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Friday, July 5, 2013

Ascend: Hand of Kul

[Update]
 
After spending the 8,000 souls needed for a bonus that negates durability damage for 30 minutes, I was able to find a nice way to grind souls.
 
First you need to be able to fight through the cave in the area called 'Ring of Bones'. Buy the boost called 'Gear Protection'. Now simply run through the 'Tomb of Dakrum' as many times as possible, if you die, warp out and go back in. This should net you at least 10,000 souls, more if you are good at building combos. I was able to earn about 16,000 souls.
 
A note, boosts don't seem to stop counting down of you quit the game, mine froze and when I came back it was gone, luckily I only had a minute left on it.
 
[Original Story]
 
It's a secret to everybody... and it's a long ass one at that.



Story

The story is rather simple, three Gods, The Dark God, Void God and Light God are in a battle to cease dominion over the land. They are not able to claim it themselves, as they would be corrupted by the wickedness of the land below, and use being called Caos (pronounced ‘Chaos’) to convert the people of the land.

Along the way, you encounter a being known simply as ‘The Titan’, a giant creature who feeds off of the people, striking fear and chaos into the land. You are given the task of converting the people to your gods’ faith and fell the Immortal creature.


Gameplay

The gameplay is both refreshing and stale, the basic idea is simply going from point A to point B and killing a wave of monsters, then claiming the territory for your own. However, the online aspect makes the game much less repetitive (if not a little annoying). If you’ve played Fable 2 or 3, you already have a small taste, in Ascend, you’ll see ‘ghosts’ of other players but are unable to interact with them. You can affect their world through use of ‘Curses’ or ‘Blessings’, Curses being used on opposing factions and Blessings on those who are the same faction as you.

Curses can range from sending enemies from YOUR world into theirs, or spawning completely different monsters that will continue to spawn until the ‘Summon post’ is destroyed. This can make fights incredibly tough for other players. If you are able to kill a member of the opposing factions by these means, you are (allegedly) rewarded (I wasn’t….).

Blessings are what you likely expect, buffs for those of your faction, these can range from increased health, attack strength and other boosts. Boosts last for 30 minutes, so using them at the right time is key.

When you obtain dominion over a zone (which I’ll simply reference as zones from now on), you generate Souls, which are the universal currency in Ascend (you get about 10 souls per zone you control every…. I wanna say 30 minutes, this effect continues when you go offline).  The ghost of other players are able to invade your world to try to capture your zone for their faction (invading ghosts are NOT controlled by the player they belong to; they are simply an AI controlled copy of their character), you are alerted and given the option to warp there or go there yourself if you are busy. If you can defeat them, you get some EXP.

Both Curses and Blessings can be bought with souls.

Some zones consist of towns, and once converted, you can ‘Summon’ followers to climb you (I forgot to mention, you’re a huge giant, think Kingdom of Keflings) and they will shoot arrows from your shoulders, or you can drop them and they will climb enemies and attack that way. They can also be thrown and eaten to regain health. Overall, they are very weak and provide very little assistance, unless someone is invading that zone, in which case they can be very helpful.

Going between one area and another often requires the player to traverse a dungeon, these dungeons are similar to the ones in Dragon Age 2 where there is very little variations between one and another and can mostly just be dashed through. Dungeons DO reset everyday at midnight (pst) with new loot, enemies and design.

Once you've leveled up enough (every 5 levels) you can ‘Ascend’, which allows you to create a new character, retaining some items and souls, as well as choose a new faction (at the cost of some of your levels, in exchange, the level cap is raised by 5 and you get a permanent stat boost). Whichever faction needs the most help will offer you greater reward for joining them. Your character is also sent on a Crusade, which allows your ghost to attempt to control other zones from players, therefore allowing you to generate more souls.


Graphics

The overall look of the game is above average, similar to Fable 3…. Exactly like Fable 3. There are very little special effects outside of spell casting. The only notable thing I saw was the conversion of zones, each faction has its own look and feel.

Light is, as you can imagine, very quiet and peaceful, where Dark is very, well…. Dark. The ground is scorched and dead. Void is very odd, the ground and world around you is blue, almost as if you’ve leaped into the world of Tron.


Not the best picture, but it gets the point across
 
Controls, Voice, Audio and Music

Normally I would not lump these all together, but there is absolutely nothing special about any of them, at all. The music is similar to Fable, where it’s quite and dull outside of battle and picks up when you engage the enemy, and there’s no voice acting, outside of Link like grunts and shouts. If you played any number of Action RPGs, the controls are the same, light attack, heavy attack, magic and block (no ranged attacks outside of magic).


Other

The game’s use of souls as currency is a huge NEGATIVE hit on the game. Souls are used for everything, buying weapons and armor, upgrading weapons and armor, upgrading spells, buying spells, repairing weapons and armor. You’d think you’d get a lot of souls then, right? No. Enemies drop very few (the most common dropping between 3 – 6 and higher levels dropping a few hundred).

Guess what though, repairing that good gear you bought can cost upwards of several thousand (my highest being 5,000 souls), this wouldn't be an issue if souls were more plentiful or it didn't cost as much. You can earn more souls by obtaining a multiplier (again, similar to Fable where a high multiplier equals more EXP), but if you get hit, that’s all gone, and enemies are relentless and unflinching.

The games answer to this, like many F2P games, you can buy souls with real cash. 80MSP gives you 5,000 souls and multiples of that up to 1,600MSP. I’ve spent what miscellaneous points I had and am still having issues maintaining enough souls to repair gear (I've even started using weaker gear to offset the repair costs).

Another thing I really disliked is that, once you change factions, you'll have to buy the spells. In your first faction, you earn two of them, but after you swap they must be bought and can cost upwards of 15,000 and go as high as 125,000 souls. Crazy.


Achievements

The achievements in the game seem to be fairly simple, some will require soul grinding (or buying) as you'll need to buy Curses or Blessings, or fully upgrade a spell. Nothing seems to be incredibly difficult.

And in a first that I've seen, beta testers can unlock achievements during beta, and they'll count towards your score. Although this makes it so some will have to buy it, as some features aren't yet available (the endless dungeon and co-op, for example).


Overall

This game has much potential to be a fun single player game that’s interwoven with multiplayer aspects. However, the fact that it relies heavily on the ‘pay to win’ philosophy is very disappointing.

7.0/10.0

Pros

- The zone idea works well
- The blessing and cursing adds interesting possibilities to the game
- Oddly addicting

Cons

- Very focused on the ‘pay to win’ mechanics
- Repair costs will quickly drain what you've earned
- Dungeon variety is lacking

*updates to come.