I wrote back in June about my excitement around Neon Giant’s The Ascent. I’ve had the game for the last week and I cannot stop playing. The Ascent is a visceral cyberpunk Action-Shooter RPG full of loot, quests, gore, and mystery. Travel across the world to find out what has happened to The Ascent Group and protect your district.
Neon Giant is a small studio of 12 that began three years ago. They went into the development of The Ascent with the goal of creating grand experiences and high-quality games. This is quite the undertaking for their debut title.
The Ascent takes place on the plane Veles, a jam-packed cyberpunk world in which megacorporations run the show. You are an Indent to The Ascent Group. You live in Cluster 13 of The Ascent Group Arcology, a corporate-run sky-piercing metropolis filled with creatures from across the galaxy. One day The Ascent Group shuts down for unknown reasons and your district is threatened by other corporations moving in to liquidate The Ascent Groups’ assets. Your boss has you take up arms and head out to find out what started all of this mess.
There’s actually a lot more to this story than I was expecting. You have this asshole of a boss, Poone, and he has taken it upon himself, via you, to find out what happened to the board. He will be the source of information early on about everything here at the Arcology. He also will direct you to other big players that will hand out more information later on.
While there is a lot to do for Poone that directly relates to the main quest, there are a ton of side quests to be done. These quests offer a look into the social structures of Veles and how business and enslavement work. In addition to these quests, you will also find data files that give snippets of information about various workings of Veles and its metropolis’.
There is a lot of information if you’re willing to talk with various NPC’s. Topics like how enslavement works, enemies, factions, and megacorporations. I was truly surprised by how much information there is. I am also greatly appreciative of how concise a manner the information is given. You can ask NPC’s about certain topics and in most RPG games, these would be very long-winded but The Ascent gives you just enough as quick as it can to get you back out killing enemies.
Upon seeing the first trailer for The Ascent I felt that I was finally going to be getting the sci-fi Diablo-like that I’ve been waiting for. For the most part, that holds true. However, it is more of an open-world action RPG similar to how Titan Quest works. You have cities full of people to talk with, quests to give out, and shops to upgrade and buy new equipment.
Guns & combat
The gunplay in The Ascent feels great. There are several guns to choose from as you progress through the game. The game offers your standard types of guns such as pistols, shotguns, rifles, and rocket launchers to name a few. There are different guns in the same category and thankfully they feel and look different. The Loot system concerning guns is odd and I plan to touch on that later in the review.
Combat can get chaotic and that is absolutely welcome. Running away from a mob of enemies can sometimes trigger more. What began as 4 can quickly become a dozen or more. You can dodge roll, shoot, throw grenades, or use up to 2 abilities afforded to you through body augmentations.
Cover is important
Neon Giant implemented a cover system into this game. That’s something you don’t really get in isometric games. I wasn’t sure if I would use it. I’ve played countless hours of Diablo and Torchlight, and cover just isn’t needed. however, here you will need it. If you go running into combat you surely signing your death warrant. The Ascent has given you three planes to be shooting on. Press nothing and you shoot at a normal level, hit crouch and you shoot at enemy’s feet and can stager them, hold the right mouse button and you can take headshots and shoot over cover.
This cover mechanic was one that I have come to really enjoy and I would love to see other action RPGs implement it in some way. It’s extremely satisfying to see an enemy up some stairs and you can sneak up and take them out without stairs stopping you.
There are no classes in The Ascent. A fact that does bum me out a little bit but I can look past this. Not having classes allows for you to play how you want. All weapons are able to be used and all augmentations are available to you to use. These Augments are what truly set you apart. Some allow you to create a shockwave that knocks back enemies. Another can launch a barrage of homing missiles. Think of these as your class abilities but anyone can use them. It opens up a lot of creativity for builds.
Speaking of builds, as you level up you will always get 3 skill points. These can be placed into a number of traits that affect your overall attributes. Traits like crit chance, health, armor, evasion, etc. Have fun with these, experiment, and don’t worry you can always respec at the Grafter for some money.
The Ascent Arcology is huge. Navigating it felt so daunting at first. There are multiple levels just to Cluster 13 that it can be quite easy to get lost. You do eventually make some sense of it all but the first few minutes really had me worried. Thankfully the devs saw this and added a nice QoL enhancement for navigation. If you press “O” a trail will illuminate guiding you to your next objective. A real positive in such a huge world full of things that can grab you and make you go “ooooh shiny!”
There are also two options for fast travel that are provided to you. One for free and the other for some ucreds (in-game currency). There are train stations throughout the arcology that will take you to other districts. This option costs nothing and I like the thought that went into it. You walk down to the train platform and wait a few seconds for it to arrive. Get on and make your decision quick though because it’s on a schedule and it will leave without you!
The second option for quick travel shows up after you finish the third mission in the main questline. This is the ability to call a taxi when you are in a quiet place (so no active battles) and you can do this anywhere. It will run you about 1,000 ucreds so be aware your money can go quickly.
Planet Veles is an absolutely stunning cyberpunk place. There is so much detail put into every area in this world. I cannot begin to describe how much time I spend just gawking at all the little details put into this world. The way you can see the various levels looking better and better as you climb The Ascent Arcology really makes you realize you’re enslaved and kept down.
The lighting really gives this game its cyberpunk feel. The neon lights and holographic signs for storefronts are great at setting the perfect atmosphere. There is also just so much going on in this metropolis. Flying vehicles in the background, people moving about the city shopping and talking, military checkpoints, train stations, and more.
This is where I feel this game has risen the bar. The world Neon Giant created is probably the most “alive” I have ever felt a game world be. It’s not just the cities too. Every location you visit has so much going on. So much detail to the area that makes it unique and just oozes life. I truly cannot put into words how awesome this world is they created and for such a small and new team it is extremely impressive.
Sound design is a vital part of any game. It can make guns seem weak or strong. It can be the main element that pulls you and immerses you into the universe the dev created or it can absolutely destroy that connection.
The sound design is really quite awesome here. This paired with the visuals is what gives this game such life. The cities have so much going on in them. You can hear the vehicles flying by, the train horns, the machines that run everything, people talking to one another as you walk by. It helps support all that you see running on your screen and really serves to pull you in.
The weapons have a depth to their shots. The small pistol is quick and tinny while your shotguns have a thunderous punch to them. Rockets and explosions have a large echoing blast and debris raining down. It makes each gun sound unique and can make for some really intense battles.
You have a lot of audio options to choose from but by far Indent mode with headphones is the best way to play. It essentially makes it that you hear what your player hears. As you walk close to people talking their conversations get louder and then quieter as you walk by. It’s a greater level of immersion that makes this world and game so great.
With this being a new and small team I was actually blown away by the fact that all of the cutscenes are voice acted. The production value is really quite good. Each character has a lot of personality to it and a very believable voice. The game isn’t fully voice acted though. Outside of main missions when you speak to other people they have a gibberish language leaving you to read subtitles. This all works really well though and once again exceeded my expectations going in.
Despite the copious praise I have for this game, it is not without its faults. There are only a few issues I have, and none of them is a deal-breaker. I mentioned one above, the way guns are handled, and the other would be the map and menu UI.
Loot is a fundamental mechanic for games like this. The prospect of killing enemies and getting their weapons, or finding that chest with rare loot is a driving force in these games. The Ascent handles your armor how you would expect. Each piece has its own look and stats. You can get duplicates but there is definitely a lot of variation from your head, torso, and legs. Guns however are handled kind of odd.
You find weapon components throughout Veles and these can be used at the Gun Smith to upgrade your weapons. So Say you upgrade your MK 1 pistol to a MK 2 pistol, the game then applies this upgrade to all of the same pistols that you find. Essentially once you find 1 of each weapon you’re good. You will get a bunch of duplicates and their only purpose is to sell for money. There is zero variation between the assault rifle you got 2 hours in and the rifle that drops 10 hours in. No stat changes, no difference at all. It all feels hollow and slapped together.
It’s not a deal-breaker at all though, there are plenty of guns to play with but I would have loved to see different stats as I got into the late game. With this system, you end up just upgrading the same guns over and over and the only newness to it all is when you find a whole new weapon.
The Map and inventory UI
I’ve said it a number of times, Veles is quite large. You need to rely on your map and mini-map quite a lot. Unfortunately, the map is a pain to read. The mini-map is far more forgiving in that sense. This makes navigation difficult when trying to see how to get to a certain location in a given area. You see a chest and want to find out how to get there? Good luck, it’s not clear at all.
The other problem with the map is it shows a plethora of markers from quests, chests, train stations, elevators, and more. However, you can’t mark any of those so that they show up in your mini-map. That paired with a not-so-clear map makes finding these objects really a thing of luck. It can be quite frustrating and I truly hope there is a way this can be addressed.
Now the menu UI. I like what they have there but for a game that has a lot of stats, it doesn’t make it clear what those stats mean. The armor section, specifically the “Defense” category, has four categories (Physical, Energy, Digital, Fire) and while most of them I can guess what they mean, they aren’t ever really explained. Like, do energy weapons also do Digital damage? It’s unclear. It would be nice if I could hover and see what that damage is so I know what I am trying to protect myself from.
Also, the codex is intense to scroll through. You have to hover over the options and as you do that either a video pops up relating to that or some kind of holographic image. As you play the game this codex gets large and scrolling through causes all kinds of flashing lights. It would be much nicer if I had to click on a topic to learn about it. This would allow for safer, less chaotic, scrolling.
While The Ascent isn’t 100% a sci-fi Diablo, it is an amazing entry into a genre that desperately needs more than just fantasy settings. The world is full of life and is one of the best cyberpunk worlds I have had the pleasure of playing a game in. The action is fast, visceral, and will satisfy your twin-stick shooter desires. It has online and local 4 player co-op (sadly I did not get to try this for the review) and has around 15-20 hours of content. I highly recommend this game. I cannot wait to see what more Neon Giant can bring to the table.
- Name: The Ascent
- Genre: Action-Shooter RPG
- Developer: Neon Giant
- Publisher: Curve Digital
- Release: July 29, 2021
- Platform: Steam, Xbox One, X,S, Series X,S
- Price: $29.99, £24.99, €29.99
Disclaimer: The Ascent was provided to me by the developer Neon Giant for review.
The Ascent has a ton to offer to fans of ARPG’s. Its fast, visceral action and cyberpunk setting is a refreshing addition to a stagnant genre.