Underneath my yellow skin

The good and the bad of The Surge 2

oh dear. it's coming.
What fresh hell is this?

The Surge (the original) was a surprise hit for me when I played it back in 2018. I even gave it an award and everything! I will never argue that it’s a great game, but I had a blast playing it. The RKG group (members of the group, not RKG themselves) hates it almost uniformly, and they got mad at me for saying I liked it better than Nioh. They argued that Nioh was a better game, and they seemed befuddled when I agreed. I know Nioh is a better game than The Surge. I mean, it’s more technically accomplished, it looks better (though there are some UGLY levels in Nioh–I’m looking at you, snow world–and the combat is more complex. Actually, that was part of my issue with Nioh, though I’d be curious to see if I felt the same way now that I’ve finished Sekiro. It’s more imaginative, and I like the demon/fantasy theme much better than the sci-fi world of The Surge. However, when it comes to which one I enjoyed more, indeed, which one I actually finished, it would be The Surge.

It was such a success that a sequel was inevitable. I was hyped about it, but also nervous. Why nervous? Because I was hyped about it. See, I wasn’t expecting anything from the first game. Why? Because Deck 13’s first game, Lords of the Fallen, was a hot mess. The reviews ranged from lukewarm to downright excoriating. Me, I hated the game. A lot. It was fantasy, and should have been right up my alley, but all they seemed to take from Dark Souls was ‘heavy’ combat. They were transparent about their love for Dark Souls, but they didn’t seem to understand what makes it such a transformational game*. It’s like looking at the Mona Lisa and thinking the smile was the only thing important about the painting. Yes, it’s an integral part, but it’s not the whole. I feel the same about Deck 13 and Lords of the Fallen. Yes, the combat is weighty, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Dark Souls. Also, the magicks is shite in LoF, at least in the first hour. Also also, just throwing a mob of enemies at the player isn’t a great way of making a game difficult. My biggest complaint about LoF was that they seemed to go into the game thinking, “We want a game that is hard” and built everything around that instead of having a vision that integrated elements of a challenging game.

When The Surge was announced, I wasn’t anything more than mildly interested. Nothing about it screamed, ‘come here!’ to me, and I let it go until it went on sale on Steam. Then, I tried the demo and had a reasonably good time, so I bought it for like ten bucks. I wasn’t expecting anything from it, and I was pleasantly surprised. There were several things I did not like about the game, but overall, I had a decent time with it. When the sequel was announced, I was stoked. But, as I said above, also nervous. Was I expecting too much?

Fast-forward to September 23rd when the game actually dropped. I bought it four hours before it released and pre-loaded it. I was excited and ready to roll by the time the game was installed. Graphics looked better than the last one, and the environments were more varied in the first few hours than they had been in all of the original game. I got to make my own character, and, yes, I made her an Asian woman. There wasn’t that much customization, but the fact that they allowed me to do any at all was a step up.

One thing I noticed within the first hour or so is that there are more NPCs with whom you can interact. There is one I’m convinced is Patches in disguise, but he actually did give me useful information and wasn’t leading me down a trap in order to kick me into a pit. I still have my eye on you, unnamed coughing man. You did me a solid this time, but I still don’t trust you. My distrust came in handy when I met Penny. I won’t say why, but let’s say I’m ready when we meet again, Penny, which I am sure we will do (if I finish the game).

One of the best/worst things about the original was the way they handled the weapons. Every time you used a weapon, you leveled up that class. That made sense because of course you’d get better with a weapon the more you used it! Initially, I liked the concept, but I quickly realized the problem with the system. I’m sure you can probably figure it out for yourself, but in case not, let me lay it out for you. In games like this, most people tend to stick to one weapon for the most part. If you find one you like later, you upgrade it and off you go. There are games in which your competency with a weapon is based on your class, but for the most part, it’s upgrading it with souls or, you know, the general equivalent.

In The Surge, I spent most of my time with the single-rigged. Later on, I dabbled with the twin-rigged with a dash of heavy-duty. There were implants that boosted the levels of the different weapons classes, but it wasn’t enough. I got around it by grinding a lot, but by the end, my single-rigged level was still higher than the rest by far. In the sequel, they’ve done away completely with the leveling up of weapons. You simply upgrade the different weapons, and I applaud this decision. Yes, I thought it made sense to level up your weapons by using them, but the downside to it was bigger than the upside. In the sequel, I don’t feel limited to one weapon class, which is both a blessing and a curse. I’m four or five hours into the game, and I have over a dozen weapons. I have been switching back and forth between the pear (which surprised me because I hate spears in Souls games) and a few twin-riggeds . I like the spear because I can keep my distance, but the twin-riggeds are so goddamn fast, and I can do several attacks in succession without draining my stamina.

One thing I really liked about the first game is the variety of weapons and the different effects they have. One thing I really like in this game is that they upped the wackiness of the weapons in this game. Oh! I have to say that the drones, which I consider part of the weapons, are way fucking better in this game. SO. MUCH. BETTER. I can’t even say how much better. Well, yes, I can. In the first game, I never even used the drone except to open doors, and that was something I had to use it for. I don’t even know what it was supposed to do, exactly. In this game? My buddy! It can target an enemy’s limb just as I do and hack it off as well. It’s a good ranged option and does appreciable damage. I use it for mob control, and it gives me a moment to breath in relief.

Back to the actual weapons. They have added a new class–Double Duty. It’s a weapon that can give one heavy hit as one weapon or faster lighter attacks as dual-wielding weapons. I currently have a double duty weapon, and I’m getting the hang of it. I like it, but I’m not sure I understand it yet. There’s another new class, Punching Gloves, which I do not like at all. Way too melee for me.  I’m having a good time trying out the different weapons, but I’m having difficulty settling on one. I know I don’t have to, but that’s how I roll. I’m not good enough at these games to be flipping back and forth between several different kinds of weapons all the time, and I do my best when I focus on one weapon. I really want to like the Double Duty, but I just don’t think I’m doing it right yet.

feel the beat, man.
Maxin’ and relaxin’!

Now. For the difficult part. One thing I hated about the first game is that they like to make things difficult by throwing mobs of enemies at you. Yes, you can do the draw one out thing (but not all the time. Some to be paired together no matter what), and, yes, this happens in the FromSoft games at well, but, the difference is that they don’t just throw the mobs at you (except in the DLCs for DS II. I’m glaring at you FromSoft B team). They do it purposefully and sparingly, and usually, you can find a better way to deal with it than just rush at the mob. In The Surge? Oftentimes, the best way to deal with a mob is to run by them. It was something many reviewers mentioned, and I know it from experience that taking on all the mobs every time is very tedious. I actually didn’t run by them that much because I wanted to grind to get the XP. In the sequel? Hooooo boy.

I’m in the second major area of the game. I just reached the first (only?) hub, and…yeah. Getting there was a chore, and I ended up running past some enemies to reach it because I was so tired of the grind. Three or four hours in! I probably put in fifty hours in the first game, maybe sixty or seventy, and I grinded a lot in the first game. Four hours into this one, and I do not want to grind like I did in the last game. Again, I like the grind, but…I’ll get to that later.

There is this thing in these kinds of games where I can tell how I’m going to feel about a level by my initial reaction to the first part of it. Ideally, I should feel nervous, excited, and amped. If I look at the first part and do a deep sigh, feeling grim, I know I’m in trouble. In this second area, the harbor, I just can’t with the placement of the mobs and the external barriers such as the fucking laser turrets. We need to talk about the laser turrets. I hate them. Full stop. There is one area where there are two next to each other and a dude in the back of them. He patrols sometimes, and it’s just too much. I’ve ended up just running by all of that bullshit because I do not want to deal with smacking each one. Yes, there are environmental hazards is FromSoft games (So. Many. Hazards.), but they are usually done thoughtfully and with purpose. Here, they’re just slapped down to make things difficult. Again, that should not be the end point of the design–difficulty, I mean, it shouldn’t be the main point at all.

This is getting long, of course, so I’ll end this now. More on my frustrations with the game and why I may not keep playing it in the next post.

 

 

*Yes, yes, Demon’s Souls, but Dark Souls is really what pushed FromSoft from niche publisher to defining a whole genre of games.

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