Veles, a planet of opportunity with a twist: A cost of entry so high that most live in servitude, indentured to massive corporations. When the largest of these Mega-Corps suddenly goes bust you are tasked with restoring order and stopping a violent and brutal land grab in Neon Giant’s cyberpunk inspired looter shooter — The Ascent.
The first thing that jumps out about The Ascent is not only how great it looks, but how much activity there is on Veles. World simulations like GTA and Red Dead Redemption take interactivity to the extreme but the team over at Neon Giant have really put the effort in with The Ascent. From the dark depths of the inner bowels of the engineering of Veles massive sub structures; where gears whine, steam vents from broken pipes and lights flicker casting ominous shadows through the damp tunnels; to the densely populated markets of the high street district awash with neon lights, shops, cafes and market stalls. Veles is alive.
But not just alive, it’s massive. There’s a real sense of scale here, it’s not just a pokey level being used as a vehicle for a side mission, everything is connected and many areas feel like something you are more likely to see in 2000ADs Mega Cities.
Skyscrapers, factories, garages, bars and shops, all to be explored but the background swiftly reminding you that even though the maps are massive you are only really touching the smallest pieces of Veles that the developers want you to and that there could be so much more to explore and see if the franchise takes off. Even the design of Veles promotes exploration as you delve into the multi-layered districts uncovering new paths or alternative entrances and exits hiding all that precious loot.
Viewed from the third person but at a distance, players view The Ascent from an almost isometric camera. The attention to detail previously mentioned is great but it would be great to play this game in first person, would it play differently — yes but getting closer into the world is something I think most players would also want
The Ascent lends much from action RPGs like Diablo although isn’t as extreme in it’s loot variations opting instead to focus in on a few handfuls of equipment and weapon types rather than the hundreds or thousands in Blizzard’s last generation release. There are no preset classes either, so starting vanilla, players can invest skill points earned into any of the eight stats available to create a focused character or a Jack of all trades. Given loot has no prerequisite for stats, your investment in them is more aligned to your play style or how you want to focus damage or defense.
Aside from basic RPG stats players can also mix and match a number of tactical weapons which charge via damaging enemies, augmentations — which are like special offensive abilities, and modules which usually offer a positive buff whilst equipped. Most of these options are aligned with certain stat types; so if you want a tank archetype — you could focus on physical attributes buffed by damage reducing modules and gear offering increased health — or for a hard-hitting ninja — instead opt for high critical hits, damage bonus modules and high evasion gear.
Strategically The Ascent starts to play to its mechanics the more you progress. Robots and ballistic weapons don’t mix, head into later story missions with no energy weapons and it’s almost impossible to pass. You can find yourself in some frustrating scenarios when an automated checkpoint kicks you back after death to an area you already found difficult or were under leveled for. Given there’s no inventory weight cap though, there’s no reason to not carry everything you find and swap out on the fly as required.
There’s a story I won’t spoil here but it introduces many of the mechanics of The Ascent whilst being very enjoyable with some great scripting, voice acting and memorable characters. Definitely not for kids, the local corporate slime-ball has a mouth that would make even the most proficient user of derogatory slang blush. It can be played as a single player affair in addition to both local couch and online co-op but in a weird twist there’s no options for joining games in progress without an invite (probably part of the day one patch).
It’s also great to see The Ascent hit Microsoft’s Game Pass on Day One but if you do pick this up digitally it’s even better that you also get the PC version included. The Ascent looks and runs amazingly well on the Series X, it’s smooth and whilst the load times are few and far between they are pretty snappy. The experience was comparable on my pc with an RTX2080 although with RTX enabled I took a decent frame drop so those with less capable systems may need to accept some graphical degradation.
A fresh new potential franchise starts well with an amazing, well crafted environment; good mechanics and entry into a genre that isn’t overly saturated by an army of clones released year on year. Fairly balanced and fun with both friends near and far, The Ascent shows what’s possible with the Series X and clearly places Neon Giant on the map as a developer to watch closely.
The Ascent is available now on Xbox Series X and PC.