Stunning visuals, branching storylines with hard choices and unforgiving consequences, huge world and tactical turn-based combat. All of these are main features of Ash of Gods - new RPG game from Russian studio Aurum Dust. Since the game is still at least a few months from being released, I reached out to Sergei Bokarev and Anton Bazhenov from Aurum Dust's team to get more information about the game. Here's the outcome of our not-so-short talk, so sit back and enjoy!
EnklawaNetwork.pl: First of all, congratulations for your successful campaign of Ash of Gods on Kickstarter! What is a current stage of the game development?
Sergei Bokarev: Thank you! We currently have most of the assets ready and are putting together and working on our alpha build.
Anton Bazhenov: Actually we already have a playable build and even streamed the first chapter of the game to the Russian community. Unfortunately, the build is still raw so it is available for team members only. But we working hard to improve it to share with journalists and players to get some honest feedback.
EN: Can you introduce us to a main story of the game without spoiling too much?
SB: Here’s a summary that describes the story: the world has known seven hundred years of peace. But that peace is about to come to an end. The Feast of the Spring Equinox is in full swing, when the bell in the town hall suddenly begins to ring. Captain Thorn Brenin, the bodyguard Lo Pheng, the scribe Hopper Rouley, and many others, do not know yet that the reapers have returned and intend to drown the entire world in blood so that they may awaken the sleeping gods. By the way, in our intro (see below) you may see great battle on the eve of the seven centuries of tranquillity.
EN: The return of reapers seems like another war story about battle between forces of light and dark. Are you striving for high fantasy save-the-world-become-a-hero scenario or is it something more personal?
AB: I believe that save-the-world as a chosen one is a cliche that still fits pretty good to fantasy setting. It just works. But despite the fact that the world of Ash of Gods is involved in another good vs evil fight we want to tell another story. It is the story of a man who struggling to save his daughter's life as well as lives of his companions and friends. He's not a hero. He's a man with the goal. But sometimes your choice depends on circumstances. You can't save everyone, can't predict what will happen. A choice that feels right could turn out into hell. And you can easily lose your humanity on your journey trying to save your mates with a price of innocent people lives. The story is non-linear, and the way it shapes is up to a player.
EN: In your last dev diary you stated that writing a finale of the story without Lo Pheng had been a really tough challenge. If it's so important, maybe you'll bring back his plot in a post-release DLC? Nowadays it's not an uncommon practice to expand a final chapter of a game this way.
AB: We thought about it but the thing is not that simple. Before we could claim there will be a DLC for the game, we should be assure that community is ready to support us. And one way or another the game should have some ending, even without Lo Pheng. Otherwise players won't be satisfied. Original idea was make Lo Pheng's story important to affect the endings, to bind him with other protagonist. That's why, I guess, DLC should bring not just an additional story but also affect the whole game.
EN: You promised that player's choice is going to have a direct impact on the story. How deep can it go?
SB: We want to give the player lots of freedom—he will constantly need to weigh every dialogue choice, double-think every decision, and manage his limited resources—because a mistake might make any of the characters perish forever, including the main characters (which will not lead to an immediate GAME OVER). This choices should offer a variety of way to beat the game and end up with one of the 7 endings.
EN: Are you not afraid that some players might put the game off if they'll lose their favourite character because of one or two reckless decisions?
AB: As an old RPG player I believe that RPG players are very curious. They want to know every little detail about any game they play. And they definitely want to know consequences of their choices, even if they are bad. Otherwise, they are able to load a save to make the better ending.
EN: The world of Ash of Gods looks very big and diverse. I guess you work on some extensive lore?
AB: The world of Ash of Gods is based on the novel of famous Russian fantasy author Sergey Malitsky. He's also a story writer of the game. He creates his new novel together with the game, adapts it with our ideas and feedback. So yes, lore of Ash of Gods is really huge, and any player who wants to learn more about the world of the game won't be disappointed.
EN: From what I've seen and heard, it seems Ash of Gods draws inspirations from many different cultures. There's a lot of slavic and scandinavian vibes in a music score, while architecture depicted on first screenshots from the game feels more like a structures from western medieval Europe. Are you going to mix these cultures in the Ash of Gods world or is there a dominant one?
SB: I can say that we took some liberties with the game’s world, so on the continent of size close to Australia we have several nations: southerners are similar to western europeans in the medieval period, northmen are a mix of a japanese and late european empires, on the west we have some tribes similar to the central african ones, and some that are based of gaelic people. So it’s a large mix of cultures and influences and we combine them to create something that is both unique and exciting.
EN: My first impression from seeing Ash of Gods' combat system was like „It's The Banner Saga with cards”. Can you make a list of the most important similarities and differences between these two games in their approach to battle?
SB: Well, it also is a turn-based tactical combat, similar to the many jRPGs, as the combat takes place on a grid-based field. However, we use a different ruleset (there is no hit/miss chances, you can attack both into HP or MP, and paying for powerful attacks in HP) and we use collectible cards in combat (that have powerful effects that can turn the combat around).
EN: During the Kickstarter campaign you said that you're going to put a „level of unpredictability” on the battlefield. Such statement raises many questions for fans of tactical combat, who love to analyze the enemy and plan three moves ahead. What is this „unpredicitible” factor? Can you give us a quick example?
AB: The first unpredictable thing is variability. For example, you can risk everything to use a very strong ability of an archer, but it is also inflict a lot of damage to the archer himself. Thus, you can surprise your enemy with a bold move.
The second unpredictable thing is cards. You get a set of five random cards from your deck before every fight, and these cards could turn your failure into victory. For example, you can swap HP and MP if your unit is almost dead or kill several enemy units with one shot if their health is low. Use cards wise to defeat your enemy adapting your tactic to the random card's set you got, but remember that your opponent also got some aces.
EN: This combat system sounds really cool from a gamer perspective, but with so many variations it must be a hell of work to balance it properly. I could name some RPGs that also tried to make "endless possibilities" in combat, but rather ended with endless balancing patches. Are you not afraid of landing in the same territory?
AB: Not really. Moreover, we are planning to add multiplayer PvP battles to Ash of Gods, and we want everyone to have fun. Balance definitely is an important part of any game, but one could never balance everything in a perfect way. There are always some sorts of unpredictability, and that's okay. Some games even requires luck to succeed. Like Hearthstone, for example. You don't know which card will come to your hand next turn and also you don't know what your opponent have. That can lead you to a lose even if your deck is stronger than enemy's deck. But it is fun. After all, we are not aiming to e-sport. And of course, we having closed testing with players to make sure that balance is right.
EN: So how many multiplayer modes will Ash of Gods have? A PvP, co-op or maybe something else?
AB: As I said before we would like to add a PvP multiplayer. Actually, we are already testing it with Kickstarter backers. You can fight other players to get achievements and special rewards like new cards to your deck as well as new rare units. There's also a competitive feature, so all these strenghts you gain will help you to get higher ranking among players all over the world.
EN: Thank you for your time and good luck with development of Ash of Gods!