Holocaust, cataclysm, apocalypse; call it what you will. The idea of the end of the world (or any sort of purging for that matter) has always resulted in some intriguing works of fiction, whether it be books, movies, or games for that matter. What will you do in such a situation? Will you put the safety of your family above all and try your best to keep them safe? Will you be a selfish bastard and forsake everything to save your hide? Or will you risk your life lending a helping hand to those in need? AurumDust‘s newly released role playing game Ash of Gods: Redemption puts you in the advent of the apocalypse. Will you be a selfish bastard, a sacrificing hero, or a traumatized survivor? The choice is up to you.
Ash of Gods: Redemption is the narrative driven rpg developed and published by AurumDust. Ash of Gods tries to combine elements of visual novels, tactical turn based combat, rogue-like gameplay and deck building into one nifty package. The game was released on Steam on 23 February 2018 and will get a console release further down the line. But first of all, let’s address the elephant in the room. Ash of Gods is highly inspired by Stoic Entertainment’s The Banner Saga, from the art style to the general gameplay. Stoic has given AurumDus their blessing to to create Ash of Gods. So don’t be surprised when you see similarities between the two games. With that out of the way, let’s get straight into review.
ASH OF GODS: REDEMPTION
Ash of Gods is a narrative driven rpg. That means that the game depends strongly on plot elements and writing to sustain the momentum of its gameplay. The story takes place in an original world called Terminum, a low-fantasy variant of Slavic and East Asian cultures. The story follows several key characters in their plight to survive a cataclysmic event where humanity faces extinction at the hands of strange beings called the reapers. It’s your average “end of the world” story with some politics thrown into the mix. The story is told from the viewpoints of different characters having their own motives and reasons. You are put into the shoes of Blance, an umbra reaper who is trying to strop the reaping, Thorn, a former guard captain and his merry band of survivors, and Lo Pheng, a ninja type of guy raised to forsake all emotions who gets stuck with a group of female refugees. The game switches back and forth between these parties and bridges the narrative together by picking up one where the other left off.
It’s a shame that a game with such a strong focus on the narrative falls down in the writing department. The story isn’t great. But it’s not terrible either. The world and the lore itself is quite interesting. The tone and atmosphere can get quite captivating. The sore thumb here is the quality of the writing. Most of the times it just comes off really amateurish. Especially the dialogues. They are poorly written and most of it doesn’t fit either the character or the tone that they are trying to establish. Characters dialogues don’t match half the time, and when they do, it’s like a bad drama. The main culprit could be the English localization. There are a few grammatical errors here and there too. Although the game benefits in the creative department for having an original setting, it also ensures that there are a lot of exposition dump during dialogues. Apart from a few, most characters are not very likable. It becomes a big problem when the people you’re rooting for are nothing more than 2 dimensional cutouts. It’s such a shame really. The setting has a lot of potential waiting to be tapped in.
What the story gets right, is choices and consequences. If it’s not apparent yet, Ash of Gods lets you make choices; lots of them. These choices are not an illusion, but they have consequences. Throughout the journey, you’ll meet people in distress calling for help. You can either choose to help these poor souls, ignore them or loot and plunder their valuables to fulfill your greed. Depending on your choices and paths you take, it’s easy to miss out on potential companions and events that you might encounter in another playthrough. It’s even possible to loose most of your companions, even main characters and still continue with the remnants. It’s this freedom of choice that makes the average story worthwhile.
Ash of Gods is primarily a visual novel. Hence you’ll be staring at beautifully drawn scenes that carry the story forward most of the time. The player is allowed to interact with the environment, reply to dialogues and make choices while in this mode. While outside the cutscenes, game switches to a beautifully rendered map screen and are given the choice to choose multiple paths and encounter events. The player can camp, speak to the party members and level them up while in this mode. Map travel is relatively quick and instead of using up ration supplies, the currency for travel is magical artifacts known as strixes which protects you from the reaping. Early on, strixes are sparse and it’s easy to block yourself in a position that wipes out your party in one encounter or the next.
The cutscenes are smooth and map travel is fluid. But the UI is all over the place. Take the party management window for example. You have to go through two additional windows excluding the party management window to get to the skill trees. Going back and forth between them is a slow and tedious process. The load times are too long for such a graphically non-demanding title as this (the loading before combat encounters especially). The save system could also use a tweak or two, as it is too easy to save scum to avoid unfavorable situations as of now. There is also a full-fledged PvP mode in place. But unfortunately I couldn’t find anyone playing it online to test it out.
Ash of Gods features a turn-based combat system with a few twists. It is grid based and there are no fixed turn order. Before each battle, you can customize your party, their stats and items. There are wide variety of character classes, with each having their own set of skills and uses. There are skills that use your characters health and there are skills that use up your health. You are free to attack either the health or energy of the opposing party to gain a tactical edge (they can do so too). When energy is depleted, characters receive additional damage to health. So there is definitely strategy involved which follows a high risk-high reward type of scheme. You must choose between skills that use up a lot of health, but does considerable damage vs. skills that use up only a small amount of energy, but does very less damage.
Ash of Gods features a card deck building system too. You can collect cards during your travels that can aid you in combat. This system is surprisingly well implemented. Card can buff you, debuff your enemies, or even change the tide of battle completely. Each card has a round restriction for it to be used. You might even get a last minute save from these bad boys. Plus, the addition of the decks is implemented into the story in such a way that it is well explained and fits in perfectly. This adds some depth to the otherwise simple combat mechanics. There seems to be less RNG dice rolls during combat, which is appreciated.
There are some combat encounters that seems to be designed in such a way that there are only one or two viable methods of beating it. This taken the fun out of the unpredictability of turn based combat. But these are few and far between. The combat animations, for the most part are simple and underwhelming. This results in you not understanding what buffs and debuffs the enemy is activating as there are no textual descriptions for that. But aside from these annoyances, the combat works well and isn’t tacked on by any means.
Visuals, Performance and Sound
Ash of Gods nails the aesthetics down 100%. The Banner Saga inspired art style looks fantastic. There are a lot of details packed onto each scene and characters. It’s visually pleasing experience through and through. That being said, the character sprites could have used one-two more animation variations to fit different scenes, as opposed to the static ones now.
Performance-wise, the game runs on a locked 30 fps. There are a few fps spikes when you use certain skills. But most of the time, it stays at 30. The loading times however, is too long for such a title. The load times before fights is unnecessary long and makes you wait impatiently for the fight to begin. There are some minor bugs related to map travel and conversations being repeated over and over. But the devs frequently release patches and have squashed some of the reported bugs.
When it comes to the music, Ash of Gods delivers in substance and style. The original soundtrack is a collaboration of Adam Skorupa, Krzysztof Wierzynkiewicz, and Michal Cielecki, whose previous work includes The Witcher, Bulletstorm, Painkiller, EVE Online, Call of Juarez, and Shadow Warrior. The orchestral and melodic soundtrack works wonders when traversing the lonely roads in Terminum. It’s extremely atmospheric and pleasing to the ears. That being said, the other sounds like combat and character sounds are pretty generic. The game has only a few lines of voiced narration. The other dialogues are text only, which can be an immersion breaker sometimes. The characters makes some awkward grunting sounds during their turn in dialogues which becomes annoying very fast.
Ash of Gods is definitely a divisive title to recommend at full price. On one hand, the story is weak and the writing is amateurish for what they’re aiming at. But on the other hand, everything from the atmosphere, to the combat system, to the soundtrack is very well done. Fans of the Banner Saga and other similar games will definitely find enjoyment to be had here. But if you come expecting a top-notch story and writing, you’ll be disappointed. However considering all that it offers, one cannot deny the fact that Ash of Gods: Redemption is indeed a solid framework for a future trilogy.