I finished my first playthrough of Ascendant over the weekend and I wanted to lay out my current thoughts before moving into a second run. This way I can look back after the next run to compare it, as well as hopefully get some feedback from other players. I will separate my comments under these categories: Successful Aspects, Confusing Elements, Faulty Systems, and Missed Opportunities. I did not seek any advice or look up any tutorials or walkthroughs, so consider all of this blind and objective gameplay observation from a first time player. Be wary there are spoilers within.(Fresh install after Update 3, ~30 hours)
• Captures the essence of the Underworld setting and environment. The world feels authentic to the series.
• Art style is highly indicative of DOS-era box art, very aesthetically pleasing.
• Inventory/map/skill UI appearance and art is very attractive regardless of bugs present in the system.
• Training: Either Cabirus or the Saurian mediator mentions returning to Marcaul for training, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to train there. There are three Saurians in front of murals that seems to indicate training in either Combat, Magic, or Stealth, with no quests tied to them or ways to inititiate training that I have found. Finished the game without it regardless.
• Factions: I heard one VO from Cabirus early in the game that my status with a faction had improved. That was essentially the only piece of narrative about faction status that I noticed. I don’t see anything in the UI to indicate my alignment status with the factions. I still have no idea how to join a faction or what each one represents. Finished the game regardless.
• Endgame: While aesthetically I enjoyed the Vault of Nyx, I was befuddled by the way the ending played out. The entire game builds to a fight with Typhon that culminates in a boss fight with Tyball and evidently a betrayal by Cabirus? I placed the keys appropriately, then defeated the animus and collected the core. Then a voice tells me to place a death mask on the pedestal. What death mask? Where did that come from. It certainly wasn’t in my inventory, and it doesn’t look like a mask, it looks like a book made of stone. Then I trap Cabirus in an orb while I cross the bridge and use the core in the modus to stop Typhon. It is somewhat reminiscent of thwarting the Trickster in Thief 1, but feels uninspired and to me just doesn’t make much sense. Maybe I missed some parts of narrative along the way?
• Game Breaking: This is old hat but some aspects of Ascendant make me feel like I’m playing an early access title versus an already released product. Specifically areas that should not be accessible but are. I used the Unseen Dash skill several times to leave the play area and noclip off the map. Sometimes moving along the tops of brushes to access other areas of the level. Also, while within the levels many pieces of terrain or assets would disappear and reappear depending on my viewpoint. There is nothing less immersive in my opinion.
• Asset Placement: There are countless places where assets are misaligned. This is much more evident if you have the glow stone equipped. I’m confused as to how so much of that made it past QA.
• Feats and Skills: The skill tree is enticing but gravely underutilized. In my entire playthrough I collected about 25 memora and completed enough feats to unlock about 6 or 7 skills. Many of the feats appear to be broken and not achievable such as ‘On to Marcaul’ and ‘Meteoric Demise’. The amount of feats seems to be very thin compared the amount of skill points needed to get upgrades.
• Runes: Throughout the entire game I found maybe just over half of the runes. I felt like I explored well enough although I did not backtrack after getting the Sun key, so perhaps those runes are in those rooms, OR they only spawn after unlocking more of the Magic skill tree which as I mentioned above seems impossible given the state of the feats and skills system.
•Overpowered/Underpowered: I played on normal difficulty. For the first several hours I was immersed by the idea that I could easily get overwhelmed and killed by enemies, always scraping for supplies and trying to find enough to trade for what I wanted. After the quest that returns me back to Upper Erebus to fend off Typhon’s forces I noticed a huge turning point in my favor. Chests and dropped enemy loot became much more rewarding. I quickly amassed a fortune in coin. I always had thousands more than Aelita or Fane so all the supplies were at my disposal from then on and the game became very easy.
• New Game+: Considering I barely cracked the surface on feats and skill upgrades, a New Game+ mode would have been great to continue forward with the gear I had already gathered on the first run and attempt to unlock more.
• Stash Box: I may have missed narrative dialog on this but I did not discover the stash box until near the end of the game. I battled with a full inventory most of time not wanting to discard valuable items. I did make an assumption the first time I opened it that it was only there to keep pets in, so that blame is probably on me, but some dialog that it was to store items for later would have been handy.
• Audio: Or lack thereof. The musical cues that do happen are really well done, but overall the audio is very sparse and imbalanced. Considering how strong the audio was for Looking Glass titles I am surprised this area is so weak in Ascendant.
Anyway I am open to your thoughts on my interpretations, especially if I missed anything huge or game changing along the way.