Remnant II Review - Bringing A Shotgun To A Soulslike
I don’t like Soulslikes. I just don’t. I have been very open about the fact over the years. I appreciate them, I recognise them and I even like watching people play them, I just can’t enjoy my time with them. I have tried, I really have. I have a Steam/Xbox/PS library filled with the genre’s biggest names but I just can’t get into them. There was one, however, that almost got its hooks into me. Remnant: From the Ashes was its name and it took the Souls formula in a different direction by focusing on ranged combat. I played a fair bit of this one before I bounced off. I enjoyed the moment-to-moment gameplay but still couldn’t get past the frustration inherent in the genre. So I was keen to get my hands on Remnant II, if only to see if this one is finally the game that drags me into the genre. Now that I have played and finished it I can safely say that while I am still no Soulslike fan, I am a huge Remnant II fan.
Remnant II kicks off 10 years after the first game. The Wanderer from the first game has come and gone, leaving Earth in a much better place than it was. It is still no paradise, but the Root (the big bad infection) has diminished and life is returning to some sort of normalcy. Humans are living in safe zones and if not thriving, at least living safely. This is where the player character comes in. Imaginatively dubbed the Traveller, you head to one of these Wards looking for a better life. Upon arrival you discover that this is the ward from which the problems first occurred and you are dragged into a multiverse quest to seek out and destroy the source of the Root, thus saving countless realms.
I honestly loved this schlocky tale. It worked perfectly in the game’s creepy setting. The five different realms I got to explore were all suffering from decay, but the decay was unique to that realm. The environments are doing a lot of the heavy lifting lore-wise, showing what the Root’s corruption has done to these once-thriving biomes. The rest of the story is told through a few key characters and one giant eyeball (It makes sense, trust me) and while it is minimal at times, I thought the writers did a great job of selling this crazy concept in a way that hooks players in. In saying all of that, Remnant II isn’t going to win any awards for a deep and engaging story, it really is just an excuse to shoot a bunch of weird monsters, but at least it is a fun excuse.
The gameplay is the real main course here and boy, Gunfire Games get it right. This is, in a lot of ways, a Soulslike title with all of the trimmings. There are Red Crystals that act as bonfires, tough enemies, challenging boss fights, limited health potions and limited mobility. All things that are well and truly staples of the genre. But Remnant II does a couple of things that break it out of the mould. The first and most obvious of these is the fact the game is squarely focused on long-ranged, gun-based combat as opposed to melee. Sure you can play melee-focused if you like, but there is just no escaping the need for guns. This change of focus means that I found the difficulty much more manageable. It gave me time to react, survey and exploit enemies in a way I could never manage in other games of this nature. That’s not to say Remnant 2 is easy, far from it, mistakes are still punished severely, but this style obviously suited me much more. It also helps that the gunplay is so so satisfying. Every weapon, be it a pistol, rifle or weird alien creation, has a wonderful heft and impact that just make taking things out with extreme prejudice a joy.
The second major difference is in the maps. There are five main environments to explore but internet maps and guides won’t do you much good because each instance is randomly generated. Your playthrough will not be the same as your buddy’s. You may face similar challenges (all the campaign bosses are the same for example) but the map, associated dungeons and mini-bosses are different each time a new playthrough or adventure is started. Speaking of adventures, there are two ways in which to play. The campaign mode that takes about 12 hours to complete (or longer if you get stuck on the final boss as I did) and the adventure mode which is a single-world, short jaunt that often adds more context and lore to your campaign adventure. You can only have one campaign and one adventure instance active at any one time, but re-rolling either will not reset your character progress so all your weapons, skills and traits carry through each time. These shorter adventures are great for grinding for better gear, improving skills or just getting more of the wonderfully satisfying gunplay action and as they are different each time they offer a lot of replayability for those that have finished the game.
Graphically the game is pretty darn solid, especially considering the random nature of the levels. Enemy design is great, especially the Root-infected baddies, and everything moves without too many hiccups. There were some reports of PC issues upon release, but I didn’t experience a single noticeable framerate drop on my desktop PC (3080, i9) so if you have a good-to-great system you should be fine. As is always the case these days, I also tested Remnant II on both my Steamdeck and my ROG Ally and sadly, the performance isn’t as great there. Some frame rate stutters and graphical glitching ruin the experience. That’s not to say it won’t get to a solid state with some optimisation from the developers, because that is a very real possibility, but as it is, it isn’t a great experience.
Where Remnant II really leads the pack is in its sound design. From spatial awareness to adding to the tension, every speck of the sound design has been tweaked and polished to intensify the experience. From the appropriately moody music that speeds up when combat is near, to the satisfying squelch of a squid-like terror getting shot at point-blank range, everything in the audio department impresses. So much so that wearing headphones can give significant assistance, especially in the super-tough final boss fight (thanks to P2 friend Joab Gilroy for that heads up.) I would go so far as to say that this is the best use of sound in a game since Hellblade and that is no faint praise.
If I had one problem with the game, it is that the main campaign feels a little short. Usually, I am more than happy with a 12-hour game but here it felt like I was just warming up, just getting into my groove. I would have loved some more story and maybe one or two more worlds to explore. Don’t get me wrong, I am super happy with what is here and just how polished it is, but it really did leave me wanting a bit more to sink my teeth into. If the first game is anything to go by, I am sure Remnant II will be well supported with both paid DLC and free updates so I suspect that problem will be ultimately resolved and the Adventure mode does take some of the sting out of it, but there is no denying it left me wanting more. As far as problems go with a game, it is honestly not a bad one to have, right?
What it all boils down to is that Remnant II did something that no other “soulslike” has done for me. It entertained me more than it frustrated me. Now I am aware that this won’t be the case for everyone, that Dark Souls players love the challenge that comes from their favourite games and that the frustration is like the elixir of life for them, so they will perhaps find Remnant II, a little on the easy side. But for most, I feel like the challenge is perfectly balanced, the combat is immensely satisfying and the technical prowess on display is a wonderful achievement. Gunfire Games has, without doubt, put out one of the best games of the year and I expect this to be talked about come GOTY time. You shouldn’t hesitate on this one folks, even if, like me, the thought of a “soulslike” puts you off. You may just find your favourite game in recent memory. I know I did.
Remnant II was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher.