Neon Giant’s upcoming cyberpunk action RPG The Ascent has been on our radar since pretty much the day it was announced, and from its setting to its combat to its visuals and more, there’s a lot here that’s grabbing attention. As recently confirmed, the game is launching quite soon, and naturally, excitement surrounding it is beginning to ramp up. Hungry to learn more about it as we have been, we recently reached out to its developers with some of our questions. You can read our interview with creative director and Neon Giant co-founder Tor Frick below.
"We really wanted to put a focus on action mechanics in our combat, with a multitude of tools for the player to have at their disposal. There are a large number of augmentations, gadgets and weapons for the player to choose from, all handcrafted."
The Ascent’s been described as a shooter-RPG. How does that translate to the combat mechanics? How do elements such as cover mechanics, destructible environments, and weapons come into play?
We really wanted to put a focus on action mechanics in our combat, with a multitude of tools for the player to have at their disposal. There are a large number of augmentations, gadgets and weapons for the player to choose from, all handcrafted.
The covers and our high/low aim mechanic means that you need to take the whole screen into account, and use covers and positioning to your advantage. But this of course also goes for enemies, who will also take cover, and that is where abilities and various gadgets like grenades, turrets and drones will come into play. Some players might want to flush enemies out of cover with a shock grenade to pick them off with a shotgun, some might jump into a mechsuit and mow them down with a piercing minigun, and some might just want to turn them on each other by changing their allegiance. There are plenty of options on how to approach each fight, and players are free to experiment with different abilities and weapons throughout, and adapting to each new challenge.
The game looks extremely beautiful. How are you using the power of Xbox Series X to achieve such visuals?
We have put a heavy emphasis on shaders and dynamic lighting, as well as intense VFX and physics, everything to make the world feel detailed and dynamic, with satisfying feedback for the players actions. Blowing things up should look, sound and feel good! But the fast pace of the gameplay also works best at a high frame rate with low latency and high resolution crispness! On the Series X, we can thankfully do both at the same time. Working with Unreal 4 allows us to maintain as much parity as possible from Xbox One all the way up to Xbox Series X, while still pushing the quality upwards with the next-gen versions.
When it comes to progression and customization, how much variety can players expect from the skills and cyberware augments in the game? How much of an emphasis does the game place on build variety?
There is a large number of augmentations available, each will give the player a different skill. All augmentations can be improved by improving the passive stats that are driving them. Put more skill points into cybernetics, and you can spawn more kamikaze spider robots! There are dozens of unique weapons that can be upgraded, a multitude of different gadgets like grenades, turrets, mech suits and many others. In short: there is quite a lot there. Different areas of the world and certain enemies are best tackled in different ways, so it’s up to the player to experiment and find what approach to take. Co-op of course brings a whole new level of experimentation to the table, so when teaming up with friends, you can experiment together on what works best.
Cyberpunk settings are always ripe for thematically rich storytelling. Can we expect something along those lines for The Ascent as well?
I would like to think so! We have put a lot of effort and love into the world, its lore, and the storytelling in it. For the players who just want to breeze through the game and blow up as many things as possible, it’s all skippable, but for the players that want to immerse themselves more in the world, read all the lore, there is a lot to discover.
"We have put a lot of effort and love into the world, its lore, and the storytelling in it. For the players who just want to breeze through the game and blow up as many things as possible, it’s all skippable, but for the players that want to immerse themselves more in the world, read all the lore, there is a lot to discover."
Does The Ascent have any choice and consequence mechanics as far as storytelling and story progression are concerned?
As players progress through the main story, you will be able to see things changing in the world, areas evolving, friendly areas becoming hostile, and vice versa. There is no choice and consequence mechanics, but players will be able to see their effect on the world, both through main and side content in various way, ranging from subtle things like a store owner changing his line of business, to corporate takeovers of entire facilities.
How much of an emphasis does The Ascent put on exploration? How large can players expect the game’s world to be?
I don’t have any numbers to dazzle you with, but the world is sizeable, and for players who enjoy exploring every nook and cranny, either for searching out loot or just finding information about the world, there is a lot there to explore. That being said, we have put focus on making sure the world feels handcrafted and lived in, as opposed to just being large. We hope that people will enjoy exploring the world, discovering hidden loot and locations, making all the side missions and absorbing all the lore.
With The Ascent featuring support for 4 player co-op, would you say that’s the ideal way to play the game? Is playing the entire game solo an equal experience, or are there some things elements that are made explicitly for co-op play?
It’s absolutely an equal experience to play the game in single player. We have tried making an experience that is just as exciting in single player as it is in co-op, even though the dynamics of gameplay change as you add more players. For example playing a bit slower, absorbing more of the world, vs a more intensely paced play session. The game is built to take co-op into account, including all co-op characters being represented in all the cutscenes and things like that. Since you have several players, gameplay will offer more opportunities for synergy between abilities and playstyles.
Roughly how long will an average playthrough of The Ascent be?
We are still polishing and balancing the game, but what we are seeing from players right now is a playtime of 15-20 hours, without exploring all the content.
Do you have any plans to bring the game to PlayStation or Switch down the line?
We are focusing on the Xbox and PC versions, and making those as polished as we possibly can.
"It’s absolutely an equal experience to play the game in single player. We have tried making an experience that is just as exciting in single player as it is in co-op, even though the dynamics of gameplay change as you add more players."
Why did you decide to launch as an Xbox console exclusive?
Microsoft approached us early in development, and they were very impressed with what we had even back then, which of course was a huge deal for us as a brand new indie studio, and we have worked together ever since. They have been a very supportive partner, and when the chance came to be on the next-gen Xboxes we were thrilled at the opportunity. Working with the latest hardware is always exciting!
What resolution and frame rate does the game target on the Xbox Series X and S?
We are targeting 4K and 60 fps on Series X, and 1440p and 60fps on the Series S.
The Xbox Series S features lesser hardware compared to Xbox Series and Microsoft is pushing it as a 1440p/60fps console. Do you think it will be able to hold up for the graphically intensive next-gen games?
Absolutely. I think the hardware is built to scale pretty nicely together with the Series X, and I think it will be a good option going forward.
The Xbox Series X has a ton of GPU horsepower and a very fast SSD. How do you think this will help developers for the next 7-8 years?
I think it will take some time before it becomes apparent how big of a shift this will be. It will take some time before the development community will have the possibility to fully embrace the new baseline of hardware. The fast load times will allow developers to create experiences that are more seamless, richer, more detailed and more varied. It will help smaller developers bridge the gap between budget titles and what we would traditionally expect from AAA studios. I think we will just see even more variety of games being made from studios of all sizes, which is amazing.