Remnant: From the Ashes was a welcome surprise last year, turning out to be one of my favourites of 2019. Released with practically no announcements or fanfare at a middling price point, it was a solid co-op third-person shooter that incorporated Soulslike mechanics to make for a tough but fair game. There were also roguelite elements and a light RPG progression system, all of which promoted replayability. It never quite lived up to its full potential, but I liked it quite a bit and disagreed with DualShockers‘ assessment in the original review.
As such, I was keen to review the Subject 2923 DLC, hoping it would reach even higher than the original Remnant had. I’m sad to say, then, that it doesn’t. Subject 2923 is more Remnant at its core, but it takes one step forward and two steps back.
The DLC adds a new campaign taking place a year after the base game concluded. It’s split across two regions; you’ll start on Earth in a rural farmland dotted by abandoned labs, fighting largely familiar Root enemies. Before too long, you’ll find yourself on the new snowy mountain world of Reisum, inhabited by hostile rat-like creatures. In addition to the campaign, Reisum also becomes a selectable locale when playing Adventure Mode. The content will also enter the rotation for Survival Mode (though you can still only access that mode if you have the previous Swamps of Corsus DLC).
Subject 2923 is a direct continuation of Remnant’s story, with the player character seeking to find and stop the source of the Root invading Earth. The actual narrative itself is fairly sparse, filled in by a handful of cutscenes and conversations with a few key characters. You’ll get more of the story by finding audio logs and documents scattered through various locales, which provide a more compelling picture of what’s going on. Ultimately though, despite Subject 2923 intending to conclude the tale, story remains is a secondary focus for Remnant.
Nothing made me feel this sentiment more than beating the final boss, receiving an awkward cutscene that amounted to “Congratulations, you did it!” and then seeing the credits roll in silence. The final encounter dealt with a major problem, but it didn’t exactly feel like the Root had been contained or the threat permanently ended. It just decides everything is over now. Given that Subject 2923 is supposed to be the story’s conclusion, the whole thing fell incredibly flat. But okay, fine, the story isn’t the focus in Remnant. So what’s in the gameplay?
The new campaign runs about five to six hours. That might not seem like much, but the original game clocked in at around 15 hours, so it’s a decent chunk of additional content. Remnant’s roguelite nature thrives on replays though, with side dungeons, quests, and loot generated on new runs while your character carries their progress through.
Most major areas will have side quests or hidden items to be discovered. This will often be accessories to tailor your build, but on occasion you’ll find a new weapon. I acquired five in my campaign: two handguns, two long guns, and one melee. Supposedly, Subject 2923 adds at least one armour set, but I was unable to find it so far. Most of the equipment I found felt good to use, capitalising on the new slow-inducing Frostbite status ailment or filling niches in their respective weapon class. Nothing really stood out as being too fantastic or creative though, save perhaps the gun that’s granted right before the final boss.
Reisum features a new suite of enemies to fight, almost all of which are rat-themed. There’s a decent swath of enemy types, from smaller melee creatures to hulking shield-using warriors. Elites include frostbite-using spellcasters, cannon-lugging heavies, or huge hulking yetis that rushed me at surprising speeds. Encounters with them usually felt fresh, and the mixed bag of enemies meant I was on my toes more often than not.
I will say that the most generic enemy type tended to be more of a nuisance to fight than anything else, though. These skinny ratmen would repeatedly run around the environment, slinking into cover and taking potshots with a crossbow. They’re fairly flimsy, but move quick and play it so safe that they just become tedious to pin down. Remnant is usually more action-packed and in your face, so their presence just slowed the fights into hide-and-seek a little more than I expected.
Another issue is that of audio cues. One of the best features of the base game is the clever use of audio cues to telegraph incoming attacks from all sides, but many of Subject 2923’s enemies give very little warning. Likewise, the very loud and directional footsteps and enemy grunts that would let you discern enemy locations at a distance seem extremely diminished here. It was one of the better ways in which Remnant smoothed out its challenge compared to genre competitors, so this was sad to see. Even so, my overall experiences with the average enemies were more good than bad.
The bosses, on the other hand, I can complain about. I encountered three bosses on Reisum, and then the two-phase final boss. While I enjoyed the final boss and thought it was decently executed, I’m separating the discussion between it and Reisum’s bosses for a reason. On paper, these encounters had some pretty interesting mechanics and should have been fun to fight. But in practice, there were a number of decisions that just felt infuriating, and that’s assuming they weren’t bugged to begin with (which they usually were).
Almost all of them had the ability to unleash a hard knockdown or else reliably stagger me. That wouldn’t be a big deal as a telegraphed one-off attack. More often than not though, this applied to almost every common attack they would do. Their attack patterns were such that if I got hit by even one attack, it was usually a sign that I’d be comboed to death before I could respond. Worse still, these bosses could also apply frostbite, which slows both evades and stagger recovery.
In order to defeat the first boss that I found, I had to play flawlessly and not get hit even once. Multiple good attempts would see me take a single hit, and that was effectively the end of the fight. I’d either be killed before I could respond, or I was slowed and had to use a recovery item, during which I’d likely be comboed again. I only finally beat it by not taking a single hit.
Now, Remnant wears its Soulslike inspiration on its sleeve and doesn’t shy away from challenge. Even so, it has always been far more approachable and fair about its “git gud” mentality than the subgenre’s mainstays. At no point in the base game did I feel so pressured to even have a fighting chance, and it doesn’t come across as difficulty escalation so much as poor balancing. These bosses all annoyed me enough that I was less satisfied to beat them, and more just glad to finally have it over with.
The horrendous technical state of Subject 2923 really didn’t help this. The aforementioned first boss was made nightmarish by the fact that every shot against it registered as hitting armour. Damage numbers would change, but all the associated effects from traits or accessories of hitting weak points? No effect. Ammo drops from destroyed terrain would remain in the arena on a new attempt, so the longer fights would just see mountains of ammo pickups strewn everywhere to abuse. Sometimes the bosses wouldn’t even reset properly on a new attempt, and I’d start the encounter with them already acting on their later phases briefly before they would rubber band back to their normal behaviour.
Those bugs went beyond the boss encounters, too. I experienced frequent issues where sound effects were delayed, and the game would stutter briefly while it tried to account for this. This would usually happen in intense combat scenes, allowing enemies to hit or even kill me on more than one occasion when I couldn’t evade in response. There were multiple issues of collision detection, where ankle-high walls halted my progress and couldn’t be vaulted.
Remnant wasn’t without its fair share of hiccups at launch, but Subject 2923 exacerbated it to the point of ridiculousness. While Gunfire Games assures that technical and balance issues will be adjusted at launch and beyond, what I experienced was not great. They were frequent and irksome enough to really throw off enjoyment, so I sincerely hope they’re corrected.
Beyond all these considerations, I found myself wondering just how much variety was really here. Typically, new rerolls in Campaign or Adventure mode would cycle through side quests and dungeons, giving you the chance to see new bosses and find new loot. Finding a duplicate item would instead net you with a chunk of scrap (currency). So when I completed a side quest in my campaign and was met with currency despite this being my first playthrough, I started to wonder if there was actually much to find.
Whether by bad luck or design, this continued in my post-campaign Adventure mode dabblings. Despite finding four pickups that should’ve been new items, only one of them actually awarded an accessory, with all the rest giving scrap. While I’m certain there’s more to find, it’s a worrying glimpse. Remnant typically rewards different items by getting alternative kills on bosses, and at least one boss seems perfect for this, but I didn’t have the opportunity to find out.
What really saddened me when playing through Subject 2923 is how it doesn’t really capitalise on what Remnant could be. The base game started fairly bland, but quickly opened up into diverse new areas with fascinating sci-fi concepts in play. Additional worlds were more interesting visually, as well as teasing at more creative weapon and item designs. It never really did too much with this concept before the credits rolled, so I hoped that the DLC would elevate that.
As such, finding myself starting in a painfully bleak and grey Earth setting didn’t inspire much confidence. Even a military lab infested with tree monsters wasn’t anything the base game didn’t toy with. Reisum had the chance to further that, but the snowy mountains rarely offer a glimpse of anything except dull white landscapes and same-y feeling terrain. The wooden fishing village on the edge of an icy sea was a nice enough touch, but there’s really not enough of that. When you’re less distinct than the swamp region, you know something’s wrong.
This sameness extends into weapon design. Some of the weapon mods use the new Frostbite effect well, but when you’re dimension-hopping into an alien world and the weapon you find there is a Sawed-Off Shotgun? It ends up diminishing the effect.
In the end, Subject 2923 was quite disappointing to me. At the very basic level, it is more Remnant content, and the core mechanics are solid enough that it’s an intrinsically entertaining experience. Still, it just continues to squander what the setting could offer, and ends up being a shaky mess.
I will happily encourage you to pick up Remnant: From the Ashes and have fun with it, but I’m afraid I can’t really say the same about Subject 2923. There’s more annoyance than positivity here, and even once the technical issues are addressed, it still just feels like unrealised potential. At least it’s cheap if you do decide to take the plunge.
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