Hands-on with Ascend: New Gods [PAX East 2013]
While at PAX East this year I had a chance to get my hands on Ascend: New Gods. I had seen the trailer, but other than that didn’t know what to expect. I am happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by what the game has to offer.
For those that don’t know, Ascend: New Gods is a free-to-play Action RPG coming to Xbox Live soon with a PC version on the way later this year. You play as a Caos Warrior, a giant of immense physical and magical strength who must use his powers to fight for the God to which you pledged your allegiance. In fact, the world is designed in such a way to make you feel like a giant. Humans are tiny and the buildings are built in such a way to make you feel huge. You’ll tower above castles and temples as you move through the land. You can choose from three factions: Light, Void, or Darkness, with aach faction providing its own advantages. I chose the Dark alignment which gave me greater melee damage and fire magic. Void offers ice magic and provides a greater focus on magical powers, and Light provides lightning magic and allows for greater healing and armor.
You choose your alignment soon after you start the game, but this is after you equip yourself with armor and weapons. There are many free options to choose from when equipping yourself, but you are given some in-game currency to start which should allow you to get one of the better starting items. I was surprised how good the starting items were, so you shouldn’t feel like you’re limping along until you put some cash in the game. Actually, the developer that was walking me through the gameplay demo stressed that their goal was to make sure you don’t feel like you’re being nickel and dimed. It made me feel better, given how many F2P games are constantly hounding for money right now.
It doesn’t take a long time to get to the action. After you choose your alignment you are off to the real world, meeting with enemies that force you to learn how to use your melee, blocking, and magical skills appropriately. In the hour demo that I played I came across quite a few types of enemies, and I can only imagine there are more as the game progresses. When it comes to combat moves, one size doesn’t fit all. Enemies come in different sizes, and you need to use the proper attack to deal with them effectively. By far the smallest enemies have to be humans that are pledged to other Gods, which a quick stomping takes care of.
Not all humans are an annoyance, though. As you traverse the world you will be able to take territories for your faction, which will turn all of the humans in that area into your worshipers. When there are humans aligned with you around, you can call them and they will jump on your body to travel with you. This has a few advantages. First, when you get hit they take the damage. Second, they can attack from your body by shooting flaming arrows and such at enemies. They can also jump down and engage other enemies. Lastly, if you’re low on health you can just eat one to regain a portion back.
Besides seeing enemies, you will also see the ghosts of other real-time players as you traverse the land. Ascend: New Gods isn’t a full blown MMO, but there is plenty of interaction with other players. The ghosts you see are players in their own instance of the game (called a realm), and there are a few ways to interact with them. After finishing a battle with one boss I was pretty hurt. A player from another realm blessed me (better known as healing) so I was able to get on my way.
That was cool and all, but my favorite part of player interaction has to be banishing; which, to be clear, is a total dick move. Banishing allows you to take enemies that are in close proximity to you and suck them into portals to other player’s realms. Enemies that are banished have the name of the player that banished them above their head, so it’s clear when someone has done this too you. Banishing can easily make a bad situation worse, and if the enemies that you banish are able to kill the player in the other realm you get XP for it. The funny thing is that you can banish right back if you want too. So, if a player banishes the enemies around him the other player can wait for the right time and pretty much banish double the amount of enemies back as long as they have the power to support it. Banishing has its advantages on both sides. The player that banishes can get XP if his banished enemies kills the other player, and the other player can get more XP if they kill the other enemies.
There is also indirect player interaction. Once your Caos reaches a certain level you will be able to turn him into an Ascended Champion. You basically sacrifice him to the God of your choice for that God to use as they see fit. You will lose control of the champion and will need to create a new Coas that is a few levels lower, but in return you get permanent buffs that will ultimately make you stronger. You don’t have to offer the Coas to the God you initially pledged too, and Gods that have a lower following will typically give you better perks.
Another benefit of ascending your champion is that champion will now be used to fight other players as an NPC. They will challenge territories that belong to players of other factions and appear as bosses in the world. They will have all of the equipment and powers you endowed them with, so you can actually turn the game into something extremely challenging for other players. Also, when your Ascended Champion defeats other players you will get XP.
There is a main story for you to push through, but there are also plenty of side quests and objectives to complete. As you progress through the game you will be called back to many of your territories to defend them, but this is an instant transfer back and forth if you want to so you won’t be annoyed by constant back tracking.
Ascend: New Gods wasn’t on my radar before, but it definitely is now. It takes a lot to get me to turn on my 360 these days, but I will definitely play this once the beta is released and probably until the PC version is available. Speaking of the master platform, if you play on PC you will have access to the same characters you created on the XBox version. That’s all I need to get playing right away. Free-to-play is still a new concept for consoles, so I’ve very curious to see how this turns out, but based on what I played I think everything is going to be just fine.