Ash of Gods: The Way Review
Getting drafted Into a War
The Ash of Gods series returns with a different kind of game to Ash of Gods: Redemption. Can Ash of Gods: The Way take things in a positive new direction? Find out in our review of the turn-based deck-builder.
While it took me a few games to appreciate the charm of deckbuilding games, I finally understood their appeal through Midnight Suns by Firaxis. This game proved to me that you should never write off a genre completely, as there may be a variant that resonates with you eventually.
AurumDust’s Ash of Gods: The Way has many of the traits I enjoy. A turn-based battle system, a story that connects things together, and an attention-grabbing visual style. But the important thing is that it fuses these together into a cohesive whole. And it’s fair to say AurumDust has done a pretty good job of that.
You are Finn, a young man troubled by the prospect of war between his nation and the Frisian empire. Finn ends up being his nation’s hope as long as he can infiltrate the Frisian nation and master a card game primarily used to teach aristocrats about warfare. That game is called The Way.
At the heart of the game are the tournaments that Finn must compete in. However, the gameplay is not limited to these events alone. Between the tournaments, Finn engages in various RPG interactions by conversing with opponents, royalty, townsfolk, and other characters. The storyline is shaped by how Finn settles matters both on the playing board and in conversation. While Finn is playing for his nation, the consequences of his actions, or lack thereof, can affect the wider world.
That wider world is a rather beautiful creation by the way. The hand-drawn character art, the regal menu and HUD style, and the finer details of the places Finn visits are well-realized and fit the tone of the drama encased within the world. The animations in battle add flowing elegance to the brutal nature of what’s actually occurring.
I like the idea of using the card-battling as a story point rather than just throwing it in casually as a mechanic for real fights. The cards in your hands are just as mortally expendable as your party in Ash of Gods: Redemption because the tournaments cruelly use real people to play a live-action version of The Way.
So onto the meat of Ash of Gods: The Way. The card battles. It’s structured in that way card games are most compelling. An initial simplicity that gradually opens up into something deeper and more tactically complex than you first assumed. The practices take place on a draughts style board with several lanes characters can move on. The aim is to reach the commander at the enemy end and defeat them while defending your own.
Each unit has its own skills and traits. So the Enforcer can act as a damage sponge to protect weaker units, while Rangers can pick off foes from further away. On top of that, commanders have their own special abilities that need to recharge. Usually at a cost to the commander themselves. There are also item cards that can temporarily boost your character cards. So we’re talking buffs for movement speed, attack, and healing herbs.
Each battle holds something different. The locations throw up obstacles, variations, one-time challenges, and shifts in rulesets that continuously keep you reworking and experimenting with your own tactics. Because of the context battles take place in, failure doesn’t necessarily mean game over and restarting. The story tends to take a turn instead. But there’s still room for experimentation in the battles. Decks can be switched up, approaches tweaked, environmental traps utilized to your advantage, and tactical use of certain cards right at the death can all reshape a losing battle into a triumph.
The back-and-forth nature of some battles creates real tension, and when certain outside circumstances are tied to those battles, the pressure can become immense. In its best moments, Ash of Gods: The Way reminds me of the Yu-Gi-Oh animated series, but a touch more somber than that. The way it makes a game about a card game dramatic and holds possibly devastating consequences is admirable. It’s a good example that a well-structured story can pull any premise off.
As the game went on, some of the illusion of choice and tactical flexibility fell away and narrative aside, the game began to lose its spark. Luckily, the fire the early hours lit under it kept it chugging along regardless. So it’s not as if the game takes a particularly sour turn, it just stops building. It can be tough to ensure there’s something beyond the freshness of learning a game’s ways and AurumDust is just the latest of many to struggle with that. But on a positive note, the drama and intrigue of the story was good enough to keep me invested.
It could do with a bit of simplification at the start though. A complaint some had about Ash of Gods: Redemption was the aggressive manner in which it dumped lore and information on you. It’s not quite like that in The Way, but it certainly floods your brain with things that could do with some time and space to draw out. At times, The Way is too eager to fill you in on all the details of a situation in one long screed. It does settle itself once you get into the meat of the game.
I don’t think Ash of Gods: The Way is anything revolutionary within the genre, but it doesn’t need to be in fairness. It’s a compelling card battler RPG that’s overly eager to pepper you with its story, but backs it up by ensuring its overall hook is interesting enough to carry it. It looks good, plays well, and tells a fairly captivating story. You can’t ask for much more really.
ASH OF GODS: THE WAY VERDICT
Ash of Gods: The Way is a compelling card battler RPG with a visual style and story that carries the game through its later lulls.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Turning the tide of a battle with the smart deployment of one card.
Good vs Bad
- Looks wonderful
- Story is compelling
- Card battling is good
- Over eager to dump information on you
- Drops off over time in gameplay terms