Feature Article

The Surge 2 Does Combat Better Than Its Predecessor In (Almost) Every Way

Overall, combat feels a lot better.

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After a few days with a preview demo of The Surge 2, it certainly feels like developer Deck13 listened to fan feedback when it came to 2017's The Surge. There have been noticeable changes to how combat works that make for more enjoyable duels. If the demo is any indication though, The Surge 2 does stumble in one regard when it comes to its predecessor.

The Surge 2 takes place after the events of the first game and sees us take on the role of a new, nameless protagonist instead of Warren. The game is set on a dystopian Earth where humanity has used up most of the planet's natural resources and automated drones have created mass unemployment. This has forced middle- and lower-class individuals to augment themselves with exo-skeleton rigs to increase their strength in an attempt to remain competitive with robot workers. It doesn't work and the rich stay rich, so most humans now modify their exosuits with all manner of armor or weapons and survive by killing other people and stealing their food, water, and weapons. In The Surge 2, you're an escaped convict that finds themselves in Jericho City, a metropolis created by a wealthy elite but full of gangs and dangerous scavengers.

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In terms of combat, The Surge 2 is a much faster game than its predecessor. The general conceit is still the same: manage your stamina as you wear your opponent's defenses down and end the fight with a brutal evisceration of their head, torso, or one of their limbs. Aside from the aforementioned focus on body part removal, it's a very Souls-like inspired combat system. Though this suggests a careful approach to combat is the way to go (like in The Surge), additional mechanics and features in The Surge 2--namely in regards to healing--encourage an aggressive playstyle, one that prioritizes quick decision-making.

Gain A Nice Bonus For Dying

This is most true in one of the best new features in The Surge 2: the benefit of dying and losing your scrap. Much like Dark Souls' souls, you collect scrap in The Surge 2 from every enemy you defeat and you can use it to craft new weapons and armor as well as level up and improve your stats. And just like Dark Souls' souls, you lose all the scrap on your person when you die and can only reclaim it by traveling to the spot of your death and looting your fallen stash before being killed again.

The Surge 2 adds an interesting wrinkle to this by having your dropped scrap emit a healing beacon. If you stand near the scrap and don't pick it up, your health will slowly regenerate. Like the original though, you have a limited amount of time to pick up your scrap before it's gone for good, so you can't just leave it on the ground and keep returning to it as a way to heal. This creates an exhilarating risk vs. reward dynamic for challenging fights, especially bosses. Now when you die, you can use your fallen scrap as a way to boost your health in the subsequent run. Of course, if you die again without picking up the scrap, or simply become too distracted by the boss and forget to grab it before the timer runs out, you'll lose it all. This implements a welcome level of strategy into the currency recovery process.

New Tricks For Recovering And Playing Defense

Blocking is unreliable in The Surge 2. It requires large amounts of stamina and some attacks--typically long-range ones--can break through your guard and damage you regardless if you're blocking or not. In the first Surge, that meant you were mostly regulated to carefully attacking and dodging, hoarding your limited amount of health items to recover from tanking attacks too quick or long-reaching to dodge.

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To speed up combat and make it more exciting, The Surge 2 implements directional parrying and a new health replenish mechanic. If you block in the direction of an attack, you can parry and counter an enemy--a mechanic that encourages you to stay in the thick of things instead of dodging out of the way. The battery charges you use to pull off a dismemberment are now also tied to your health, so you can also use one of your charges to heal while in combat. Battery charges fill up by attacking enemies, so as long as you keep landing blows, you'll keep gaining the ability to heal.

Together, directional parrying and battery healing allow you to more easily engage with enemies and bosses in frantic duels where you get to set the pace of the fight instead of just reacting to attacks and staying out on the fringes of an opponent's reach. Plus, the ability to replenish your available health charges allows you to survive longer without returning to a med station, encouraging exploration.

Deal Damage From Afar

Enemies are a bit smarter this time around and work together to surround and punish you the second you let your guard down. More weapon types mean you've got more types of attacks to work with, but that means the same goes for the enemies you're fighting. The Surge 2's drone helps out in this regard.

Initially, the only weapon affixed to your drone is a pistol, which helps with shooting down enemies that are out of reach. However, you can loot additional attachments from dismembering enemies, ranging from Molotov cocktails to assault rifles, and customize what your drone is carrying at any time. You are limited by the number of bullets and grenades it can hold at any one time though.

The drone is a versatile tool that adds some new strategies to combat. You can throw it out to delay the advance of an enemy while focusing on their partner, blow away a foe's protective body shield, or just augment your own attacks by hitting the same foe from two sides. By far, the best use of the drone is attracting one enemy at a time to your position, though. In the first game, you typically had to try and bait one enemy at a time to follow you to a safe spot when confronted by groups of three or more, a strategy that worked with various levels of success. In The Surge 2, you can just shoot whichever enemy you want to attract the attention of, making it much easier to dwindle down the numbers of a large group.

The Direct Path Isn't Always The Best One

Unlike the first game, The Surge 2 is spread out over different environments. In the demo, we got to explore the first three and they're all fairly distinct--fixing the homogeneous look of the original Surge. Better yet, the environments are designed with multiple paths, allowing you to occasionally tackle the same fight from multiple angles.

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For example, early in the second area, you're tasked with reaching a certain building. To reach the bridge connected to it, you need to cross an intersection that's being guarded by a Molotov throwing scavenger and his buddy, who's armed with a powerful rifle. You can rush them, but the enemy with the rifle will carve a huge amount of health out of you if you're not careful or quick enough. So instead, you can circumnavigate the pair by going down a side street, crossing a reservoir by running along some pipes, and then climbing some scaffolding. Weaker enemies guard this path and it puts you directly behind the rifle-wielding enemy, allowing you to get an easy backstab and then take out their Molotov throwing companion.

In The Surge, you could start out with a tank-like exosuit or nimble one to decide which type of character you wanted to play as. The Surge 2's environments allow you to switch up your strategy on the fly. If you think you're equipped to rush ahead, then you can, and the inclusion of alternative routes allow you to stealth your way into getting the drop on an enemy if you'd prefer a less direct approach. As environments are built with a more vertical focus as well, there are specific locations where you can ride a lift to change your latitude in relation to an enemy and then shoot them from afar with your drone--letting you take on a challenging foe from out of their reach.

Enemies Are Pretty Much The Same

Though combat in The Surge 2 is mostly an improvement over the first game, there is one area where it seemingly falls short. At least in the first three areas, The Surge 2 has very similar enemy types. Despite the diversity of those three areas--a prison, city streets, and a junkyard--the enemies are mostly human, all look like slight variations of each other, and all utilize similar battle tactics. The major difference between them comes through in the types of weapons they use and where on their body they're wearing armor, but the position of the environment has a larger impact on what type of strategy to use, not the enemies themselves.

The Surge had machine, drone, zombie, and nanite enemies to change up combat in the latter half of the game, encouraging the player to evolve how they react to the world. Zombie enemies wouldn't come alive until you stepped near them, for instance, creating a need to be aware of corpse-looking piles in every new room, while nanite enemies would relentlessly keep attacking until they were overloaded--adding another consideration when encountering them within a crowd of enemies. It's disappointing to not see more unique enemy types in the early hours of The Surge 2. Hopefully, more will be added further into the story, as some of the battles near the end of The Surge 2 demo were beginning to feel repetitive.

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