Deck 13’s spiritual successor to Souls-like Lords of the Fallen, The Surge is doing some very interesting things with its combat both in terms of how you actually fight, and how fighting develops your character. It might borrow a huge amount of systems and mechanics from the Souls series, but The Surge’s gameplay is different enough from Lords of the Fallen and that revered franchise to make it compelling on its own terms. And all of that comes down to the fact that how you fight in The Surge has a huge impact on how you progress through its world.
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Instead of finding loot in chests or having a chance of it dropping from enemies, The Surge has you kitting out your character by dismembering armoured enemies and using those lopped off limbs as crafting materials for yourself. That means that in order to get any decent gear, you’ll have to specifically target an enemy’s most heavily armoured areas. So to set you up ahead of The Surge’s release on May 16, 2017 - here’s a combat primer based of my first hour with the game to make sure you don’t go in ill-prepared.
No turtles allowed
One of the saving graces for Dark Souls players who don’t want to invest hours into learning the ebb and flow of combat with every single one of the game’s enemies is a tactic known as turtling. Essentially, if you can’t manage the fast pace and constant movement, simply layer up in heavy armour, grab the biggest shield in the game and let your foe whale away at you before striking at them once they’re sufficiently exhausted. However, because of the lack of shields in The Surge, you won’t have a lot of luck with this tactic.
There is a block mechanic in The Surge, and much like in Dark Souls, every weapon has a different blocking level that determines how effectively you can shrug off an attack’s damage. Again, this is still a tactic you’ll want to avoid as not only does blocking do little to protect you, enemies in The Surge have a tendency to chain attacks together, which means you’re always better off getting as far away from them as possible rather than soaking up hits.
Dashing is the only way of getting hits in
Not only can you not defend yourself particularly well in The Surge, thanks to the hulking exo-suit you’re strapped into you also move quite slowly. Dashing is the only way to get within striking distance and back again without taking a hit. If you’re familiar with Dark Souls’ dodge-roll you won’t have any problem getting used to this movement mechanic. The difference in The Surge however, is that dashing is as important for attacking as it is defending.
Of course, dashing uses up energy, but it’s nowhere near as sapping as dodge-rolling is in the Souls series. That means you should get used to dashing liberally, not just because you can, but because being fast in The Surge is the only way to stay safe.
Enemies are erratic and hard to read
One of the biggest issues that plagued Lords of the Fallen was that its enemies were incredibly difficult to read. To a lesser extent the same is true of the reanimated, exo-suited enemies in The Surge, and the ability to dash away from them with ease makes their sudden and subtly telegraphed attacks easier to stomach. Like the undead enemies in the Souls franchise, human enemies in The Surge lunge out randomly or attack in powerful, frenzied flurries following a long wind-up. It’s best to wait for the latter attack, dodge it and dash in to punish them while their energy is depleted. The Surge’s opening section also has a number drones to smash to pieces - again, the best practice here is to dodge their attacks until they’re energy is low.
While enemies are generally quite tricky to read, they - like you - don’t have much in the way of defensive tricks to fall back on. That means you can attack whenever you want against most enemies and stand to deal a solid amount of damage, the tricky part is knowing when it’s safe to do so.
You can duck below and jump over attacks, but you won’t want to
The Surge does provide players with other means to stay safe without relying on dash: you can duck below high attacks, block mid-height attacks and jump over low sweeping attacks. However, because attacks are so hard to gauge you’re much better off using your abundant energy supplies to dash to and from enemies rather than risk misreading an attack and getting savaged for it. No doubt some players will master these in no time, but if you’re not a genre aficionado than dashing will do just fine.
Limbs for loot
One thing The Surge does very cleverly is add layers of choice to combat. Almost all of your loot in The Surge will come from chopping up your foes and using their armoured body parts to craft shiny new versions of the same gear for yourself. The same goes for weapons, which you can get by chopping off the arm that wields it. The caveat to this is that targeting armour-clad limbs for a kill is much harder than going for an unarmoured limb or even generic, non-targeted attacks.
If you want to get through an area quickly and safely your best bet is to avoid limbs and stick to standard attacks, or go for the head if it’s unarmoured. Of course by taking the easy route you’re immediately writing off any potential loot you might get from it, and in the long run that’ll come back to haunt you as you go up against tougher foes with bad weapons and armour.
At the same time, focussing too heavily on getting gear means very slow progression, so instead of just accumulating as much gear as possible - which quickly becomes a mind-numbing grind - you’d be better off picking and choosing the specific parts you want and ignoring the limbs of foes that don’t have them.
It’s worth noting that you can’t target the limbs of enemies without limbs, so you won’t have to make this decision when going up against drones.
One of the gulfs in quality that separates Lords of the Fallen from the Souls series is the quality of their boss fights. Fortunately, The Surge bridges that quality gap quite well - it’s bosses are nowhere near as interesting, complex or fair as their Dark Souls counterparts, but they’re a huge improvement on the repetitive and often unfair slogs that peppered Lords of the Fallen.
The preview of The Surge I’ve been playing only has a single boss to beat, and I beat it on my very first attempt. I tried it again and died almost immediately. Six more attempts and it’s apparent that first effort was a total fluke. When I finally manage to repeat my initial success it’s because I’ve learned the gigantic mech’s attack patterns. For the most part it’s a fairly standard boss battle: get too close to the legs and P.A.X. will stomp, get too far away and it will leap to close the gap, hover about between the two distances and it’ll attack with its chainsaw. The key is knowing how to bait and dodge its attacks, and how long you then have to get some attacks of your own in.
P.A.X. has two bars to pay attention to: a health bar, and a bar that signals how much damage you need to deal before it lowers and reveals its weak spot. You know, because boss battles. To beat the mech I had to cripple it roughly three times, however one neat twist I discovered was that you could lop off one of its legs if you attacked it at a specific point during its stomp attack, which forces it to the ground giving you a few free attacks at its weak spot. Hopefully, these hidden weaknesses are present in the game’s other boss fights.
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