Like most people, I’m a fan of a good yarn. Stories are important, but can they truly carry a video game? After a playthrough of Ash of Gods: Redemption, I’ve decided the answer is, in this instance, no. This turn-based, story strategy game is filled with beautiful sights and sounds, but ultimately it’s hard to shake the fact that it’s both derivative and overly long.
Ash of Gods: Redemption is developer Aurum Dust’s video game adaptation of a series of Russian fantasy novels, set in the Late Middle Ages world of Terminus, a land that occasionally deals with an end of days plague event known as The Reaping. Taking place when world leaders have largely forgotten the fact that the countryside is occasionally beset by hordes of monsters spreading soul draining plague, you play an interweaving story focused on three characters determined to prevent the Reaping from happening.
In this nonlinear development, you play Thorn Brenin, a retired captain of the guard; Hopper Rouley, a wandering healer who is secretly part of an immortal race of sorcerers that protect Terminum; and Lo Pheng, an assassin type character who is basically a ninja Boba Fett. Set over multiple chapters, you will play all three characters as they find a way to stop the apocalypse.
The game is a mish mash of genres: part turn-based strategy, roguelike, strategy card game, and Oregon Trail, for good measure. The gameplay consists of visual, story based cutscenes broken up with turn-based fight sequences when you enter random battles or selecting where your party moves on a map and making choices for your caravan when the story directs you to travel to a new town. These choices have consequences and can make or break the narrative — a selling point that Aurum Dust marketed heavily to the masses when they pushed Redemption through its Kickstarter phase.
From a gameplay perspective, it’s hard to ignore how beautiful this game sounds and looks. I mean, just LOOK at the eye candy in this screenshot:
Seriously, Ash of Gods is gorgeous. Your battles play out like a collection of animated epics set to such a rocking medieval soundtrack you’ll think your partner invited a bard to chill in your home for the weekend. Once you get past the indulgent beauty of its sights and sounds, however, Ash of Gods starts to feel…familiar. Painfully familiar.
The combat, choice mechanics, turn based gameplay, and even story elements feel like a blender salsa version of previous tactical outings. This game rips so heavily off of 2016’s The Banner Saga that my brain actually thought I was playing that game during many formulaic turn based fights. The card game system for buffing your characters during turns looks clever at first but ends up being too sporadic and low impact to make a big difference in gameplay. Traversing the map caravan style in search of a cure for the Reaping also feels incomplete as well. I felt detached while making choices, not really being challenged by any interesting travel mechanic.
It’s apparent the game’s true focus is visual storytelling. You’ll spend many hours locked into screenshot dialogue, watching the character development unfold for your triumvirate of heroes. Unfortunately, even the story fails. There are so many recycled fantasy concepts — immortal wizards, gluttonous merchants, stowaway princes, unstoppable creatures AKA The Ultimate Evil, that the game falls further into the “been there, done that” trap.
It doesn’t help that the by the numbers plot is buried in vague game mechanics, either. The only indication for me most of the time that something “monumental” was happening was an hourglass icon in the dialogue wheel. I never truly got a sense of impact until one of my characters met their untimely end, most likely because of my poor management and sense of ennui. I wondered why I hadn’t been prepared better for it. The game would have benefited immensely if there had been more focus on establishing turning points in the story.
The problem with it is how weighed down by its lofty ambitions. There’s simply too much going on in the game, as if so many components were pulled into this outing that the developers forgot to flesh any of them out. Removing the map traversement, more mechanics in the battle sequences, even a shelving of one of the character narratives to really focus on the other two – any of these strategies would have led to a game that felt more complete and rewarding.
To conclude, I look at Ash of Gods as an earnest attempt to tell a compelling story, but it’s simply too filled with overly familiar game mechanics and fantasy tropes that it lacks originality. If you have a hunger for story based games and feel sorrowful longing for your last Banner Saga foray, maybe this game is for you.