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Remnant’s new Survival mode removes comfort, teaches mastery

Relearning a beloved game is the best way to remember why you love it so much

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three Remnant players take on a boss Image: Gunfire Games
Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

We’ve all spent the past few weeks thinking about comfort food games — games that make you feel at ease even when life is stressing you out. Last year’s fabulous Remnant: From the Ashes is one of my latest comfort games, but the new Survival mode from the $9.99 Swamps of Corsus expansion is giving the game new life by taking me out of my comfort zone.

And what I lose in comfort, I gain in appreciation for the game’s deep systems, and my own ability to reexperience something I love with fresh eyes.

What is Survival mode?

One of Remnant’s many different worlds Image: Gunfire Games

Remnant: From the Ashes is a third-person shooter with clear Dark Souls influence. It’s a challenging game that pushes your limits, while letting you relish in the few safe zones scattered along the trail. You run through different areas of a world — randomly seeded, so you never know which handful of bosses or dungeons you’ll run into next — and carefully shoot, smash, and roll your way through multiple acts in the campaign. Since it launched in August, I’ve beaten it in co-op on both PlayStation 4 and Windows PC, and I’ve replayed certain sections of the game numerous times to fight different bosses and collect new pieces of loot.

But that’s the thing: Most of us fall into ruts with our favorite games without even realizing we’re doing so. Swamps of Corsus reminds me that I was in a rut, even if I was enjoying it, and shows me just how much game I was missing by sticking to my preferred way to play.

Survival mode changes the rules, ensuring that I try new things. Instead of dropping into the first act of Remnant, my co-op buddy and I start in a small hub. We have a bit of cash, but are otherwise completely naked — no weapons, no armor, no perks, no nothin’. We spend some of our cash at the vending machines scattered in the hub. I pick up a weapon called the Coach Gun, a shotgun-like, two-shot rifle I’ve never used before. I don’t have a choice: My options are limited, and so is my cash.

We venture into the world, brandishing whatever we can afford. But instead of starting in a ruined city, where Remnant traditionally begins, we appear in the swamps of Corsus — an area set hours into the game. We notice a timer counting down in the upper left corner of the screen, and that timer is a threat: The enemies, including the bosses, all grow more powerful when it ticks down to zero, and then resets.

Remnant players take cover from some approaching enemies Image: Gunfire Games

We rush through the area, picking up books filled with perks, and killing enemies to help us level up and grow stronger. The familiar locations of these items are no longer in play — everything is scattered around in new ways. And the longer we explore, the harder the enemies become. To make sure we still stand a chance against the upcoming boss, we inevitably miss upgrades. You can’t search every nook and cranny when spending that time means our enemies will grow in strength. We might not be as powerful as we’d like when we meet each boss, but by rushing, we can at least make sure those bosses won’t be as deadly as they might be if we had taken our time.

We enter a dungeon, sprint past more upgrades, and face off against a boss. It’s one we’ve seen before, and we use our time advantage to melt the boss’s health before the battle gets too difficult. Victorious, we’re sent back to the hub with more cash, and new weapons to buy. This was but the first leg of our randomized journey, and the next time we enter Survival mode, nothing will be the same.

Which is the entire point.

Prolonging Remnant

Remnant: From the Ashes artwork Image: Gunfire Games

My duo partner and I had no idea what we were doing the first time we played through Remnant last year. We experimented with different weapons and loadouts until we fought like a well-oiled machine. We’re both set in our ways now, after beating the game on multiple platforms. We know the guns we like, the armor we like, and the perks we like. That’s the rut we fell into; we were playing the same way every time, relying more on familiarity and memorization of enemy attack patterns than pure skill.

But Survival mode destroys what I worked so hard to build. All of my upgrades are gone in this mode, and the vending machine only offers a few guns at a time, so the likelihood of picking up something I’m familiar with is slim. We’re always forced to try new things, without the comforting heft of our favorite weapons or the tactics enabled by our favorite abilities.

Maybe we go into a run and strategize based on what we’re used to: Maybe I let him have the rifle, since long range is his style, even if it means I’m stuck with something like the Coach Gun. But on the next run, we may get guns neither of us is familiar with, or heavier armor than either of us likes to use, and this gives us two options: We learn how to use these tools well, or die in the attempt.

I’ve used Ludwig’s Holy Blade every time I’ve beaten Bloodborne. The weapon is so familiar to me that trying anything else seems wrong. Using something that fires faster or slower and does more or less damage than what I’m accustomed to feels like attempting to run a familiar trail without the use of one of my legs. Muscle memory becomes meaningless.

Three players in Remnant: From the Ashes stand around a fire and use emotes Image: Gunfire Games

Taking my weapons away forces me into a different play style, one that I’m not nearly as practiced in. Being proficient in a specific build is no longer enough; this survival mode pushes me to try to master as many weapons and play styles as possible if I’m to do well. My fundamentals of play have to be perfect if I can’t rely on my build to make up for any weaknesses in my technique. It’s a different form of practice, leading to a higher level of mastery, and it’s given the game a second life for me and my friend.

If I’m using the same loadout every time, that fun factor slowly goes away, until I’m experiencing something that makes me comfortable rather than challenges me. If I want to get good at Remnant’s Survival mode, I need to adjust my skills as an overall Remnant player. But I’m a creature of habit, and I’ll go back to my favorite weapons if the game doesn’t force me off of them — which is what makes Survival mode such a powerful tool.

This expansion makes me realize I had gotten comfortable, instead of good, and now I have the tools necessary to get better. That kind of challenge isn’t something I want in every game — or even in Remnant during my first time through. But when you’ve played a game so much that it can’t surprise you, but you still love the feel of the game and the joy of its combat, sometimes you long for it to feel fresh. And this mode will make sure you get a lot of fresh experiences, for better or worse.

Survival does its best to reinvent Remnant: From the Ashes into something that feels familiar while also forcing me into new, uncomfortable situations with loadouts I don’t exactly know how to use. That uncertainty forces me to challenge myself to cultivate new skills, creating a new cycle of learning that makes an old game feel like a fresh experience. There’s nothing more fun than truly mastering a game you love, and this expansion offers an unexpected and fresh path to mastery.

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