After years of promise, Xbox looks to be finally making good on the promise of games. E3 2021 gave us a roadmap of what’s to come over the next two years and now the titles have started to drop. The Ascent.
Microsoft has kept most fans happy with the offerings on Gamepass from 3rd parties, but the 1st party output has been lacking through the Xbox One‘s lifespan. Unlike some might have you believe, it does have games, but they have struggled to provide the high-level experiences that PlayStation has been offering.
July saw two big titles land from Xbox in The Ascent and Microsoft Flight Simulator. In this article, I’ll be taking to the neon dripping streets of the Ascent and asking if it’s worth a slice of your time.
I’ll start by saying, I jumped in the day after launch on Gamepass PC. I was very impressed by the aesthetic and visuals on offer but there were some performance issues. Stuttering in the game was distracting, and this wasn’t due to hardware limitations. Neither my CPU nor GPU was maxed out and I hope this is addressed soon by a patch.
The Gamepass version of the game was missing features at launch, with DLSS options nowhere to be seen, even when this is available on Steam. Likewise, also Ray Tracing did not work. After changing the game to run on DX12, switching the RT options on or off made no difference to looks or performance.
Massive shout out to the developers as a message on Twitter was responded to quickly, and they advised me they were aware of this and working to fix it. The game was made by a small team of 11 people, but the interaction with fans here is great to see.
The patch has now dropped and… there are still issues… more on that later.
The Cyberpunk visuals on offer are amazing, and for such a small team this should be recognised. It’s one of the best looking games I’ve played in 2021. It’s best described as an RPG twin-stick shooter in a similar style to Diablo.
Early levels are about learning the controls and mechanics of the game, but even early on, I can see that there are small world-building stories to be found while you explore the futuristic setting.
Aiming is handled on the right stick and players can aim high or low while taking cover behind the environment. This is the main loop of the game and is enjoyable enough for the handful of hours that I’ve played. The player also has abilities with cooldowns and hacking abilities to unlock loot chests and locked areas.
Although the gameplay loop is good, the weapons have a similar feel and so far I’ve seen no need to change from the first few weapons that I picked up. This might change as the difficulty ramps up later in the game. The player character can be customised using loot that’s collected in-game, or by buying new gear from in-store vendors. It’s a good character creator, if not great.
The storyline is a little generic, look out for keywords from any futuristic movie or game coming up:
The game takes place within an arcology in a futuristic dystopian world known as Veles, controlled by a powerful megacorporation called “The Ascent Group”. Players assume control of a worker enslaved by the company. After the mysterious collapse of The Ascent Group, the arcology descends into a chaotic free-for-all pitting districts, syndicates and rival corporations against each other for control. The player’s role is to stop other factions from seizing control and uncover the mystery behind the demise of The Ascent Group.
Although the game feels huge when you first start, the main story should take about 9-12 hours to play through, but several side missions can be completed as well. Completionist players should stretch the game out to about 15-20 hours depending on how much of the world you go and explore and the difficulty level you play on.
The game is enjoyable, but not something I can see myself playing from start to end (That’s more of a reflection on me than the game tbh). The backtracking between areas is great to see more of the beautiful world that’s been created. However, you can use the fast travel system on the subway or taxi service and skip this and speed up your play-thru.
Again when it works, the game is beautiful to look at and the cyberpunk aesthetic is amazing to look at. The streets are busy with NPC’s and there are lots of backstreets and areas to explore and get lost in.
Cuts scenes for the story look great too. The voice work is good but it hasn’t grabbed me and made me want to learn more about what is going on.
Now on to the biggest issue. The performance.
The game is still not smooth even after two patches. As I said earlier, this is not related to hardware. A game like this will live and die by how it feels, and the framerate drops just now are far too noticeable.
For anyone looking to give the game a go, make sure it’s installed on an SSD. Loading times from an old hard drive are as long as I’ve waited for a game to start. Once I switched to SSD, the load times were so short, you could play the entire game without even noticing them.
If you’re looking to play on the Gamepass version just now, Ray Tracing will need to be off, doing this raised performance to an almost acceptable level. With it on, even Freesync wasn’t enough to high the performance drops. Having a 30 series graphics card, this is one of the only times I’ve had to turn off Ray Tracing (thanks to DLSS), luckily enough the game still looks great even without this.
Neon Giant have work to do, but there is potentially a good game hidden among the issues just now. To note, due to the performance issues, I haven’t had a chance to try out the Co-Op on offer, but I would like to in the future.
Once this has been fixed, I will jump back in to try again. For now, it seems the team still has a few issues that need to be fixed. It is a Gamepass game for better or worse. Worth trying, but had I dropped my own money on it, I would have been more disappointed than I am currently.
If you don’t mind a bit of grind and can deal with the erratic framerate, this might still be worth a try. I’ve written before about how reviews shouldn’t stop you from giving a game a try. This title sums that up better than most.
In the last year, cyberpunk games seem to be plagued by tech issues. I’m not sure what’s up next but hopefully, the third time is the charm.