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The RPG Files: Don’t Dismiss ‘The Surge’ Because It’s a Clone

Columns By Christopher Coke on May 19, 2017

Don’t Dismiss ‘The Surge’ Because It’s a Clone

Clones: we’ve all seen them. As MMO players, we saw a whole generation of MMORPGs “WoW clones” attempting to cash in on World of Warcraft’s success. Deck 13 had the label thrown at their first game, Lords of the Fallen, a dark fantasy RPG which played it close to the Dark Souls formula. This week they released their second action RPG, The Surge, and are hearing it again. As we enjoy these games becoming a whole new sub-genre, it’s about time we stop looking down on RPG clones.

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That word, clone, isn’t a nice one. It might be accurate in the broad strokes, but it’s used to dismiss games that could actually be good. It’s also a necessary term. We live in an age where one hit game spawns a hundred copycats. They’re low rent, Unity asset chop-ups hoping to make a quick buck. They water down the ecosystem and deserve to be dismissed. In the case of RPGs that follow Dark Souls’ path, the word clone doesn’t always mean the bad things it’s usually associated with.

From Software accomplished something few game studios ever do: they created an entire new sub-genre with their Dark Souls series. They did this on the back of countless other RPGs, of course, but their unique blend of difficulty, limited resources, bonfires, and death penalties resonated with gamers in a way few series ever do. Today, we have games stealing individual elements (difficult enemies and death penalties) and those who take the whole approach and wrap it in their own dressing.

The Surge is one of the latter. From the time it was announced, there has been a lingering air of dismissal in certain corners of the internet because the game is copying Dark Souls. These people clearly believe that if a game is a clone it’s obviously a second-rate coattail rider. While that may be true some of the time, it doesn’t work as a rule, and it’s pretty cynical way to look at the AAA space.

The Surge is a very similar game, but also fairly different in some meaningful ways. Looking at the overarching design, it is remarkably similar to Dark Souls. There are safe rooms (bonfires) and limited health injectables (estus flasks). Enemies are brutal and if you die you lose your tech scrap (souls) and need to retrieve it. So many of backbone RPG mechanics are stripped straight from Dark Souls.

It’s a “clone,” so that’s no surprise. But here’s the deal, The Surge actually feels pretty darn different. It’s faster paced, for one. It’s slower than an “action RPG” but more responsive than Dark Souls by a pretty good amount. Like Lords of the Fallen, it pretty much throws gear and schematics at you, which I find instantly more rewarding than anything from From Software. Attacks are more flashy, and the ability to target specific body parts transcends the flash of battle-ending decapitations and becomes a full on mechanic to acquire new gear. It’s setting also completely changes the atmosphere of the game. In short, it’s a faster Dark Souls in space with everything that entails.

When a type of game becomes its own genre, we naturally accept them as clones and should stop caring. It just becomes a type of game. Every platformer Mario clone. Every RPG is a Dungeons and Dragons clone. Every shooter is a CoD clone, and so on and so forth. (I know those aren’t actually the first games in their field).

So what do you think - are we at the point where Souls-likes are their own genre?

Quick Hits

Speaking of The Surge, be sure to check out our full review! TheHiveLeader makes a rare appearance in written form to share his thoughts on the game. Spoiler: He liked it.

Our own Michael Bitton sat down with Jesse Decker of Gazillion for a candid interview about the state of Marvel Heroes and where the console versions fit into the grand scheme. It’s well worth a read.

Owlcat Games has a gift for us all, a new isometric RPG based in the Pathfinder universe! The game, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, promises a rich story set in the Stolen Lands where you can “establish your kingdom” and build towns and cities, while also exploring deep relationships with your companions on a grand adventure.

Hold this for me while I SQUEEEEEEE. Netflix is officially producing a series based on The Witcher! Yes, of course you may join me squeeing. The series will be based on Sapkowski’s novels, not the game, but if you’ve read them you know that CD Projekt Red did a great job of staying true to the characters. This is exciting on multiple levels. No word on when it might see the light of day.

The Crew 2 and Far Cry 5 are officially confirmed in development. The latter isn’t really a shock, but the lukewarm reception The Crew received does make a sequel slightly surprising. No details are known yet, but we’ll be sure to share as soon as they come in.

Finally, saving the biggest for last, we finally know what Destiny 2 is all about. Bill has a great rundown of his new PVE and PVP experiences on the site, and Kotaku has an excellent summary of this week’s reveal event. It looks great, with lots of small quality of life improvements and beautiful new areas. After reading through it all and watching the gameplay trailer above, I have to say… it feels a whole lot more like a large expansion than a true sequel. Time and more information will tell, but what they’re showing so far all sounds great, even if not revolutionary.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.