If you’ve been dabbling in Xbox Game Pass games recently – and there has certainly been plenty to dabble in – then you may have come across The Ascent. This cyberpunk hybrid of RPG and twin-stick shooter has been building a heck of a fanbase, and plenty has been written about its stunning looks, nails-hard difficulty and late-game grind. In our case, we loved it, warts and all, and gave it a 4 out of 5 in our full review of The Ascent on Xbox Series X.
While The Ascent is still warm from the presses, we approached Arcade, the Creative Director of The Ascent, to see how launch has gone for him and fledgling studio Neon Giant.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role on The Ascent?
Hey. My name is Arcade and I’m one of the founders and Creative Directors at Neon Giant and our first game; The Ascent.
How would you pitch The Ascent to someone who hasn’t had a chance to play it yet?
A newly released action-shooter RPG set in what some are saying is a stunning and the most detailed cyberpunk world they’ve played. This is the first time I’ve gotten the question after people have actually played it so I need to get some of that in there.
How has the launch been for you so far? Does it feel real yet?
Absolutely not. Wow, it’s been surreal. It’s been bigger than we could have ever thought when we first started this journey years ago. Eyeballs everywhere. And we have clearly made something people care strongly about. The love we’ve received in e-mails, forums, Twitter, YouTube and so forth is absolutely humbling.
Has releasing day one on Xbox Game Pass proven to be a positive for you so far?
I am 100% certain we would never have had all this attention without the backing of Xbox and the Game Pass carrot. The reach we had leading up to launch has been huge and that people can play the game via Game Pass is great since at the core of everything, we make games because we want people to play them.
We find it impossible to imagine that The Ascent was put together by such a small team. How have you managed to achieve AAA levels of graphics, world depth and mechanical depth with the team that you have?
Thank you very much. Exactly that statement was our ambition. It’s several things really, but it comes down to leaning on our previous experiences, knowing what fights to take and keeping focus. Larger games always end up having a lot of cut content but it still took effort to make. We’ve worked hard on not going too far before abandoning a bad idea and letting people wear “many hats” as the expression goes. We have very particular pipelines and workflows that you can’t really use in a larger studio where you need to train many people how to use it. Again, thank you.
Setting The Ascent in the middle of a societal collapse feels new but also very real, from Brexit to climate change to the Capital Riots. Was that your intention, to capture aspects of our world in that way?
I think it stems from us wanting to put you right in it, whatever it is. And we knew we didn’t want it to be a world where you’re the chosen one or that there’s a legend or anything like that. We wanted it to be “real” (in a sense) and you just having to deal with it as best you can. From there we took inspiration from everywhere and this is the world we live in.
Difficulty has come up in a lot of the first reviews for The Ascent. How do you decide where to pitch a game’s difficulty? Did you intend to create a demanding experience?
Yes. We wanted a game that rewards skill that you could either “excel” in or get your numbers up to make it balance itself out. I think a game being challenging makes overcoming it extra savory. Having said that, we also put in difficulty settings and will continue to tweak balancing with patches. Now that we have A LOT of players we can see how more people play it and how they deal with the challenge. We’re keeping our eyes on it and are super keen to hear feedback.
Probably our favourite element of the design is the cover-system, where you can switch to a ‘shooting over cover’ mode with a hold of the shoulder button. Where did this idea come from?
I’m so happy to hear that. It came from wanting to add an extra layer of depth (pun initially not intended) to the gameplay without adding something “gimmicky”. Often with shooting games with this perspective you shoot the thing closest to you while keeping the distance. We wanted more than that. We had “high aim” before we had the covers, but the covers came as a natural extension from that. Several of us have experience working on other games with cover mechanics so it wasn’t a far fetched idea. Glad you like it!
We also love the way that everything can be done at speed. Crates smash when you walk on them, you can hack terminals from a distance, abilities and guns are massively powerful, etc. Were you always aiming for speed, action and as little friction as possible?
Yes. A game is a game. Focus and let people spend time on what’s entertaining. Opening a box isn’t. Shooting stuff is!
The Ascent feels like a window into a much bigger world. How much of the world is documented and just waiting for future games to explore it?
There’s definitely quite a bit. We had a couple of short stories written in the world to “test the world” before we wrote the real game story and there are alien races that didn’t make it into the game, etc. We wrote most of the world stuff early so we could use it to know what the heck we were making and grab the pieces that we found useful for the game. Luckily we still managed to put quite a bit of it in the Codex.
As a game in the cyberpunk space, did the launch and reaction to Cyberpunk 2077 impact you in any way?
I’m sure they’ve helped make people hungry for cyberpunk themed entertainment over the last few years and it’s not like The Lord of the Rings made people fed up with fantasy. I’m not going to comment on the reaction to their launch but I’m glad to see that people have reacted fondly to The Ascent.
What’s next for The Ascent and Neon Giant? Will we see more content in The Ascent in the future?
Right now we’re working hard on listening to player feedback, working on addressing issues found and tweaking knobs and dials! We’re overjoyed with the love we see for The Ascent.
And finally, if you could get one body-augment, what would it be?
Let’s be honest – I wouldn’t say no to a set of robot tentacles.
Huge thanks go out to Arcade for giving us the time post-launch of The Ascent on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC. The Xbox Store will sort you out with a download.
If you’re curious about The Ascent, there are very few obstacles to playing it. It’s free on Game Pass right now, and you can play it alone or with up to three other players in co-op. If you’re still on the fence, make sure you check out our review.