Signal Studios put themselves on the map with the release of Toy Soldiers. A fun tower defense game that allowed you to take control of the units you placed, all in the setting of World War I. They created the sequel, which took place during Vietnam, and added some fun/memorable changes.
They are practically a Microsoft property and created a very unique experience with those titles, Ascend is no different and could be the basis for how Microsoft treats free-to-play/microtransactions in games…and after playing it, we can only be so lucky.
Ascend puts you in the shoes of a giant who must align himself with one of three gods that want to be in control of the lands. Your giant is fully customizable with different faces, hair styles, and skin colors – you earn new weapons, armors, and different customization options in-general from earning “souls”, their currency in the game.
Unlike most games where they hurt the overall game with it being free-to-play and offering microtransactions, Signal Studios has made it very unobtrusive. Players can simply use Microsoft Points to purchase more “souls” to buy stuff early. Yes that is still annoying to some, but as far these games go, this is probably the best choice. Especially considering most games decide to add another currency that you can ONLY purchase, and really puts you at a disadvantage if you don’t decide to partake.
After you create your character you find yourself walking through a temple with human worshipers around you, as you move forward you come across a huge Hall of Monuments where you see even larger giants sitting on thrones as well as smaller ones on pedestal signifying records. These three larger giants are the top players for each faction, you can see their names, their gear, their stats, and their skills. It is a nice little way to show-off to other players, learn what makes someone good, and gives you something to thrive for.
Immediately above these monuments you see three paths, you can choose the light, the dark, or the void. This is where you select which God you will fight for, and as you fight and take lands in their name you will see the land transform into the alignment of the three. For example as I fought for the Darkness the land would become scarred and blackened.
The game is an action-rpg so after you choose your alignment you start taking lands in the name of your new god. With X performing a melee attack that you can combine with the power melee of Y (if you string X more than once than hit Y you get different attacks) similar to Dynasty Warriors. You even have skills like LB+X that let you dash into groups as an extra element.
On top of all of that you are able to cast spells that you earn throughout playing, the skills you earn will be of the alignment you choose. So you will earn special skills specific to that side.
They also have a prestige system that lets you retire a hero and make him an NPC that can earn you souls, this also allows you start a new hero and carry over specific atributes. For example you can side with one faction the first time and then bring skills you learned and earn new skills from one of the other two factions.
While you are doing all of this you have a system similar to the one introduced in Fable, you can see transparent players fighting in the same areas you are, so although you can only play single player, you can interact with players fighting in the same area.
You can do things like send them a healing buff or you can be a dick and do something like create a portal that sucks the enemies around you into their world. These were the only ones we experienced but Signal told us they will have more.
From what I experienced it was enjoyable, especially for an XBLA free-to-play game. I think it will hit a niche in a market that is untapped.
The only thing that would make it better would be the addition of actual cooperative multiplayer. The direction of the game though is really free form. They will be releasing new lands as additional content and really have the freedom to treat it like an MMO with updates, upgrades, and events.
They plan on having a PC beta within the next few months and then follow it with a release shortly after. You will even be able to transfer over that beta character into the Xbox Live game.