Last Friday, Ascent – The Space Game hit early access on Steam. A space game modeled on the actual milky way – how cool is that? Trading, exploration, colonization, mining, research… its list of features just goes on and they’re not even done yet. How cool is that, too?? So I sat down to give the game a little try despite being horribly sick with the flu … I’ve only been playing it for a day or two, so there is no way I could write a fully comprehensive review yet, and I’m sure as I play more I’m going to have to come back and say – oh wait! I was wrong when I said [insert statement here]! – but I wanted to toss up a first impressions because I do so love my space sandbox games.
I’ve blown up a couple of space pirates, ferried around countless colonists, delivered packages, started building a grain farm on a habitable planet, purchased a combat ship, learned how to mine from asteroids, and harvested gases from gas giants. Seems like a fair list of things to talk about, even though I haven’t yet left the starter system.
I’ll begin with one of my usual complaints; character generation. It doesn’t seem to exist in this game. But it’s a space game, so that is a bit of a silly complaint… even Eve with its beautiful character generation left me a little puzzled as to what the point was when the gameplay is in your spaceship. To make up for this, between types of ships, gear modules and custom painting, there seems to be a great deal of ship customization. I’ve equipped my fighter ship with mining lasers and a gas scoop, so I don’t have to bother changing between a harvesting ship and a combat fighter, although doing so sacrifices a lot of cargo space. I haven’t gone far enough to really have much of an idea as to how deeply the customization goes, but my first impression is that it’s pretty comprehensive and will only get more so over time. I haven’t managed to build things on my space station yet, so I have no idea how to use the custom painting. More once I do!
Performance is a little underwhelming. I have yet to find a good balance – the higher visual settings leave the game stuttering a bit, with unresponsive controls, and the lower visuals leave my targeting reticule zooming around at uncontrollable light speeds. From comments in chat it seems that this is a common problem, although it also seems to be the consensus of the veteran players that this is mainly a problem in the starter systems where player congestion is the highest. I also encounter frequent memory issues – if I have anything running other than the game I’m beset with crashes due to a lack of virtual resources. Even with everything shut down I periodically get error messages warning me that virtual memory is low.
But I will say this – I have played more than a few MMOs at full launch that had much worse stability and performance issues. Memory hogging is a common problem in the early life of games, and if my biggest performance complaint is having to choose between stuttery or speedy controls – both of which are playable – it’s doing pretty good for early access.
The real problem of the game is a common one for in depth sandbox games – confusion. The help files give overviews of the systems in question, but I often read them several times and am still left scratching my head and end up in a game of trial by error. Here is a quick list of the things that have left me stumped thus far:
- Ship Refitting: After my first combat missions, I obtained an upgraded laser, turret and shield. Huzzah! I immediately rushed to the space station to equip them. Finding the refitting area was easy. So was removing my old gear; simply open the module remove drop down menu and click what I wanted to take off. So I did the same thing in the adding new modules, opened the add menu, clicked the shield on the dropdown menu and left the space station. Or tried to – an error popped up telling me that without shields, I’d be blown to smithereens! I went back, and opened up the add new module menu, and there was the shield, laser and turret still ready to be equipped. Rereading the help files on refitting ships was of no help … I clicked and clicked and clicked, in vain. Eventually, thanks to my lightspeed reticule, I discovered through lucky accident that you have to click the dropdown menu, and then click on your ship. Why? I have no idea. But I was able to help out other players having the same issue later on, so huzzah for lightspeed reticules!
- Salvaging: I should probably title this as mini-map confusion, but I first encountered it when salvaging. I purchased my wreck coordinates, warped to the location … and saw nothing. The help file actually did address this issue – wrecks drift, so just travel a bit and look for the wreck on your mini-map. My problem here is that I have no idea how to use the mini-map for navigation. Or maybe it’s that I’m too old and blind – but everything is so small in the mini-map that I can’t figure out which direction I’m facing, let alone what the other tiny specks are. I eventually figured out that the weird pink dots that I saw in the distance were the wreck I was looking for, and I managed to salvage some plans. Huzzah!
Hmmm…. that’s a short list. Maybe my fogginess is more due to the flu that is currently vacationing in my lungs than the game itself. I have the feeling that I’ll end up doing a reprisal of What Do I Do Now once I get more playtime in, but sitting here for several minutes now trying to recall specific things that left me confused brings up nothing else. Onward, then!
One thing that simply cannot be left unsaid – the community in this game is amazing. Seriously. Great job, Fluffy Kittens. This game is worth buying just to see what a player community should be. There was one guy cracking the inevitable Uranus jokes, but aside from him, the players were friendly, polite, and there was even several appearances of game devs. Huzzah!
But now I am left cursing my habit of starting impressions and reviews with the not-so-great, as my window of consciousness is coming to a close. So I’ll have to sadly leave off without going into all the fun stuff. But fear not! There is lots of fun stuff! I am really enjoying scooping gas from gas giants. I love how systems like mining and salvaging rely on player skill as well as character skill without being twitchy. One of these days I’ll finish building my grain farm and then I can work on figuring out trade. There’s even a stock market that I have yet to explore….
There’s so much to do and so little hand holding that I’m having a blast – and I’m still in the starter system!
I shall wander off to bed with dreams of eventually making my way into the stars to discover new planets and systems. Stay tuned for more. This game has so much depth I am definitely far from finished.