The Surge 2 Preview: It's Not Just Another 'Souls-like' Anymore

Deck13's sequel is shaping up to be one of the best action RPGs of the year.
The Surge 2's closed beta build left me with a lasting impression, one that prodded me to play almost ten hours of what appears to be a two hour demo.
The Surge 2's closed beta build left me with a lasting impression, one that prodded me to play almost ten hours of what appears to be a two hour demo. Focus Home Interactive

One of my most anticipated releases of this year is Deck13 Interactive’s The Surge 2, a sequel to their sleeper hit Souls-like title The Surge, which came out back in 2017. I was lucky enough to get to play a small, partial build of the game, which features several areas in the new Jericho City setting, a couple of the human bosses and, most importantly, a closer look at the vastly revamped and improved combat system.

Despite its overall jankiness and somewhat lack of polish, The Surge is easily my favorite out of all the titles that were released following in the same vein of gameplay as the critically and commercially successful Souls series. I felt that it had a lot of potential, and I was pretty excited when plans for a sequel were announced.

After checking out what The Surge 2’s beta build has to offer, and after playing it to death for more than ten hours, I’ve come to the conclusion that not only is it a worthy successor to the original, it also carved quite the name for itself to the point where I’m no longer looking at the game as a Souls-like, but as an otherwise amazing ARPG that can stand on its own merit.

First off, you know immediately that The Surge 2 is vastly different from the original, thanks to a character creation screen shown to you after starting a new game. You can check out more on the character creation here, as well as some thoughts I have on the game’s new multiplayer elements.

Heading out

After creating and customizing your own character, the game drops you off after a time skip of two months, the events of which were not shown. Your character is in a clinic of sorts, which you then find out is located inside of a prison block of a police station. At first, you do not have access to most of your move set and other abilities, and you can only attack via the right shoulder buttons and block with the LB button. The opening sequence is quite good – it’s not too challenging, but you know you’re in for a tough time overall. I did know immediately that I was playing The Surge 2 because of how dim everything is at the start, which was one of my gripes with the original. Nothing too troubling, though, as it can easily be fixed via the in-game settings as well as fixing the contrast on my monitor.

The prison is undergoing some kind of riot that’s attributed to a technological virus, which is one of the main plot points of The Surge 2. There’s a bit of context to be found with some of the noise happening in the background, narrating the chaos that is going on in the outside world. There’s also a machine beast of sorts rampaging through the police station, killing off both prisoners and guards, but oddly enough never coming into contact with you. I was kind of bummed that you never get to fight him, though, and you only get to see him roam in some of the game’s earlier scenes before disappearing entirely.

Combat and side mission introduction

Inside the main prison block, you also meet one of the game’s NPCs, who also happens to be a returning character from The Surge – Benjamin Burke. I actually snorted out loud when I met the guy, mainly because of his context within the first game. Bit of a background first – Burke was a big red herring in The Surge, as his voice recording was used by another NPC, Sally, to lure Warren, the game’s protagonist, to an area in the CREO facility. There are a lot of players of the first game who kept wondering if he was a missed opportunity for a questline, when in reality he’s not even a big part of it. It is a bit funny to find him here now, in the flesh, and I can’t wait to see how his questline plays out, seeing as he actually has one now.

You’re given your first side mission, which is to free him from a cell. In order to do so, you need a RIG, which is an exoskeleton of sorts that’s prevalent in the world of The Surge. Wielding a RIG allows one to do enormous feats of strength, and can be fitted with various gear and implants to help you on your journey. After a bit of walking around, I encountered the game’s first boss, an unhinged criminal known as Violent Vic, who happens to hold the keycard for the Medbay which has the RIG you need.

This is the true first test of combat, and overall, I found it to be very engaging and slightly more fast-paced than what was possible in The Surge. You can’t really dart around by dodging, since you don’t have a RIG yet, and so it forces you to time those blocks really well, or just move out of the way whenever Vic does a wide swing with his big hunk of a weapon. It’s not too hard, but you do have to time your attacks a bit owing to the fact that your twin-rigged knuckle starting weapon isn’t as fast without a RIG.

If you’re new to The Surge in general, this battle also teaches you the limb-targeting system. Since many of the enemies in The Surge 2 are equipped with gear rigs on different parts of their body, it’s important to know that they are generally weaker on the parts that don’t have gear. This is denoted by the blue marker, while the geared ones are marked with the yellow ones – switching between them is done by targeting, then switching targets with the right joystick.

While it’s easier to beat enemies by unleashing attacks on their ungeared parts, targeting and dismembering geared ones yield schematics and materials needed to craft that specific gear, which you can then use for yourself. You can also get new weapons this way, which are dropped by cutting off either of the arms, geared or not. Dismembering is done with a prompt after weakening that specific part. The Surge 2 has incredibly cool animations that are slowed down to show your character cutting off the enemies’ limbs in spectacular and often over-the-top fashion.

I always loved this system, as it provides options for players to revolve their playstyle depending on how they want to approach certain situations. If you want the strongest gear and weapons, it’s always worth focusing on the parts with gears on them; likewise, if you found yourself being ganged up on, it’s better to focus on ungeared parts, as those are weak points, at the cost of not being able to get materials for your gear crafting.

Upgrading and revamped RIG mechanics

After beating Violent Vic, you get access to the Medbay, which is a lot smaller than what it was in The Surge. The Medbay is The Surge 2’s area of respite, much like the bonfires in Dark Souls – here you can level up your RIG to increase its Power Consumption capacity, upgrade your gear and weapons, or craft entirely new ones. You will need tech scraps for all of these actions, with tech scaps acting like the ‘souls’ from the Souls series. You drop these upon death, and you get a certain amount of time to recover them. A new feature is also added here, where a dropped tech scrap has an aura of healing around it – it can be very useful in boss fights to hold off on recovering them, as they can provide you with healing if you need it. Remember to recover it before the time expires, though.

Another new feature for The Surge 2 is that instead of leveling up everything whenever you upgrade your RIG, you now get Module Points to distribute for either your health, stamina or energy. This updated system makes for an interesting turn in terms of gameplay, where you can easily customize what area you want your character to excel in. Health dictates your durability, stamina is used for your attacks and dodges, and energy is needed for your implants like the Medi-Voltaic Injection, which gives you some of your health back upon use.

After getting your RIG, you can now head out towards the exit of the building, or backtrack and free Burke first instead. I opted for the latter, freeing Burke and continuing his quest line as he announces his plans to go to Gateway Bravo. After this small detour, I start on the path again, meeting some more enemies in the dark (which always gave me a little jump scare) and opening up shortcuts along the way. The Surge featured no fast travel mechanics, and it looks like The Surge 2 will be following the same path, but you do get shortcuts that significantly shorten your travel time to and from various Medbays.

First true boss

After another run-in with the machine beast, I found myself staring in front of a long hallway. Now, I’m not lying when I say this, but immediately I know there’s going to be another boss at the end of this hallway – and sure enough, after a short scene where the machine beast slaughters some of the police, you face the game’s first real boss – think of Violent Vic as a warm-up, and this one, Warden Garcia, to be the true first test of your skill. He’s armed with twin-rigged weapons, which he wields with relative speed, making him a terror at close range. If you think you’re safe on the outskirts, you’d be wrong, as he can launch Molotov cocktails from afar, as well as call upon his drone to shoot you from a distance.

Like every other boss in this game, managing your stamina and looking for openings is key. Each weapon you wield has a number of combos available to it – pressing RB makes a horizontal attack, while RT is for vertical attacks. Mixing and matching between the two allows you to chain attacks depending on the situation which calls for. You can check out more on the combat mechanics of The Surge 2 here, where I discuss it in-depth.

Beating him will reward you with the drone he is carrying, which you can now use to gun enemies from afar. Instead of using up energy like in the first game, The Surge 2 introduces ammo, which you can equip for your drone in order for it to be able to shoot enemies. Throughout the game you’ll also find different drone modules, which you can equip to change your drone’s behavior and attacking modes.

I wasn’t really big on the story of the first game, although now it seems like Deck13 is making more of an effort with the narrative. After beating Warden Garcia, you approach what appears to be a nanite cloud which triggers some sort of recording of a girl named Athena Guttenberg, who was introduced in the game’s cinematic trailer. It seems like the overarching narrative involves her in some way, as you run into two of these nanite clouds twice in the beta build, which tell her story.

Jericho City and its inhabitants

As I made my way out of the JCPD (Jericho City Police Department), I encounter another NPC, Brother Truman, who you save from two deranged inmates. You talk with him at the top of the JCPD, where he very vaguely explains his affiliation with the Children of the Spark, a cult that has grown popular in Jericho City after the city’s apparent fall. He gives you the mission to head over to a place called the Court, where their prophet, Brother Eli, resides. You also get a gorgeous view of the city’s skyline with that ominous nanite cloud hovering above, which really showcases how different this new setting is from the original.

Much of the remaining playable build is focused on some of the streets around JCPD, and the route leading up to the Seaside Court. It’s littered with various enemies, which gave me an incentive to just roam around to try and find secrets and hone my skills in combat. I also found some new weapons to play with, as well as two drone modules which are related to the game’s multiplayer elements – check out my in-depth on those here.

I did head out to the Seaside Court, which you can thankfully enter, and it’s one of the hubs in Jericho City that’s teeming with NPCs. Almost all of them have their own stories to tell, with some having missions of their own – unfortunately, as the build is quite limited in scope, I was unable to complete any of them. I also tried talking to Brother Eli, the Children of the Spark’s prophet, but he seems locked in an interrogation animation scene with a captive.

I also braved the back of the JCPD, where two guards that are way beyond my level lurked. Of course, I just skipped them and went straight into the next area, Port Nixon, which you cannot explore further than the first part due to it needing a grappling hook to traverse. It does look cool though, and in contrast of the previous area which was well-lit in the sunlight and pretty colorful, Port Nixon was glum and green-tinted, and looked very dangerous.

Final thoughts

Overall, The Surge 2 is looking pretty great right now, and is easily in the running for my favorite action title this year. There’s still some of that jank, especially when enemies get caught in the terrain and glitch out on you, but the revamped combat and gameplay mechanics are amazing, and the setting is leagues better than the dank CREO facility of the first game. I also found it to be a bit easier than The Surge in terms of combat, as overall movement is much more forgiving, with a lot of leeway towards reading and avoiding enemy attacks. It also feels a lot more alive than the first game, with other people populating the game world and providing a very comforting sight against the backdrop of the oppressive atmosphere. It’s the kind of game where the developers took a lot of what made the first game good and built on it, trimmed down the unnecessary fat and slapped a new setting on it, making it not only a worthy successor, but also a great standalone game that players who are looking for a challenge can get into pretty easily.

Now begins my torturous wait for The Surge 2 to finally come out, which it will do so on September 24 on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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