Ash of Gods: Redemption
Developer: AurumDust Studio
Release Date: 23 March, 2018
Platform: Windows, MacOS, Linux
Genre: Tactical RPG
By Chris Picone, 03 April 2018
Ash of Gods: Redemption is the first release by indie developer AurumDust Studio. It’s a tactical roleplaying game that takes place in a fairly stereotypical but low-magic Western medieval fantasy setting. There is magic in the world, but you don’t see a lot of it, and although there are monsters, you won’t meet any. At the time the game starts, the world of Terminus is experiencing an apocalyptic event known as “The Reaping.” The Reapers are fallen angels who have, in the absence of a God, gained free will and are in the process of transforming the world into hell. They are accompanied by Enses, creatures who were once human but now live only to serve the Reapers. The Umbra, shapeshifting servants of the gods who once sacrificed themselves to protect the world, have turned greedy and corrupt in their absence. And the humans, who should be fighting for their survival, are fighting amongst themselves in their perpetual quest for personal gain. One man’s vulnerability is another’s opportunity, and they’re only human after all. And as if the appearance of the Reapers weren’t enough, a mysterious plague has enveloped the land, appearing in the form of a black mark on the neck, which quickly spreads and leaves only painful death in its wake. The only sure cure against the plague involves touching one of the mysterious menhirs that are dotted across the landscape. But there is no salvation there either – the magic of the reaping has poisoned the menhir’s mysterious healing powers: To touch one is to die.
Ash of Gods involves three separate but intertwined stories. The first story follows Hopper, one of the last surviving lower Umbra, who finds his every action manipulated as he strives to undo a curse amidst the machinations of his peers. The second story follows Thorn Brenin, a veteran infantry commander, and his daughter Gleda. Ordinary humans who were mysteriously spared in an early encounter with a Reaper. But they do not escape unscathed; Gleda has contracted the deadly and mysterious plague and they must find a cure. In the meantime, they find themselves embroiled in dangerous politics when they discover that one of the guards accompanying them is actually a wayward prince in disguise. The third story follows Lo Pheng, an elite Eikon “Warrior of Peace” from the Shadow Clan who is – like most of his kind – hired as a bodyguard cum assassin by a wealthy Frisian. There is only one thing the Shadow Clan value more than their contracts: In the event of a Reaping, all warriors must answer the call and join the battle against the Reapers.
The graphics are stunning – stylised but extremely high quality. Everything is painstakingly hand-drawn in the style of “Soyuzmultfilm,” which I’m led to believe was the Soviet version of Disney. The characters are distinct and detailed, and the backgrounds are exquisite. Cutscenes have a cinema quality, even while drawn in the same cartoon style. Character animations in combat are based on live action motion capture and are smoothly executed and very pleasing.
The sound effects do their job, but the music is a real stand-out. Live composition and absolutely top-notch quality, the music makes you feel like you’re in the middle of an epic movie. The first time I played the game I quickly found that a small audience had gathered around me to “see what I was watching.”
Ash of Gods is a Tactical RPG that manages to live up to the expectations of both genres. There are three main aspects to discuss: Combat, the Adventure Map, and the Roleplaying. Each of these aspects are experienced fairly evenly throughout the game and, as such, deserve the same amount of attention.
Combat is isometric, tile-based, and turn-based, but with a few quirks. There is no initiative, so you may command any of your characters in any order, but you cannot command a character again until all other characters on your side have acted. When all your characters have acted, you move to the next round of combat and start again. However, both teams’ rounds are entirely separate from each other. So if you have only one character in the combat while your enemy has five, for example, your character will act five times in a row while theirs will only have acted once each. You will also have progressed through five rounds of combat, allowing you to rapidly progress through cooldown periods and giving you access to abilities that only unlock in later rounds, while your opponent will be just starting their second round. It also means that survivors become more dangerous as their team is killed off. As expected, your characters have a range of weapons that come with their own strengths and limitations to exploit. Swords tend to do more damage, hammers break armour, daggers are weak but can be thrown and cause life gain, spears can attack from a tile away, bows provide a ranged attack, and crossbows shoot through ranks of troops. Each character class comes with a range of special abilities which are unlocked as the character levels up. Special abilities usually do more damage or have some other function but cost stamina to use, and frequently come with some other cost, including the character’s own health points. Before combat, you can equip characters with magic equipment that gives them small bonuses in combat, and you also have access to “battle cards,” which are collected and pieced together throughout the game and give you magic-like special abilities that you can use in combat. It’s worth mentioning here that, if you enjoy RPGs but don’t enjoy tactical combat, Ash of Gods offers a “story mode” just for people like you.
Ash of Gods utilises an adventure map to manage travel. The whole map is laid out before you, and lets you click around on all the various towns and other hotspots to learn a little bit about them and their history, and to help guide your journey. At every crossroads, you are presented with a set of options – there are typically two or three ways to reach any given destination, and you must decide which you will take. Some may be shorter, but more dangerous. Others may take you through desirable – or undesirable – locations, which may influence your decisions. As the time period is so short and villages are abundant, you don’t have to worry about managing food. However, the plague is an ongoing threat. Strixes, a mysterious metal sourced from the menhirs, holds the plague at bay, but they are difficult to come by and their power wanes with every passing day. You are responsible for distributing the strixes – which means that when you are running low, you are responsible for the horrific task of deciding who lives and who dies. You may switch to your camp at any time, where you can manage your party and equipment, rest, and occasionally speak to your companions in an effort to build trust and maintain morale.
Choice & Consequence is Ash of God’s bread and butter. While travelling, you will be faced timed, triggered, and random encounters. These are normally managed through narrative pop-ups with choose-your-own-adventure style responses but may trigger combat or lead to a full dialogue scene. In addition, every time you arrive at a village or city, one of the menhirs, or any other major location, you are treated to a glorious artistic presentation of the location with several hotspots highlighted. The hotspots denote key figures and locations you may want to visit, such as old friends, witches, nobility, markets, taverns, palaces, and temples. The choices you face are usually some dilemma that forces you to balance ethics against survival, loyalty against uncertainty. Most times, there is no right answer, leaving you to determine which path invokes the lesser of two evils. Consequences may be subtle or obvious, immediate or latent. The impact of your choices may be small, such as gaining some gold or a few strixes, moderate, such as the permanent death of a character, or large, influencing the course of the story in some major way.
Fun Factor / Replayability
Ash of Gods takes ~20 hours to play through. However, the enormity of the choices and consequences you face throughout the game means it is enormously re-playable. As mentioned earlier, there is often two or three ways to get to any given destination – how different might the journey have gone if you’d taken the dangerous, bandit-ridden route past an old witch’s hut instead of the safe, patrolled route past the tavern? You lose the opportunity to resupply but reaching your goal a day or two earlier might change your fates entirely. Many of the dilemmas leave you feeling uncertain that you did the right thing, and the consequences of many of your decisions don’t become clear until much later in the game, leaving you wondering – what might have been?
If the game has one weakness, it’s the English localisation – Russian doesn’t seem to translate to English very well, and while the translator has done a reasonable job, some of the grammar is quite wonky, and some of the slang is really out-of-character for the setting. Having said that, it’s not intolerable, and the story makes up for it. Plus, the AurumDust team seem to be very open to feedback and will likely fix it over time.
If you enjoy tactical RPGS, Ash of Gods is great. It’s a treat, go ahead and add it to your collection. If you enjoy RPGs but don’t like tactical games, get Ash of Gods anyway – the story is deep and interesting, the game is chock full of AAA-quality meaningful choice & consequence roleplaying, and offers a story mode so you can focus on the parts you love.
And a final mention, which I’ve been avoiding all review: The inevitable comparison between Ash of Gods and The Banner Saga. Yes, there are similarities, both in terms of graphics and gameplay. But I’ve played both games and, in my opinion, the similarities are largely superficial. They play like, and feel like, very different games. Ash of Gods is not a Banner Saga clone, let me make that abundantly clear.