Part 51: Bonus Update #4: Fixing Ash of Gods Round 2: The PlotBonus Update #4: Fixing Ash of Gods Round 2: The Plot
So we've finally gotten to the point where Ash of Gods tips its hand as to what the villains want. We still have no idea what the hell Chila is up to and what her end game plan is as Philia basically told us to fuck off when Hopper asked. I've been avoiding this update until at least one of the Mystery Boxes was opened, despite the cries of "what is going on" and "none of this makes sense" from the thread. It's clear we're building up to some kind of big clash at Opacum with all three of our parties (despite a feature of the game being that Thorn's party and Lo Pheng's party can be completely wiped out at this point), the dark god will revive in the body of Gleda (or maybe Reet, Orkan said she was important) and there's going to be a big battle.
To recap, how did we get here?
Thorn was having a peaceful day in his boring hometown of Albius, shopping with his daughter for his wife's birthday. His daughter notices a beautiful woman in the marketplace, who is actually the Reaper Childao in disguise. They were rudely interrupted by Dorpkhal the Reaper attacking the town, slaughtering the inhabitants but arbitrarily withdrawing after seeing Gleda. He made some ominous comments about Thorn's family, which caused Thorn and Gleda to run home. Once they got there, it turned out Liki had been killed by the family's servants who had been driven insane by the Reaper. Thorn murdered Tenner in anger over Tenner revealing he was an informant for Liki's father, dumped the body in a dumpster, and then encountered 5 men of the town guard who had no idea where to go and needed Thorn's emergency leadership. Thorn decreed the band would set out for the nearest menhir to cure the Reaping plague and then figure out what to do next. As it turned out, all of the menhirs were corrupted by the Reaping, meaning the plague could not be healed, so Thorn wandered aimlessly from menhir to menhir until he ran into the seer Chila, who sent him to Ursus while explaining his daughter was special.
Unfortunately for Thorn, one of the guardsmen turned out to be an incognito prince. His father ordered Thorn's arrest and execution for...reasons...meaning that when Thorn hit Ursus in his wanderings he was arrested and imprisoned. His evil brother in law, Brann, taunted Thorn by revealing Thorn's son was about to be eaten by cannibals. Fortunately, some random mercenaries who Brann had pissed off and imprisoned helped Thorn and his crew escape jail, and he had to cross the Ashen Wasteland to rescue his son. He was able to cross the wasteland, rescue his son, and then go to Opacum because it was the only safe place from the war and the Reaping via the assistance of the seer Chila, who was secretly the Reaper Childao.
Lo Pheng was working as a bodyguard for a powerful yet inept noble when he received the order to execute a red-haired woman for the amusement of a Reaper disguised as a Temple official. Lo Pheng elected not to kill her, forcing the Reaper to reveal himself and attack. As Lo Pheng's clan commands all warriors to kill Reapers on sight, Lo Pheng struck down the Reaper in the public square, freed Reet because he admired her courage, and left. Reet and her fellow prisoners followed Lo Pheng seeking protection on the road, and they struck a bargain - Reet would show Lo Pheng a shortcut to get to his homeland so he could warn them of the Reaping, while Lo Pheng would let Reet, the abused lady prisoners, and a few people they picked up along the way travel with him for protection. After another battle with Atraakh, the Reaper who Lo Pheng first defeated, Reet was cursed and so Lo Pheng had to sacrifice his clan's sacred stone to save her, making him an outcast. This let Lo Pheng and Reet arrive in time to save an Ense - one of the Reapers' servants - and free him from the spell clouding his mind. He told them of the other world the Reapers, Enses, and Umbra came from, a dead world ruined by a mad god, and swore to help them save their world from the ruinous power. The party made it to Reet's shortcut, the wandering menhir, where the guardian offered to teleport them to where they needed to go. Instead of Lo Pheng's homeland, the guardian sent them to Amma, an ancient Umbra seeress who had founded Lo Pheng's clan. She used her position as the Great Ancestress to compel Lo Pheng and the others to escort her to the ancient fortress Opacum.
Hopper Rouley's story started 700 years ago, at the battle of Drowsy Deep. He and 12 other Umbra took a stand against the Reaper menace to defend humanity. They could not beat the Reapers in combat, so they stabbed themselves to trigger an explosion - except Hopper, who was struck down by an arrow fired by the Reaper Childao and became the battle's only survivor. In the present day, he sought out his ex-girlfriend Amma to try to prevent the Reaping, because he felt guilty over his failure 700 years ago. Amma sent him to the village of Albius because that's when she'd predicted the Reaping would start. Hopper arrives there after Thorn leaves the village, and finds his old Umbra associate Coronzon. They chat about how the Reaping has started, and how both Thorn and Lo Pheng have defied the Reapers. The Albius bell tower is cursed to ring eternally, so Coronzon throws Hopper in to figure it out. Hopper touches the bell and is cursed instead, with some kind of magic curse that tells him to "find the seven words of wisdom" and "follow the guiding one". While he is doing this, Prince Treeg charges Hopper with apprehending Thorn Brenin and retrieving his son, Prince Ho, who is disguised as a soldier in Thorn's convoy. Thus Hopper follows in the footsteps of Thorn all over Terminum, following the riddles left by the Reaper Childao and fighting the curse that wants to devour his heart. He finally catches up to the imprisoned Thorn at Ursus, where he promises to protect Gleda and heals Prince Ho from an injury he sustained fighting at Thorn's side. After following the footsteps of Thorn, Hopper makes it to Opacum per the last command of Chila. At Opacum Amma tells him the Reapers' plans - they will resurrect the dark god that destroyed the original world of the Umbra in the vessel of Gleda Brenin (or maybe Reet).
A few things stand out about the plot immediately. Hopper and Thorn's plots are tightly coupled by circumstance (Hopper is to follow Thorn's footsteps to get all the riddles) but Lo Pheng is just kind of..there. You also notice that Thorn and company know the least about what's going on, mostly because Hopper and Khama were there for the entire plot including the god going mad and the flight from Calz and Reet is descended from renegade Enses. The other thing that stands out about the plot is that Lo Pheng is the only one with a clear goal - he wants to get home to tell the Eikon clan that it's time to fight the Reapers, and then gets hijacked by Amma into the main plot. Thorn is wandering aimlessly for the first half of the game looking for a cure that doesn't exist and only spending a chapter to save his son, while Hopper is following the arbitrary curse riddles to maybe cure himself somehow. The Reapers make a grand entrance at the beginning of the game and then just kind of disappear until the end of the game, where it turns out they had an evil plan this whole time.
So what are my problems with this? Thorn doesn't really have anything to do, and his story - while pushed heavily as the main path - feels like a complete waste of time. The Reapers start as antagonists who take a personal interest in hounding Thorn and Lo Pheng - until they suddenly aren't.
Remember this? I remember this. The Ash of Gods writers vaguely remember this. Yet this is less an introduction to Dorpkhal - who turns out to be rather minor in the overarching story - than a setup for Liki Brenin to get stuffed into a refrigerator to give Thorn a tragic backstory. It's not even really a motivation because Liki only comes up in the Magic Flashback Desert and Thorn explaining to Andra that she can't expect to receive his penis. When we do encounter Dorpkhal Thorn is pissed about his wife dying, but not really in a position to do it. I'll post this right now - Dorpkhal doesn't appear again until the very end of the game, and you never fight him. Ever.
I was originally going to write about how the preview fiction has Gleda as a 12-year-old kid who wets herself when the Reaper appears, but she is apparently seventeen and talks like a 12 year old, or Thorn is adamant he doesn't know any magicians (whereas in the game Ramlin lives next door). It's pretty clear a lot of stuff got overhauled to present the player with choices - I suspect originally Gleda was supposed to be the only vessel for the god - and the setting seems to have changed from having muskets everywhere to them being only present in one optional encounter.
So let's try to salvage this. Now, I'm still not sure what themes these authors are going for, because everything is buried under and worldbuilding and pointless political games that don't affect the characters at all. I can't even count on the Christian allegory I've had going for the last few updates, because that seems to be a completely unintentional thing judging by the marketing materials and kickstarter.
Where does that leave us? Kinda up shit creek, because I still have no idea what the game is trying to do.
We can at least try to streamline some of this crap. I'll try to fix some of the major problems.
No stakes: From the beginning of the game, we don't really have any stakes. There's a Reaping that's supposedly killing people, but we don't really see desolated settlements or any of that. We are supposedly under a death sentence from either running out of strixes or the curse, but you can merely get into a random encounter or resist the curse to avoid all of that. There's no real goal or plan for Thorn other than "fucking off" - but as long as we keep killing the endless stream of road randos or Enses, we never actually run out of strixes to the point where people start dying. There is no horrible enemy to flee from, no one to pursue, nothing to gain, and nothing to lose. Hopper is literally railroaded by a curse he can just...fight against and not die. Lo Pheng is the only one of the three characters to have a clear goal, and hilariously the one who doesn't interact with the other two.
Kill the mystery box: In the promotional material linked above the prologue makes it clear that Hopper and Amma fled a dying world because a mad god destroyed it and now he's coming here. The prologue. In the actual game we don't have this told to us until Chapter 8. We're given bits and pieces of the story until Amma reveals it, but until then it is entirely possible to assume the game completely forgot about Dorpkhal in favor of that lovely subplot, Brann Is Bad.
Stop the pointless grimdark: I get it. This is a world without gods and that lets mankind's worst impulses run free. The problem is that the amount of torture and misery stops having any pathos and rolls over into comedy. It doesn't work with your reminder that "even your enemies have mothers and children", because when you start building blade pyramids coated in the blood of children you're just an animal that needs to be put down.
Alright, let's change some stuff up!
TheGreatEvilKing's Ash of Gods fanfiction!
Change the prologue so that Hopper and Amma go back to talking about the dark god and the world they fled. This doesn't mean a giant infodump where we get four options to ask about what kind of celery Adna liked to eat on Calz, but something like "I can feel him. He will return, Hopper." would go a long way toward establishing shit is going down. Then we can cut to Thorn, and I'm going to make some character changes here.
First, Liki is alive, doesn't have a bad heart, and has her reputation as a skilled swordswoman. Second, Gleda is actually 12 or some other age where being inept in a fight is a given. Thus Dorpkhal shows up to kidnap Gleda rather than trying to get Trobbel to do some dumb plot of evil to do something. Instead of having the my wife is dead trauma, Liki becomes a playable character and she and Thorn are both trying to rescue Gleda. You can have Krieger and company show up then looking for guidance and you can have a scene where Thorn and company try to get Gleda back. THIS could be where Chila shows up with helpful hints of some kind, and after they turn out to be helpful Thorn and Liki go along with it because they want their kid back and whatever ulterior motive happens...happens.
Hopper's story is a little harder. It seems like it wants to be about the importance of trusting God despite your circumstances being awful, but at the beginning there's no actual indication that God is involved. There's a curse from a witch and a pointless riddle. I'm not actually sure if Coronzon being a cardinal is supposed to tie in with the religious theme, or it's just a way to have him be a powerful individual. It also doesn't immediately tie in to his stated goal of "stopping the Reaping", which occasionally surfaces in between his bitching about those damn witches and their curses.
I'll be honest, I don't think the whole "follow the bullshit riddles OR DIE" structure really works or is engaging without any stakes, especially as you can opt to just resist the curse every time which causes the dark god to rise at the end, but yolo! and it just being a "now that Thorn's gone, what did the people think of him" recap. The idea of an angel without gods cursed to wander the earth is an intriguing one, but it's not intriguing enough to suffer through the idiocy that is "read GameFAQs to get the good ending, also question what the point of this story is".
It would honestly be a lot better if Chila showed up and offered him a path to stop the Reaping and he just kinda took it because he wanted to believe.
On the dark god, and the Enses
So the only motivation we are given for the mad god is that he likes eating people, and that somehow correlates to acid rain and dying suns. The Enses have the motivation that their world is dead and they've been promised the lands of Terminum if they go out and kill people to power up the menhirs. This is...actually not an awful motivation, and you could use it to - gasp - make the Enses actually sympathetic instead of completely insane murder monsters.. It's war. It's plenty horrific without stupid crap added in like child blade pyramids to power up genre bullshit. Get rid of the mind control because you already have a religious aspect here - these guys are crusading on behalf of their gods for the holy land. You can have people like Khama who question this and defect to the party, and you can make the Enses actually people instead of silent, mind-controlled slaves who don't have any clear goals apart from providing random encounters on the road. Hell, maybe give the dark god a motivation beyond eating babies. Maybe he wants to take away free will to make people happy, and we can tie it into the free will debates later in the game. Maybe he demands worship but provides little in return. Maybe he actually is going to make the world a paradise, but there will be no challenges and no way for people to grow. There's a lot you can do here, but it's just not being done.
Come to think of it, that's the problem with Ash of Gods as a whole.