XBLA Preview – Ascend: New Gods and Skulls of the Shogun


Skull Gods…

Ascend: New Gods

First impressions of Ascend aren’t breathtaking. A character donned in heavy armour, wielding a ludicrously large sword, running around slashing and stomping mythical beasts – it’s not uncommon to think you’ve seen it all before. Even a showcase at Microsoft’s presentation didn’t manage to play to its strengths, but as information trickles through about this title, the picture of what to expect becomes clearer.

Whilst an action-RPG at heart, talking to the team behind the game quickly gave an idea as to just how ambitious the intentions are for the game. Whilst your game world is yours to run about in, there are other players experiencing the same environments asynchronously whose game world you can influence and be influenced by accordingly. One sub-class of spells focuses just on this concept, opening up the ability to either help or hinder depending on just how mean spirited you are – do you want to send the monsters currently attacking you into their world, or would you rather wait for them to return the favour and help them slay their attackers?

Trying to bring multiplayer influence into a single player game isn’t the only forward thought the game has either; with a game world that encourages alining yourself to a faction and then carries on ticking over 24/7, discussion of a fully-integrated smartphone application seems to be more than just a marketing afterthought. Plus here’s the real bombshell; it’s to be XBLA’s very first F2P (free to play) title. Whilst it’s clear the game’s still early in development, and there’s no hint as to just how it’ll be monetised, it certainly seems one to watch.

Skulls of the Shogun

For better or worse, strategy RPGs haven’t changed all that much over the years. With Skulls of the Shogun being touted by Microsoft as a pretty big thing (launching on XBLA at the same time as on Windows 8, Windows Phone, and their new ‘Surface’ tablet PC), it’s reasonable to expect it to be doing things a little differently. Thankfully, it is.

The demo we played began with your character’s arrival in the land of the dead, and saw some quick – and genuinely funny – dialogue exchanged between a few other soldiers before a very smooth transition straight into the gameplay phase. The basics are explained in a straightforward manner without dropping the tongue-in-cheek humour, and whilst there’s nothing too surprising gameplay-wise to start off with, the perspective remaining the same, and a complete lack of the tried-and-tested grid of squares certainly breaks the norm. Then when the battle ends? Straight back into the story-telling, and before you know it, back into another mission. At a most basic level, these early impressions of the game are very snappy and fluid – and despite all of the technicalities underneath, it paints a very user-friendly face on top of it all. Whilst Disgaea might’ve made a step in proving that you could introduce humour into an SRPG and still keep it interesting, this would appear to go that step further in making the rest of the game just as appealing.

We only got to see one of the game’s unique systems, where skulls left over from defeated soldiers could be eaten to regain life. It all sounds very grim, but even a quick look at screens will put your mind at ease; the game’s quirky charm is reflected just as wonderfully through the visual style and as it is through the dialogue. Launching later this year on anything with even the faintest hint of Microsoft branding, ‘Skulls’ is looking like a highlight in the SPRG field regardless of how many hours you’ve grinded away at them in the past.

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