To say Bluehole is on a hot streak right now would be an understatement. With more than 20 million copies sold, the studio’s PUBG is one of the most popular games in the world. But the team is also known for Tera, a 2011 MMO that is still played by many people. But Bluehole is hardly resting on its laurels; Last week, during the Gstar game-convention in their homeland of Korea, they announced and demoed their latest game: Ascent: Infinite Realm.
With Ascent, Bluehole is returning to its roots. It’s an MMO that takes place in a world that combines fantasy and steampunk influences. The planet where players reside consists of many islands, which are floating in the air. Residents use airships as their main form of transportation to reach the multitude of different islands.
During our play-session of an early alpha build at the Gstar game convention, the English language version wasn’t available yet. But with support of a translator, we managed to set our first steps in Ascent: Infinite Realm. Despite the early development stage, A:IR played smoothly and looked quite good. A total of five classes were playable, and though we don’t their names just, an interview with Product Director Hyungjun Kim suggested that those different characters will fulfill the classic MMO roles of tank, damage dealer, and healer. Kim also shared with us that more characters with specific roles will be probably added, such as a mechanic for airships.
We immediately started with RvR (Realm vs Realm) combat. During this PvP battle, two teams of about 20 members fought against each other. Right away one of the most important features of A:IR is shown to us: Combat with airships. Kim explained that every player will get his or her own airship and is able to customize that ship. On an air battle map, you command a ship and attempt to destroy the airships or base of your opponents. The battles felt slightly chaotic, mainly because of the foreign-language (to us) controls, yet they were spectacular.
Besides hostile ships, dragons and other impressive creatures were also part of the combat. The difference in altitude, and the fact that players can move in all directions, makes the ships difficult to steer. This may make you feel like you’re at a disadvantage against skilled players, but as soon as you get the hang of how it works, you can go all out in what feels like very free, flowing combat. When your character jumps out of his own airship and onto one commandeered by an opponent, he throws him out and then attacks the enemy line from behind with the stolen ship — that’s when A:IR is at its best.
We also had the opportunity to play maps without air combat, in which some players command mechs. Unfortunately these mechs were the main target of enemy attacks, so I couldn’t enjoy these powerful robots for long.
After the PvP experience we got the chance to level a character. During questing and our conversation with Hyungjun Kim, it rapidly became clear that leveling mainly serves as a tool to get acquainted with the game mechanics and the world. For example, by completing a certain quest, you obtain your airship and learn how to command it. A different quest shows you which resources to collect as a player, so you are able to craft items later. Kim believes players wish to reach the end content quickly and everything leading up to that point must prepare them, but shouldn’t take too long.
For now, the level cap is 30 and you can reach that within a few days. That’s almost a pity, because the charming steampunk-world is worth to be discovered in a relaxed pace. Arriving at level 30 unlock raids, which we unfortunately didn’t get to check out yet. According to Kim, A:IR has scheduled cool features such as a Guild Airship, that, in the open world, can function as a base for attacks on enemy territory, and an extended crafting system for you to work with. Items will of course also play an important role. To obtain these, raiding and crafting are just as important as PvP combat.
Bluehole wants a player’s character to be the most important thing for them in Ascent. In a world full of airships, mechs, and other mechanical resources, you focus on that character and it must feel like you are the superhero in this story, according to the development team. Here A:IR does not move away from the traditional MMO concept, but it extends it. Besides adjusting and improving their ships, players can also build an upgradeable house. There you’ll be able to do several different things that help you along in the game, but Kim didn’t share many details about that yet.
My first impression of Ascent: Infinite Realm is a good one. We still have to see how certain elements of it evolve during development, but it already shows a lot of potential in its early stage. The steampunk world is definitely interesting and offers Bluehole the opportunity a wealth of creative opportunities that might not fit into a pure fantasy setting. Learning how to properly take part in the main feature of the game, the airship battles, seems challenging, but definitely worth getting familiar with.
Jürgen Stirnweis is an IGN Benelux contributor. Catch him on Twitter at @stirnmeister.