PC, Nintendo Switch
April 27, 2023
When you play a strategy game, you don’t think much about the units that fall in battle. But when you realise they are living beings that give their lives for you, the stakes suddenly rise. Ash of Gods: The Way puts you in that powerful yet uncomfortable position as you make military strategies to triumph over your opponent. Test various strategies and item combinations as you fight your way to prevent the outbreak of war.
There’s a moral story at the heart of Ash of Gods: The Way, which doesn’t shy away from the realities of conflict. Combat is turn-based through cards, where positioning and items change the tides of battle. The challenge is appropriate but there’s a lot of experimenting as you repeatedly fail. If you stand your ground and play, you will have a great time executing your military strategies.
In the game, you take on the role of Finn, a young orphan adopted by Eik in Berkana. Eik senses war between Berkana and another nation called Frisia. Frisia is likely to win the war if it breaks out, and Eik wants to buy time for Berkana to prepare. He asks Finn to play the Frisian game “The Way”, a combat strategy game that all Frisian commanders play. By getting good at the game and making his way to the Frisian empire, Finn might be able to save lives by stopping the war.
That’s the hope, but the reality is harsher. “The Way” is played with real human lives, with people surviving and dying at Finn’s command. The morality of the game and Finn’s quest are not lost on the people he meets. Finn’s experiences and encounters shape him, and he will make decisions that change the fate of the world around him.
“Your choices matter, you can’t take them back and you must live with the consequences, just like an actual conflict.”
The realities of war and conflict, along with the effects it has on others are properly covered. It also influences the decisions that Finn makes, which results in a non-linear storyline. Seeing your decisions and the consequences play out adds tension, especially because you only have one save. You cannot “rewind” your actions and must live with the consequences. This Ironman-like storytelling makes you feel the impact behind your decisions and shows how even good intentions don’t always work out.
While the story is engaging, the real appeal is the gameplay. Finn commands his soldiers to fight against other players. The soldiers take the form of cards, and you put them down as if you are declaring their presence. As deceptively simple as it seems, there are various factors that change things. Fortunately, Ash of Gods: The Way has an excellent tutorial that never stops being helpful.
You learn the basics at the beginning, and as you progress in tournaments, you can get advice from your allies. Trying different tactics is encouraged because brute force is almost never the answer. It’s rare for two battles to be exactly the same; almost every battle has a unique scenario that you must adapt to. This is to reflect the unpredictability of warfare and forces you to accept the complexity of The Way.
While it’s not lost on you that you are playing with the lives of real people, it’s thankfully not a dire consequence even if you fail. You can always safely restart a battle and keep trying. This prevents failure from being too frustrating and putting yourself in an unwinnable scenario. The exception is facing the tournament champion: you only get a limited number of tries. If you fail to win, the game is over. Thankfully, these battles can be overcome with good tactics and you will likely use those tries to get the “flawless victory” condition. Just winning is good enough, and you must be satisfied with what you get.
As Finn travels to Frisia, he will gain access to different decks that encourage different playstyles. One deck encourages standard combat while another recommends swarming your enemy to death. The variety gives you access to multiple strategies, which helps against difficult battle scenarios.
You must think outside the box and use every resource available to win. Using different units, bringing different items, and even switching decks are vital for victory. Upgrades are fully refundable and there’s no cost, allowing you to build your decks from scratch if you get stuck. The triumph you get when you overcome a difficult scenario after careful planning immerses you in the game. You actually feel like a proper tactician, especially if you complete Challenger battles, which are tougher versions of tournament battles.
Challenger battles are a double-edged sword for Ash of Gods: The Way, even though it’s part of the appeal. The original battles are tricky, but some good planning helps you win. Challenger battles stack the deck against you by giving the opponent unfair advantages, which you must overcome. It’s (obviously) possible to overcome these battles with the resources you have, but it sometimes feels like luck guides your way.
“Challenger battles feel like a puzzle to solve with some luck rather than a challenge of strategic wit.”
Opponents can get lucky and trounce you before you have a chance to retaliate. Other times the cards you need never appear because it’s the nature of a card game. It reflects how war isn’t fair and opponents always have advantages, along with war being unpredictable. But it can be frustrating to treat strategic battles like puzzle-solving, rather than a battle of wits.
Having a single save file also has its own problems. You certainly suffer the consequences of your actions, but there’s no way to back up your file in the event of an emergency. If your game crashes at a particular instance, you have no way to try something different or reload a previous save. This often results in you losing almost all your progress because you must start from the beginning.
As frustrating as Ash of Gods: The Way can be, it encourages you to keep trying and not give up. There’s no challenge you can’t overcome and no battle that you can’t win. Change your strategies, make different decisions, and pray you are lucky this time. Stand by your decisions and push away your regrets, because you must stop this war for everyone’s sake.
- Non-linear story that forces you to accept the consequences of your actions
- Strategic combat that forces you to use all of your resources
- The portrayal of war in the story and gameplay is excellent
- Challenger battles feel blatantly unfair at times, even if there is an answer
- Single save file carries a risk of an irreversible game crash
Ash of Gods: The Way doesn’t shy away from the realities of war, whether it’s the unpredictability on the battlefield or the impacts it has on those involved. The story sucks you in as you try to end the war, but your decisions result in non-linear gameplay that makes you wonder if you made the right choice. Combat is strategic and forces you to plan ahead, using all resources available to you to overcome your enemies. The difficult Challenger battles sometimes feel blatantly unfair and having only a single save file does create issues you can’t easily resolve. But if you persevere and come up with new tactics, you are rewarded with a great story and gameplay that makes you feel like a real tactician.