I’m over the post-apocalypse.
I’m over scrappy survivors scavenging supplies in abandoned car parks and office buildings. I’m over jaded urban explorers born after the disaster du jour joking about dilapidated billboard advertisements from the Before Times as if they don’t know what coffee is. I’m over sepia tones and dusty streets and overgrown vines and corrugated steel shelters and tales of civilization-ending greed passed down from generation to generation.
Remnant 2, the sequel to 2019 sleeper hit Remnant: From the Ashes, was the irradiated straw that broke the two-headed camel’s back.
While the game’s post-apocalyptic adventure also takes you to less despondent locales — including ornate palaces, lush forests, brutalist labyrinths, and fiery slums — every world you visit in Remnant 2 contains an example of societal downfall via humankind’s hubris. In each of these areas, you partake in third-person shooting mixed with the evasive tactics popularized by FromSoftware in games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Elden Ring. You run, you gun, you dodge, you roll ad infinitum, sometimes even breaking up the action with special powers depending on your chosen archetype.
Remnant 2 tells the story of several human-made catastrophes — some sudden, some plodding like our own — connected to an interdimensional evil known as the Root. The spread of the plantlike entity was apparently slowed during the events of the first game, but its tendrils continue to creep across the Remnant multiverse, laying waste to countless realms in an inexplicable crusade to snuff out all life save its own. Over the course of the sequel, you travel from planet to planet, each broken and crumbling, looking for tools to defeat the Root and eventually taking the fight to its source despite constant assurances that the phenomenon is unstoppable.
As someone who neglected Remnant: From the Ashes three years ago, I didn’t go into Remnant 2 expecting to understand everything from the jump. Heck, I thought I’d be lucky to grasp even half of the proper nouns treated with reverence by the largely foreign-to-me lore. But I tried. I really, really tried. What I encountered, however, was an overly convoluted, MacGuffin-heavy story dead set on explaining nothing. Even worse, it makes a habit of falling back on that very same complexity as an excuse to avoid arranging its tangled plot threads into an appreciable canvas.
I’m OK with dense narratives presented by cryptic, unreliable narrators. It’s one of several things Remnant 2 attempts to poach (with varying degrees of shamelessness and success) from the Souls series, a group of games I love enough to still be holding out hope for a Bloodborne sequel. But even original lore concepts are treated as so complicated by ostensibly all-knowing characters that they often give up trying to dumb them down halfway through a conversation, leaving me even more unwilling to put up with the game’s cliched post-apocalyptic trappings.
Muddled story aside, Remnant 2’s basic gameplay elements still very much feel like the result of someone getting high and wondering, Man, wouldn’t Dark Souls be cool if you had an AK-47 instead of swords? And while they’re not as flagrant as the reception to Remnant: From the Ashes led me to believe, the borrowed hallmarks are obvious. Run-of-the-mill enemies ambush and swarm in deadly groups. The world resets at bonfire-esque checkpoints. Movement is tied to a stamina gauge. Bosses attack with telegraphed movements that must be studied, recognized, and then avoided with an invincible dodge roll.
In a mechanical, kinetic sense, the genre portmanteau works well enough. But progressing through Remnant 2 never imparts the same sense of accomplishment that comes from finally getting through a difficult area in Sekiro, or figuring out the optimal strategy for defeating a boss in Elden Ring. A lot of this comes down to the game’s formulaic combat. Almost every encounter plays out the same way: You come up on a group of the current area’s Little Guys, a horn sounds to let you know if another bunch of Little Guys is heading your way, and sometimes a shrill sound effect indicates the approach of a more challenging Big Guy, with increased health and special powers.
Remnant 2 is so rote that jumping from battle to battle reminded me of rewatching a movie I can already recite from beginning to end (although not nearly as enjoyable as, say, quoting Ben Stiller’s monologue from Heavyweights). Mowing down the game’s odd assortment of plant monsters, living stone figures, futuristic robots, and British peasants (the scariest enemy of all, let me tell you) feels great thanks to better-than-average gunplay, but you can only walk backward and shoot at weak points for so long, no matter how attached you get to your custom loadout. After a dozen hours, I found myself rushing from area to area in search of the trigger that would finally move the story forward, rather than suffering through the same predictable combat encounters over and over again.
Even the bosses, one thing you’d expect a Soulslike to get right, are unimaginative. They mostly function as bullet sponges to check if you were properly upgrading your equipment, with two notable exceptions: a group of gigantic cubes whose main method of attack is trying to squish you while you run through a claustrophobic maze, and a final boss that provided the only true challenge I faced during my entire time with Remnant 2. It wasn’t until I got to this ultimate battle that dodge-rolling became an absolute necessity to survive everything thrown my way, which struck me as odd for a game so closely associated with the series that popularized the mechanic.
Remnant 2’s biggest sin is its lack of identity. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a strong foundation at its core — but the cavalier way in which it borrows, both mechanically and aesthetically, from not only the Souls series but God of War, Control, and Returnal merely serves to remind me of all the more competent games I could be playing instead. And while Remnant 2 obviously wants me to keep playing with friends after the campaign is over, the simplistic combat’s flattening of character builds and lack of a consequential loot system puts an obvious ceiling on how much satisfaction I’ll derive from the postgame, the height of which depends entirely on getting behind the mediocre gameplay.
The real-world moment into which Remnant 2 launches doesn’t do it any favors, either. It took me 16 hours to finish the game’s campaign, planning early-morning and late-night sessions around a climate change-induced California heat wave so as to not exacerbate the daily triple-degree temperatures already turning my home into a sweat lodge. Folks, there’s no point in fearing some hypothetical apocalypse waiting for us over the horizon. We’re living through one right now. It’s just so slow-moving and boring that our dumb amphibian brains are instead making entertainment out of the water getting hotter around us like it’s not seconds away from a rolling boil.
I’m over the post-apocalypse, and it’s going to take one hell of a game to get me interested in such a bleak setting for the foreseeable future. Remnant 2 is not that game.
Remnant 2 will be released July 25 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Gearbox Publishing. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.