Review: Neon Lights and Gunfights in The Ascent

Screenshot: The Ascent I think there’s a severe lack of fun action role-playing games (ARPGs) lately, especially those that go away from the sword and sorcery theme for something a little bit more futuristic. The Ascent is full-blown sci-fi cyberpunk dystopian, and while I wouldn’t have personally thought of that as a great setting for an ARPG, it turns out that it’s an incredibe fit, especially for the combination of explosive gunplay and grungy neon washed out sci-fi streets. The Ascent is a top-down action role-playing game (ARPG) that takes place in a dystopian cyberpunk world. You play as a new employ of Poone—a gangster with a list of jobs that’ll make sure you have no shortage of enemies to shoot at. Because The Ascent is all about fast top-down gunplay. And that gunplay is phenomenal, for the most part. Especially graphically: The Ascent is a gorgeous game with an insane amount of detail in every level. Game fidelity is getting ridiculous, and The Ascent is at the forefront, graphically.  But graphics aren’t the only thing that make a game—it has to be fun. Screenshot: The Ascent Combat in The Ascent is great. You can use a number of different guns and augments to take on groups of enemies. Unlike most games, especially ARPGs,  enemies aren’t the only NPCs on the screen, as groups of enemies are often amongst groups of civilians who flee in panic as bullets fly around them. There aren’t really any penalties for killing them, however—though I do feel bad if I take out a group of non-combatants in a pitched firefight. Either way, I appreciate the dynamic and even world building it provides. But guns aren’t the only way to deal damage, as there are dozens of grenade types and even augments that you can use to damage your enemies—or buff yourself/allies. While not entirely strange for a shooter, I’ve never played an ARPG with cover mechanics before. The Ascent allows you to hide behind cover, but also shoot high or low. This allows you to not only shoot above cover, but to hit things that might be higher than chest height or so for your character. While most isometric games do a sort of “auto-aim” for characters that are at a higher elevation, The Ascent makes you manage that on your own—which adds a surprising amount of dynamics to the pitched gun battles. Screenshot: The Ascent The Ascent doesn’t really have classes. Instead, the way you build your character using their skills and augments changes the way they play the most. This makes it easy for you to change their play style as you ascend through The Ascent’s levels. Unfortunately, I do still miss the ability to spend points into character specialization—and while you certain can allocate points to stats, it’s not to the same degree that having specialized classes would afford. Still, with the amount and types of augments available, it’s possible to combine them to make unique playstyles. Since The Ascent is an ARPG, you better believe there’s multiplayer. You’re able to play The Ascent in full multiplayer—with up to three other players—but I spent my entire playthrough solo. I’d love to try it out with friends, though—not only is everything better with friends, but The Ascent’s style of violence would be better suited with more people with more guns watching your back. I found the single player experience a little difficult at times, since you’re easily flanked and overwhelmed. Using The Ascent’s cover mechanics are harder because of this, too.  It should be noted, however, that despite The Ascent being built with multiplayer in mind, there is no crossplay compatibility between the Xbox version and the Steam version—so those on PC who want to play with their friends should be sure to choose appropriately. Screenshot: The Ascent The Ascent is extremely fun, but it’s not perfect. Navigating its confusing streets and corridors can become overwhelming—thankfully there’s a navigation system to make its labyrinthine areas much more manageable. I think my biggest gripe has to do with the gear. While The Ascent does have some interesting and powerful weapons and armor, initially knowing exactly what the stats on each piece of gear is trying to convey isn’t always easy. This is especially true for armor, which is lined with a bunch of initially (to me) inexplicable numbers. For someone who plays a lot of ARPGs, it’s hard to get away from the normal “Strength, Vitality, etc.” type of stats and replace them with The Ascent’s version—which don’t always have a 1:1 equivalent to their sword and sorcery counterparts. The Ascent is fun, and most likely better with friends. My next move is to try and get a group together to run through it, but for now I’ll just have to enjoy The Ascent’s brand of neon flashing cyberpunk violence on my own.  If you’re a fan of ARPGs and want a solid game that does things a little differently, The Ascent should be a good match. The Ascent is available now for PC via Steam and for Xbox Series S|X and Xbox One.       If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. You can also catch us streaming games we’re reviewing and staff favorites on our Twitch channel.
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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.