Sometimes, the idea of "Let's make an answer to 'X' major game" turns out to be very, very different from its inspiration. Ascend: New Gods, developed by Signal Studios, seems at first to be an answer to God of War but quickly proves to be very distinct. At Microsoft's "Best of E3 2012" demo, we had a chance to play an alpha build of what could be one of Microsoft's biggest games of the year — as well as a showcase for Microsoft's cross-system dreams.
Ascend casts the player as a giant — a champion of a god who's out to take the world from the titans and the two other gods. The unending war between Light, Darkness, and Void is the core of the game's multiplayer integration and influences your objectives as you seek to capture more of the world for the god you're championing. In the vein of Demon's Souls, you may see other players as shadows if they are in the same location. You may send these players blessings to make things easier on them or curses to make things worse. The most basic curse is sending some of your forces at them, and each strike brings you experience. Who said being nice has its rewards?
The blessing/curse mechanic was emphasized by the developers — so much so that there is a mobile app scheduled for Windows Phone. Its only functionality will be to allow you to log on, see what your friends are doing in-game, and bless or curse them from a subway train. Your friends are only safe when you sleep. Both the game and mobile app will allow you to send "sacrificed" player characters to other people's games, where they become bosses to fight — and result in XP for you.
The core gameplay is essentially a mix of God of War's epic scale with Demon's Souls-style gritty gameplay and a dash of RPG-style leveling, equipment upgrading, and visible damage numbers. In its pre-alpha state, the graphics were basic but more than serviceable, putting emphasis on the highly detailed character and creature models. One of the prettiest moments was what you see upon taking an altar for your faction — and shift the entire landscape to suit your god. With combat mostly sticking to a few basic buttons, the big tweak is in your faction-specific powers, including classics such as meteor swarm attacks to wreck the field. Ten powers are planned per faction.
A strong emphasis on mobile and PvP integration makes Ascend: New Gods an interesting hybrid of concepts that has significant potential to be one of the coolest games on the Xbox when it comes out next year. It's the kind of breakout hit that makes or breaks systems each season.
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