Ash of Gods: The Way Review: Can You Find Your Own Way?
By now, you’ve heard me talk about my love of deckbuilders many, many times – I frequently review them, and I frequently love them. But even I have to admit that it’s getting harder and harder for a deckbuilder to come across as unique. Many are enjoyable, certainly, but unique? That’s an increasingly difficult ask. Along came AurumDust’s Ash of Gods: The Way, combining deckbuilder and tactical strategy elements, and I knew I had to give it a try.
A Story of Dark Intrigue
In a fairly stark departure from the genre, Ash of Gods: The Way has a surprisingly deep story, and contains far, far more dialogue than any other deckbuilder I’ve ever played. The story is a little intense, to say the least. It takes place in a world where a strategy card game, called The Way, is played, but real people act out the actions of the cards, meaning real people die in the course of the game. Players take on the role of Finn, who, after proving himself to the King of his country, is given an important mission: to infiltrate the rival nation and attempt to avert catastrophe. To do so, Finn must engage in battles with increasingly high stakes to prove his worth. He’s aided along the way by his adoptive uncle, a surly ex-spy who managed to steal The Way from said rival nation, and a bitter, jealous young man who was originally selected for this mission before being passed over for Finn. Not the most harmonious group, to say the least, and their interactions add a lot of depth to the game’s story and world. Throughout the game, you’ll frequently be faced with difficult choices, which will affect the ending you receive.
A Unique Mix of Deckbuilding and Tactical Strategy
Ash of Gods: The Way, being my first experience with a tactical deckbuilder, I was a bit worried that the mechanics would be overly complicated and frustrating. While the gameplay does grow more complex as you progress through the game, the difficulty curve is not nearly so intense as I anticipated. The preliminary challenges you must conquer to prove yourself worthy do an excellent job of introducing you to the rules of the world. Decks consist of 20 cards – 10 character cards, and 10 support cards. Character cards are your warriors, and there’s quite a wide range to choose from: archers that work best from the back lines, and deal additional damage to the enemy’s commander (more on that in a moment); blade masters who have low HP but who grow stronger with every turn; protectors with low attack but high defense. Support cards have an incredible range of uses, from increasing a character’s attack power, to restoring health, to imbuing weapons with poison for one-hit kills, and much, much more. The ability for customization of your decks is enormous, and once you start gaining access to additional factions, your options only continue to expand. You’ll need to be careful, though, as some support cards only work for particular factions.
Once you’ve chosen your deck (and you can, thankfully, save several different decks to use for different situations), you’ll square off against your opponent. At the most basic level, the goal is to reduce the enemy commander’s HP to zero before they do the same to you. Your commander is stationed at one end of a square or rectangular grid, and your opponent at the other. Each turn, you’ll be able to place one character and play one support card (though some decks/card combinations allow the occasional exception to this rule). Characters have a set number of spaces they’ll move each round, and it’s your job to try and keep them alive as they travel from one side of the field to the other. Once they’re in range of the enemy commander, they’ll attack them directly, chipping away at their HP. Of course, nothing is ever so simple.
Careful Planning is the Only Way
Your opponent can obviously summon their own characters to the field and use support cards with myriad effects. Frustratingly, they can frequently summon more characters onto the field than you are able to, which can seem a bit unbalanced at times, especially as the difficulty starts increasing the further into the game you get. Still, it never feels impossible, and there’s always a way around any given challenge if you think creatively. When an enemy unit is in the same “lane” as your character, when they meet, they’ll hack and slash at each other until one or the other’s HP gives out, and they’ll be removed from the game. Both you and your opponent are also able to switch the lane your character is currently in at the start of your turn, so you can do some clever shuffling to try and ensure that you’ll emerge victorious from the end of the round. Thankfully, there are different commanders with different abilities, both of which you and your enemy can use, and different challenges and/or rules with each stage. It goes a long way to keep the mechanics from feeling at all stale.
In order to progress through the game, you’ll visit specific areas indicated on the world map, with each region hosting its own competition. You must fight your way through qualifying matches, before challenging adjutants. Defeat the adjutants, and you’ll gain access to the “boss” of each tourney. This boss must be defeated if you want to open up the next tournament, and they are always, unsurprisingly, the most difficult fight. Thankfully, the game does have an adjustable difficulty that you can access any time you’re not in the midst of battle. There were times I shamelessly and judicially took advantage of it, because this game can get very difficult. Again, not impossible, but it can be headache-inducing at times.
A Challenging, Deep Experience
Aesthetically, Ash of Gods: The Way has an absolutely gorgeous, stunning, hand-drawn quality to it. The character stills of Finn, as well as his companions and enemies, are exquisitely detailed. The voice acting is really quite good, though there are times when Finn’s lines come across as a little stilted and awkward, enough so to be (thankfully rarely) jarring. The soundtrack is well-suited to the game, and while there may be nothing particularly memorable about it, it’s appropriately dark and dramatic, and even moving at times.
There’s little to complain about in Ash of Gods: The Way. While the difficulty can, at times, be frustrating, it increases at a reasonable rate and sometimes the problem is more trying to get through a match too quickly rather than thinking strategically. Really, my biggest complaint with the game is that the enemy all too frequently has an unfair advantage, which, while it typically skews things in their favor, it also seems at odds with the narrative, that these games are used to determine who’s who. Shouldn’t they be even matches? But I digress. Overall, Ash of Gods: The Way is an extremely enjoyable entry into an extremely crowded field, and that holds true whether you view it more as a deckbuilder or as a tactical/strategy game. Gameplay, on the whole, is engaging, challenging, and addicting, the story is fairly deep and does a good job of driving gameplay forward, and the promise of multiple endings is a strong draw for repeated playthroughs.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC; Publisher: PQube Developer: Acquire; Players: 1; Released: April 20th, 2023; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $29.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.