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The Ascent Review: A Cyberpunk Action RPG That Dreams Are Made Of

The Ascent Review
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The Ascent's bustling, colorful dystopian future will have you hooked and coming back for more.

The Ascent
$29.99
Rating
star star star star star
Pros
  • Gorgeous world filled with life
  • A big spread of insanely fun-to-use weapons
  • Weapons don't have random stat rolls
  • Excellent combat
  • Engaging story with fun quests
  • Online co-op and couch co-op
  • Awesome music
  • Exciting abilities and a variety of character build options
Cons
  • Online co-op is buggy
  • There's no endgame content
  • No cross-play between PC and Xbox/Xbox Game Pass

The moment you step into the world of The Ascent, you know you’re in for a good time. What you might not know is how addicted to it you’re about to become. The Ascent is a brand-new action RPG from Neon Giant Games and Curve Digital, set in a dystopian cyberpunk-themed future on a planet called Veles. It released on July 29 for PC via Steam, as well as Xbox Game Pass, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X | S.

It’s packed with action, rich and oftentimes challenging combat, and a gorgeous world that you can’t help but want to explore. The only downside to the beauty the game offers is that there’s no easy way to visually explore every nook and cranny. Since this is an isometric action RPG, instead of first-person, there’s a lot of amazing scenery you just might miss if you aren’t paying attention. And that’s partly why I spent upwards of 20+ hours over what it takes to beat the game running around its many areas.

It’s a somewhat bittersweet feeling. Because Neon Giant Games has crafted a wonderful game world. But it’s all too easy to gloss over the finer details. Of which there are many.

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Having said that, The Ascent commands your attention from the beginning. And you’d be surprised at how difficult it might be not to give it. Aside from the landscape laden with neon signs and lively NPCs, the game is filled to the brim with excitement. In short, this is a game you don’t want to miss out on if you enjoy the action RPG genre. It’s so good we added it to our Best PC Games list, and it’s the most fun I’ve had in a game since last year’s release of Ghost of Tsushima. Which I couldn’t put down till I finished it. Even if you’ve never played an action RPG before, give this one a try. Because it’s well worth it.

The Ascent does a lot of things well, but it really nails the combat

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By and large the best part of The Ascent is the combat. I don’t say this to take away from the other elements of the game. I was thoroughly engaged in The Ascent’s story, sitting on the edge of my seat around every twist and turn.

But the combat is truly something special. Built on a foundation of carefully crafted and well-thought out weapons, combat in The Ascent goes into overdrive when you start applying augments and mods to your character build. This is where things really take off and combat gets way, way more interesting.

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Of course you’ll have to advance the main story progress to start accessing these. But once you do, every single encounter becomes a lot more fun. And, the scope of the different augments and weapons is going to be necessary. While you can get by in parts of the game with early weapons, later encounters and certain enemies will be harder to take down unless you have a specific weapon in your loadout. The same goes for augments.

Test out all the augments

Some encounters will be nigh impossible unless you equip certain augments. Although you can supplement this with a higher level if you’re willing to put in that grind time. But that would take away from the fun. One of the best parts about The Ascent’s combat is the augments and what they allow you to do.

Like the Neutron Beam – a giant continuous energy beam that shoots out from a chest augment, scaled down from a class III mech weapon. My current favorite character build is to equip Neutron Beam and pair it with the Overclock augment. Which lets you gain a rapid recharge for health, tactical recharge, and energy, while also giving you a boost to your weapon reload speed.

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With this setup you’re basically a walking energy cannon with a constantly recharging beefy health bar that reloads guns in the blink of an eye. And because Overclock regens your energy too, you can often find yourself popping multiple Neutron Beams in a short period of time.

If you want something that works a little bit quicker, there’s the Homing Him. This lets you fire a barrage of homing missiles at enemies who are close to medium range. Or, there’s the Mono Defender. A deployable mech that tanks enemy damage for you and keeps enemy aggro while you mag dump rounds into them.

There are a lot of options here that are well suited for various situations. Whether it’s an onslaught of exploding mech spiders or waves of human enemies. Just when you think things are getting stale or you’ve found your favorite, The Ascent serves you up a new augment that turns the gameplay on its head.

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Take the time to do the side quests and explore the map

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The meat and potatoes of the game is definitely the main story quests. They’ll advance the storyline and open up the ability to get certain weapons, armor, augments, and mods, and unlock new areas in the game. But don’t skip the side quests.

Oftentimes these will take you to new parts of Veles that you may have unlocked but haven’t explored yet. And who knows what you might find? After nearly 50 hours of gameplay in The Ascent since its launch, I’ve picked up every chest. And scoured almost every corner of the planet that you’re allowed to go.

You’ll need the chests as some of them will contain useful and necessary weapon upgrade materials. And some of the side quests will lead you to the areas where these are hiding. You can freely explore some of these areas as well, but it’s easier if you have a side quest that leads you to them. As you’ll be able to employ the use of the navigation.

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In addition, some of the side quests will reward you with unique weapons. Or at the very least, get you to an area where one might be discoverable. One example is The Dealbreaker. A giant 200-round mini gun that, while slow to spin up, obliterates everything in its path once it gets going. You’ll find this tucked away in a corner of the Silo 86 area towards the end of the game. But it’s easy to miss.

Case in point, don’t skip these quests. And explore the map. The rewards are worth putting in the time and then some.

Online co-op is buggy, which is a shame

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The Ascent is a hell of a lot of fun to play solo. But it’s even more fun with friends. The problem, is that the online co-op feature is still pretty buggy right now. If you’re not careful, you could end up losing your game save files or your entire list of weapons.

While I didn’t personally lose my weapon loadouts, I did end up losing my game save which had a level 27 character after I was 2/3 of the way done with the game. Luckily, I made a backup of the Steam save file just in case.

There’s no doubt that Neon Giant Games is working on a permanent fix for this issue. And after it’s implemented, the co-op is likely going to be a blast that breathes new life into the game for me. For now though, you may want to proceed with caution if you’re thinking about heading to Veles with a friend.

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If you can’t wait to try out the co-op mode, back up your save files if you can. Then give it a whirl.

Pay attention to weapon stats

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While The Ascent doesn’t have any random stat rolls on weapons, many of them do offer unique abilities to your gunplay. Some weapons, like the HCF Heat hand cannon you can pick up early on in the game if you look for it, have burn damage. And this is invaluable against human (organic) enemies. You can use these to apply burn damage and if the fire doesn’t kill them, your remaining shots will. Some weapons also have increased knockback effects.

You also have weapons that are uniquely positioned to do high damage against mech enemies. Like the Bitsplit shotgun you got as a pre-order reward. Unfortunately you had to buy the game before August 5 to get this weapon. But there are other weapons in-game that do increased damage against non-organic enemies.

Then there’s weapons like the EBR Enforcer which come with energy bullets that also have light tracking. So as long as you’re shooting in the general direction of your enemies, the bullets will land more times than not. Allowing you to fire more safely from behind cover.

Speaking of which, taking cover is an important element in the game that has been baked into its combat. While you won’t necessarily need this all the time, especially if you have the right stats and augments, some battles will require it. So don’t shy away from hiding if the situation seems like it might call for it.

The verdict

The Ascent is not a perfect game. There are some obvious flaws that aren’t too hard to pick up on. The online co-op issues for one. The intense grind at the very end of the game for another. But most of the issues are drowned out by the bright spots.

A story that’s easy to get into and a wild ride of chaotic combat that’s more of a challenge not to get hooked on than some of the combat itself. For $30, The Ascent delivers a thrilling gameplay experience that is hard to beat. And if you already subscribe to Game Pass, well.. then the game is basically free.

If you’ve yet to step into the world of The Ascent, I highly recommend you do yourself a favor and check it out.