Ascend: Hand of Kul Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Ascend: Hand of Kul is the latest game from Signal Studios, maker of the popular hit game Toy Soldiers. In the game you’ll play as a nameless Caos, an ascended Warrior who battles for one of the three New Gods. The New Gods are the gods of Light, Void, and Darkness, each with their own motivation and overall theme. At the beginning of the game you can choose to follow one of these gods and earn souls for them as an offering. Souls that are gathered from the battles are the only form of currency in the game. You can use them to purchase new weapons, armour, spells, and runes to help your character on his journey.
Once your character is created, and the god you follow is chosen, you cannot change your character until it is time for him or her to ascend (more on that later). You will travel through several different regions made up of separate landscapes, dungeons and villages. During your adventure you will meet and battle several different types of enemies in the form of Trolls, Wolves, Witch Doctors, or even other ascended Caos. You’ll need to convert areas of the map to whichever god you are following by defeating monsters and then converting shrines or alters by either destroying them or sacrificing their priest. This means that you’ll also need to defeat residents of each of the villages as well in order to convert them. As you convert the territories within each region you will notice a powerful Titan named Kul slowly backing away from each area, until your final battle against him at the end of the game. With your god on your side, how could you lose?
Currently, Ascend: Hand of Kul is exclusive to the Xbox 360, although there are plans in place to release a PC version. It is only available to Gold members, which means that you must have a Gold membership in order to play the game as it incorporates online play, even in its single player campaign. This online interactive feature is done in a unique way that makes the game that much more enjoyable. Although at the moment you can’t directly interact with any of the other players except for chatting online with them or by fighting one of their ascended champions if they invade one of your territories, you can see a ghostly outline of their character as they battle alongside you in whichever area you are in. Because of this, you will have the opportunity to either curse or bless them. Curses range from banishing your enemies over to their side, to planting shrines on their side that will create more enemies for them to battle against. Blessings include items such as double XP or Run and Attack speed blessings that you can cast for the other players. Both options have their own appeal, and will come down to the type of online player you want to be, or how you react based on what the other player does to you.
Your character has the option to ascend every five levels. This means that once he reaches level five you can head to the menu and choose to ascend your Warrior. Essentially, this kills the Warrior so that he may live and fight again. But don’t worry, that is not the end of the character you worked so hard to build up. As you enter the ascension area you are greeted with several stone plinths. Each of these plinths grants you the ability to take one item from your character’s current inventory to save it for all future characters – but only the first plinth is free. After that each one can be purchased at a cost double that of the previous. For example, the second plinth will be 1,000 souls, then 2,000, 4,000, and so on. Be careful when choosing your legacy item because it can get expensive as you progress through the game.
After you’ve reached level five, your Caos will move on to ascend. Once this is complete, that character goes out into the world to fight for you, attacking areas for in order to earn you more souls. When your character reaches level ten, he can then ascend again. It is recommended to not wait to ascend your character so that you will have more Caos out there to battle for you. Each time you ascend you will be granted an emblem that will help your character during his travels. At level sixty, you will ascend permanently and can start over if you’d like.
Other features in the game will include endless dungeons and multiplayer battles where your ascended Warriors can battle other players online. However, no information is available on those features at the time of this writing, as the game is still in beta.
The control scheme for this game is set and cannot be altered, but it’s also fairly easy to learn and use, and eventually all buttons and triggers are utilized on the controller. Don’t worry, there is a playable tutorial right at the start of the game to help you through the basic controls and mechanics, so gamers will be able to jump right into the battle with a good idea of how to play. From hacking and slashing your way through the map, to using spells against your enemies, there are plenty of chances for you to learn the control scheme. Unfortunately, there is no way to map the control scheme to your tastes, but the simplicity of the controls work well as they are, and can be easily picked up by any type of player.
Graphically, Ascend: Hand of Kul does an excellent job. The amount of work that the development team put into the game is very noticeable in every fine detail. Every area of this game is a wonder to behold, with great scenery to look at, from misty forests, to fiery, lava-filled planes. Top it off with vicious enemies to defeat, and you have a game that is both immersive and brilliant in visual design.
As if that weren’t enough to keep you interested, the developers have wisely programmed an algorithm into the game that will allow all dungeons to be restocked and redrawn at 3 am PST every day, adding to the replay value of the game, so going into the dungeons that you’ve already discovered will always be a new experience. Each time you return to an area there will also be different mobs to battle as well, giving you a constant flow of action wherever (and whenever) you go.
Caos can also perform an impressive finishing move on almost all of the enemies they face. The only ones that don’t show a finishing move (unless the developers decide to change it) are when attacking the Witch Doctors; although they sure do deserve one being the most annoying of creatures you’ll face in battle because of their long-ranged magical attacks. While most of the enemies will have a specific pattern that they attack with, it does not detract from the gameplay at all. They are all vicious and will take you down in a heartbeat unless you learn these patterns and figure out how to work around them to defeat your foes. Otherwise, three or four hits from a larger beast will be more than enough to end your travels abruptly, sending you back to a spawn point (inside the battle area if you are fighting a boss or just outside the attack area if you in a regular battle). But don’t worry, because if and when you die, your character will just regenerate. The downside to this is that all characters that were left before you died now have full health again and you’ll have to battle them all over again.
Sound in Ascend: Hand of Kul is another aspect worth admiring. The music is quite catchy, with a drum beat and bagpipe tune that accompanies you on your travels, and any battle sounds or vocal roars from your Caos make you feel as though you’re in the heat of the battle, striking down foes with an awesome force. All the sounds are crisp and clear, with the exception of voice-overs, as there are none – all dialogue is done in a text format. That being said, with the music and sound effects in the game being so grandiose, if you had your speakers turned up, you’d rattle your windows.
Currently the only issue players may have with this game is with the cost for items. Although you can purchase extra souls from the marketplace, not everyone can do so. Extra souls that can be purchased through the Xbox Marketplace, and range from $2.99 for 15,000 souls to $74.99 for 750,000 souls. This will give other players who don’t want to spend time building up their character a definite advantage as they’ll be able to max out spells and equipment early on in the game, potentially creating the notorious ‘pay to win’ format most gamers despise. Other than that, this is an excellent game that I highly recommend picking up. If you don’t yet have a Gold membership you should get one, as Ascend: Hand of Kul alone is well worth it. This game could potentially bring years of enjoyment to all players and is now available on the Xbox 360 Marketplace for download to play.
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