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Ash of Gods: Redemption is a narrative RPG from AurumDust Studio based on a novel series by Sergey Malitsky and the first thing everyone notices about it, is how similar it looks to Stoic Studio's The Banner Saga. From presentation and combat to the world map and even some of the characters, the similarities are clear and obvious.
However, keep in mind that Banner Saga-like is not exactly an oversaturated genre. And in fact, the Stoic developers themselves have endorsed this game. A couple of them even appear within Ash of Gods during a random event and joke about the perceived similarities. So, with that out of the way, let's take a look at Ash of Gods and see what it's all about.
Ash of Gods is set in a fantasy world of Terminum during what's known as the Reaping. The game opens with a brief prologue that introduces us to the Umbra, a race of immensely powerful humanoid beings from another world. Some of the Umbra try to coexist with the humans of Terminum, while the others transform into Reapers in an attempt to resurrect their dead gods by sacrificing the humans.
When the game starts proper, seven hundred years have passed since the previous Reaping and the Terminum people have forgotten all about it. This allows the Umbra to plot, scheme, and manipulate everything and everyone, resulting in a story filled with political intrigue, large-scale conflicts, and double-crossing.
We'll be experiencing this story by following three separate protagonists with their own unique storylines that all converge at the end. Hopper is an Umbra who failed his mission during the previous Reaping and now seeks atonement by acting as a healer. Thorn is a former guard captain of a rural town and a decorated war hero. And Lo Pheng is an emotionless hired blade who's a ninja in all but name.
Surprisingly, the frequent perspective shifts are handled extremely well and don't make you grit your teeth every time they happen. The interconnected stories don't feel disjointed and offer a nice change of pace.
Just like in The Banner Saga, the story is told through a series of vignettes where the characters talk with one another or move from place to place. AurumDust's artists are top notch and their animations are a joy to look at, which immediately pulls you into the story and makes you want to learn more.
On top of that, as the player you get to chose how the story unfolds by deciding which paths your characters and their respective companions take. And the limited, and constantly dwindling, resources create some nice tension and add a welcome layer of resource management.
Now, before I get to the bad parts, allow me to stress that I greatly enjoyed Ash of Gods' overall story, pacing and presentation. There are definitely plenty of talented people over at AurumDust. However, their translators and writers, or rather whoever adapted Sergey Malitsky's writing for a video game, leave a lot to be desired.
The translation is far from perfect and has plenty of easy to spot typos and some odd word choices, but it's not terrible. With the developers not being native English speakers, I can understand how they wouldn't be able to gauge the quality of the translation themselves. And considering that they seem determined to fix the issues based on user reports, I can't really fault them there.
Now, when it comes to the actual moment-to-moment writing, the best thing I can say about it, is that it's uneven. Some of it is quite good, namely the chapter subtitles and scene descriptions. The dialogues, on the other hand, oftentimes make little to no sense and are painful to read. Every single line is more akin to a long-winded monologue. A very stiff, redundant, and needlessly verbose monologue.
There's no distinction between character voices, every conversation takes several unnecessary detours before getting to the point, and so on. It's like the antithesis of what good video game dialogue should be. Getting through Ash of Gods' bloated dialogue feels like a chore. There's no consistency and characters often act in inexplicably contradictory ways.
In one scene, Thorn's friend berates him for killing what's essentially a bunch of ravenous zombies because they used to be people. In the next, he advocates cold-blooded murder of one of his sane and quite friendly underlings for next to no reason. And that's just one example on a very long list.
What's also annoying is how the dialogue options you get to chose from can be misleading at times. Early on, the mayor asks Thorn about his business at the market. Trying to play Thorn as a reserved man of little words, I chose an evasive option, something along the lines of “just browsing.” Somehow, that led to Thorn abruptly ending the conversation and storming off.
And while I'm not familiar with Sergey Malitsky's work, a quick search tells us that he's a prolific writer with some literary awards under his belt. As such, I can not believe that the source material is the issue here. During the first few hours, the game bombards you with a shrapnel of weird-sounding proper nouns. None of these names and places mean anything to you at that point and only serve to confuse you. I just can't see an accomplished author making such an obvious “baby's first fantasy novel” mistake, so I have to assume that something must have gone wrong during the book to video game adaptation process.
My biggest piece of advice for approaching Ash of Gods is to not read too carefully. Just scan the text, get the general gist of things and move on. That way, you'll get an enjoyable story packed with intrigue, mysteries and exciting twists. Ignore this warning, and you will likely be uninstalling the game after your first session with it.
Now, on a more positive note, Ash of Gods was advertised as a game with “rogue-like storytelling.” What it initially seemed to mean, was that you could choose where your characters went and only had a single, constantly-overriding autosave slot to work with. However, that's not exactly the case.
Your short-term decisions can lead to you running out of resources and losing some of your people. Such scarcity can force you to act in a variety of unsavory ways and create a narrative you weren't intending to create when setting out on your heroic journey. As a result, the story can take wild, at times infuriating turns. And while in a 15-20 hour campaign that can cause some understandable frustration, playing a game where you have no idea what's about to happen next is a nice change of pace.
In a true roguelike fashion, it's extremely easy to fail and get a bad ending. How long your journey takes, how you interact with the various NPCs, which points of interest off the beaten path you visit, it all factors into the grand finale you'll get at the end. After finishing my playthrough and looking up the other possible outcomes, I ended up being pleasantly surprised. Things and events I thought were set in stone, in fact were anything but. The amount of moving parts in Ash of Gods is truly staggering.
Moreover, the quest line that can lead you to the good ending is actually pretty well hidden. In order to get there, you'll have to follow a set of cryptic clues and prophecies that are extremely easy to overlook. You will need to pay attention to the world map, write down clues, and piece things together yourself. With no in-game journal, Ash of Gods is very old-school that way, and pleasantly so.
The combat in Ash of Gods combines turn-based tactics with some light CCG elements. It's similar to The Banner Saga in that it uses the alternating turn order, where your unit's move is always followed by your enemy's move. However, in Ash of Gods you get to decide in which order you take those turns, which adds a nice layer of tactical consideration into the mix and encourages using smaller squads.
Where this system falls apart, is when your enemies have just a couple of fighters left. This allows them to act a lot more often and down a couple of your characters as their final act of defiance. And when one of them falls in battle, they get a wound. Upon getting four of those, they die for good.
Thankfully, while the game's story boasts its roguelike roots, you can replay the combat encounters until you get them right, making those needless casualties less annoying than they otherwise would have been.
The combat itself features a risk/reward system where your units can expend either their Energy or their Health in order to use their more powerful abilities. When a unit has no more Energy left, it takes double damage. And when its Health hits zero, the unit gets downed for the remainder of the fight.
With a wide selection of unique character classes, plenty of enemy variety, and basic leveling and inventory systems, Ash of Gods' combat is quite an enjoyable addition to the game's narrative.
I do have some minor gripes with it. Apart from the abovementioned turn order shenanigans, there's also a rather generous turn timer. It goes from about five minutes per turn to slightly under a minute as the game progresses. What's it doing in a single-player game is anybody's guess.
And then, there's the CCG aspect. Most of the cards you can get your hands on are extremely underwhelming, on top of requiring an entire turn to use. Playing them is rarely practical, and with a few exceptions, I only touched them when I wanted to skip a turn and let the enemies come closer.
Overall, though, I found myself enjoying Ash of Gods' combat with its variety and flexibility quite a bit and if you're not averse to turn-based systems with alternating turns, you might enjoy it as well. And if you'd like to test your skills against human opponents, there's always the online multiplayer.
Ash of Gods uses the Unity engine, but it's extremely well optimized. It runs exceptionally well, doesn't hog a lot of resources for a change, and loads pretty fast. The options menu is quite basic, but it does have three different animation speed options, which is always nice to have.
The game offers two difficulty modes, Classic and Story. The latter allows you to skip most of the combat if you don't like it or find it too hard. Personally, I thought the game was easy enough on Classic, so go for Story only if you don't enjoy turn-based battles.
The art and animations are simply a joy to look at. The music is not far behind, with limited voice acting adding some flavor at the start of every chapter.
The game didn't crash on me once and I haven't encountered any major issues or bugs. There were some minor visual glitches during scene transitions but that's about it.
With great visuals, nuanced tactical combat, a compelling story, and an incentive to play through the game multiple times in pursuit of the perfect ending, Ash of Gods is a great entry in the burgeoning narrative RPG genre. While on the surface it's a shameless copy of The Banner Saga, in reality Ash of Gods adds plenty of unique elements to Stoic's formula and stands perfectly fine on its own, without the need to be propped up by the cliched “if you liked The Banner Saga, you will like this” endorsement.
While the game has its share of problems, it manages to provide an enjoyable and memorable experience despite them. And if the developers manage to overcome their shortcomings, their next game could end up being quite spectacular.