The Surge: A Preliminary Review

I’ve so far played a couple hours, up to the beginning of second area, and I’ve decided to share my thoughts on the game. (tl;dr at the bottom, this is a lot of words)

I’ve been a long time fan of the Souls series ever since my friend convinced me to get the Prepare To Die PC release of DS1. The Surge, given what I’d seen in the GB Quick Look and TB’s hour long look at the second level, it was pretty damn obvious that this was trying, and succeeding, to capture a lot of the Souls-like combat feel. Having played it, it definitely feels great. Hell, I’d argue that it feels better than Souls combat ever managed because there’s a level of depth here far deeper than Souls ever managed. I think a large part of why it feels like that is because The Surge is an action game first, and an RPG adventure second. Whether or not this was a conscious decision on Deck 13’s part, I would wager that one decision is what will guarantee The Surge’s success.

By the end of DS3, From and Miyazaki had a problem: what can we do to keep the formula fresh? And without an answer, they had to announce the end of the series. (Perhaps they have an answer and are working on pre-production on a new title, but there’s no word for now). Deck 13’s answer, as I said before it feels like they designed The Surge as an action game first, RPG second. They reason I say that is because everything about the game - the threadbare plot, relatively straightforward (but still awesome) visual design, a limited variety of pickups - all of it is geared towards modifying the combat. Most pickups are scraps that you can use to upgrade your armor, weapons, or core power (player level). Some are implants, split between injectables and hardwired - actives and passives - that provide you various advantages in a fight.

The Souls games, technically, did this as well. But the difference is that every item had to be lore-relevant, and a huge number of weapons are lore artifacts first, useful items second. There’s a lot of baggage that comes with having items play dual roles in that way, and it also bloats the number of items that need to be in the game since collecting these lore artifacts becomes a part of the experience. The Surge, due to its focused simplicity, can limit its variety to only what’s necessary to make combat more interesting. It’s likely because they avoided putting on all that fat in the first place that they can sell this game at $50 instead of the general AAA price of $60, but still have it feel like no less of a game.

But this also causes an inherent issue: what do you do about the people who want all that baggage? There are many who played the Souls games purely for that juicy lore-fat, who consume Vaati’s lore videos like medicine. Unfortunately, The Surge is a different game with a different focus. But I respect Deck 13 for it. They found a way to push this fledgling genre by branching out and trying new things with its base concepts.

That’s not to say that The Surge is perfect so far. The player character Warren, begins an intriguing character. He begins the game in a wheelchair as he rolls on into the Creo facility to get his exosuit, much like Jake Sully in Avatar. But he turns out to be a bunch of wet cardboard; not a single distinguishable personality trait. It doesn’t help that his voice actor puts out a pretty campy performance. Dialogue exists purely to deliver information to the characters and the player, and is utterly mundane in its own right. And as intriguing as the mystery of the situation is, it’s simply a skeleton upon which the meaty combat can be built.

The first boss is a rather awkward fight. Punching its legs only made an orange bar go up. Eventually it filled up but it felt like nothing happened. While I dodged around trying to figure out what to do, I took a bunch of missiles to the face and died. The second time is just kept punching its legs more and eventually it collapsed for a while so I punched it some more, but this time its health went down. A few more iterations of that and it died. The way into the boss fight was also a bit annoying because I died chasing a shortcut back to the medbay, and the only way back (except through a long series of dark, claustrophobic tunnels filled with baddies, was through a large, relatively empty outdoor area that turned out to be the boss room, but the boss didn’t trigger the first time because I turned something on in the room after that. So I got stuck fighting a boss I didn’t know was there and ended up losing 7.5k souls - I mean scrap. That’s a lot early on.

tl;dr: In my opinion The Surge is the perfect transition away from the core Souls series for those who want a fresh and more interesting version of Souls combat, but don’t expect the full Souls experience.

So what are your early experiences of the game? Ideally lets talk about early segments of the game and limit spoilers for now, assuming there’s anything to spoil. How does it feel as a Souls fan? How does it feel for those who are new to Souls-likes? Is its narrow combat focus a good or bad thing? Are exo-suits badass? (the answer to that last one is yes)


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So. I’ve only played two hours. Just enough to reach the first boss that you mentioned. Here’s some of my word soup on it so far. Huge fan of Souls-likes, btw. I play almost anything that calls itself that.

I like some of the changes to the formula in The Surge, and I REALLY DISLIKE some of the others.

First of all, what I do like: I really enjoy the Monster Hunter-esque limb targeting, and removal mechanic. I think it’s a super smart change to camera lock-on, an area of Souls-like design that I would have never even considered doing anything with.

Secondly, I really do like how heavy and “meaty” the combat feels. Now, my favorite Souls games are Bloodborne and Nioh, both of which feature some pretty fast combat. As you may have guessed, that’s my favorite way to play these kinds of games. Fast. That’s not The Surge, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I even picked the “fast” class at the beginning, but my attacks are still slow and committed. But, the way hits are shown on enemies, the noises they make, the animations in the windups, even the aesthetics of the exo-skeleton rigs lends something to the excellent feel of the attacks.

The first grievance I have with the game so far is the look of the environments/enemies. I know I’m super early still, but even then, a Souls-like in a sci-fi setting is an interesting prospect, just look at those Tokyo Souls mock-ups that were floating around here a few days ago, but it just doesn’t seem like the setting is delivering on that promise. So far the environments have been brown and rusty junk yards, or dark rusty sewers. And all of the enemies have either been just dudes in rigs, or uninspired drones.

The second problem I have is something that I think will become apparent with all non “mainline” Souls-likes that aren’t developed by From Software, hell, it even affected Dark Souls 2, and that was just a separate team! It’s that combat in The Surge doesn’t feel nearly as “clean” as it does in something like Bloodborne or Dark Souls. By that I mean that there are some moments where I feel like I’m being hit in ways that aren’t necessarily fair, or my fault. Like the hit boxes are a bit shoddy, or that the enemies are given a bit more leeway into what registers as a hit on me and what doesn’t. Another thing is a distinct lack of invincibility frames, which, in my opinion is a huge aspect of playing Souls-likes, dodging. Because of this, I’m actually having quite a bit of difficulty with the boss mentioned in the OP. His strikes seem hard to dodge, and he has a ranged attack in particular that seems almost impossible to avoid. It’s a bit difficult for me to articulate exactly what it is that I mean, but for people who are like me, and have played all of these things, they’ll probably know what I mean when I say the combat doesn’t feel as “clean.”

My third and biggest problem, is the timer on the scrap, or souls, which is what I’m going to call them for the sake of simplicity. Now, my problem isn’t with the fact that there is a timer itself, but with the type of gameplay that encourages. If you ask any Souls player, they’ll tell you that rushing through an area is a quick way to die, and especially in The Surge that’s no different. In The Surge, like I said earlier, you are slow. Much slower than the default speed of most other Souls-likes, and placing a timer on the player to run back to where they need to be isn’t really at all conducive to the way the rest of the game plays. Unlike the system for regaining health during combat in Bloodborne, the souls timer in The Surge doesn’t encourage a more aggressive playstyle, it only encourages the player to make reckless decisions and disregard all of their planning, which is the exact antithesis of what I think makes the design of the encounters in these games so great. In other Souls-likes, dropping your souls actually increases the need for strategy, and as a result forces the player to proceed a bit more carefully, in the hopes that they wouldn’t die again and lose their progress. The Surge actively punishes you for playing the game strategically after death, without providing any methods for you to do otherwise.

All that said, I’m really not sure where I fall on the game per se, but I know in these opening two hours it hasn’t been anything other than okay to just good. I’ll stick with it a bit longer, and see if there’s anything worthwhile in there. Otherwise, if you want a REALLY GREAT Souls-like that came out this year, really I think it might be one of the top three, go check out Nioh on PS4.

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How has the environment been in terms of variety? Most of the footage I’ve seen looks kind of… boring, from an environmental standpoint - either a sterile/ill-used corridor or what I think was a scrapyard or something? I realize y’all haven’t spent tons of time with it so far but if it ever gets beyond “dim factory floor” I’d be more inclined to grab it.

About your second grievance, I felt that its pretty good so far. There’s one attack that doesn’t have a great tell but it happens consistently with specific circumstances so I learned to avoid it.

And as far as i-frames, Otzdarva noted tjay he thinks there are NO i-frames. I think this is a good thing as it changes how combat works and feels without breaking it. Its something to get used to, definitely.

I really like the environment design. Its suitably convoluted and very tight. Arguably too tight though. These are not the wildly sprawling labyrinths of the Souls games, but brilliant miniaturizations of them.

Any updates from @ViggyNash or @Brad on this? At this point, it looks like The Surge is set to hit my system come sale-time. I think I’d give it a whirl for $29.99.

I think it’s totally worth a sale price!

The game requires a bit of re-configuring as far as your understanding of how Souls games should play goes.

And even though one of my major gripes was the same-y-ness of the environments, I think the setting and premise of that game is cool enough.

Also the limb removal stuff is awesome.

It’s not a bad game by any means. But it isn’t a masterpiece, either. Just pretty good. Which, obviously, isn’t in any way a bad thing.

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I mostly agree with Brad. They focused on making 1v1 as interesting as possible, and that means that simply playing the game is consistently engaging regardless of the broader context. Stylistically, the environments are definitely samey, but I like their design. The second level feels surprisingly large even though it’s nowhere near as physically big as a Souls level, simply because of its winding nature combined with the pacing of its encounters. It’s a different design philosophy, but it works for the systems they’ve built.

But at the end of the day, The Surge is all about its combat. That’s all you’re really gonna get out of this. It works as a good way to keep the Souls juices flowing until From announces their new project (cross your fingers for E3!) or until another studio take the mantle. But it’s definitely not just a clone, it has its own identity.

It’s absolutely worth picking up at $30.

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Much appreciate the wrap-up guys. I’ve been watching some streams of the game from Souls fans, and it does really make me want to give the combat a go. Bummer they couldn’t do more with the setting and backstory, though. Seems like a major missed opportunity. Guess I’ll have to hold my breath for E3 alright!

I’m playing the game too (at around the same place as the rest of you) and I think it’s very fun. The combat feels very engaging, I like the depth in building your character and the shortcut level design is pretty slick. I’m having an easier time than with Dark Souls because it basically learns you to just run through the level after a death. The amount of shortcuts make that easy enough so far, while it still has those moments where you’re wondering where you’re ending up. Plenty of little ‘secrets’ too here and there in side rooms and such.

That first boss is bullshit, however :3 I still don’t quite understand what it was going for. Was the orange bar supposed to represent some overheating, or something? Sometimes he went down into an easy to attack slumber mode when the bar filled up, but other times he just kept dancing around shooting rockets. His front plates seem to fall off at some point, but that differed quite a bit too. I feel like I was missing something and kind of lucked my way through it. That was the only part so far that didn’t feel good.

Still into it so far though.

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