My first question before playing Ascent was “Why is ‘The Space Game’ part of its title?” When I actually began playing it, the reason became clearer. This is a hardcore sci-fi simulation. Instead of being a space shooter, or a strategy game, Ascent is a space MMO. Not even the recent Star Citizen and Fractured Space tread the same territory as Ascent, but that isn’t entirely a flattering statement.
Ascent, unlike these recent space games, is not focused on combat. You can get into constant space battles, if you wish, but Ascent was not built just for that kind of gameplay. I think that Ascent is focused primarily on economic issues. You can buy and sell items in your possession, deliver packages from one space station to the next, salvage the wreckage of a space ship, mine for resources, or grow them on your farm on the surface of a planet. These are all on the contract board, which you can learn about when you are at or near a space station.
Here are the contract types:
Rare Material Trade
The contracts are colour-coded. Passenger transport contracts are in white. Blueprints are coded blue (natch), and deeds are in green. These contracts change at certain intervals. If you want to sell your iron at the Ceres space station, for instance, you’d better do it while the request still exists. The passenger and delivery contracts are the easiest, but they also pay little. If you are an MMO veteran, you might have realized that the colour codes tie into the difficulty and rarity of the items associated with a given contract. The real money is in the red and purple contracts, the ones involving rarities.
To fulfill these objectives you can mine, buy, or farm items. I have gone strictly with asteroid mining, so far, even though the spoils you will come away with are a gamble. Farming is probably a better investment in the long run, but I enjoy jumping around and blasting away at space rocks. If you do want to farm, a mission introduces you to the farming system. You are allowed to drop down to the surface of a planet named Ceres (an Earth-like planet) and use a plot of land to place your mining and farming machines. This is one of the points in which I encountered problems with Ascent.
Ascent is not focused on plot. You will go through tutorial missions to become familiar with every action you can take in your play. My problem is that some missions are not explained well enough. Deep Six- instead of getting hints from NPCs about its location, it’s just explained as an item in the help menu. There’s no hint to figure this out. There is a help menu in-game that is very helpful, but I never expected that Deep Six, specifically, would be a help topic in that menu. When you accept the mission, you simply see the text “Deep Six: where could it be?” or something to that effect. The solution, I learned, is that you have to buy a hyperdrive that allows you to warp to this location.
Going back to the mission on Ceres’ surface: I was introduced to this mission, and I wasn’t really given any instructions on what I was supposed to do while I was on the planet. MMO veterans will be the ones most attracted to Ascent, but every game is someone’s first time with the genre. The tutorial missions are sub par, as it stands. I liked that most of the tutorial missions I’ve played so far are voiced. The acting is not bad. I don’t know what budget Fluffy Kitten Studios is working with, but if they have money to spare, they should include more voice-work for tutorial play.
There are other improvements I am hoping for. The game needs an option to automatically focus behind the ship when you are in third person, because it’s annoying to refocus the camera manually. You jump through gates a lot, so if you choose to play in third person, your ship’s camera angle changes a lot. Options are broken. Some settings you change stay permanently (volume) while others (message popup time) do not. Ascent – The Space Game left Steam early access more than a month ago, but some of the game’s elements are still rough around the edges.
Even considering the growing pains of what Ascent and its developer are going through, I have still come away from the experience with positive feelings. I want to amass more resources so I can purchase better ships, buy up property, and hopefully be one of the top players in the game. Ascent is a space game, not The Space Game– not yet. There is much to be worked on, a lot to be tweaked. As it stands, Ascent is a nifty box full of stardust with the ability to be much more.
Ascent – The Space Game is available on Steam for £13.67 ($19.99). This purchase includes 3 months of premium content access. The premium content is access to other planets and ship classes not accessible in the core game.