There’s one great way to improve pretty much any game: play it with someone else! That’s a little bit cheap, of course, since most things are more enjoyable when you do them with friends. That doesn’t detract from the fact of the matter, though, which is that grabbing some buddies can take a decent game to the next level. That’s definitely the case with The Ascent, a solid action-RPG that really excels when you’re playing with a group.
It’s not easy living on Veles. It kind of sucks, actually, especially in your position: you’re a poor indentured worker, or indent, bound to the Ascent Group due to your outstanding debts. You might think that the sudden and unexpected collapse of the Ascent Group would be a good thing, then, but it turns out that this also results in the collapse of Veles itself. You’ll have to fight to survive as social order breaks down and hungry corporate vultures move in to feed on the scraps.
Said survival plays out as something of an action-RPG, with the focus heavily on the action side of things. Your character can equip a variety of weapons and gear, though unlike Diablo these tend to be handcrafted instead of procedurally-generated. Gunplay feels fantastic, with most weapons offering a sizable and significant kick, and there’s plenty of gear options that allow your character to look as goofy as you want.
You can further expand your combat options with cybernetic upgrades, which offer more “magical” abilities like slowing enemy bullets, deploying assistant drones or causing defeated foes to messily explode and damage their allies.
Defeating enemies and completing quests results in experience points, and levelling your character allows you to distribute stat points in several categories such as critical hit rate and reload speed. This is a bit less impactful than some action-RPGs, but again, we’re going for “action” far more than “RPG” here. Given The Ascent’s focus on multiplayer, you’ll find that there’s plenty of room for each member of a four-person team to specialize.
The feel of combat varies significantly based on the size of your team. A full group can smash through armies, stopping only to grab up all the goodies they’ve dropped, but a solo player needs to be a little more cautious. In the latter case, The Ascent ends up feeling more like an action-RPG crossed with a cover shooter, as you slowly push your way through battlefields, dashing from cover to cover and picking off exposed enemies.
Speaking of things that are designed by hand: unlike the seeming majority of action-RPGs these days, The Ascent’s world is all hand-made rather than being designed by device. This is an unusual and interesting twist that gives level design a lot more life than the obvious Lego-snapped-to-a-grid feeling that tends to result in procedurally-generated worlds. Veles feels more lifelike as a result, which lends a little more impact to combat; that’s doubly true given The Ascent’s destructible environments, which collapse as you blast away at your foes.
Likewise, while quests aren’t anything too different from the norm – go here, shoot that guy, find this thing – the fact that the world is designed to account for them helps quite a bit in terms of preventing the game from becoming a slog.
The Ascent’s presentation tends to hit the cyberpunk genre a bit harder than, well, Cyberpunk 2077. We’ve got a little bit more sci-fi flavor in here too, so there’s space for things like alien races and bizarre technologically advanced weapons and augments. It adds up to a compelling setting that’s a joy to explore. In particular, you’ll probably be exploring with others – The Ascent really, really wants you to enjoy multiplayer and feels like it was built around the concept. Grab a couple friends for this one if you want to have the best time.
That’ll be an easy sell for all your Microsoft-having friends – and an easy recommendation for this review – because The Ascent is on Game Pass! You probably ought to have a subscription, you know. If you do, the only risk here is the time it’ll take to download the game, which shouldn’t be a problem for those with speedy connections. Even if you’re paying, though, this is a well-made and enjoyable action-RPG that really shines with friends.