Starting my adventure, I first spoke to a fox-like being who set me on the path to learn how to fly. Funny, a fox, teaching me - a human - how to fly. Yet that is the type of stuff you can expect to see while you level to the end game in Ascent: Infinite Realm, the upcoming MMO from Bluehole.
Going hands-on at G Star 2017 in Busan, South Korea was definitely an interesting experience. Since the game is so early in development, it hadn’t been localized yet. So everything in the game was still in Korean. However, that didn’t stop me from being able to pick up on a few things. I knew what the Fox was trying to get me to do thanks to on-screen hints and prompts that left little question. As I walked my Assassin towards the quest marker, giant rings appeared off the edge of a cliff, beckoning me to use my wings and glide to the ground. The progression in Ascent: Infinite Realm is based around getting you to the end game, so everything leading up to level 24 is meant to teach you the skills you need to know in order to excel at the Realm versus Realm combat.
Visually, A:IR is strikingly beautiful. The world itself feels lush, yet broken, which plays into the game’s backstory. A giant meteor has crashed into the planet, causing the world to break into floating islands. Using giant airships to get around, each faction is trying to secure more and more land and territory for their faction. The focus of the early game is to teach you how to play leading into that faction conflict.
Speaking with Bluehole, they told me that the leveling from base level through level 24 should be seen as a wide tutorial. Everything you need to know about the world and to succeed in Ascent: Infinite Realm’s late game. And even though I could not understand the text on the screen, I realized quickly that we were doing the same basic fetch quests and exploration quests you see with the typical MMO-fare.
Leveling in A:IR is meant to be quick, as Ascent: Infinite Realm’s Project Director Hyung-Jun Kim, told MMORPG.com at G Star 2017. On average, Kim says the level cap should take about 30 hours to reach. And in my experience, leveling did go pretty quickly. My character was already level 11 when I got to the booth, while others in my group were much lower level. However, at the end of my 40 minute play session or so, I was already almost level 12 after doing maybe only three or four actual quests.
One quest had me take down multiple mechanical wolves, another had some amorphous blobs to handle for soldiers trying to protect the nearby settlement. Combat in A:IR was had to appproach at first, however much of this was simply down to the language barrier. Once I got a feel for what each skill actually did, it was a bit easier to comprehend what I was doing.
Each class once you hit a specific level has two different stances they can go into which change how they attack. As the assassin, I had both the “Assassination” and “Shadow” stance. Assassination is what you would expect: close range, high DPS skills meant to deal damage quickly. Shadow, however, doesn’t really match the name. Shadow seems to put emphasis on ranged attacks, as your auto attack has your assassin throwing daggers at your enemy. Its ultimate skill sends your assassin into a spin, sending daggers in all directions. Yet nothing seems to hint at using the shadow skill you have, where as Assassination does.
You have your standard sneak - teleport skill combo which is satisfying while in Assassination stance, while Shadow gives you spinning daggers which you can combo into spinning kunai-blade that does AOE damage to anyone in its path. Attacks in this game aren’t auto-targeted as well, meaning if your target moves, the projectiles from the skill follow them like in other MMOs. You have to aim and time your attacks to hit your opponents. This is great, and also works against you depending on your angle to the enemy, since these skills do seem to be on a straight and level plane when they are used.
An example of this: I was attacking one of the mechanical wolves I mentioned before. I was on the top of an incline above the monster, the hill sloping down below me. When I used my number 2 skill - a simple thrown dagger which leads into the spinning kunai skill, however instead of the daggers compensating for the hill, they just smacking into the side of it, wasting its use. It would be nice at least for the combat to take into account the position of the player versus the enemy at least - and it’s a little frustrating to forget that throughout the play session. Other MMOs let you use the terrain to your advantage, while still accounting for some aiming and skill on the part of the player. Hopefully A:IR works this into the combat, adding some more nuance in the combat. Otherwise, every encounter will happen on a flat plane, which at the end of the day is boring.
You know what’s not boring? The world around me as I quested through the area. Lush forests laced with mechanical constructs littering the landscape. Nature and machine mixed - and this is seen most prevalently in the main city in the area.
Since the game hasn’t been localized yet, there aren’t any real English names for landmarks just yet. However, the translator helping me referred to the city as Sunset Field. The old-style city had towering walls, stone buildings yet still evoked a natural feel. At the center of the city was a large tree, and it seemingly served as the center of the city’s culture as well - every door had this ancient tree monogrammed into it, speaking to the draw to nature the citizens of Sunset Field feel. It was a typical fantasy city, yet also felt modern with the mechanical pipes and constructs dotting the cityscape.
As I ended my play session, I felt as though I had just scratch the surface of what Ascent: Infinite Realm was trying to show me. Much of that could be due to the language barrier. Part of it could simply be because while I had done a lot in that 40 minute session, I really hadn’t done much at all. It left me wanting to go back and play more (which I did the next day). Ascent: Infinite Realm looks to be shaping into a decent game, though it has its quirks. The question is whether these quirks can be worked out before it fully releases sometime next year? We’ll have to see.