The Surge 2 Hands-On Preview: More Cyber Souls
From the makers of Lords of the Fallen and The Surge, The Surge 2 aims to be a stronger entry into the Souls-like genre. Like it's predecessor, this new title is a cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic world of warring factions and powerful, transformative tech.
I was able to get a few hours worth of demo time with the early parts of the game. At its core, The Surge 2 does mostly succeed in its desire to take From Software's masterpieces in new directions. The game wears its Souls DNA on its sleeve — and its chest, face, and everywhere else — but the core tenants are there.
From tough enemies, looping level design, a robust customization system, and several viable weapon types and build options, and there might be something to talk about here.
Built on the Bones
Two of the many strengths of From Software's flagship franchise are its difficulty and its worldbuilding. Enemies hit hard and often, but with careful play and a thorough understanding of mechanics, they can be tossed around without much thought. Equally important is the environment where players fight said enemies. It needs to be one steeped in mystery, an initial sense of smallness, and a feeling that there is always something more beyond the horizon.
Based on the early levels I played, The Surge 2 offers a bit of both of these qualities and adds some of its own flair to create a unique identity.
As with any Souls-like, early enemies are slow and predictable but hit like a truck if you aren't careful with your stamina management and block/parry timings. Dodging is about as effective as ever, but the invincibility window seems smaller than it is in a Dark Souls or Bloodborne.
Each weapon type also feels unique, requiring different playstyles to use effectively. There's also a combo mechanic allowing players to experiment with different move combinations and strings. No one weapon or combo is useful in every situation, either, making general mastery of all your tools a good overall strategy. Overspecialization isn't a detriment but doesn't seem to be heavily incentivized.
Still, the game does want players to be in the action as much as possible. To keep up the pace, it ties your access to healing items directly to your effectiveness in combat. You'll be replenishing your healing ability — a "battery" in this case — by racking up hits against enemies. Once you've filled up enough of a bar, you can bank a single usage of the battery.
You can't rest on your laurels, though, as once your combo stops, the bar starts to degrade. Fail to bank in time, and you're out of luck.
Adding on Some Muscles
And luck is an important part of The Surge 2's progression system because your equipment does much more than your level to define how powerful you are in combat. You'll need to make liberal use of the series' unique mechanic — cutting — to chop off the various extremities from your foes for a chance at the gear that particular body part was wearing.
There's no guarantee you'll get what you want, so if you want a specific piece of gear, you'll probably have to lop off a few body parts to get it. To do that, however, you have to attack said body part until it's weak enough to cut. Then you can use a pre-animated finisher to both confirm the kill and an item drop.
The farming itself is typical Souls fare, as your Med Bay, a bonfire stand-in, respawns all enemies and resets the world. You'll also spend a lot of time in the Med Bay menus crafting new gear from the salvage you find throughout the world. It's there that the customization systems come to life.
Your level allows you to determine only three main stats: Health, Stamina, and Battery Efficiency. You allocate points into each for incremental increases and can reset your expenditures at any time.
Health and Stamina do what you'd expect. It's Battery Efficiency that will become essential, as each piece of gear you equip has a power consumption score you need to compensate for. Too much armor will overload your character, and you won't be able to use implants for more passive bonuses. The reverse is also true.
It becomes a game of compromises if you're not fine with farming for hours and power grinding your way to godhood. Even then, if you aren't wearing some protection and you don't plan on doing a no-hit run, you'll still want some armor to dull the blows you take.
Gear has its systems to elevate the game as well. Weapons have several stats that affect your combat abilities, from battery energy charge to attack speed, stamina consumption, status build-up, and more.
The Surge 2 has what appears to be a deep and relatively complex character build system, so where does it stand on that other vital Souls-like quality — its world?
From what I played, this is the games' most evident weakness. Where From Software's games distort and play with expectations, dealing primarily in quiet dread and insignificance, The Surge 2 wastes no time hitting its players with standard cyberpunk tropes.
Nanomachines are taking over — again. The authorities are corrupt and want everything bad that's happened to go away; there's a cult of tech-heads with the answers you seek (maybe); someone (you) is going to set everything straight.
There's little room for subtlety or nuance. You're asked to go to a place, kill the men, take their stuff, come back and get more stuff. While I found a lot of people who were down on their luck, I found just as many doing awkward dancing in no real sense of distress whatsoever. Perhaps that will change as the game opens up further.
Another thing I think The Surge 2 is missing in its early hours is a sense of freedom, both to think and to explore. It's a very linear experience, first of all, and while the levels do eventually loop back on themselves, they only do so to give you easier access to your Med Bay.
Environmental storytelling isn't high on the list of qualities, either. Enemy types are too similar and the areas generic enough that I only get the sense that the city has gone to pot, not that there was or might be something grander at stake. I miss the lore in item descriptions, too.
That said, there were a couple of characters who piqued my interest. I'm hoping they aren't just one-offs who appear, deliver dialogue, and then vanish beneath my bootheel.
There seems to be some conspiracy at play, but I only really got that sense because of an audio-log I picked up after the final fight of the demo I played. I'm hoping that turns into something compelling and not the tired "we will control the machines to control the world" narrative I've seen so many times before.
All in all, The Surge 2 is looking to be a solid, if somewhat safe, entry into the Souls-like genre. If you're looking for that kind of fix before we see the coming of Elden Ring or maybe Nioh 2, I'd go out on a limb and say to give The Surge 2 a shot. We'll have a review coming not long after its release.
The Surge 2 releases on Xbox One, PS4, and PC on September 24, 2019.