The Ascent review

The Ascent is an isometric action RPG set in a cyberpunk and bleak future where corporations are dominant and life seems fairly meaningless. I was looking forward to this one but the sheen quickly fell away and I didn’t really enjoy my time with the game at all.

First of all, there are many things to like about The Ascent. The graphics for example, when you are in the isometric view look great, plus you have loads of particle effects when your character is running around the screen. The environments are rich, and they manage to capture the cyberpunk feel very well. That is where the fun stopped for me, unfortunately. I didn’t get on well with the action, I found it cumbersome and awkward. The cutscenes really don’t look very good, as if the character models are almost half finished. This is the shame because when zoomed out in the isometric view it’s a beautiful looking game.

The story in The Ascent is set on the planet Veles, and people have gone there to find a better life. Unfortunately for everyone who arrives there, you get riddled with so much debt that it’s probably going to take your whole life before you pay it off. Huge corporations like the one that employs you, called The Ascent Group, own everything in sight. You have to spend your days working as a laborer, taking up part-time jobs to pay off the debt.

Going back to one of the positives of the game, and that’s the rich environments. Your base is an Arcology-A, a massive sky-scaper turned City, and it’s busy and bustling with life. There’s bars, vendors, NPCs. Think Neon-filled, Cyberpunk, Tokyo (but turned up to 11). Everywhere you go in the game there are shops, nightclubs – all filled with plenty of detail and little secrets to find. Another plus point that I haven’t mentioned just yet is the co-op play. You can play The Ascent with up to three other players. I imagine this would make getting through the levels a little easier, as one your own this one is pretty tough.

Regarding the gameplay, it’s an isometric shooter, where you have to run and gun, strafe, duck behind cover and shoot em up. There’s plenty of weapons and armor, plus augments and upgrades to acquire. The guns are varied with pistols, machine guns, shotguns, and sidearms. There’s something about the game which reminds me of Diablo. Loot drops from enemies when you kill them and it has that feeling of a looter-shooter without the live-service baggage.

The weapons are good fun and they feel great, you can really feel the weight of the shotgun blasts. The augments are good fun too, giving you a special ability that has a cooldown and gives you an extra edge in battle. This could be a huge punch that sends enemies flying back on fire or smashing them so hard they dissolve. If you’re lucky you’ll get the augment that makes enemies explode when they die.

Get used to the cover system in the game because there’s going to be waves and waves of enemies coming at you, and you’ll need some rest and you’ll need to avoid the bullets otherwise enemies will make quick work of you. If you get into cover you can raise your gun out of cover and shoot. As well as the cover system you can dodge roll too, meaning you have a few tools to evade and hide from danger.

There’s a variety of enemies that come at you with guns, knives, and other weapons too like spiked clubs. Bosses and mini-bosses are tough to work, and pretty inventive. For example, there are two twin bosses very early in the game who like to tag team you with huge clubs. Even if you do find the cover you won’t get much rest as enemies like to push forward and keep you on your toes.

When you first start out in the game you will be at the base level and as you progress through the game you’ll need to level up your character through armour and weapon stats, this is going to be crucial to taking on enemies in later levels, otherwise, you’ll simply get creamed. Primarily the game is a shooter, but there are also some moments where you get to explore the environments, take in the scenery or check out the local shops. The shooting and battling mechanics didn’t really click for me, but the epxloration and dialogue are much more satisfying.

The Ascent isn’t a walk in the park either. Part of this is to make sure you are levelling up as you go, but the game isn’t very clear about this until you go steaming into an encounter and get absolutely taken down by the enemies. Unfortunately the sidequests aren’t as engaging as the main story, and because I didn’t find the main story engaging, I left feeling quite flat and not motivated to pick up the controls again very soon.

There’s a lot going for The Ascent on paper. However, it’s a game that I simply didn’t click with and found it a chore to play rather than something to look forward to. I didn’t like the combat, the feel wasn’t there for me. Having recently played Death’s Door, which is a comparable isometric action game that definitely has the right feel, The Ascent didn’t engage me enough to want to keep coming back. I found myself more frustrated than not.

The one saving grace of this whole situation is that I didn’t have to pay for the game because it’s on Xbox Game Pass and has been available since day one of the releases. This kind of is the perfect game pass game, it’s not to my taste, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like it. I think it’s worth trying out this kind of thing because you never know, you might get hooked on the next indie hit. Unfortunately for The Ascent, it didn’t click with me at all and I can’t really recommend this game.

Developer: Neon Giant
Publisher: Curve Digital
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Release Date: 29th July 2021