Review: The Ascent – Destructoid
It’s judgment time
Certainly, the ascent begins on a fairly dull and uninspiring note. You wade through the deep bowls of the arcology the game is set on, battling dumb savage mutants, and doing the equivalent of flipping switches to reboot a “sentient intelligence” system. This all leads into a fight with a giant savage that you can beat by simply running around in a big circle and shooting it.
I’ve gone through this intro on PC, co-op with friends, and twice now on Xbox Series X after accidentally destroying my own save file. Combine that with a pretty lackluster character creation system, I think it gives a bad first impression.
However, every time I got the elevator out of this mess and headed to Cluster 13 – and was greeted by hearing the incredible accompanying soundtrack – I knew the real fun was on the point to start.
the ascent (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S [reviewed])
Released: July 29, 2021
MSRP: $29.99 (also available on Xbox Game Pass)
As great as the soundtrack is, the sound design throughout the ascent is simply excellent. The gun sound effects are a notable highlight. Every time I blasted savages or random mercenaries with the Dread (great gun name by the way) it sounded so incredibly punchy and heavy through my headphones and it never got old for me. Even smaller details such as ambient noises, alien NPC languages, flying vehicles and overhead robots add to the atmosphere of the game perfectly. In fact, small details are something the ascent absolutely nails.
Obviously, the overall visuals of this game are stellar. the ascent is without a doubt the best isometric viewing experience I’ve seen in a video game to date.
That attention to detail that I’ve praised so much also blends into the mechanics in many ways. Minor aesthetics such as certain types of armor directly replacing your limbs with full robotic parts to even things like the fast travel system and getting a short visual of your character in a flying taxi with a driver robotics has gone a long way in selling me this universe and this setting.
Impressive and immersive as these details are, however, the story of the ascent is much more cut and dry in comparison. The gist of the setup is that The Ascent Corporation (the mega-corporation that apparently runs all of the show and arcology on the planet of Veles) has mysteriously defaulted and shut down. As a result, things fall into chaos. Almost everyone, from lowly mobsters to other mega-corporations, are now looking to take advantage of the situation.
You end up getting mixed up in it all, working from all angles, but almost never making choices for yourself along the way. You are truly a pawn in the grand scheme of things, both in the narrative and in what you will be doing for most of the game. boil down to one-word requests on different topics.
the ascent The mechanics of the RPG solely revolve around character progression: leveling up, skill points, gear, weapons, augments, etc. Fortunately, the two-stick shot was just good enough to keep me going until the credits roll. I say this because, as good as the general controls are, and despite some depth in the duck and cover mechanics, I felt like I was constantly encountering different forms of jank in both my single player experience and in cooperation.
The co-op itself is an absolute blast. Even the single-player mode, I’d say, is worth a separate playthrough if you really enjoy the world-building, dialogue, and lore found within. the ascent. However, the number of technical issues I encountered sometimes really took me out of the game – sometimes literally. From crashing to downright weird moments like multiple instances of the same boss fight spawning (making it an unwinnable fight), to even weirder moments in co-op such as some enemies not even reacting when we damage them.
My biggest problem with the ascentyet, is just downright awful navigation and guidance system. At any time during a mission, you can press the d-pad (or O on the keyboard) to bring up a red line and move in the direction you need to go. The problem is that this line tends to give you the fastest straight and doesn’t take into account at all whether or not you’re strong enough to survive the area it’s trying to take you through.
This led to many frustrating deaths as I wandered through high level areas with barely time to react before being killed instantly. Isometric camera angles certainly don’t help with that. In most cases, I didn’t even know I was in a high-level field until it was too late. In one instance I even noticed some high level enemies on the other side of a fence with doors I couldn’t get to yet, but just before I left they kind of noticed me and m fired through the fence. So as a result, I was constantly conjuring up the game map to make sure I was on the right (and safest) path or just got lost.
There are also several side missions that are in or below your level range that take you straight into those high level areas. It just left me wondering Why the recommended level was so low on some of these missions. Throughout the game, I felt like I was constantly picking up side missions from NPCs, only to come back and do them hours (or even literal days) later.
Despite my complaints, I legitimately love the world Neon Giant has created here and would love to see even more of it. There are fillers potential in this setting to tell better stories, and I think the ascent itself is preserved from the greatness of a lot of technical issues and weird design decisions. That said, I think once I get my hands on a Steam Deck, I’ll absolutely take it as an excuse to come back for more. Hopefully by then a lot of technical issues will be resolved.
[This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]