The Surge was a pleasant surprise. Deck13's first game Lords of the Fallen felt to me like a transparent attempt to replicate Dark Souls' success but without any of that game's charm or idiosyncrasy. The Surge was a much better game; it had a unique setting, well-implemented combat, and some genuinely interesting ideas. There were one or two teething problems; the game's difficulty curve was a touch hit-and-miss, and its story didn't quite live up to its potential. That said, the prospect of a sequel is very exciting indeed. Deck13 has shown itself to be a company that listens to its feedback and its fans. With that in mind, I sat down with the first few hours of The Surge 2 to see what's changed.
The story in The Surge 2 starts off on a nice, straightforward kilt. Your character has just stirred from a six-month coma (you're not Warren this time around; instead, you're a custom-made fella or lass with a customizable backstory). Everyone is trying to kill each other, and you'd rather not be killed, so you must scavenge equipment and fight off hostile human and robot threats to survive. Before long, you hear about a disease called the Defrag which appears to have something to do with the conclusion of the first Surge's story. This being a Soulslike, you can expect to piece the narrative together in the full game using background details and character interactions. "Try not to die" is definitely enough for the first few hours, though.
The Surge 2 Makes Some Crucial Improvements
Those who loved the first Surge will be glad to hear that much of it has survived wholesale. The Surge 2 is still very much "Dark Souls in sci-fi land". The level design is somewhat similar to the first game's, all sterile corridors and winding passageways looping back on themselves. There is a crucial difference: this time around, you're exploring a cityscape rather than a facility. Combat is a similar mixture of stamina management and psychotic limb removal. You'll still fall afoul of hitherto-unseen enemies if you prowl corridors without checking your surroundings first. In many ways, for fans of The Surge and Dark Souls alike, the first few hours of The Surge 2 feel like putting on a familiar pair of slippers. They've got spikes on the inside and they call you names when you walk, but they're familiar nonetheless.
So, what is different? Well, Deck13 seems to have taken a few of the first game's criticisms on board. The Surge 2 is an altogether fairer game than the first one. Enemies have a more discernible windup to their attacks, meaning you can prepare better (and still get hit anyway). In the preview I played, there were hardly any spindly robot enemies with unpredictable patterns and plenty of augmented humanoids. This means you're better able to read their movements and as a result, combat flowed much better for me than it did in The Surge. That said, there's definitely a dearth of interesting enemy design here. Things could well heat up in the latter part of the game. Early on, though, it's just machine-tooled humanoids and the occasional drone. There's room for improvement in enemy aesthetics.
Healing Is Genius In The Surge 2
To that end, equipment upgrades and health injectables are also simpler. The Surge 2's health system is nothing short of genius. Your energy bar stores up to three charges. You can use each charge instantly to heal yourself or bank it to create a consumable healing item for use whenever you like. As long as you've got energy, you've got access to healing. You gain energy by fighting enemies. In this way, The Surge 2 continually encourages you to fight in a similar way to Bloodborne. This is in some ways a more elegant system than that game's, though. You won't need to grind healing items; instead, you'll always have access to them as long as you're fighting efficiently. That system rewards players for merely engaging in the core gameplay loop, which is a stroke of excellence.
So the combat in The Surge 2 is significantly better. How about the level design? Well...unfortunately, it seems Deck13 still has some learning to do in this area. Levels in The Surge 2 can feel indistinct and cluttered. The more open-ended environments of Jericho City are definitely welcome and are a vast improvement over the samey industrial corridors of the original. Still, there's something off about the aesthetics. Any part of Jericho City looks almost identical to any other part. Although Deck13 has made an effort to get rid of that feeling of claustrophobic confusion from the first game, they've replaced it with agoraphobic confusion instead. Exploration is fairly rewarding in material terms, often yielding useful items and "tech scrap" (read: souls). That said, it's hard to imagine anything as revelatory as the Great Hollow reveal from Dark Souls happening in Deck13's game.
The Surge 2's Setting Feels Underwhelming
There's also the unfortunate fact that Jericho City simply doesn't feel like a particularly interesting place to be. Bloodborne, Dark Souls, and even The Surge itself all offered excellent introductory sequences that successfully set up their respective worlds. The Surge 2's post-apocalyptic machine cults and death droids don't feel a million miles from something like Fallout or RAGE. A Soulslike in a world that hostile and unforgiving could work, but I don't feel like that's The Surge's key appeal. The first game's "office job gone wrong" vibe led to some very interesting story reveals late in the day. The same could well happen in The Surge 2, but the characters and locations we've been introduced to so far just don't have the requisite spark.
The Surge 2 is undeniably a marked improvement over the first game. The combat is focused and tense. The visuals are much cleaner and make enemies much easier to follow. Deck13 has streamlined the equipment and menu systems for player convenience. All of these things are definitely laudable, and it's clear Deck13 has been listening to its critics. Still, it's going to take more than this to capitalize on The Surge 2's infinite potential. If the narrative takes off from its initial ho-hum starting point and the enemy design diversifies a little, The Surge 2 could be a classic. As it stands, it's shaping up to be a very playable, if not quite essential, Soulslike.
TechRaptor previewed The Surge 2 on PC via Steam using a preview code provided by the developer. The Surge 2 will launch for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on September 24th, 2019.