It’s not easy to imitate what FromSoftware has done with their games. The tight pacing, tense fights, and careful progression they offer have made them some of the most beloved games of this millennia. The Surge 2 once again sees Deck13 trying their best to deliver their take on the Souls-like formula. It’s a fairly big game with a wide variety of gear and locations, plus a lot of ways to tweak your build for the dangers you face. Overall, though, it doesn’t quite cut it due to some design and gameplay issues that hold it back from achieving its aims.
Humans, robots, nanites, oh my!
The Surge 2 tells the story of your nameless protagonist whose gender, face, and hair you can pick from the outset. Nanites flood the atmosphere and the plane you’re on is brought low. You awake in a prison facility and everything is going to hell. Your goal is to get out and find out what connection you have with a girl you met on the plane who is deeply involved in the events to come.
I never found the story to be all that compelling. The game drip-feeds you bits of it with echos that let you view past events and indicate you’re going the right way. There are also a great many NPCs you can interact with that flesh out the world and give you sidequests. I didn’t care about any of these, as the writing just isn’t that great and none of the other characters are interesting. As you’d expect, though, the focus in The Surge 2 isn’t the story, so all of that isn’t necessarily detrimental.
Slice and dice
Since The Surge 2 is a Souls-like, the combat is one of the most important parts of the equation. There are several different weapon varieties you can equip and all of them make use of vertical and horizontal attacks. These are used to damage specific enemy parts. Each type of attack can also be charged, which does more damage and can destroy certain objects outright. Enemies in certain areas are of a higher level than previous ones, and you’ll need to fight them to acquire stronger upgrade parts.
This is centered around the game’s finisher mechanic. You can individually target an enemy’s body parts and can cut them off once you do enough damage. If you cut off an arm that’s holding a weapon, you get that weapon. But cut off an armored part and you get a schematic for new gear the first time and crafting materials to make said gear. Similarly, cutting off a limb that’s holding a weapon you already have will give you a weapon-crafting material.
Make em say ughhhh
Unfortunately, the combat itself isn’t all that great. It’s responsive and generally quick, but it leans too hard on the parry mechanic. While blocking, you can tilt the right analog stick in a specific direction at the right time to parry enemy attacks, leaving them open to a counter. However, this parry mechanic is the worst I think I’ve ever seen. Not only does it feel really, really weird, but it demands absolutely perfect precision. There were so many times where I was positive I parried correctly, only to pull off an imperfect block. Moving the right stick would also break my lock-on and interrupt the camera.
To make matters worse, when you block in The Surge 2, it often eats up your entire stamina gauge. Attacking, running, and evading all use up stamina, which makes this a major problem. Then there’s the fact that numerous bosses clearly want you to fight by focusing on parries. It takes multiple successful parries for bosses to leave you an opening for a counterattack. Good luck with that.
Enemies drop different schematics that all belong to an armor set. Certain enemies have a specific armor set associated with them, so cutting off their torso will give you the schematic for their chest armor, while cutting off a leg will do so for the leg armor. There are so many sets of armor and they mostly have very similar stats, so it’s not worth the hassle to stress over, even with bonuses being given for having a full set. Upgrades for armor are fairly superfluous to boot.
The same can’t be said for weapons, though. Having your go-to weapon upgraded to the highest gear level possible is important. The game throws a huge amount of weapons at you, but just like with armor, they’ll do a similar amount of damage if they’re the same level. Most of the new stuff you’ll pick up is just reskins anyway. There’s only a handful of weapon types. One-handed, slow two-handed, quick two-handed, spears, the usual.
The Surge 2 also has a big suite of implants, which are basically your accessories. Your armor is attached to a mechanical rig that runs off a certain amount of core energy. This energy powers your armor and your implants. If you don’t have enough energy, you can’t equip certain things. Each time you level up, you get a single point of core energy. Every 10 levels net you a new implant slot. Implants are very useful and can change up your play style considerably. They can impact the amount of damage you do to certain types of foes, how much stamina certain actions use, and damage boosts if you’re low on health. There’s a wide variety of these and figuring out your loadout is pretty cool.
Enemies in The Surge 2 come in three different varieties — human, robot, and nano enemies. There’s a decent amount of enemy types on display here, but the game is pretty awful about enemy placements. It loves to throw shielded enemies at you that you have to parry in order to hit and pairs them with another enemy who has a gun. So you have a choice between focusing on the shield enemy and letting the one with the gun take potshots or going after the one with the gun while his buddy hits you in the back.
The Surge 2 also loves to add more enemies than you can comfortably fight in areas. And due to the type of game this is, enemies can kill you extremely quickly. This is further complicated by enemies frequently not gelling well with the areas they’re standing in. Can’t really fight an enemy on a narrow catwalk? Camera not cooperating? Tough. Die and try again.
A maze of corridors
The game world in The Surge 2 is focused on the city of Jericho. It’s a decent size and is made up of several smaller areas that are all interconnected. Each area follows a specific formula. You enter it, find a medbay, explore the one or two routes available to you and find new ones, all the while unlocking new shortcuts to the medbay. However, the level design isn’t great. The different areas are visually distinct compared to each other, but inside one area, everything can look the same. This can make it sometimes confusing to navigate the game world.
The Surge 2 is thankfully pretty good about giving you direction, though. The game makes it very clear where you’re supposed to be going next and even has maps scattered around that you can look at to figure out where to go next.
Prepare to say why
Since The Surge 2 is a Souls-like, you’re probably going to die a couple hundred times. During the first half of the game, I thought the difficulty was BS. The hitboxes during the second boss fight are severely messed up. I frequently saw myself getting pounded into the pavement by his attacks even though they clearly didn’t hit me. A later boss had a beam attack that would hit me and set me on fire, even if it was literal feet away from me.
That second boss I mentioned also totally breaks the camera. If you get too close to a wall, you just can’t see your character model for seconds at a time. He also moves in ways that can cause the camera to abruptly flip around. It makes this tedious, obnoxious fight that much worse. And on top of that, he completely covers the battlefield in little devices that can paralyze you. If you get paralyzed, you can’t attack. This means that you can just block, which then means that you’ll soon have no stamina.
A lot of The Surge 2‘s boss battles are like this. They often focus on your needing to wrestle with the horrid parry mechanic while you get paralyzed or poisoned. A boss fight later on has you fighting a guy with a sword. He can kill you in a couple of hits, drops paralyzing items around the battlefield, and can turn invisible and just run up and hit you in the back. I wanted to uninstall the game at this point. These two boss fights in particular were just dreadful.
Wait, what happened?
But shockingly, The Surge 2 gets a lot easier after this point. It’s still tough in spots, especially since the enemy placement is always bad and some enemies are just ridiculous to deal with. But for whatever reason, the enemies stop doing quite so much damage. Outside of the very last area of the game (which is a pain in the ass, let me tell ya), the game just seems to forget about focusing on murdering you constantly.
Upgrading your healing consumables helps matters though. Finishers and using injectable implants use up your battery, which increases as you fight enemies. What this means is that, as long as you keep doing damage, you can keep healing. Once you get the hang of this and find a weapon that works for you, this often means that you can keep fighting indefinitely. I actually rather enjoyed this aspect, and it didn’t take the tension out of encounters because the devs gave enemies and bosses so much health that everything basically turns into an endurance match. The final boss, while annoying, wasn’t even that bad all things considered.
The Surge 2 took me about 23 hours to complete. That’s with a fair amount of farming that I honestly didn’t need to do, but hey. The story wraps up fairly well and unlocks a new game plus. It also gave me a really cool set of armor. I played through the first half of the game again this way, and since I knew what to do and already collected all the game’s items, it only took me about three hours to do this.
However, I had some issues with running the game. A lot of the times I went to boot the game up, it booted with broken, garbled graphics, requiring a restart. This happened at least a third of the time I started the game. This is also the first time I’ve ever had to lower a game to 720p just to get a playable frame rate. The graphics settings are kind of minimal and, even with most everything on low, the game dropped to frame rates in the low 20s. I’ve never had these kinds of issues with a major release before. I’m not sure if it was my quality settings or the lighting, but it was often just really hard to see in certain areas. As in there just wasn’t enough light for me to be able to adequately fight my enemies or see a way forward.
My feelings on The Surge 2 are ultimately pretty mixed. Cutting limbs off the game’s foes and upgrading my weapons is neat. I liked the implants and the way the core power worked. The combat is fun at times and unlocking shortcuts is always entertaining. But this game fails to meet the standard set by the games it apes. The parrying system is downright awful and mars the gameplay, the level design needs to be clearer, and the enemy placement is laughably poor in spots. I’d still say I had a decent time overall, but if you’re expecting this to be the game where Deck13 catches up, you’ll likely be fairly disappointed. Still, those finishers are nifty.