It’s perfect timing for a game like The Ascent. Not much else is coming out right now, so there’s more incentive to break through its slow opening to get at some of the chunkier gameplay in the back-half of the game. It’s also on Game Pass for PC and Xbox, so you can get in, give it a try, and bounce back off it with minimal upfront investment. There’s just one problem: the cyberpunk action-RPG is a headache to play on console.
Yes, the game is a bit janky. No, the top-down twin-stick shooting does not feel great. But the real issue is that the game is a visual mess to navigate on a conventional TV screen with loads of borderline impossible to read text. None of these are new issues exactly. I and others have been complaining about tiny fonts for years now. And it’s clear that, while console manufacturers have tried to make porting games from PC easier than ever, especially on the Xbox side, the games themselves are seldom optimized for anyone not playing with a keyboard and mouse while sitting two feet from a giant-ass computer monitor.
The Ascent has been a big part of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X/S marketing push, though. The company listed it as one of its “biggest exclusive games lineup ever” and clearly thought it was worth locking down as a day-one Game Pass title as well. And, look, three hours in and I am still lowkey enjoying myself and morbidly fascinated by the oppressive detail and density of Neon Giant’s take on cyberpunk. At the same time, I have almost no clue what’s going on or how its progression systems work because I can’t read a damn thing on the screen:
While The Ascent does have a display option in the settings menu to boost the front size, it only seems to work for cutscene subtitles. Ambient conversations throughout the rest of the world and a cascade of RPG-lite menus remain incomprehensible. A few times, I walked over and stood directly in front of my 50” TV to read some flavor text or compare stats on new armor in the shop. Mostly, I’ve just been ignoring the story altogether and dumping skill points into random stats. Several people tell me this is a perfectly feasible way to play and beat the game. It is also, frankly, a bummer way to play.
There are other shortcomings with the console version. Multiplayer has been a bit of a mess. There’s no ray-tracing or DLSS (deep learning super sampling) visual features at the moment either, though they’re getting added soon. I can accept these trade-offs for the option to play a grimey sci-fi Diablo-like from the comfort of my couch, however. Maybe someday that’ll be a real option. For now, you can find me surfing The Ascent wikis to get an idea of what’s actually going on outside of all the augmented looting and shooting.