When I first saw a streamer playing Remnant: From the Ashes, I rolled my eyes. Boiled down to the most reductive pitch, it’s Dark Souls but with guns. So what? It looked like a knock-off. But now that I’ve played it, I can say that Remnant is one of the most interesting and entertaining games I’ve experienced all year.
Remnant: From the Ashes is developed by Gunfire Games, who made the decidedly average Darksiders 3. It takes place in a ruined world where scrappy survivors fight off a demonic force called the Root, which manifests in armies of gnarled soldiers and freaky wizards. Remnant mashes up various aesthetics. It snatches the ruined cityscapes of games like The Last of Us and fellow Souls-like Code Vein. Its monsters look like demons and dryads from The Elder Scrolls. The characters - harried survivors, scrap dealers, and riot-gear-wearing gunslingers - feel like they’re visiting from Fallout or Metro.
At first glance, it’s a jumble with no real sense of direction. As time goes on, Remnant starts to feel distinct.
It’s a cliché at this point to compare a difficult game to Dark Souls, but Remnant gleefully borrows its basic structure. Players venture out into a world of monsters and challenging boss fights, rest at checkpoints, and interact with characters at a main hub area. You reset when you die, constantly hopping back into the world until you can best whatever challenge is blocking progress.
The main difference is that Remnant plays almost entirely like a third-person shooter closer to Gears of War instead of a highly deliberate melee action game like Nioh or Dark Souls. You have an assortment of pistols, shotguns, flamethrowers, and more to choose from.
All of these can be upgraded to increase their stats, or have special abilities like plopping down a heath-restoring field or covering your body in brambles that protect against melee attacks. Journeying through sewers or sneaking through dilapidated churches eventually gives way to loud gunfights where you blast away with scraped-together rifles. You can also slash with makeshift axes, but only as a last resort.
That’s the first gimmick. The second is that Remnant creates a slightly different world for players to explore at the start of each playthrough. There are multiple layouts: a ruined post-apocalyptic Earth, desert realms, swampy jungle worlds. Each playthrough shuffles the enemy encounters, boss order, in-game events, and other factors to create a slightly different experience each time.
It’s not quite a roguelike, since there isn’t permadeath, but there are aspects of procedural generation at play. When I streamed Remnant yesterday, viewers excitedly asked which boss I encountered first and remarked on things they hadn’t seen. I’m about four hours in, and only on my third major boss encounter.
The idea that I could start a new playthrough and face entirely new challenges and worlds is exciting. It’s also good for players who enjoy co-op. While I’ve opted to play solo for some extra challenge, it’s possible to play with friends or even strangers. I can imagine friends excitedly comparing their playthroughs or booting up the game for a fresh run every now and then.
So far, my time with Remnant has been a blast. What at first looked like a generic shooter has expanded into a game that I am eager to keep playing. Whether that means jumping back into my solo game to face a giant tree monster with shotgun in hand, or starting up something completely fresh with a friend, I’m excited. Remnant is a welcome surprise whose ruins and wreckage I will gladly continue to explore.