The Ascent is a bright, neon-colored cyberpunk nightmare that, unlike its contemporaries, switches things up with its unique take on isometric, twin-stick gunplay. The genre as a whole doesn’t get as much love as it really deserves in the video game space. Sure, they arrive on occasion, but when they do, it’s almost always as a first or third-person shooter. I love playing games from that perspective, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just something so special about top-down perspective games.
Isometric games typically allow for better communication of information, especially when it comes to the player’s surroundings. This allows even the most basic combat systems to flourish, which means any variety or special gimmicks are just extra sauce on top.
The Ascent‘s dystopian nightmare hellscape is immediately interesting. Developer Neon Giant uses the wide space provided by the game’s camera angle for environmental storytelling, as well as plenty of bright neon lights that I can’t get enough of. If the world keeps moving toward the future of Blade Runner, then we better get cool neon lights everywhere.
I can’t think of a single moment where the level design and layout didn’t impress. Sure, some sections and areas are more interesting than others, but immersion was consistent across the board. Heck, I actually died several times because I was distracted by how cool the world looks. The Ascent pulls you deep into its world and it just doesn’t let go. Detailed textures fill in important lines in the capitalist/fascist setting and the lighting sets the tone. It’s actually breathtaking, and serves as a reminder of how Cyberpunk 2077 would have looked if it opted for a visual tone that wasn’t grounded in our modern world.
Combat is amazing. Despite being a shooter, The Ascent reminds me a lot of Diablo III, and I’m sure other writers are making the same comparison. It has that same addictive flavor we love from Minecraft Dungeons, Diablo, and other top-down action RPGs. They’re just fun.
Running and rolling through the corporate-owned metropolis and gunning down enemies is delightful. Weapon boosts, dubbed Augmentations, are essentially magical buffs disguised as tech. It doesn’t matter. It works. It’s cool. I love it. And you probably will too.
Combat encounters across assignments and jobs vary in difficulty, but they’re typically pretty reasonable. There are a few difficulty spikes here and there, but overall, the battles blended beautifully across the story. The player character (or characters, since there’s optional multiplayer!) is enslaved by the company that owns everyone in the district. You’ll need to complete jobs and get things done in order to survive, but things quickly escalate in part due to rival corporations and crime syndicates.
Satisfying combat, an immersive story, and atmospheric landscapes are all reasons to recommend The Ascent, but the ability to play with up to three other friends (either locally or online) puts it over the top. I love it when developers let gamers explore their worlds together.
The different power-ups and weapons, along with the character creator, inject more than enough variety for hours of enjoyment, either solo or with friends. Exploring Veles — the game’s futuristic dystopian city — feels meaningful. Games can still engage in immersive world-building when the player’s perspective is pulled back, and The Ascent is proof of that. The story details and gameplay loop blend together perfectly.
Finding the right balance between important details that add to the world and boring loot helps sell the illusion. Neon Giant clearly put a lot of thought into what to showcase when pulling the curtain back. The Ascent‘s convincing world and setting made my actions and time there feel worthwhile.
There aren’t a lot of options in the character creator, which obviously doesn’t affect the gameplay loop, but I do wish there were more ways to express yourself in the game. I was also disappointed that the gender options were limited to male and female. Getting this right isn’t complicated — games can simply opt not to include gender options. Developers can let players design their characters and just leave the gender selection out entirely. I bring this up because it’s the cheapest and easiest option. Knockout City went this route, and it was done well. The other option is to let players accurately express their gender in games with more inclusion in gender selection.
Despite a few missteps, The Ascent is a must-play if you’re a fan of action RPGs, cyberpunk aesthetics, or both. Its fully realized world and tight gunplay make for a great time, whether you’re playing solo or teaming up with a few friends for some multiplayer action. Don’t sleep on this one.
This review is based on the Xbox Series S version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Curve Digital.
The Ascent is an essential experience for anyone that enjoys tight action-RPG combat or beautiful, neon-colored Blade Runner skylines. Go play this solo or with up to three other friends before its world becomes reality.