To state the obvious, there is an element to good storytelling that has captivated audiences as far back as one can remember. A good story has something to say; there is always a truth to be gained, meaning to be had and treasure to be found. This isn’t to say every story must be serious or that all stories are trying to impart wisdom, they just have a way of doing that on their own. Bringing this to video games, what kind of story is Ash of Gods: Redemption, from developer Aurumdust, trying to tell and what does it have to say?
The most immediate thing is that Ash of Gods will be readily familiar for anyone who has played The Banner Saga, as both the art style and gameplay are a perfect match. Having familiar ground to play in means more focus towards the actual narrative of Ash of Gods Redemption, which will grab ones’ attention regardless. Ash of Gods opens with a cutscene that is as gorgeous as it is brutal. The hand-drawn animation gives way to an exceptionally pleasurable viewing experience, even with the amount of gore being laid down. After watching a group of individuals with pure black eyes sacrifice themselves to stop a group of even scarier looking individuals (which we’ll get to), the game jumps forward 700 years where it really begins.
Ash of Gods follows the story of three individuals through what is understood to be “The Reaping,” an event that comes around through the centuries, which the opening cutscene was an introduction to. The Reaping is shrouded in mystery. All that’s known is that Reapers, which are the extremely scary people, are bad news with god-like powers of life and death, but most common folk believe these stories to be mere folklore. Ash of Gods proves fantastic at grabbing the player’s attention with a compelling narrative by answering questions as it lays more down.
The only downside to all this excellent world building is that it is all unique to Ash of Gods, which doesn’t do a great job explaining what everything is. Too many names of people, places and things are thrown around with no annotations in sight. Now that more narrative driven games are using annotations, such as Pyre, it would be nice if Ash of Gods had included this to not only feed a curiosity of its world, but help explain much of it at the same pace as the game moves.
The beats between story and battle are nice, and with a permanent choice system it becomes vital to take every action and interaction into consideration. The world of Ash of Gods is one that, while gorgeous to look at, has a shroud of darkness that hangs over it. Every dialogue beat counts, and much like The Banner Saga, Ash of Gods isn’t so much about doing the good or bad thing but instead making decisions as best one can with the situation on hand. It gives a sense of reality that games of the past have tried to match but due to a baked in good/evil morality system it becomes more about player choice, not narrative of story in game of the characters themselves. This also is helped by how set in stone the characters are. Ash of Gods gives of sense of who these people are through dialogue choice and interaction with others.
The battle system is a grid based where the player and NPCs will take turns moving about the battlefield to fight it out. Even in battle the animations are a pleasure to look at, conveying that same sense of brutality found elsewhere in Ash of Gods. There’s a bit of confusion around character death in the game; I had two main characters perish during two of my battles, and while Ash of Gods states character death is permanent, they were right there ready to move the narrative along after the battle. It would seem, for now, that character death might only apply to the narrative moments of the game, which is fine, it was just nerve wracking in the moment. The battles will prove a fun challenge for anyone who likes turn-based combat strategy. It will be important deciding who joins each encounter not only for narrative reasons, but due to certain skill sets, motivations and loyalties.
As stated earlier, Ash of Gods is in the same wheelhouse as The Banner Saga. It’s hard not talking about The Banner Saga without talking about the art and Ash of Gods is no different. Not only is each backdrop and character a pleasure to look at, but the music is on equal footing. In fact, both the art and music will be the first thing anyone notices. The title screen could be left on all day and it would be just fine. Ash of Gods is so confident in the music, which they should be, that it’s even for sale in the game.
Ash of Gods: Redemption is looking to be an excellent addition to the recent wave of quality RPG strategy-adventure games. It’s telling a compelling narrative filled with interesting characters; a world that begs to be explored matched by combat that is engaging while fun. There are a few things missing from Ash of Gods, such as annotations which would help fill in the world more and certain prompt tutorials for gameplay would be useful, but these things don’t bring it down that much. Ash of Gods comes out this March for PC and will be worth anyone’s time who likes The Banner Saga, dark fantasy or a good strategy game with an intriguing story.