Watching a psychokinetic and pyrokinetic combine their powers sure looks cool, but that doesn't matter if it accomplishes the same job as the former fighting on their own.
Ahead of the release of Scarlet Nexus, I got to check out a preview build of Bandai Namco's upcoming action RPG. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get actual hands-on experience with the game, but Bandai Namco did provide an extended behind-the-scenes look at some gameplay, specifically combat. What I was most surprised by was how much it reminded me of The Force Unleashed.
Scarlet Nexus sees you play as Yuito Sumeragi, a psychokinetic who's a part of the special task force that defends humanity from demonic-looking mutants called Others. Though he's armed with a sword, Yuito's primary means of attack is his powers--he can use his mind to pick up objects in the environment and fling them at enemies. Small boxes and bicycles can be tossed around with ease while flinging cars and ripping down the ceiling seems to take considerably more effort.
When paired with Yuito's melee combat mechanics, it creates a sense of flow that reminds me of how Starkiller fought in The Force Unleashed. Yuito can dive past the Others' long-range attacks to get in close and slice away. He can also pummel enemies from afar with whatever is lying around, and given that Scarlett Nexus takes place in a city, there's plenty to throw. But Yuito seems to be at his strongest when he dances back and forth between the two styles, stunning targets with a thrown car and quickly finishing them off with a few snappy melee attacks.
Later on in the demo, when Yuito began confronting larger numbers of enemies, combat almost took on this frantic, dance-like approach as Yuito had to use his psychokinetic abilities to manage the crowd while his melee attacks dealt heavy damage to the targets closest to him. It all seemed pretty cool, especially when the demo skipped ahead to showcase additional psychokinetic powers that Yuito can unlock, like timing button presses to grab an object you've already thrown past an enemy to pull it back towards you and strike the enemy for a second time. Yuito can also break apart larger objects in half to pancake smaller enemies or combine several objects into a meteor-looking ball that he can slam down in an area-of-effect attack.
The demo didn't show off much of how this would look like, but I'm a little worried by how party members might detract from the evolution of such a combat system. Yuito will meet and team-up with other individuals with extra-sensory abilities throughout the game, but they won't be psychokinetics like him. Each one has a different power, which Yuito can temporarily borrow to augment his own skills and unlock new types of attacks. For example, in the demo, Yuito teamed up with Hanabi, a staff-wielding pyrokinetic. She attacks with wide-swinging melee strikes and lights enemies on fire. Yuito can temporarily borrow her powers, adding fire damage to his melee attacks and lighting the objects he throws on fire. Additionally, he is able to hold out his hand and fire a flamethrower-like attack, or swing his sword in a fire tornado area-of-effect attack.
Admittedly, it all looks fairly impressive (Bandai Namco said the footage was representative of expected Xbox Series X gameplay), but I'm skeptical about the idea of unlocking different powers that are presented as vastly different on paper, but don't have a major impact in practice. As visually distinct as the Hanabi-influenced attacks are, they seem to accomplish much the same task as Yuito's default attacks. These fire attacks look like they do more damage but they don't really change how Yuito fights. And again, it's hard to make a judgement call since Hanabi was the only companion we got to see in action, but I'm worried that Scarlet Nexus peaks relatively early when it comes to the types of attacks you can do.
I think there's some potential to Scarlet Nexus. The idea of pulling off cool-looking combos with your sword while keeping track of the objects around you and coming up with an idea of how to telekinetically move them to your advantage sounds like it could become satisfyingly complex in the long run, especially if companions can influence how your powers work in intriguing new ways. But the demo didn't show that. It seemed to imply progression would just be re-skinned versions of all the attacks you seem to unlock early on. And that could become boring after a few hours--I don't want to just use different variations of the same attacks over and over. There's only so many combos you can come up with in a system like that, which isn't great for action games.
And granted, the Hanabi-enhanced attacks could feel fundamentally different from Yuito's default moves. I just watched the demo being played--perhaps with a controller in hand, the pyrokinetic attacks just feel distinct from psychokinetic attacks and that may help in differentiating the two movesets and making it seem like one isn't completely like the other.
We'll have a better idea as to how Scarlet Nexus' combat works and what other companions that Yuito will be able to rely on when the game releases for Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PS4, and PC. The game will support Smart Delivery for Xbox One and Xbox Series X.