The source of certain great stories and the beginning of many quests have several rules attached; rules that writers have adhered to for centuries. There is always a need for the hero to venture out from the safety of their home or village when life as they know it is destroyed or broken. Then the hero will go on a quest or journey and face great hardship, but when all seems lost they will prevail and the story ends. In Ash of Gods: Redemption, that premise is the backbone of the work – but it takes it to many different places.
Ash of Gods: Redemption is based on the novels of Russian author Sergey Malitsky. From the opening cutscene, you get a sense of the grand storytelling and epic scale of its narrative arc. There is a huge battle to start with and we learn of this terrible event called The Reaping, and people have sacrificed themselves to stop it. Cut forward 700 years though and The Reaping is back.
We follow a few different protagonists on this journey. The main focus though – and who you begin with – is on a retired royal guard and his daughter who have a direct consequence from The Reaping visiting their town and home. It is this which sets them off on their travels. From the get-go the story is a good one and is full of complex relationships and interesting lore that manages to successfully mix magic and reality.
Before we get onto the gameplay and how it all works though, it’s worth mentioning that you might have looked at the screenshots and thought that this might well be a continuation of The Banner Saga. And you’d be right to be confused because of the similarities between that and this; so much so that I assumed this was by the same studio. But it isn’t, even though the development team here have acknowledged that it was influenced by the previous greatness.
Onwards though and Ash of Gods slightly separates into two parts. The first is that of the dialogue tree route, which sees you taking part in lengthy conversations between the party members on the quest and who they meet. You will have choices to make throughout this, which will mean certain members of your team lose and gain influence with you. These decisions and this influence strand make a difference to the outcome of the game later on; who lives and survives. This all works extremely well, giving you a sense of the story throughout and ensuring that there is always some kind of weight to the choices you are making.
The second aspect that is pushed to the fore though is found in the battle system. This, again, is quite similar to that of The Banner Saga, and that means it can, at times, be its downfall. See, I’m so used to that control system that throughout my time with Ash of Gods I could never really get to grips with how this one operates; it’s just slightly different. The set-up is the same mind – when you find a bunch of enemies you need to select your party to take them on, from all the NPCs you’ve gathered up on your journey. Choosing the best combination of people is the way forward – do you take hard hitters and ranged attacks? Or magical beings and healing options? You are then thrown onto a grid-like system with your group and the enemies in front of you before discovering the battle commencing. It’s a turn-based affair from there on out, so it is up to you to use the amount of time you have to your advantage.
You utilise that time by placing your allies in the best available positions to start, slowly moving each and every character nearer the enemy to attack. But there is also a card system that comes into play, with these collected throughout your journey. Using a card might weaken the enemy’s defences by a certain amount of points, or they may even boost your attacks. You’ll need to remember that the enemies also have this ability though and there are times when you may well feel that you’re rolling along nicely, when suddenly the tide of the battle turns and every one of your party is as weak as a kitten. The variety in the battles is good and makes them hugely enjoyable, however I have to admit that after a while they become pretty punishing – even on a lower difficulty level – and this leaves the real fun to come from the story elements. I also don’t feel that the control scheme is as intuitive as it should be – perhaps again though that’s due more to the fact that I had the whole system from the inspiration fresh in my head.
Visually though and Ash of Gods: Redemption looks fantastic with amazing cutscenes and the employment of a stunning hand-drawn cartoon feel; one that for me conjures up a forgotten time of animation films and Sunday afternoons watching TV. The characters, the locations and the whole shebang are fantastically beautiful and majestic. However, once again though I do feel that some of the text is a bit too small to read during the battle sequences; the design here has certainly not been put to best use.
Nicely, the soundtrack is very strong – swelling and diving as any proper RPG soundtrack should. The sound effects are also well placed, but I was a bit disappointed with the use of the voice-over. You see, the main narrator is voiced, but the characters aren’t and we are just left with sighs and grunts in the dialogue conversations.
I wanted to love Ash of Gods: Redemption on Xbox One from the minute I laid hands on it, and I have to admit to being hooked by the beautiful and intriguing story. The game does however live in The Banner Saga’s shadow a fair bit, and even though it’s seen as a big influence I don’t think it’s done the game any favours as you can’t help but compare the two. The narrative sections are where it is best though, as you explore and have conversations with various characters. But on the other side, the battle system is where I had the most problems; the controls feel strange and aren’t useful enough – when you combine this with a high level of difficulty in the fighting scenes, after a while I just didn’t look forward to them, preferring to crack on with the story itself. There is a good game in here, one with plenty of ambition, spirit, polish and immersion. But it could have been so much more.