Saying The Surge 2 is a Soulslike is a useful shorthand. All the basics of a Dark Souls game apply, such as the entire world respawning when you rest, and needing to return to the site of your death to pick up your lost spoils. It’s a formula that’s given rise to many imitators over the years, and to that we say, awesome. The more the better — but some have nailed the formula better than others.
But unlike Lords of the Fallen, this big budget Soulslike is back for another spin. It’s sci-fi RPG, but this is far from Elysium. It’s more like the non-Elysium part below Elysium. There are no slick white surfaces here. The entire first area of The Surge 2 is a trash heap in which talented scavengers can jerryrig armour and weapons with advanced components and duct tape. It’s that kind of sci-fi.
Staying on Target
No one does From better than From, which is why the best Soulslikes mix in some of their own flavour. The Surge played around with a kind of strategic dismemberment, reminiscent of Dead Space, and it feels like a great deal of effort has been spent improving this feature, in tandem with more interesting weapon movesets. It’s effort well spent, because the early version we played is a lot of fun.
We rarely fought large groups of enemies in the preview build, which is just as well — target switching is done with a binary press of L2, which is imprecise for multiple targets. In a departure from Souls norms, flicking the right stick is reserved for targetting which body part you’d like to hack off.
It’s a rare game in which you’ll deliberately target the armoured part of an enemy, but doing so in The Surge 2 can slice off pieces of gear you can use later. You’ll progressively chop at torsos, heads, legs, and arms, until you have all the pieces of that armour set you want. Some are better, some are worse, some are niche, and some you’ll want just because they look badass.
It’s a system that rewards not just killing, but killing well. In a pinch, you’ll probably target that unarmoured head. But every armoured piece you steal grants crafting recipes and materials. Each encounter is a risk/reward scenario of farming vs survival.
For those really wanting to excel, players can memorise the swing arcs of their weapon moveset. The direction in which you wave your techo-chopper absolutely matters, and doing too much damage to the wrong side of your enemy’s armour might get you the wrong part.
Of course, in reality you could just hack off any part or weapon you want after the foe is dead. But we can suspend our disbelief. Aren’t all RPGs guilty of that little sin? How many times have we killed a boss and seen its weapon drop to the floor, unable to pick it up? At least now we have some control over which gear we get — a reward for those who learn the game.
Assault and Battery
This mid-combat decision-making is amplified with the healing system, which rewards aggression a la Bloodborne. Successful hits charge up your battery, which can then be used to heal. Later, you’ll find components that can use your battery charge for other things. The rate at which weapons charge up your battery is an additional balancing factor.
This means forays from your safe zone are potentially much longer, as you’re not beholden to a finite amount of heals. Even the direst of circumstances can be escaped with some skillful play. One or two flawless combos can bring you back from the brink, and we not only enjoyed being able to salvage an excursion without backtracking, we’re also excited to see how this system is played with in tougher boss fights.
We were pleasantly surprised with the variety and overall coolness of the gear on offer. Even if you’re not a fan of these improvised weapons with duct tape and mismatched colours, there’s good news: Gear looks more polished and clean as you progress. It’s almost a status symbol. If you’re the one badass in this world rocking a sleek, white, futuristic spear, you’re not one to tangle with.
There are the set bonuses that you might expect, and even though the character side of this RPG only has three dimensions for you to upgrade your character across – Health, Stamina, and Battery Efficiency – the gear side of the game will contain more theorycrafting for those who love it.
The radiated wasteland of the first area in The Surge 2 wasn’t as interesting as the castles of Lordran or Lothric, but the developers definitely understand the value of levels that loop back around on themselves, creating shortcuts. It’s all a bit samey colour-wise, with a lack of distinguishing, iconic elements from room to room. But it does capture that sense of reaching a safe plateau when you realise you’ve opened a hidden door to your safe spot.
Plug and Play Implants
One of the coolest and most fitting aspects of NieR:Automata was the customisability of its HUD. Slotting in a few components would allow you a set of controls usually reserved for game menus — enemy health bars, noise meters, you name it. Fitting, given you’re an android.
There’s a lite version of this in The Surge 2, and it’s very welcome — even if it’s just to serve as a tutorial for the combat’s more nuanced aspects. Slot in one implant and you’ll see enemy health bars as well as poise bars. Slot in another, and an indicator will show you which direction incoming attacks come from. All the better to parry them with — though these “educational” implants cost a lot of space, so we get the feeling they’re intended to be replaced quickly. Players will want to learn those enemy movesets to parry them without training wheels, and slot in some more advanced implants.
There are lots of interesting decisions to be made though. It’s a simpler system than any Souls game overall but we spotted some fun opportunities, such as a component that increases damage to enemies while the player is poisoned. This could be combined with various “slow heals” to compensate for the poison, though this may sacrifice your quick heals. The Surge 2 loves playing with risk/reward, and it’s doing it well.
Our final battle was with a high-level member of a religious cult, and after losing the first battle we were intrigued to find he wasn’t in the same spot. What does that mean for attacking NPCs, we wonder? Are there different rewards for winning in the first encounter? Are there story implications?
One thing we’re certain of, is The Surge 2 is looking strong enough for us to dive back into the full version to find out.