Ash of Gods: Redemption is immediately striking. Its artwork and soundtrack are very appealing and overall it is a solid experience. Although, that experience is somewhat skin-deep, as the two-dimensional story, simplistic combat, as well as the unmemorable and sometimes badly written dialogue all fail to make as big an impression as the visual and sound design.
Ash of Gods is set in your typical medieval fantasy universe, populated by humans and upper class businessmen. The story begins with a huge battle between the forces of (ostensibly) good and evil, where a group of gods or at least ‘super-badasses’ leads the charge. After a lot of slaying has occurred, a figure who either drinks the blood of the innocent or listens to a lot of death metal approaches the army of good guys and all but the leaders are instantly felled. The ‘god’ characters, fearing defeat, each decide to ritualistically commit suicide which seems to halt the enemy army. One of the ‘gods’ however is knocked unconscious by a volley of arrows and is therefore unable to kill himself; when he awakes, both armies are gone and all that remains are statues of the other ‘gods’ who sacrificed themselves successfully. What an opening!
What we later learn through character interactions and cut scenes is that the world has been suffering with cataclysmic events known as ‘Reapings’ where evil entities spread corruption throughout the land, infecting and then turning people into psychopathic killers. These infected people subsequently join together into a great horde, destroying everything in their path. The story follows a group of survivors who have fled their town after surviving a Reaper attack, looking for a safe place to regroup and weather the storm.
Ash of Gods is broken up into three parts: dialogue between characters, combating enemies, and deciding where your party will go. In addition to this, Ash of Gods allows players to avoid the combat all together and focus on the story and dialogue options by choosing a mode at the beginning of the game. I can’t say that I would choose to have less gameplay but the inclusion of this mode is certainly nice for those who want a more streamlined experience. Interaction between characters is the main way the story progresses, and it feels reminiscent of a ‘Telltale’ game in that choosing certain dialogue options can effect a characters relationships, morale or trust in each other.
Actions that the player has decided to choose throughout the campaign will crop up now and then in the conversations and it does it job well to remind you that your decisions will be remembered by your party, adding a certain wariness when making larger decisions. The dialogue itself between characters is a touch hit and miss. Characters are not voiced, which is understandable, but they do groan uncomfortably and make other such noises from time to time, which is a little off putting. In regards to the writing, I would describe it as at times serviceable, other times cheesy and lame. Also, dialogue can come across as a little forced: characters might simply swear strangely out of context or perhaps suddenly let off a wisecrack when it has been established that the character has more of a reserved, serious personality. Overall though the interaction between characters is not too bad and serves to drive the story forward, though in the end a tad disappointing.
When a battle occurs, the combat is pretty solid, though a little too simplistic. It’s a top-down, turn based affair, where you move characters up to their movement limit and then perform an action (attacking, raising a shield) if possible. Characters and enemies have both a health bar and an energy bar, which is what allows you to perform actions. The main strategy (beyond wailing on someone until they die) is to specifically attack their energy rather than their health as when the energy has been depleted, subsequent hits to double damage to their health. Some actions do more damage or have a more powerful effect, but often come with the price of hurting your character in order to do them. I got myself into a bad situation a few times where I was using powerful shots with my archer units, only for an enemy combatant to rush over and one-shot them in their weakened state.
If one of your characters is knocked down, they are out for the remainder of the combat and will sustain a wound after the battle. If a character ever amasses four wounds they are permanently killed, though if they are able to rest in a safe place whilst travelling they will lose a wound and so it is fairly easy to keep your party alive. Whilst there is nothing particularly wrong with the combat, it doesn’t feel as fleshed out as I might have liked it to be. The game also comes with magic cards that allows you to perform certain actions once per combat, either buffing your units or damaging the enemy, I must admit however that I found myself not really using them all that much as the combat was easy enough as it is.
After the combat is over, players are able to explore the local area by choosing certain actions such as entering certain buildings, talking to survivors or perhaps setting up camp for the night. Characters earn experience after battling and so can be upgraded, either improving their flat stats or their abilities. After fully checking out an area, the party will move on allowing the player to choose their route from a map. The destination will often be fixed, but the route will either be gentler or more difficult and the interface will let you know what you are likely to encounter along the way. Often it will be a choice of taking a dangerous shortcut whilst only having one encounter, or having two relatively mild encounters. The ability to choose different routes and have different encounters along the way makes for a good bit of re-playability, but in the end the differences are only in the amount of battles fought or characters encountered.
However, despite Ash of Gods’ shortcomings, the artwork is truly fantastic. In a (very) similar vein to The Banner Saga series, the characters are all beautifully drawn and individual. Each character encountered is distinctive and emotive, making it easier to remember names and personalities. The attention to detail in the combat animations is lovely, seeing a character you have shared in depth conversations with surrounded by enemies is tenser for it. When moving through the world in search of refuge the experience is complimented by the solid background art, towering vistas and beautiful skylines that dot the game frequently, making for a real treat whilst travelling. It goes without saying that the work that has been put in to Ash of Gods has to be highly commended. The game also features a fantastic soundtrack, with excellent vocal work and a certain Celtic feel to it that is definitely worth a listen.
Ash of Gods is a good game with a lot going for it, sadly though in some areas it is certainly lacking. The story is not a particularly original one all in all, though it has some novel ideas thrown in. The characters themselves are certainly distinctive and somewhat memorable owing to the art work, but they can hardly be said to be massively interesting or worth getting too invested in. The main problem when trying to get invested in the characters is the hit and miss dialogue, as this makes it difficult to take the characters as seriously as the overall narrative would like you too. As well as this, the combat system is a little simplistic and so winning a battle often feels like the obvious outcome of having a brain and knowing how to use it.
All in all, Ash of Gods is still just about worth your time. The art style will immediately resonate and make this title stand out from the crowd where its gameplay and story might not capture that much attention. If someone has already played both of the Banner Saga games and is looking for something along those lines, then definitely look at picking up this title. Otherwise, this game is worth a look for fans of adventure and action games a like, though definitely a measured one.