Neon Giant's The Ascent and CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077 are natural bedfellows, with both games featuring cyberpunk settings and each title centering on action RPG gameplay. There are plenty of similarities, between the grimy futuristic locations, all-powerful corps like The Ascent Group, and customizable weapons and characters, it's hard not to compare the two. However, there are just as many differences, with each game offering its own unique take on the cyberpunk subgenre.
One key point of comparison between the two games is the protagonists: Cyberpunk 2077's V and The Ascent's nameless main character are the central points of gameplay, and they each bring different viewpoints to their respective narratives. Protagonists can be vitally important to a game, and how likable or fleshed out they are can have a significant impact on the player's experience. Sometimes a more blank slate approach fits better with a game's narrative, but other times something much more in-depth is called for.
Building A Cyberpunk-Style World
It's easy to compare the worlds of The Ascent and Cyberpunk 2077, with both games setting their stories in locations inspired by the science fiction subgenre. The Ascent's colossal towering arcology is intricately designed and feels anything but shallow. From the grimy lower levels to the sleeker corp-controlled highrises, every section of the monolith feels dense with detail, all designed by an ambitious and surprisingly small team of 12 developers. The futuristic world of Veles in The Ascent is an impressive feat of design and ticks all the boxes for what players might expect from a cyberpunk dystopia.
In comparison, Cyberpunk 2077's Night City is a similarly neon-infused urban sprawl, filled with dangerous individuals and megacorporations with too much power. The story takes the player beyond the corrupt and crime-filled streets of the city and lets them explore parts of the outskirts as well, providing a contrast between the diverse districts and the dusty Badlands.
Initially, the setting is overwhelmingly large, with fascinating elements and intriguing areas. However, parts of Night City can start to feel shallow or phoned-in, especially in comparison to The Ascent's authentically gritty environs. Both games, however, feature convincingly contrasting areas of affluence and want, creating a juxtaposition to visually represent the stratified societies that each protagonist attempts to navigate.
Why Character Matters
Having a compelling main character to play as they navigate through new worlds is a fairly key element to good storytelling. It can be to a game's detriment if the protagonist is merely a personality vacuum that mutely wanders about, which in turn detracts from any emotional heft developers try to give to a game's story. On the other hand, a silent and seemingly character-less protagonist can be a beautiful and unfiltered way to experience a landscape, just like the robed figure in Journey.
Many players like to put their own stamp on their protagonists, utilizing character creation systems to customize their main character and inject some personality, even if it's just visual. Both The Ascent and Cyberpunk 2077 feature character creation options, with tattoos, hairstyles, and even genitalia in Cyberpunk 2077 open to players to change as they see fit. In classic RPG style, players can upgrade and kit out their protagonists with further unique elements like clothing, accessories, and even make changes on a physiological level with augmentations and implants.
Cyberpunk 2077 and The Acent's Protagonists
The Ascent's protagonist, a nameless migrant who arrives in Veles in search of a better life, is the exact definition of a blank slate. Their story is introduced through onscreen text which explains why they're now an indentured laborer (or ident) to The Ascent Group — the exploitative and seemingly omnipotent megacorporation that runs the arcology. Players can customize the look of their character, which lends them a bit of personality, but without a voice actor to bring the protagonist to life, the character can feel a bit flat to some.
Cyberpunk 2077's main character, V, has a bit more going for them. Even though the game has a first-person perspective compared to The Ascent's isometric view, players can still see their V in the menu and if they hop on a motorcycle to traverse the hazardous streets of Night City. Although it stops players from seeing their character, V's first-person view makes gamers feel more connected as they experience the world of Cyberpunk 2077 literally through V's eyes. Although not much is known about what V was up to before the game starts, there are still clues to their background and previous acquaintances that change depending on their chosen lifepath.
Comparing the Main Characters
In The Ascent, the location is really the main character of the game, with the nameless protagonist serving mostly as a conduit for players to experience the world. In Cyberpunk 2077, V is more of a focal point, with Night City as a vast but sometimes superficial space for the story to play out. V also has a voice, further fleshing out the character in cutscenes and in-game interactions.
Relationships are key to building V's personality and story, like their relationship with Jackie Welles and complicated friendship with Johnny Silverhand. The Ascent's main character doesn't have any comparable relationships, although players can engage in co-op play with their friends to provide companions for their protagonist.
Both characters start out on the lower levels of their respective societies and attempt to work their way up through various less-than-legal activities. Their disregard for the rules of an admittedly unfair society ensures their success as mercenaries that know how to navigate the shadier sides of their locales, and their willingness to engage in violence to solve any problem is definitely a shared characteristic (and integral to gameplay for both games). The biggest difference, though, is that one character feels like a fleshed-out product of their slightly shallow environment, while the other comes across as a personality-less extension of their much more vibrant surroundings.
The Ascent is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Cyberpunk 2077 is out now for PC, PS4, Stadia, and Xbox One.
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