Ash of Gods: Redemption Review
Ash of Gods: Redemption is a gruelling high fantasy tactical game mixed with Oregon Trail map traversal and survivalist elements, and choose-your-own-adventure style text storytelling. The game has a distinctive rotoscoped quality to it and at its best — especially during animated cutscenes — it looks like a painting or like the cover of a fantasy novel come to life. Unfortunately, you’ll be spending most of the game watching over-the-shoulder conversations between two characters with blank gazes on their face and reading non-voice-acted text.
The story is at turns ambitious, inconsistent and confounding. The land has been besieged by a cataclysmic event called the reaping, which is very similar to the threat of the Wight Walkers in the Game of Thrones franchise. Undying are roaming through the countryside slaughtering many and spreading a sickness which causes those who catch it to go mad. One of your characters is a respected general protecting his cursed daughter, one is a bodyguard and assassin sent with a group of fugitive women to kill someone, and one is a more knowledgeable mage, who is sent to hunt down the general because he has accidentally taken the Prince’s son into his party. It is made clear that the prince’s son and the general are on good terms and there is no kidnapping, so I could not figure out why — in a world of untold magic and mystery — the general could not simply send a letter out explaining that he did not kidnap the prince. A simple letter would solve the entire storyline. Many of the story beats also revolve around someone getting cursed or having to be cured from a curse, or infected by the reaping which is somehow a separate curse. Scenes play out with someone explaining a great deal of information — which the player may already know — to another character who has not heard said information. You’ll find yourself listening and re-listening to the same explanations over and over. I was also taken aback at the level of simplistic and borderline misogynist treatment of women in the assassin storyline. Again, you are traveling with an all-women gang of fugitives and virtually every encounter you have when you start off with them is a man indicating that he is either horny for these women or that he would like to join your party to marry them. It does not seem like the game is subverting these tropes either.
In one scene, you may be speaking to a deceptive shopkeeper and have to decide whether or not to trust him, or perhaps you’ll encounter someone in a desolate forest asking you for help and you will have to decide whether to devote valuable time and resources to assisting them or not. Other times, you’ll be sitting there reading a deluge of information about characters who you’ve never seen or met, and backstories on characters that are off-screen. If your eyes glaze over reading these, you may be absolutely screwed later on when meeting said character and forgetting exactly what they want and how to properly deal with them. You play three different characters in the game, and these stories play out functionally the same. You can make fairly evil or cruel choices with any of the characters, even though some are supposed to be more honourable than others. The results of the choices can also feel arbitrary at times. In the first chapter, whether you buy an item of clothing or a piece of jewellery dictates the death of a later character. You make so many choices, however, that it’s fun to watch various scenarios play out. The game excels when you make a decision in one storyline and then see the ramifications of that decision as another character.
The combat takes place on small turn-based grids and each battle typically has one big issue or gimmick that needs to be dealt with. I found it was very difficult to learn and the tutorial did not do a great job explaining the various systems at play. Furthermore, the button mapping is bizarre and unintuitive on consoles. The controls are meant to simulate a mouse clicking on the battlefield, but you’ll often find yourself forgetting to double tap buttons to select, as you would double click a mouse. Many actions that you think would work on the analog stick only work on the D-pad, and vice versa. Fire Emblem: Three Houses this is not. The UI could be better at explaining your options. I often found myself realising that I could still finish my turn after moving and perform a secondary action with some characters, but not others. I am sure there is a logic to this, but I could not discern it. One thing I will say for the battle system is that it is completely straightforward in terms of what your attacks will do and what the enemies are capable of, and there are no random events of arbitrary misses.
The game lacks polish, too. There was a bug I kept encountering where I would try to use one of the special cards in a battle, and the card’s action would not be performed, and it would just hover over the middle of the screen until the battle ended. I found I had to close the game down and restart it to get past this. There were times that I would attack an enemy and nothing would happen and my turn would be lost. I still do not know if those instances were bugs or gameplay nuances that hadn’t been explained to me. After having an extremely tough time with this system, I decided to restart the game on story mode, which is a mode that allows the player to go through the story and adventure sections of the game while the game essentially plays the battles for you. I found this mode frustrating too, as it still made me watch the battles play out, even though I had no input over them. I also could not decipher the choices the AI was making to go back to my other game and try to learn from them as the AI battles went too fast to see what actions the computer was taking. So I was just wasting my time watching these minutes-long battles for absolutely no reason. During battles, there was also a consistent stutter in the game, so some of the animations would be jarring and lacking any sort of fluidity, which is bizarre given that it is a 2D isometric game.
Ash of Gods: Redemption is an intriguing and ambitious game that doesn’t come together and feels like a chore to play. There is much here to laud — the visual panache, the many different characters and meticulously crafted world — that are hampered by opaque battle systems, tedious and inconsistent writing, and a punishing traversal system. However, if you have the patience and are willing to learn the ins and outs of the game, you may enjoy the surprise and tension making a wide array of choices that affect a grand narrative.
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