Remnant: From the Ashes Retrospective

Methodical, entertaining, but unambitious

As the current custodians of Darksiders – one of my favourite IPs – I considered supporting Gunfire Games’ Remnant: From the Ashes at launch, but I have an on-off relationship with ‘Souls-like games and avoided it. I’m someone who enjoyed Darksiders III despite the change in combat style, but I find it a better game since they reintroduced a “classic” mode – shifting it closer in style to its predecessors. When Remnant: From the Ashes arrived on Game Pass, I had no excuse not to give it a go, but gave up after several frustrating solo runs with the different starting classes.

With only two muted DLC drops, it feels like the game dropped entirely out of the news cycle within a year of launch. After an equally low-key “next-gen upgrade” last year – and primarily to give Gunfire Games more money towards what I hope is Darksiders IV – I picked up the Remnant: From the Ashes – Complete Edition cheaply and committed myself to find the time to take it slow and get a better feel for the mechanics. Another year on and 25 hours later – with one solo campaign completed and one character for the multiplayer adventure mode – I’ve been unexpectedly entertained on a mechanical level, despite the limited scope, uneven single-player balance, and mixed production values.

What is it?

In brief, Remnant: From the Ashes is a single-player or cooperative third-person shooter, combining ‘Souls-like progression and a Rogue-lite world structure. Enemies hit hard, bosses harder still, you’ve got limited healing options (at first), and death sets you back to the last checkpoint with basic enemies respawned. Each time you enter a new region, the world is seeded, providing a unique layout, a selection of optional dungeons and encounters, boss variations, and gear to find. You’re always gaining XP towards upgrading passive trait cards, along with the materials and scrap needed to craft or upgrade gear (and nothing is dropped on death). There’s also an incredibly light narrative thread that – despite the extensive lore, a prequel game, some verbose conversations, and pretentious item descriptions – boils down to a key NPC in each region sending you to kill the big boss of said region. Even 3-years ago at launch, it was treading familiar ground but, to its credit, it’s one of the few attempts at a “Dark-Souls-with-guns” that actually works.

What’s good?

To explain why Remnant: From the Ashes clicked with me, I need to provide a little context. I’m a methodical and predictable gamer, always taking the slow and steady approach, exploring every location to the fullest, and tackling every quest before moving forward. It’s a pattern I struggle to break out of, even when a game lets me or incentives me to do so. Unexpectedly, Remnant: From the Ashes’ attempt to be a little bit everything satisfied my need for a continuous sense of progression and systematic exploration, though I suspect several design decisions bored both Souls-like and Rogue-like fans.

Starting with difficulty – always an important and divisive topic in both these genres – it doesn’t take long to realise most enemies, elite variants, and several bosses pose little threat if you have half-decent aim and keep your distance. A somewhat problematic design choice seeing as Remnant: From the Ashes is a shooter. As a consequence, difficult scenarios are created by mixing ranged and melee attackers, spawning in elites that can come at you from any angle, locking you into restrictive boss arenas, and boss fights with an abundance of summoned minions.

remnant from the ashes bosses

It’s a cheap approach, one that favours cooperative play, and this design can result in luck-based roadblocks for solo players – at least in the early game. Playing solo – both for my original Xbox Game Pass attempt and my most recent playthrough – I got stuck with a boss called “Gorefist” as my first mandatory encounter. A high-damage melee opponent that summons exploding minions, fought in a confined arena full of overlapping walkways and stairs. Awful luck when my plans were for a long-range, glass-cannon build.

This time, however, I stuck with it – perhaps begrudgingly as I’d spent money on the game. I went back to the over-world, explored a little more until I found an optional dungeon I missed (mercifully without a boss encounter) then returned to the hub area, “Ward 13”. I suddenly realized I now had sufficient scrap and crafting materials to level up my armour and weapons several times over. I also found a ring that boosted XP gain by 30% and had accumulated several trait points to invest during my diversion. Sure enough, my next Gorefist attempt was still tough given my weapon loadout and choice of traits, but I had the edge I needed to survive and push forward.

remnant from the ashes traits

The reason I focus on this early encounter is that it typifies Remnant: From the Ashes’ structure and measured approach to progression. There’s always enough content seeded in each region to keep you ahead, or at least on the difficulty curve during your first run. If you’re playing solo, “normal” offers a smooth enough trajectory – especially if you invest in a summon-type weapon mod to buy yourself some space and time. If you’re playing co-op, where other players split the attention of foes, “hard” is the right choice to keep everyone on their toes without it becoming too frustrating during boss fights.

Looking at the progression mechanics specifically, the opening region on Earth is full of the basic iron you need to get your gear up to tier-5, and you’ll easily gain two dozen trait points to invest in some early traits before you move on (think upgrading your maximum health, stamina, and class-specific trait). The pace picks up once you arrive in Rhom, where you’ll likely have several boss components to forge niche weapons, an assortment of weapon mods, and a selection of rings and amulets to equip. You’ll also discover more specialised trait cards and scavenge the forged iron you need to reach tier-10 gear. On Corsus, galvanised iron makes an appearance, allowing you to upgrade your gear up to tier-15, while you’ll unlock more situational traits and weapon mods to better define your build. From Yaesha onwards, it’s all about further refining your build using traits and accessories, and pushing your gear score towards tier-20.

When it comes to exploration and questing, the “seeded then fixed” approach ensures you can systematically explore each region to its fullest, without having to deal with shifting layouts every time you return to the game. Of course, with so much gear and many traits tied to boss components and random encounters, this can feel limiting at first. There’s even a chance you’ll encounter objects you can’t interact with because the associated quest item never spawned. However, for those with gear-based FOMO, you can join another player’s campaign and retain any components or gear you find while assisting them. If you’re not a fan of coop, the excellent Adventure Mode offers the perfect solution for farming: streamlined mini-regions with one optional dungeon, one world event, and one boss dungeon – accessible at any time from the hub, without affecting your main campaign. Both the seeded world design and interconnected game modes provide a near-perfect balance between encouraging methodical exploration while also allowing you to see everything on offer and, best of all, without the need for excessive grinding.

remnant from the ashes gear and mods

What’s not?

So far, so good if you share my tastes, but Remnant: From the Ashes has elements that are objectively weak. The biggest issue – for those that enjoy some narrative context – is the poor storytelling and underwhelming characters. An aspect that’s especially disappointing coming from developers that worked on the grandiose and over-the-top Darksiders games. Most quest-givers offer an intriguing first encounter, another line or two upon completing a quest, and then nothing but generic quips for the rest of the game – no matter how significant an event may have occurred. With the notable exception of the Ward 13 hub – and “Ward Prime” in the Subject 2923 DLC – there are maybe two documents to find per region, and the ending sequences provide only a brief cutscene before unceremoniously dumping you back in the hub with negligible changes to NPC behaviour or dialogue. Yes, character progression and upgrading gear are the focus but Gunfire Games have done much more on a budget.

The second issue is that while Remnant: From the Ashes has an immersive atmosphere, great soundscape, and can look fantastic at times, the more I played the more my mind went back to Darksiders III and the less distinct it felt. Now, I’m not one to criticize the reuse of assets, having started gaming in earnest in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Hell, many of my favourite games and sequels were built entirely using existing engines and assets. However, by modern standards, Remnant: From the Ashes struggles to stand out. A sensation not helped by the fact each map is a sequence of interconnected chunks, rather than smaller-scale tiles, so you’ll recognize repeating layouts easier. I think part of the problem lies in the seeding algorithm for larger campaign regions as playing a string of Adventure Mode quests – even in the same region – does a much better job of highlighting the diversity on offer.

remnant from the ashes environments

Final thoughts

So, is Remnant: From the Ashes still worth playing if you missed it at launch or bounced off it? I’d say yes, and – given numerous balance and content patches after launch – it’s even easier to recommend. If you’re a diehard ‘Souls or Rogue-like fan you might not find the jack-of-all-trades approach and approach to difficulty engaging enough, but I think more casual gamers – those with an interest in either genre but without a ton of time on their hands – will find this a brisk, enjoyable, and smartly-designed experience despite some budget limitations. If you like the idea of gunning down demons alone or with friends, systematically exploring semi-random worlds that can be rerolled for a fresh experience, while consistently upgrading your character and gear, Remnant: From the Ashes will tick all those boxes and then some. Like the Darksiders games before it, it sits comfortably in the “7/10” zone – good but not great; mechanically satisfying but unambitious, yet still worth playing.

1 comment
  1. I had fun with this game in co-op until we made it to the first boss. The difference in difficulty between the generic enemies leading up to the boss and the boss itself was so insane that I felt like the butt of a joke as we got stomped over and over again.

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