The Surge is a new techno-RPG made by Deck 13 Studios and published by Focus Home Interactive. Deck 13 brings their experience with Lords of the Fallen to the realm of Sci-Fi and I think I am in love. Before I start gushing, let me get the easy stuff out of the way. The Surge is a SciFi RPG with a distinctly souls game feel. It has insanely large bosses, a deep progression system, and dozens of unique items and builds to try. Its combat mechanics are simple, but even the easiest enemies can kill you if you are careless. It’s difficult, but rewarding, and at no point does it hold a players hand. In addition to its homages to the soul’s series of games, it also hearkens back to classic quarter driven RPG’s. The Surge elevates itself by adding just enough modern twists to keep the game fun, and bringing the whole souls experience in to a near-future SciFi setting to tie it all together. Overall I think The Surge is going to end up as one of the sleeper hits of 2017.
When I started up The Surge, I did not really know what to expect. Kitsuga have covered the game extensively. We published stories about, its trailers, its game play videos, and even the screenshots and developer interviews Deck 13 released. Every single piece of news was wrapped in mystery, what was the story of this game? I knew going in this was a game about a dude in an exosuit, and that it was an RPG. That was about it. To my great surprise, the game started with a my character in a wheelchair! The protagonist Warren, has come to CREO industries, for the promise of being able to walk again and help save the world. After wheeling over to the intake area of the world, I was given the choice between two exosuits. The first was a heavy lifter, slow but tanky, and the second was faster and less armored. Thinking of my Dark Souls runs with light armor, I chose the lighter one. After the next cut scene, the game got started. CREO we are told is trying to fix a broken planet, and they are recruiting people to help them. You are one of those people, but in the style of every video game ever, something goes wrong as soon as you arrive. No sooner has Warren put on his exosuit, than everyone goes crazy and starts killing each other. Warren of course finds himself right in to middle of this mad world, and the only hope CREO has of restoring order.
So, just like a dark souls this game doesn’t give any hand holding tutorials. You get a little bit of an introduction via text that floats around and interaction with a single NPC. The rest is yours to figure out. I absolutely love this style of game tutorial, and even better its very well done here. Each mechanic is introduced in a simple text box. Then, in the next area you use that mechanic. This is in my opinion the best way to introduce any game mechanics in any game, and just plays so much better than other ways of doing this. The Surge is not the first game to do a tutorial like this, but its always nice to see an RPG going with this method.
This is an RPG, so there are usually countless complex mechanics to master. Not so for The Surge. You have the gear you wear, the weapon you wield, and the modules that you slot in to your suit. Ill talk a bit more about gear and modules later, but for now think of them as stat boosters. The exosuit that you start with is basically a skeleton, and you will spend a good portion of the game upgrading this suit to make it better, adding on more parts with different stats, and trying to optimize your builds. This is where it gets interesting, the game has a mechanic in it, where when you target an enemy, you don’t just target the enemy. Instead you target a single part of that that enemy, say his left leg. You can then attack his left leg in real time, and use a finisher to CUT THAT LEG OFF. After cutting it off you can then use it on your exosuit. But, that’s not even the end of it! By targeting the specific part, you can see if it is armored or not, thus exposing vulnerabilities in enemies. Its is much, much easier to destroy an enemies unarmored head than it is to try to destroy their armored leg. You also have to weigh what you want from each enemy as in addition to scrap (basically souls) you will get materials or parts from each enemy you use a finisher on. Not every finisher will give you the part you want, but every one will give you something.
The games currency is called scrap, Scrap are used for a variety of things, most importantly of all for upgrading your core power, which allows you to unlock new areas and module slots. Each level of core power also gives you a slight buff. The other way to get more powerful is to find, make, and upgrade your gear. This process is a whole game kind of thing, so you wont ever end up with a million scrap sitting around. Just like in souls games, you can lose the scrap your carrying by dying. In a new wrinkle, after death, you get only a limited amount of time to return to your death area and get your scrap back. Scrap is notthe only thing you need to upgrade your exosuit though. You will also need to use those finishers I talked about to get raw materials needed for crafting and upgrades. Since you need those materials, and the credits to use them, there is some grinding. It’s not terrible but I think it’s safe to say you will spend 2-3 hours of game time grinding, especially early on. I found myself retreading many of the same steps and killing mobs to farm resources in the hope of finally getting that one last upgrade.
The Surge’s story is one of its only real weak points. There is a general story about global warming and mega corps, that could be ripped from most 80’s action flicks. But, a lot of that that story is told via interactions that occur during fights, or while I was busy trying not to die. There is also a fair amount of environmental story telling which I have no doubt will not escape our more observant readers, but it did escape me. The story is secondary to the games fantastic fight system and action, and I dont think that is a bad thing, since it leaves space for the real star of the game, the combat.
That combat at first seems shallow, with just two regular attacks, light and heavy, a dashing attack, a dodge and a block. This is extremely deceptive. The games combat is in fact deep, and at times immensely nuanced, even to the point of feeling like a hack and slash, not an RPG. This is souls style combat, so you will be dying a lot. Most of the time if you engage more than one enemy or slip up at all, you are going to die. Death of course carries the penalty of losing all of your tech scrap. As I mentioned earlier, you then have a limited amount of time to recover that scrap, or it’s gone forever. In a new twist The Surge punishes players slightly less by offering a bank feature for your Tech Scrap. I really enjoyed how combat never got excessively complex, even in later game encounters, it comes down to the same mechanics, just applied in a different way. Some people might not love a fighting system that harkens back to classic hack and slash, but for me it way better than complex combos and 15 buttons. The dismemberment system is what really puts combat over the top. Need a new arm piece? Cut it off and take it. Same with legs and other bits. These can also be broken down (in a process that is thank god automated) to give needed materials for crafting. There are tiers of these materials, but as far as I can tell you cant craft up tiers, like you could in The Division. This leads us to the games item system.
There are a TON of items in this game. I have only scratched the surface of whats there in my 10 hours of playing. Each set of gear provides a bonus, and gear can be obtained either with dismemberment or by finding plans. Some sets give set bonuses, and spending hours mixing and matching gear looking for min-max your character is going to be nearly endless. I forsee many online guides popping up discussing the value of build X over build Y in the near future. Because of the wide variety of parts and bits to craft and use, you can really play to your style, rather than the games. If you want to use a light weapon and be fast and good at dodging you can be. You can just as easily build a heavy weapons character, and utilize blocks to defend yourself, or a character with a ton of health and healing implants that’s just a straight brawler. This diversity of build styles gives the game immense replayability.
To give you an idea of how much crafting there is in The Surge, think of The Division when it first came out. The basics gear are familiar RPG tropes, head, arms, legs, etc, but to make things more interesting the game also has implants. Each implant is unique, and can do something to change the game. You can install more implants as you level up and implants have varying effects. Some can heal you, some give buffs, others increase health, etc. Its a nice way to bring some variety to the game. All of the crafting and RPG elements are neatly packaged in to a single area in each wide open map, meaning you dont have to run around to do things. Each map also has an end boss, which is a colossal critter that will have you banging your head in to a wall for hours on end.
The game has a beautiful aesthetic. Its gritty but also bright. The game mostly takes place in grim industrial environments, but they are shot through with colors. Not over saturated colors like the recent trend of neon drenched 80’s nostalgia. Instead, its a much more realistic palette of earth tones with a few bright colors on things like logos and the enemies you fight. This is also a graphically beautiful game, enemies are detailed (as they need to be for the dismemberment system), and a lot of attention is paid to environmental details. Each map is basically open, with a a few paths back and forth. The game teaches you early on that there will be shortcuts, and using them really helps, since you have to return to the start area of each level to level up and deposit tech scrap. The game re-populates the map after you leave it, so there is no clearing levels. Instead you will be risking death each time you venture out of the start, whether its the 5th or the 500th.
There are a few downsides to The Surge. The execution animations can get boring on hour 15, and the weapons are a bit bland. I found one weapon at the start of the game and basically stuck with it, upgrading it as I went along. The investment in that weapon became so great that getting a new one leveled up would have required hours of grinding, so I just never did it. Weapons are plenty diverse but theirs no motivation to switch, beyond their attack speeds. Since, you can upgrade any weapon you find. Difficulty is brutal and unchangeable, I almost feel like this is a feature and not a downside, but for more casual players, this may be a deal breaker.
Luckily, none of those things hold the game back. Overall its an excellent example of the lessons a game studio can take from a previous game and move forwards with. As an action RPG, this game excels, as an insanely difficult Dark Souls like game, it excels and finally as loot driven RPG it excels. It is exceedingly rare that I find a game that I find to be both pretty, challenging, and overall fun. The Surge is one of those games I will likely come back to again and again. With 0 reservations, I can tell you that I loved this game, and will probably keep loving it for some time after this review.
I give it a solid 5/5