Ascend: Hand of Kul
Ascend: Hand of Kul is an action RPG where players choose from one of three pathways of the gods and recruit human followers by claiming altars. Travel the world and stamp out competing forces while expanding the reach of your influence.
|Publisher: Signal Studios
Release Date: May 20, 2014
Pros: +Fluid controls. +Unique player invasions. +Large degree of equipment customization.
Cons: -Limited multiplayer functions. -No development support. -Can’t play as female.
Ascend: Hand of Kul Overview
Ascend: Hand of Kul is an action RPG hybrid putting you in the enormous shoes of a Caos—a monstrous being inhabiting the border between god and humanity. Customize your god-aspirant and join one of three factions determining your ability set: Dark, Void, or Light. Set out into a miserable landscape to defeat vile creatures, and harness their souls and experience. Convert altars scattered across the land to your deity, and recruit more worshipers to your god. Human followers will clamor onto your back and help defeat enemies with blazing arrows. Sacrifice yourself to the divine and create a homunculus to invade other player’s worlds and steal their altars. Upgrade your Caos through a huge library of gear, changing your play style and equipping yourself with the wardrobe of a god.
Ascend: Hand of Kul Key Features:
- 3 factions - choose between Light, Dark and Void, each with their own play style and skillset.
- Equipment - customize your Caos with a huge arsenal of gear , unlocking new equipment as you play.
- Player invasion - Sacrifice yourself to the gods and send a homunculus in your image to attack other player’s realms.
- Recruit Followers - claim religious altars scattered through the world, recruiting human followers to aid you on your journey.
- Active Combat - fight in real time, chaining attacks to rack up combos and earn more souls.
Ascend: Hand of Kul Screenshots
Ascend: Hand of Kul Featured Video
Ascend: Hand of Kul Review
By, Sean Sullivan
If it wasn’t for Steam’s “Recommend Games for You” tab I never would have discovered Ascend: Hand of Kul. Released in 2013, it’s fallen between the cracks of the RPG plateau, opened by high-budget releases such The Elder Scrolls Online and Tera. To my surprise the game was developed by Signal Studios, the same company that developed Toy Soldiers. Ascend: Hand of Kul was their attempt at breaking into the free-to-play RPG labyrinth. Did they succeed? Or, will Ascend be lost in the ever expanding maze?
A Land of Gods
You start by creating a giant known as a Caos, something halfway between human and god. Apparently God had quite a few options when creating man in his image. Numerous presets are available to distinguish your avatar, but aesthetics are not entirely free. If you want to manufacture Argo Panoptes’ doppelganger you’re forced to fork over Ascends in-game currency, souls. Starting off, you’re allotted 50,000 souls but some of the higher tier items cost around 250,000 (only possible by purchasing more souls somewhere between $25 and $40).
It comes across as an offense to sensibility when developers prompt you to make purchases before entering the game. My palette was tarnished before I defeated one enemy. If you’re fully loaded out from the beginning of the game, combat will be tremendously easy. But I decided to hoard my souls like an OCD widow refusing to let go, and entered the game world with basic equipment.
Scouring creation options I became vexed. There is no female gender choice when creating your Caos warrior. I can only imagine that the reason Signal Studios didn't add females must be because they had a conference and said, “But, girls don’t play games.” You could posit that the Caos, your avatar, is androgynous but they do bear a striking resmeblance to the malephysique. The developers have stated the intention to add female models, but have been quiet on the manner for the past year.
Shaking my head I was prompted to choose my divine alignment, dictating what stat bonuses I would be granted and particular play style. While Dark focuses on damage and armor, it’s at the sacrifice of speed; whereas Coid focuses on magic, and Light wields focuses on dishing out critical strikes. Following my inner nature I pursued the path riddled in evil.
Dropping down into the world as a giant you fight down linear hallways inhabited by mosquito sized humans. As you pass they drop to their knees and worship your greatness—Ascend does a nice job massaging the ego. Each area is divided into zones, so there is no overworld to travel between. Areas become quite repetitive, displaying a dismal atmosphere. While moving through the world loses its novelty, the grey environments reinforce the notion that Ascend’s world is inhabited by monsters who view humans as tools to be exploited.
Fighting as a melee warrior is a matter of chaining combos using left and right click. Left is bound to your basic attack while right winds up a powerful smash. Dish out enough damage and you’re prompted to use a finisher by pressing “E,” such as in Skyforge. While “F” is bound to spells, in my case fireball. Charging at an enemy sorcerer the undead casted a poisonous blob of magic. Pressing left-shift I completely negated his attack and remained unscathed. Swinging my bone mallet I tore him in two and set on my way for more souls.
Making contact with an enemy rewards you with a bludgeoned thud, but it doesn't always make sense. Swinging in front of me I would often hit enemies directly behind me, with the swing animation nowhere near their model. While I felt like I was making contact due to the games camera-shake, it never looked like my weapon was interacting with the enemy; it was disconcerting. Either the hit boxes are warped or are intentionally huge for console players.
Nonetheless, as you hit enemies you rack up combos, allotting more souls as you chain attacks. It’s a mechanic reeking of God of War, and one that’s fun to constantly try and surpass. But if you incur damage the combo must be started from the beginning.
Scattered through the world are altars to the gods. Desecrating them and recruiting their puny followers to your faith will change the beliefs of the humans in the immediate area, and they will fight for your cause. Pressing "C" will call humans to ride your back, firing volleys of fire arrows. If you don’t feel you need their aid you can always eat the humans to replenish your vitality. Human followers are more of a gimmick than a vital part of gameplay—only causing meager damage. They a serve as a reminder that you are a god-aspirant roaming a desecrated landscape, whose inhabitants are desperate for salvation.
Like Dark Souls you see other players as spirits wandering across the terrain; they occupy a parallel universe. You’ll receive continuous updates of other player’s progress as you proceed, informing you of accomplishments such as who trashed the most breakable objects. Unfortunately, you can’t harm other players directly. Instead, spells like banish will send enemies from your world to an immediate player. If the creatures you banish damage another player you’re rewarded. Or, the empathetic can use blessings to help friendly players, but that’s the extent of player-to-player contact. It would be as withdrawn as Dark Souls except there’s no direct PvP element to Ascend.
Ascend would be more accessible if its promised multiplayer functions were instituted. Instead of actively invading you sacrifice your current character to invade other player’s domains, effectively creating a homunculus to fight for you. And periodically while you’re playing, player homunculi will invade your altars, trying to convert them to their own. But their not controlled by other players. It’s an AI invader inhabiting the body of another player’s Caos. You’ll be prompted to defend the altar or let it succumb to the other player's god. The developers have promised direct PvP, but again Signal Studios is silent on the issue.
While not pay-to-win the entire inventory feels designed to motivate players to purchase souls. You’re constantly confronted with purchasable weapons slapped onto the front page of the menu. But they’re entirely unnecessary and the game is simple enough with free gear. I never felt disadvantage with my oversized bone and crude armor. Ascend is an easy enough experience. The gear seems to exist for players who want to turn their PvP demons into overcompensated warriors, rather than serve as an immediate bonus for players. I did purchase a weapon eventually but enemies became too easy, as I two-shotted through every mob. I shouldn’t have made the purchase.
Final Verdict - Good
Amazingly, Ascend continues to be in public beta. But Signal Studios has abandoned the project. Many of the features initially promised, such as female Caos or PvP, are lost to the void. Ascend will likely never leave its current state but that’s okay. It’s a solid action RPG that will entertain players who are fans of Gods of War or Dark Souls, albeit a far simpler incarnation of the two. Ascend has novel features that feel like they could have used a little more polish to create something with longevity. Instead, Ascend is a good game that deserves to be recognized before it’s forgotten.
Ascend: Hand of Kul Videos
Ascend: Hand of Kul Links
Ascend: Hand of Kul Requirements
Operating System: Windows XP 32 bit
CPU: Core 2 Quad Q6400 2.13GHz or Phenom 9600 Quad-Core
RAM: 4 GB GB RAM
Video Card: GeForce GTS 450 or Radeon HD 6750
Hard Disk Space: 15 GB Free Space
Operating System: Windows 7 64 bit
CPU: Core i5-2300 2.8GHz or Phenom II X4 940
RAM: 4 GB RAM
Video Card: GeForce GTX 560 or Radeon HD 7750 1GB GDDR5
Hard Disk Space: 15 GB Free Space
Ascend: Hand of Kul Music
Ascend: Hand of Kul Additional Information
Developer(s): Signal Studios
Publisher(s): Signal Studios
Other Platforms: Xbox 360 (shut down)
Xbox Release Date: September 25, 2013
PC Release Date: May 20, 2014
Steam Release Date: May 20, 2014
Ascend: Hand of Kul is developed by Washington based video game and interactive software company Signal Studios. The company was founded in 2008 by industry veterans. They released their first game in 2010, titled Toy Soldiers, for Xbox 360 and PC. In 2013 the studio released Ascend: Hand of Kul for both Xbox 360 and Windows. It was unveiled during Microsoft’s press conference during the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2012. Ascend was originally titled Ascend: New Gods, but subsequently changed its name. Ascend: Hand of Kul was available in the Xbox Live arcade for free for Gold members. But the game was removed from the Xbox marketplace on August 18, 2014, and the Xbox servers closed on Novemeber 18, 2014. The game is still listed as being in public beta.