the jenny jam blog

Ashes 2063

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Rating: 4/5

Ashes 2063 is described as a doom mod (and, as of the standalone release, no longer technically a mod reliant on the base game either), but really it's just a new game built on the foundation of the GZDoom source port. It's part of a duology with Ashes: Afterglow, and in the style of doomwads that game begins with the map being considered later in the game, and 2063 acts as a story prologue. I didn't play Afterglow, and while it's installed I'm not sure I will either.

Ashes feels like a big mashup of a number of different post-apocalyptic movie and game franchises in a game that uses doom-style monster density but tries to hue hard on being a modern, professional style game. Often being pretty on the nose on what it's taking inspiration from, be that fallout, mad max, escape from new york, Metro or Stalker (and probably more). Mechanically it feels much closer to a modern FPS game in how gunplay works with reloading and relatively low max ammo counts, but it still uses Doom style ai for most of it's non-human enemies, and still has enemy counts that feel really large, not quite leaning into horde shooter but close.

I think the game works best when your flowing in exploration and engaging in these extra-Doom mechanics, like managing radiation, some light inventory management, smashing up the environment for resources, and handling small combat encounters with larger set pieces you can get a stronger hand on through earlier exploration. At worst, I walk into another large, impressively designed level and I spend 10-20 minutes chewing through a large combat encounter, and I would regularly put the game down when moving between them.

There is also a few sets of town areas that restrict weapon usage. The overall structure of the game is fairly linear (one level to another, no going back) but the two town levels have this very quaint, simple TTRPG adventure feel -- there's a few sets of direct choices to access bonus content or gain certain abilities, but always in a mostly quite direct way. Likewise the story path that propels you is quite straight forward through the areas, and you are given monetary goals that your character is shown to be explicitly interested in. This is all wrapped in a small surrounding layer of role-playing fluff that has you acting out a (straightedge?) post apocalyptic scavenger ala later mad max. It's fun, but there's not much there aside from a set of straightforward and sign posted interactions.

One of the middle level, the subway/tunnel level, really shines above the rest because the set piece has good continuity with what happens before and after, and incorporates both all of the major added mechanics (light management, some radiation stuff, weapons), the conversation systems, and you have a route described to you that you try and follow through environmental clues, along with a few set of twists in it's finale that uses environmental hints to hype things up and suggest what happens. It also ends with tons of enemies spawning and waiting out a slowly descending elevator that actually moved back up, so I simply went and cleared out the rest of the level which was absolutely not the intention for this sort of set piece.

What really stands out about Ashes 2063 is effort. This is a game running on GZDoom, and while that probably has a much simpler asset pipeline than something like modern Unreal, the amount of work here is absolutely stunning, and you can tell in the more ambitious settings they were trying to aim for an equivalent to AAA-level Polish. It's deeply impressive, but I also kinda wonder if what the glowing reviews I heard is seeing something kinda weird, and kinda indie, going for high levels of polish and praising it.

Ultimately, I think I'd recommend the game if you are a doom person or like post-apocalyptic action games and can handle the jank.