Game of Thrones Ascent review
Game of Thrones Ascent is the long-awaited social game adaptation of the TV series of the same name, originally based on George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire. The game, which was developed by Disruptor Beam, is currently in open beta, meaning it is available for all Facebook players to try out.
It would have been very easy for Disruptor Beam to follow the approach Kabam took with its adaptation of The Hobbit and simply reskin the well-worn midcore social strategy game formula with a Game of Thrones theme, but thankfully that has not happened. Instead, Disruptor Beam has created a game that captures the atmosphere of the books and TV series admirably while providing gameplay that is both straightforward to understand yet possessing considerable depth.
In Game of Thrones Ascent, players are cast in the role of a custom character who can be male or female and named as they please. Over the course of the game’s prologue, players become a noble, swear fealty to one of the iconic houses from the series, build up their holdings and begin to establish their own style of rulership over their domain.
Gameplay unfolds over several different components. On the main domain screen, players may access a variety of information about their character and the buildings within their holdings. They may also construct new buildings, which may subsequently be used to produce income of resources and soft currency, and these buildings may also be upgraded in a variety of ways to make them more efficient. Certain buildings are locked until the player reaches a particular level of experience, giving the game a good gradual sense of progression and growth.
The player is presented with quests to advance the story as they work their way through. Quests which the player can handle themselves are presented as a dialog between themselves and other characters. Making choices provides the player with rewards of currency and items, and often changes various character statistics. For example, making decisions which show the player values the wellbeing of their family will increase the “Family” stat; making decisions which favor “modern” values such as chivalry will increase the player’s reputation slider towards the “New Ways” marker; and choosing options which favor forthrightness and honesty will increase the “Truthful” stat. In this way, the player has a very real sense of “role-playing” their character and establishing them as a personality rather than a collection of numbers.
Sometimes the player will need to send their “Sworn Swords” out on missions further afield. When this happens, the player may choose any of their hired Sworn Swords, equip them with items to improve their capabilities in battle, trade and/or intrigue, then choose how they are going to handle the situation in question. An estimation of how likely they are to succeed at the various actions is provided, and the Sworn Sword is then sent on their way to carry out the mission, which takes a period of real time to complete. When the mission is completed, the player is given a report as to how it went, and rewarded if it was successful. While these missions are still a fairly “hands off” affair, the fact that the player may choose one of a wide number of ways for the Sworn Sword to complete the task gives a much greater feeling of control and choice than many other similar titles.
The game’s social features include the ability to add friends, visit their realms, send gifts and form pacts with them. Once the player has reached experience level 5, they are also able to send their Sworn Swords on missions that directly interact with other players for either good or ill, too. At no point is the player forced into playing with others, but the game is a slightly richer experience for working with (or against) their friends — there’s also a light competitive element as players work to assert their dominance through earning a greater amount of the “Power” statistic, which effectively acts as the player’s “score.” At present, the social features seem a little limited in comparison to the excellent things the rest of the game is doing, but this is something which Disruptor Beam will be able to work on as the community expands and explores a greater proportion of the game as a whole. The game’s reporting of “high scores” on Facebook’s News Feed could also do with a bit of polishing up — at present the default message that “[x] beat [y]‘s high score on Game of Thrones Ascent” isn’t really in keeping with the nature of the game.
The game monetizes primarily through the sales of hard currency, which is used to buy very effective premium items that boost the player and their Sworn Swords’ statistics considerably, making completing some missions much easier. Hard currency may also be used to purchase items that make real-time waits pass more quickly. Again, the game seems perfectly playable without spending any money, but it’s likely that more difficult challenges — particularly those involving other, more powerful players — will require the more effective equipment only purchasable with premium currency.
On the whole, Game of Thrones is an excellent game that is nicely accessible to casual players, but which provides a considerable amount of depth that will appeal to players of hardcore standalone strategy games such as King of Dragon Pass. Unfortunately, a number of flaws mar the experience to a noticeable degree at present. This is perhaps to be expected with a title in open beta, but they impact the gameplay and enjoyment of the experience significantly.
Most notable is the speed — or rather lack thereof — at which the interface responds to the player’s input. It can sometimes take up to ten seconds for a click to register and update the interface with new information. Sometimes the game gets confused if the player tries to do other things while waiting for a response — opening and closing windows without being asked to, switching screens inexplicably and on other occasions simply showing no evidence that the input has been acknowledged. I had to reload the game several times during the tutorial because the “Claim Rewards” buttons in the game’s quest log simply refused to accept any player input whatsoever — they didn’t even change the mouse cursor when hovered over. These issues persisted when tested on both Mac OS X and Windows 7 computers, in Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari.
Despite these problems, though, there’s very obviously a great deal of potential in Game of Thrones Ascent. For those who can deal with the interface’s current idiosyncrasies, it’s an excellent game that sets a fantastic example for other mid-to-hardcore developers — not to mention developers of games based on other licensed properties — to follow. For everyone else, it’s one to check back on in a month or two when some of the more glaring faults have been ironed out — because once it works smoothly and quickly as intended, this will without a doubt be one of the better strategy games on Facebook.
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Once its teething troubles are ironed out, this will absolutely be one of the deepest games on Facebook. Until then, it’s a good, but slightly frustrating experience.