploration for people who like to take their time with the game and you can really mess around with all the different Archetypes to build a class that works well for you. If Remnant: From the Ashes was a double-A title, we feel that this game adds that extra A.
+ Impressive visuals
+ Interesting, varied enemies and bosses
+ Lots of scope for build customisation
- Anything but the 'Performance' visual mode turns the game into a juddery mess
- Texture pop-in is quite evident at times
- The loot progression isn't very exciting