The Ascent Review

As one of the first next gen games revealed, The Ascent faces the age old problem of trying to live up to the excitement that comes with heralding a new generation. While it does a great job in some aspects, it’s far from something that would make a new console a must buy if you hadn’t already purchased one.

Let’s start with what is staring us in the face; it is a stunning looking game. Neon Giant have crafted a world that feels whole, cohesive, and alive while slapping on effects galore to really sell that cyberpunk aesthetic and vision. Bold neon colours burst off the screen (especially in HDR), lens flare glints off every surface, and there a hundreds of NPC’s in each area just going about their day. While the play space is fairly large, the sense of scale is immense, with towering dystopian buildings hinting at the world beyond, while most areas have several floors that slowly become available as we play. Combat regularly bursts into chaos and explosions, and the destruction of the environments is aesthetic only, but still very impressive looking. In terms of next gen-ness, The Ascent looks the part completely.

Gameplay wise, not so much. That’s not to say it isn’t fun, but it’s hardly breaking the mold. Twin stick combat is the name of the game here, but NG have added some small twists that do provide more than simple run and gun action. By default, our character shoots from the hip. This fire position hits most enemies easily enough, but we’re also able to both crouch and raise our gun up to head height. The former allows us to hit smaller enemies or duck behind cover. The latter lets us aim over said cover, as well as hit enemies in the head if we do so while standing, potentially staggering them at the same time. The three simple stances do offer up a good range of tactical gameplay options, but in my time with The Ascent I found myself sticking mostly to bog standard twin stick gameplay, only really using high attacks and crouch sporadically.

Weapons and equipment will dictate any approach though, and there are a lot to choose from here. In addition to various machine guns, shotguns, and pistols we also have access to grenades and up to two special moves. Some of the guns I found to be all but unusable in solo play, while others ended up being my go to for all occasions – the combo of RPG23 Launcher and EBR Enforcer was pretty deadly. All weapons can be upgraded using found components, and these upgrades persist across the style of gun rather than each individual weapon, so we can sell an upgraded Habdefender PPW for example, and then buy or find one again later on still with our upgrades in-tact. One other neat touch I liked was the lack of ammo for all weapons. While we need to reload an empty clip, replacement clips are unlimited, so it’s less of trying to conserve ammo and more picking the right moment to reload.

Tactical weapons such as grenades are presented as is and are also unlimited, albeit restricted by a cool down timer that is recharged the more damage we do to enemies. We can only carry one at a time but our inventory space in unlimited, so can swap them out as and when (though this’ll reset the charge for an attack). Abilities are much the same; we can have two equipped here and they are governed by an Energy meter and a cool down. Smaller ones like the Spider Bots are quick to recharge but also quick to use up while something like a bot soldier will take a lot of energy but last a while and help out greatly. Swapping these out mid-game drains our energy fully to prevent hot-swapping kit, but pick-ups to replenish this – as well as health and Tactical charge – are plentiful. Mods are also equipable and grant various buffs such as improving our dodge roll or extra base health stats.

Finally a skill tree system is in place to upgrade our character, with eight stats to level up to a max of 20. Granted three points per level up, there are four pairs to spend them on, and each one affects not only the stat directly – such as health or reload speed – but also one of four categories; cybernetics, motorics, biometrics, and frame. These passively improve other stats, like a weapons damage output or damage resistance as well as abilities performance.

There seems like a lot to take in but in reality outside of improving my health stats via skill points I didn’t really notice any major improvements as I levelled up. Of course we did improve slightly but it was never enough to feel like now I can conquer this next bit: more, well, as least I might not get pummelled quite as fast this time.

The action is fast and hectic, and even enemies around our level are tricky enough to cause headaches often. It can be fun to see the sheer chaos on screen but it can also be easy to lose track of our character or not realise how low our health has suddenly gotten. Once more, it’s more the visual spectacle than the actual gameplay that kept me going, even if in between the sheen there is something there to enjoy in short bursts.

Most of the review so far has been based on my time solo with The Ascent, but clearly this is a 4 player co-op experience and it’s here that things improve. I’ve not had much time to play with others, and we’ve only managed three people so far but it is much more fun this way – as you’d expect. Combining powers and abilities means even more chaos, and those times where enemies over-power us goes down drastically. Well, mostly. You see, my first co-op time was with Tavern member Graham who was level 2 to my level 11. We immediately attempted a mission that saw us confined in a small area with a lot of high level enemies (well, around my level) and proceeded to get absolutely pummelled. We eventually powered through but the difference in the enemies I had just been fighting solo and the ones we were faced with was immense. The opposite was true of my next play time with Dan and Ian, where Dan and I ran through the enemies in Ian’s game as he was beginning a new save while we were double digit levels already. If you want to join a co-op game you’ll need to be mindful of who you join as the base enemies and missions will follow whoever the host is and their save.

As such mission progress is only saved for the leader, but thankfully all players get to keep any XP, items and weapons gathered in a play session. Graham informed me this kind of broke his solo game as he used the character that joined my game and as such had some over powered weapons that let him kill almost everything instantly. In another neat touch to the co-op game any items, weapons, XP, or credits picked up by a player are shared among all players equally; so if I pick up a Habdefender, all players get the same gun, while a stack of 500 credits means we all get 500 credits. The only things not shared are health, energy, and tactical items, and as such mean that there is a welcome lack of loot hording going on.

All of this is backed up by a cyberpunk tale that, while at points entertainingly smutty and grimy, was almost entirely forgettable. Some funny side mission titles and set-ups aside (see above) I found myself skipping over the plethora of extra dialogue options quickly to get back to the action. It’s not that it’s bad per se, just not all that interesting.


All in all, The Ascent is a lot of fun at times, but there’s just something about it that doesn’t quite stick for me. Combat is fast, with the three height system technically offering up more options for arenas, but I found this aspect to be generally underused. Initially complex looking, the upgrades and skill trees are simple to follow, albeit underwhelming in use. But there’s no denying just how pretty it all is, and as a next gen showpiece it delivers here. I just can’t see myself being drawn back to it long in the long term.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox Series X/S. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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  • Stunning visually
  • Multiplayer co-op improves the experience
  • Plenty of skills, weapons, and items to use
  • Combat feels underwhelmingly used
  • A lot of back tracking
  • Uninteresting tale
  • Levelling up doesn't feel exciting
Gameplay - 6
Graphics - 9.5
Audio - 7
Longevity - 5
Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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