Remnant: From the Ashes official artwork and logo

When taken at face value, Remnant: From the Ashes is probably the most depressingly generic game in all of existence. It's a post-apocalyptic, co-op focused third-person shooter with numerous Dark Souls inspired elements, randomized levels, and naturally, a heavy emphasis on crafting. In other words, it looks like half of the Early Access games on Steam!

However, Remnant is anything but generic or unpolished. It manages to combine all of these highly varied elements into something far greater than the sum of their whole, with the end result being a thoroughly enjoyable and surprisingly challenging action-RPG. So if you're wondering just what makes Remnant so interesting, as well as where exactly it falters, allow me to share my thoughts now that I've gone through two playthroughs.

Remnant: From the Ashes screenshot of the Ent boss

I hope you're in the mood for Lovecraftian plant-monsters

While it is by no means a clone of Dark Souls, Remnant does borrow a lot of elements from it. You have a very limited amount of healing potions that refill only when you use checkpoints, enemies deal a lot of damage and it's fairly easy to die if you're not paying attention, while winning battles is just as much about timing and positioning as it is about raw aggression. Most importantly of all, it's entirely possible to beat every encounter without taking even a single bit of damage! 

This is exactly the type of difficulty I love to see - challenging but fair. There are no dice rolls to mess you up, no instantaneous enemy attacks to surprise you. It's all about figuring out what the monsters are capable of, and then using that knowledge to spring away from their attacks and blast them apart with a shotgun to the face when they're the most vulnerable. A simple concept, but one that goes a long way towards making some of Remnant's more difficult fights feel fun rather than frustrating. After all, if every single failure is entirely down to you and your own abilities, then there is always something you can work on improving.

Remnant: From the Ashes screenshot of a close quarters battle against an elite enemy

Death comes easily in Remnant, but each one is a learning experience

However, no matter how well balanced the difficulty curve may be, none of it would matter if the actual gameplay wasn't up to snuff. As such, I'm pleased to say that Remnant has managed to also nail the combat! Every single gun I've tried throughout my playthrough has felt downright mighty, everything from the fire-spewing machine gun to the classic rifle. I obviously still gravitated towards the former, because of course I would choose the dragon-shaped SMG with a built-in flamethrower, but it really wasn't an easy decision given that its competition included guns that could shoot bees!

The reason the combat is so satisfying is partly because of the sound design that makes each bullet fired feel impactful, and partly because the enemies visibly stumble when you hit them with a powerful attack. That last bit is particularly important as it not only makes each weapon seem strong and meaty, but it also serves as a highly valuable gameplay mechanic you can use to your advantage. For example, if you end up being attacked by a dozen enemies, you don't need to kill all of them at the same time. Simply shoot some of them in the face so they wince back in pain, and then deal with the ones closer to you. Once again, this is a simple little feature, but it really does make a world of difference when it comes to making Remnant fun to play.

Another thing working in Remnant's favor here is that the enemies aren't bullet sponges on the normal difficulty level, not even some of the tougher elite ones. Most basic enemies will die from a headshot or two, while the really tough and armored brutes will require a precise application of five-six shotgun blasts before finally going down. This helps keep things going at a nice and steady pace, from the very beginning to the very end, and that is something I can certainly appreciate after playing through Borderlands 2 recently.

If you do feel like the enemies are a bit too weak, however, worry not as there are two additional difficulty settings for you to test yourself against. You will need to re-generate your entire world in order to move up a difficulty level, but thankfully your character will remain fully intact, so you can consider this like an early New Game Plus option. Personally, I found normal to be just right for my first playthrough, but if you feel like getting brutalized at every step, the option is there.

Remnant: From the Ashes screenshot of the little gremlin enemies

Normal difficulty strikes a great balance between you and the enemies

While I mentioned that most of the weapons themselves are a joy to use, and fairly numerous if you explore every inch of the world map, there is a little bit of problem here - it's hard to upgrade them to the same level as your main weapon. This goes doubly so for boss weapons as they require rare fragments that you only really get from elite enemies, and so you only might have a small amount of them to play around with at any given time. And if you're already heavily invested into your primary weapon, why would you waste all of your fragments slowly upgrading a new one instead of making your already strongest weapon even more devastating?

The developers were seemingly well aware of this as some of the weapons you acquire out in the world come highly upgraded, but the really impressive boss weapons all start at rank zero and require the same materials. As a consequence of this, I unfortunately didn't get to play with as many different weapons as I would've liked to, and that is a real shame since some of them sounded amazing. For goodness sake, there was a laser rifle that shot out mini black holes and I pretty much had to skip it because I couldn't spare the resources to upgrade it. Needless to say, a player should never in a million years be compelled to skip a gun that fires black holes!

Remnant: From the Ashes screenshot of the flamethrower weapon

I wasn't too sad, however, as nothing beats the good ol' flamethrower!

When it comes to the enemy diversity, Remnant does a lot better. Each and every single area has multiple unique enemy types, both common and elite. Some will try to charge at you with reckless abandon, others will switch between melee and ranged combat depending on the situation, while some of the weaker ones will attempt to swarm you from all sides. But whatever their strategy may be, every single enemy plays fair and gives you a good amount of warning before cleaving your healthbar in half.

Remnant also scores bonus points here by seemingly being able to read my mind. Just about every time I've started to get bored of a certain enemy type, the landscape would drastically change and a whole bunch of new ones would get introduced. I fully expected to start seeing repetitions as I approached the mid-game, and there were some in the optional areas, but when it came to the 'normal' progression route Remnant constantly managed to come up with new types of monsters to test my flamethrower against!

So while they might not have the most complex AI, Remnant's enemies have been pretty darn fun to fight against. Like I said at the very beginning, I am a big fan of games that can create challenging but fair encounters, and Remnant's enemies are exactly that - incredibly deadly if underestimated, but also as fragile as glass if you're truly prepared.

Remnant: From the Ashes screenshot of the bug queen

Remnant's character design is both interesting and bizarre

However, while Remnant's enemies are a great example of how to translate Dark Souls sensibilities into shooter gameplay, the bosses are exactly the opposite. For whatever reason, just about every single boss in Remnant is pathetically weak and relies entirely on endless waves of enemies to offer you any sort of challenge. An occasional fight like this would be perfectly fine, but when every single boss spawns enemies directly behind you, it gets really annoying really quickly.

I honestly don't know why the developers have done this, because when the rare few horde-free bosses do appear, they are an absolute joy to fight. There is a boss in the swamp region that has two moth-looking monsters tag-team you, and that encounter has shown me just how awesome Remnant's bosses could've been with a bit more love and care.

The silly moth wizards killed me time and time again, they made me reconsider my weapons and strategies, and when I finally beat them I felt an incredible amount of satisfaction. I was presented with a completely fair challenge, and through skill and sheer perseverance I had managed to overcome that challenge and get some sweet loot. Now that's how it should've been done, and not by having monsters constantly backstab the player while they try to power through a giant healthbar!

Remnant: From the Ashes screenshot of the moth-like boss

This thing might look silly, but it's one of the trickiest bosses I faced!

Each boss you manage to take down will give you one or two rewards: weapons, traits, currency, or even a brand new weapon modification. It's a reward system as old as gaming itself, and unsurprisingly, getting cool stuff from killing bosses is pretty fun in Remnant as well! The only real problem I have with this whole system is the same problem I have with the weapons themselves - upgrading boss weapons to the point of usefulness is needlessly expensive and punishing.

What isn't expensive are the traits, given that you'll get hundreds of points to spend throughout an average playthrough. These can be used to increase your health, physical damage, stamina regeneration, critical strike chance, resistances, and generic stuff like that. They're not exactly exciting as the effects themselves are merely small stat bonuses, but it's still nice to have just a little bit more customization to toy around with when building your character... even if some of the traits are so strong that just about everyone will run them.

Remnant: From the Ashes screenshot of the talents

There's a lot of traits to choose from, but very few are the correct option

In terms of visuals, Remnant is once again pretty darn solid. The raw graphical fidelity isn't the greatest as there are a few low-detail textures hiding around in the background, but none of that really matters as it is the atmosphere and overall style that carry the whole experience. It's not every day you get to meet a graceful butterfly queen right after rummaging through the remnants of an empty world cleansed by fire!

The level design, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. If you're just following the main storyline and doing a little bit of adventuring on the side, chances are you'll find the maps to be quite satisfying. Each one is visually distinct, features a couple of interesting landmarks to fight around, is open enough to encourage exploration, and yet still small enough that you'll constantly get into fights and pick up heaps of crafting materials.

Sadly, once you start doing some of the side-dungeons, it becomes very apparent very quickly that Remnant has a fairly limited set of areas it constructs maps out of. So once you've become familiar with an area, going into a dungeon with that same theme will trigger a powerful sense of déjà vu as you'll likely encounter many of the 'map chunks' you've seen before. It's not the biggest of problems as the combat always keeps things exciting and flowing at a decent pace, but even so I would've liked to see a bit more randomization, just for the sake of repeat playthroughs which are heavily encouraged.

Remnant: From the Ashes screenshot of a lovely forest

The start is a bit drab, but Remnant gets downright gorgeous later

And when I say heavily encouraged, I really do mean that as Remnant's New Game Plus mode does not simply reset all of the enemies and bosses, it completely redesigns and repopulates the world. Some of the areas will be laid out in entirely different ways, while dungeons you farmed during your first playthrough might be replaced with entirely new ones at entirely new places.

Similarly, most of the bosses seem to have a couple of variations, and which one you get depends entirely on how your dice fall during world generation. You might fight the same few bosses you've previously seen, or you might end up going into an arena expecting to see a giant dragon, only for Lovecraft's version of a Middle-earth Ent to suddenly appear and attempt to give you a lovely hug!

Combine this with each unique boss having a couple of secret challenges you can attempt to complete for extra rewards, and you've got yourself plenty of reasons to give Remnant's campaign another try. If that's not your cup of tea, worry not as each playthrough is an entirely self-contained affair, and as such you don't have to force yourself to repeat anything unless you're itching for even more monsters to smack around in search of their sweet, sweet loot!

Remnant: From the Ashes screenshot of the Root Dragon

An entirely plant-based dragon that spews out fire? Ouch!

Closing Thoughts

Remnant is a highly polished and thoroughly enjoyable romp through post-apocalyptic landscapes and bizarre alien worlds. It might not be the most innovative game around, but what it does offer is some rock solid combat and plenty of powerful enemies that will test you in many of the same ways Dark Souls would. And to be perfectly honest, that's sometimes all you really need out of a shooter!

So as long as you're willing to forgive some of its less-than-stellar aspects, things like the boring traits or occasionally irritating bosses, I'd say that Remnant is well worth playing for anyone seeking a tough yet fair challenge. I certainly had a great deal of fun with it, and I'm now looking forward to seeing just what sort of expansions or updates Remnant will get in the future!

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