By Josh Speer / April 13th, 2018
|Title||Ash of Gods: Redemption|
|Release Date||March 23rd, 2018|
|Genre||Tactical RPG, Rogue-like, Adventure|
|Platform||PC, mobile, PS4, XBox One|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Violence, Blood, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol|
I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to review Ash of Gods: Redemption. I’m a fan of both tactical RPGs and rogue-likes, and this game juggles elements of both. But how well it could balance those features was a constant nagging question mark in my head. Nevertheless, I liked the style and ambition of the game, so I went into it knowing nothing other than the genre. Did Ash of Gods: Redemption prove a successful blend of two genres, or was it too ambitious for its own good?
For those totally unversed with the game, the best way I could describe it briefly is as The Oregon Trail if it were a tactical RPG. There are plenty of differences, but that constant sense of uncertainty and danger which permeates the classic game is very much on display in Ash of Gods. The premise of the game is that the land of Terminum is being threatened by a phenomenon referred to as a Reaping. This magical assault turns men into raving lunatics, infects many with a strange sickness, summons unearthly masked creatures called Enses, and heralds in the coming of the truly monstrous Reapers. It was prevented by the noble sacrifice of god-like heroes long ago, but now the Reaping will likely crash through the land unabated, assuming that our unlikely heroes are unable to rise up to stop it. Thematically, there is a lot of despair, mystery and menace on display in the game, with tons of life and death decisions you’ll be making with unexpected results. It plays out in a series of chapters, with control switching between three separate groups of characters that will eventually converge at the end of the game. I appreciated this, since it allowed me to see different sides of the story (you even get to play the cold-hearted Eikon, Lo Pheng). That said, the bulk of the story is focused on the mysterious scribe Hopper Rouley, who is much more than he appears, and Thorn Brenin and his daughter Gleda. Their personal conflicts are just as important as the overarching theme of finding a way to stop the Reaping.
One way this game diverges from many tactical RPGs is the use or the Strix system. Simply put, Strixes are magical charms, and all that prevent your party members from succumbing to the Reaping’s curse as you travel and fight. When a unit is defeated in battle, they will get a wound marker (represented as red skulls), and if you get too many, you’ll lose that unit for good. Traveling with zero Strixes also means you will get wound markers each time you move on the map, instead of just when you lose a unit in battle. Human characters will constantly drain Strixes as they travel. Thankfully, these markers can be removed by paying a certain amount of Strixes at a campsite. My issue with this feature is that you never seem to have enough Strixes on hand, since you need them to safely travel and to heal, though you can get more by buying items full of them and by winning battles. This definitely made the first part of the game a challenge, since when I started playing there was no clear indication of how many Strixes would be drained on a given path across the world map. Thankfully, the developers recently did a massive update which clarified this and other issues, and made the second half of my playthrough much less confusing.
Another way Ash of Gods innovates is with the battle system. While it has the standard tactical mechanics such as selecting a unit, moving them where you want and initiating attacks, there are some noteworthy quirks. For one thing, movement on the battlefield and use of attacks often costs energy. When attacking a unit with zero energy, you can deal double damage if you select their yellow energy sphere (as opposed to their red health sphere). Since some enemies have very low energy, you can get a marked advantage by using attacks to quickly whittle it down, then hitting them for double damage and annihilating them. Not every ability costs energy, however, as some instead are activated by spending your health directly. When combined with passive abilities such as Bloodlust, which heals you every time you kill a foe, things can get complicated pretty quickly. One minor complaint I had with regard to combat is that oftentimes I wasn’t sure what was triggering certain effects for my foes. I would check their passive abilities, and see nothing that would boost them, only to find them randomly getting defense or offense boosts during battle.
Though I mostly enjoyed the combat system, there were aspects of it that I found a bit frustrating. For one thing, it’s hard to boost your teams, since you can’t grind in random battles. Another complaint I had is with the magic card system. Each turn you can pick one from your deck of cards, and get various effects such as healing a unit, stealing energy from a foe and more. The problem is that if you use a magic card, that immediately ends your turn. As such, they felt more of a hindrance than a help in some situations. Something I found totally peculiar is how, even if all the enemy units have taken a turn for a given round, if your entire team hasn’t, any foe on the map can attack again until you do. This combined with the nature of magic cards made them incredibly risky, since leaving foes open to attack with impunity often resulted in them sniping my teammates with the lowest health. Another frustration I felt was with regard to character classes. While there are many different classes, it’s not that clear what their individual strengths and weaknesses are until you use them in battle. Even then, two units of the same class can have different passive abilities. Unlike in some tactical RPGs, where class strengths and weaknesses are clearly illustrated, in Ash of Gods, it’s a dangerous game of chance.
As far as aesthetic design, I was really quite pleased with the game. The lush hand drawn art style reminds me of classic fantasy, much like a cartoon Lord of the Rings. While your units are well animated, bursting with energy and personality, there was a missed opportunity. Namely, while there are many different types of enemies, they are all humanoid. You won’t find any four-legged foes, nothing with tentacles or wings, or animals of any sort. That’s not to say they aren’t well animated—they are—but it starts to look a bit samey after a while. Another minor irritation is that some cutscenes overstay their welcome. A few times I had to wait for a good minute for my entire team to slowly walk from one side of the screen to another. Instead I wish they used the comic cutscenes found in the rest of the game. On the side of music, I have absolutely zero complaints. The musical score for Ash of Gods is transcendent, full of tribal cheers and screams, brassy percussion and lots of classical instruments. I was utterly captivated by the music, and the sound effects were also punchy and attention grabbing. Not only will the music get your blood pumping, it does a good job of capturing the dire melancholy of the world of Terminum in aural form.
The story is vast and interesting, but it felt like being dropped into the middle of The Wheel of Time series, with a lot of names of countries and battles that have little context to back them up. Also like that series, there is a ton of dialogue in the game. While I don’t mind doing my fair share of reading, things tend to be unnecessarily loquacious, and something that could be said in a couple sentences is instead relegated to entire paragraphs. No matter how well written, I still found it occasionally irritating. In part due to this, it was beyond hard to keep all the secondary characters and lore straight, such as when one witch gave me a list and asked which character on it wasn’t a witch, and I failed repeatedly and was forced to fight challenging battles as a result. My largest frustration came when I managed to get the worst ending in the game after 16 hours, and the narrative essentially rubbed my nose in it, saying how I missed the signs that could have led to victory. Even though the game indicates which decisions have long-reaching effects, it is no easy task finding the proper path through the narrative. Granted, you can probably try an online FAQ to fix this, but it’s a shame it’s so well hidden.
All in all, I was mostly pleased with Ash of Gods: Redemption. It attempts to mesh two vastly different genres and mostly succeeds. While there are rough spots that were frustrating, I still was able to get through the game without too much difficulty. After my time with the game, I got about 32% of the achievements, meaning there’s still a lot left to discover, including at least six more endings. Though some aspects of the game weren’t as streamlined as I would have liked, I still managed to enjoy my time with it. For $24.99, you really can’t go wrong, especially if you’re a fan of tactical RPGs.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Ash of Gods: RedemptionoprainfallOregon trailPCReviewrogue-likeTactical RPG