As I sat across the table from Hyung-Jun Kim at GStar 2017 in Busan, South Korea, you could tell Ascent: Infinite Realm was clearly something Bluehole was passionate about. Even through the translator that passion came across - the airship battles, the housing system - everything Kim spoke of lit his eyes up. However, the mood on my side of the table wasn’t so glowing. There were so many questions to be answered, so many issues encountered during our gameplay session - especially with A:IR’s flagship (see what I did there?) feature - airship to airship combat.
Ascent: Infinite Realm is a new MMORPG by TERA developer and PUBG publisher Bluehole Studios. The game pits you in a realm of warring factions. The world has been broken - literally - by a giant meteor and as a result all of the land masses are now floating islands in the sky. Each faction vies for territory on these islands using giant Steampunk-inspired Airships to traverse. Along the way you’ll discover new locales, characters and skills to help you on your journey.
First off, the game contains five playable classes - each of them gender neutral so players can choose what gender they want to play. Kim mentions in our interview that these classes fulfill the traditional Holy Trinity in MMOs: Tank, Healer and Damage dealer. He also mentions that there might more specialized classes as well, such as a mechanic or an Airship specialist.
As I’ve discussed previously, combat is fun, but needs some work. Airship combat, the tentpole feature Kim seems to be hanging A:IR’s hat on needs some real work. I asked about this, specifically as it pertains to movement. Currently, Airships in Ascent: Infinite Realm handle identically to your character on the ground. There doesn’t seem to be any real weight or momentum to them - nothing that feels as you might think a giant metal ship in the air might feel.
Speaking through a translator, Kim explained this was actually by design - since the controls of the airship are already complicated. In an earlier build these ships had real physics working against them - but it actually made combat harder. Even for the developers, who were responsible for the incredibly complex control scheme, adding in those physics made the ships unwieldable.
Now this doesn’t mean every ship is the same, you will notice differences between speeds and handling, but it still feels too floaty. A giant airship shouldn’t feasibly turn as well as a smaller ship - though the game has the speed differential correct. Bluehole is definitely open to suggestion if enough players ask for it.
Housing was another area that we touched on, though only briefly as there wasn’t a whole lot to elaborate on just yet. However, the details do sound pretty interesting. The idea behind housing is for it to be a mechanic that plays heavily into the endgame in A:IR. You can build your house on a plot in your realm - more on that in a moment - and at your house you can plant monsters to presumably help to defend your house from potential enemies and looters, or maybe even bring into combat with you. Additionally, your houses can be crafting areas or include gardens to make items and gear to help you on your journey. Moreover, Kim mentions that players needn’t have different crafting trades, which hopefully (attempts to clarify this seemed to get lost in the translation) means anyone can master any form of crafting without worry.
This is because for many, housing will be part of the regular world - as in non-instanced. Each realm will have about 1400 housing plots - 700 per faction - that are a part of the world itself. Kim told us there are plans to add instanced housing for those players who can’t get into the non-instanced plots, so you needn’t worry about not owning a home if you don’t make it to one of the open-world plots. Much of the information seemed to be getting lost somewhat in translation, but owning a home in Ascent: Infinite Realm seems to be key component to doing well in the end-game.
That end-game is, most notably, the RvR Airship combat. The team is working on raids which will feature into the end-game as well, but the main event is the airship combat. My worry though is, while Kim and his team are clearly excited for this - there doesn’t seem to be enough depth there to really allow this feature to shine.
It’s here that the game really seems to be doing some really cool things. For instance, Kim mentioned in our interview the way players can use the clouds for cover until they are ready to swoop down and take an enemy at unawares. Additionally, you can bail out of your airship and land on an opponent’s - forcing them to abandon piloting and deal with you. However, once you beat them there is no way to commandeer the opponent’s airship. For a game so focused on interesting air-to-air combat, going so far as to let you board another person’s ship, the lack of piracy at that point is a major letdown.
As I mentioned in my previous piece about A:IR’s RvR mode, combat is a mix of one of “hectic choices and confusion ultimately leading into exaltation.” However, “confusion” is the operative term for most of your RvR experience. Kim’s team realizes this, and aims to make airship combat overall less cumbersome and more enjoyable. Kim is completely serious that he and his team are absolutely willing to incorporate player ideas and feedback from the upcoming beta into the game. So there is hope that this core aspect of what makes Infinite Realm unique will improve considerably leading up to the game’s launch.
It’s still early, but after speaking with Hyung-Jun Kim, I’m hopeful that the team is giving this game their all. Kim calls it one of the more ambitious games he’s worked on, and I believe him. Ascent: Infinite Realm looks to be an MMO to keep an eye on going into 2018 - and while first impressions aren’t as solid as one might hope, the willingness of the team to adapt to player feedback leaves a lot of optimism that Ascent: Infinite Realm can defy early impressions to be something other than just another MMO in a sea of games.