Published on July 29th, 2014 | by Matthew Byrd1
Game Of Thrones: Ascent Review
Have you ever been on a date and realized right away you just did not like the person sitting across from you? Maybe it was the something about the outfit they wore, or some incredibly awkward thing they said. Maybe you were struck with the sudden realization they were actually an octopus vaguely disguised as a human.
Whatever the reason, bad first impressions can wreck any relationship. I was recently reminded of this fact while playing Game of Thrones: Ascent. A game that’s often so painful, it had me excusing myself to the bathroom and contemplating the survival odds of a fourth story exit through the window.
Game of Thrones: Ascent attempts to put you into the world of the books and show the game is based on, by having you play as a new noble in the land of Westeros trying to make a name for themselves. To do this, you’ll have to participate in the complex political network that serves as the foundation to the Game of Thrones universe. Specifically this means forging alliances, keeping your foes at bay, managing the activities of your skilled people and generally making decisions that which will ultimately announce to the rest of the land just what kind of ruler you are.
Theoretically this strategic set-up is the perfect genre for a Game of Thrones game. After all, while the sex and violence of the series may grab its share of headlines, in reality it’s the family vs. familial-political skullduggery that makes it all so very compelling. Being put into the middle of that intrigue has the potential to be extremely compelling.
What sinks the whole ship right off the bat, however, are the mechanics. Ascent started its life as a Facebook game, and you can feel that pedigree with every painful minute spent playing it. In the first five minutes of Ascent you will have to suffer being carefully walked through a series of dull menu interactions that comprise the entirety of the game’s “strategy.” The level of hand holding present during this tutorial is sure to insult any gamer with a first grade diploma, and if it doesn’t the constant series of achievements that pop up for every simple interaction you complete certainly will.
So what are you actually accomplishing during this marathon of reminders to press the highlighted button to continue? Well you’ll be doing things like taking on new recruits to your house, making improvements on your keep, aligning yourself with a major house, sending a sworn sword out on mission and gathering resources. It would all be very interesting if it weren’t for the fact that it’s accomplished so effortlessly. There is no sense of reward or accomplishment to be found here, and that’s because the game rarely allows you to truly make strategic decisions. The moments it appears to do so by offering you multiple ways to handle a situation are actually largely for show as it takes a deliberate effort on the part of the player to make the game present actual consequences for your actions. Let’s just say if you’ve ever successfully completed a grocery list and managed to not accidentally buy a chocolate fountain instead of some onions, you’ll have experienced the strategic depth of Ascent in full.
Yet Ascent is not done insulting the intelligence of its users as once the tutorial is done, because that is when you are introduced to its microtransaction system. Like many mobile games before it, nearly every action in Ascent requires a lengthy waiting period to complete, which can be averted by spending gold. Gold, as you might imagine, is a rare resource most easily acquired by spending real money.
You know, at this point I’m convinced these games are trying to weed out their strongest critics by having them repeat the same complaints regarding them until the point they are driven to creative insanity. For the sake of being thorough, however, allow me to reiterate that this is the most insulting and crippling of microtransaction systems ever conceived, and turns what is already an insultingly stupid and muddling experience into the same that demands that you continually pay it handfuls of cash.
Ascent is essentially a time capsule of everything wrong with mainstream mobile game design. The only praises I can think to throw its way are all for ideas the game has, which it fails to properly execute. Ascent possesses many gameplay concepts which sound incredibly intriguing. This is especially true of the way the game handles alliances and how it integrates so many aspects of the series into gameplay events.
And yet they are all ruined by constant prods to spend money, random reminders to invite your friends and general gameplay design that encourages progress for the sake of progress without really offering any sense of reward for the effort. The blueprint of Ascent may be incredible, but a good blueprint in the hands of people not willing to put forth the work to make game experiences rewarding and meaningful really doesn’t amount to much.
Much like that bad date, whatever initial promise to be found in Ascent quickly dissipates the more you get to know it. There are too many strategy fish in the Google Play sea to recommend Game of Thrones: Ascent to anyone but the most morbidly curious of series fans for a brief encounter. Just be sure to take note of all nearby exits before sitting down with it. You’ll thank me later.
Is It Hardcore?
Summary: Like Khal Drogo in a fight for honor, Game of Thrones: Ascent will rip your heart out.