- Developer: AurumDust
- Publisher: Koch Media
- Release date: January 31st, 2020
- Genre: Action RPG
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
- Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Ash of Gods: Redemption is a beautifully narrated fantasy RPG which plays in such a way as is sure to remind players of The Banner Saga, best known for its dark fantasy genre, nonlinear plot development, charming 2D graphics, and turn-based tactical combat system.
Players follow three main characters, each with their own unique story arc, as they navigate the treacherous plains of this fantasy world, taking inspiration from High Medieval Western Europe. Ash of Gods: Redemption combines tactical combat, CCG elements, and a thoroughly intricate, richly plotted narrative.
Traverse the fantasy world of Terminus as you take command of retired captain of the Royal Guard, Thorn Brenin, accompanied by his daughter, and loyal brethren; the wandering healer, Hopper Rouley, a solitary scribe who prefers to travel in his own company; and the professional, cold-blooded hitman, Lo Pheng, an Eikon from the Clan of Shadows.
Ash of Gods: Redemption gets off to a decidedly slow start for players that are not used to its combat systems and storytelling format. It may be the case that the Classic mode is better suited to those looking to jump straight into the fray, though this reviewer’s penchant for a rich narrative left only one option: Story mode.
After a brief cutscene, the player is treated to a whistle stop tutorial, covering the basics of turn-based combat featured throughout Ash Of Gods: Redemption. This tutorial carries the player to their first combative victory, and whilst the intricacies of the tile selection and attack selection left me perplexed for a time, a tactic of trial and error ultimately saw me through my first skirmish. The combat, at its core, involves opposing teams attacking in turn until one team’s health has been fully depleted, resulting in victory and stat. increases for the player (assuming they win), by means of progression.
Between battle sequences, somewhat ironically, is where the real action takes place. Bridging the gap between violent clashes is a truly inspired nonlinear narrative, which proves an effective hook early in the game. This is particularly so when subjective gaming experience favours plot and substance over action and gameplay.
It is through Ash of Gods: Redemption’s charming cutscenes, and the unfurling of its ‘player choice’ based narrative, that the player comes to learn of the shroud of the Reaping, a relentless onslaught thought to be confined to Terminus’s folklore. The Reaping, it turns out, sees legions of near-immortal beings, known as – you’ve guessed it – Reapers, emerging from the shadows and decimating the predominantly peace-loving beings that inhabit the lands. Their ultimate aim is to spill enough blood to reawaken a long-since exiled god, thereby ensuring the destruction of Terminus. Further, the Reaping has a maddening influence on those not in possession of protective items, with afflicted individuals turning into deranged, bloodthirsty stooges of the Reapers.
It is up to the three protagonists and their companions to put their combined might and ingenuity to the task of rising up against the Reapers, foiling their wicked plans before all is lost and Terminus itself is obliterated.
The calibre of Ash of Gods: Redemption’s gameplay is, I would suggest, somewhat subjective, and largely contingent upon who picks up the game. In all honesty, I was less than enamoured with the game’s turn-based, tile-reliant combat, which I have found to be somewhat contrived and underwhelming.
With limited variety in terms of attacks, and in particular the rigid nature of the game’s combat, it wasn’t an aspect of the game that really ever drew me in. Whilst much of the combat system bears a striking similarity to that of preceding turn-based RPGs, one notable exception is the use of collectible cards that can boost attack effectiveness and magical prowess. This system, however, certainly for those of us that are not dedicated turn-based aficionados, is somewhat convoluted, and adds very little to the overall combat experience.
That’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate the swordplay, projectile daggers, stat-boosting cards and piercing arrows, however; my experience of the game’s combat system – including the controls – left me feeling a mixture of confusion, frustration and indifference. It took quite some time to figure out how to effectively execute attacks, and even once this confusion had been overcome, the very basic movements and sound effects made for something of an anticlimax.
Equal to the visual mediocrity is the audio aspect. Ash of Gods: Redemption’s soundtrack is far from bad, and I’ve experienced far worse in terms of sound effects, but with slow and uninspiring music, nearly non-existent voice acting, and lacklustre sound effects, the game’s audio fails to serve as its saving grace.
In terms of the combat difficulties, these developed further as the game progressed, and it became apparent that the developer’s heartfelt intention is to have players limping from phase to phase, and from battle to battle, nursing half-dead protagonists as they tap eagerly at death’s door. There are precious few opportunities to heal your characters following the vicissitudes of conflict, and this means that you are constantly on edge, and just waiting for all your hard work to come crashing down.
In spite of this, the redeeming feature of Ash of Gods: Redemption’s gameplay is, of course, the masterfully crafted, nonlinear narrative and story arcs. At its core, Ash of Gods: Redemption is a book, one which is consumed not by the turning of pages, but rather, the pressing of buttons and the divergence of dialogue.
As the game progresses and its characters interact, the player is treated to a plethora of dynamically developing characters, most of which come with rich back-stories and diverse personalities. This brings with it a tangible richness to the narrative, and keeps things interesting, as characters goad and size one another up.
As for the on-screen cutscenes and character interactions, the illustrations are beautifully drawn, akin to old-school Disney cartoons. As NPCs with which the player interacts are displayed, the player is presented with dialogue options, each with its own set of undertones and consequences. Have care how you speak, and with whom you lock horns. A word out of place could spell disaster later down the line; skins are thin and allegiances are fickle.
The difficulty of the game, and even the more substantive plot twists, are directly influenced by how the player interacts with the other NPCs. By belittling, pulling rank, bartering, or making a threat of harm, players can force a short-term advantage, though owing to the adverse impact such actions can have upon loyalty stats, one should expect to pay dearly, further down the line. Conversely, making a choice to act in a charitable or altruistic manner may result in an immediate loss of resources, but is likely to bear dividends as the game progresses. In short, altruism begets favours in the fullness of time; greed and impatience are liable to see you betrayed or overlooked.
Whatever buttons are pressed – whatever dialogue choices are made, players can rest assured that they will be treated to coherent and satisfying plot development, and given the number of potential outcomes, that’s no mean feat. From the subtle brilliance of the language and colloquialisms used, to the sheer depth and breadth of the player-led dialogue and decision based outcomes, the gameplay really comes into its own with the non-combative character interactions.
It never fails to amaze me, the staggering amount of thought, planning and interconnecting that must occur at a game’s development phase, in order to pull off a player-lead dialogue. Ash of Gods: Redemption is truly top tier, in this regard.
As has been touched upon briefly, Ash of Gods: Redemption’s graphics are Disney-esq, and really rather charming. The character illustrations are deliberately flat, yet rendered in such a way as to showcase the attention to detail as is evident from the colourful costumes, the facial expressions and the subtle backdrops.
Even in the case of battle sequences, which in and of themselves are somewhat underwhelming, the detail and the use of props is of a fairly decent standard.
The cut-scenes throughout the game are similar in their quality to the battle sequences, and so, whilst noting to write home about, they are certainly adequate, particularly so as this is not where the game’s focus lies.
One of the more understated visuals Ash of Gods: Redemption has to offer is the navigation map. This is somewhat dull, and yet, there is a certain deliberateness to its layout and etchings, and this is an area where praise is perhaps due.
Due to the storytelling format and rigid combat features that feature in Ash of Gods: Redemption, there is far less movement and activity than one would usually find in a game, and therefore significantly less to critique.
Ultimately, as has likely been deduced, the graphics are adequate, if not brilliant, but the artwork of the actual characters goes some way towards making up for this. Overall, Ash of Gods: Redemption is easy on the eye, and at times can be a treat to behold.
Ash of Gods: Redemption isn’t likely to win any special awards for its graphics or it’s turn-based battle systems, though it is to be commended for the player-led plot development and the charming artistry employed for the characters and their surroundings.
The storytelling is of a high calibre, and so, its shortcomings notwithstanding, Ash of Gods: Redemption should be well received by those more inclined towards a rich and meaningful narrative, as opposed to crystal clear graphics and flawless battle sequences.