The Ascent: A beginner’s guide to characters, combat, and gear

Top-down, twin-stick shooters can often appear simple. All you do is move, point, and shoot, right? Well, The Ascent takes that simple premise but cranks the difficulty up quite a few notches. Nothing you attempt to do in this cyberpunk-inspired city will be easy. Enemies are smart, dangerous, and can wipe you out in seconds if you don’t know how to handle them. Between the gangs, mutant-like monsters, and even the environment itself, death can come from just about any direction.

Your goal of reaching the top of this megacorporation as the world seems to be collapsing all around you will test your skills and planning. You can only rely on your ability to aim and shoot for so long before realizing the RPG elements are the key to success in The Ascent. From how you should focus on building your character and how combat works, to advice on what gear to use and how to get loot, we’ve compiled all the best tips you need starting out in The Ascent.

Further reading

How to build your character

A alien behind a counter with a hologram on it.

The Ascent is more of an RPG than you might think going in. Once you start getting introduced to the game’s systems, however, it will become clear that the way you build your character will be just as important as the weapons you choose, if not more so. There are no classes in The Ascent, so you’re free to invest your points however you want, which can be a blessing and a curse. It can be great for crafting a character that excels in specific areas but also lets you spread yourself too thin if you aren’t careful.

There are eight skills you can spend your points on, and they all fall into one of four attributes. These are Biometrics, Cybernetics, Frame, and Motorics. Each of these attributes determines the strength of your abilities, which just adds another layer of strategy to consider when distributing your points. Here are all of the skills, what attribute they fall under, and what they do:

Tactical Sense: This skill will raise the speed at which your tactical charge meter builds up as you deal damage to enemies. It is part of the Cybernetics attribute.

Critical Hit Rate: Fairly straightforward, this skill makes you more likely to get critical hits, and is also part of your Cybernetics attribute.

Weapon Handling: The higher this skill, the faster you can reload and change weapons. This falls under the Motorics attribute.

Aiming: Another one that does what you expect — this skill reduces your bullet spread and is the other Motorics attribute.

Balance: This skill does a lot. Leveling it up will make you more resistant to stun, knockback, and stagger and minimize movement speed penalties when wielding heavy weapons. This one is part of the Frame attribute.

Evasion: Rather than make your dodge better, this skill just lets you dodge more often by reducing the cooldown. It also is under Frame.

Vital Signs: A fancy name for simply a max HP upgrade. This is related to the Biometrics attribute.

Body Battery: Just like the previous skill, this is another basic max energy skill, also in Biometrics.

As far as which are worth investing in early, we liked weapon handling and aiming first. Weapon handling, specifically for the reload speed, helped out a ton since The Ascent isn’t afraid of swarming you with dozens of enemies early on. The faster you can dispatch them, the less likely you are to die. That leads right into aiming, since you’ll be doing your best to keep enemies at a distance. Even if you plan on using close-range weapons, like shotguns, keeping the spread tight will still make you more deadly.

These two skills also happen to fall in the Motorics attribute, which buffs the Hydraulic Slam ability you get early on. This ability is a close-range shockwave-type move, which is perfect for when things get out of hand — and they will — and you find yourself surrounded. With this skill buffed up by leveling weapon handling and aiming, you can get a nice leg up on the early game enemies. You do have an option to respec your skill points, but it is pretty costly, and the price even goes up once you hit level 10, so it’s best to invest smartly early.

Basics of combat

Your skills, guns, and abilities are all tools, but knowing how to use them is key to winning in basically any game. One thing The Ascent doesn’t make quite as clear as it should is, despite the camera perspective, combat actually has depth … literally. The first thing you need to learn with this game is that there are essentially two elevations you can shoot at. If you play shooters often, you’ll be tempted to hold the left trigger to aim almost all the time, but this button does more than just aim down sights. It actually raises your gun so that it hits taller enemies, whereas shooting from the hip, without holding the left trigger, will make your shots hit lower enemies.

That means smaller enemies won’t get hit if you try and aim down the sights while shooting at them, so pay attention to the size of your enemy. If you have a large boss that has a bunch of smaller enemies between you, you can still shoot over those smaller creeps and hit the boss to take him out first. Cover is another major component to The Ascent, and again functions more like a 3D shooter than a typical top-down shooter. While in cover, you will need to hold the left trigger to aim above whatever you’re hiding behind to hit enemies past it. And you absolutely should use cover whenever possible, since it will block any incoming shots — assuming they’re not coming from behind, of course.

Speaking of cover and the environment, use it to your advantage. Red barrels, a staple of games since … well, forever, are prime targets for an easy area of effect damage. Shoot at one to start a countdown, and reveal the range of the explosion, so you know if you’re in the clear or not. The more you shoot them, the faster they will explode. Broken-down vehicles function the same, so be wary about using them for cover since they will eventually blow up on you once they take enough damage.

That being said, all cover can and will eventually be destroyed, so don’t get too comfortable in any one place. In fact, try not to get too comfortable with any tactic. The enemies you fight in The Ascent have adaptive A.I. and will learn what you’re doing and try to circumvent your tactics. For example, relying too much on bunkering down in cover may result in the game spawning swarms of melee mobs to flush you out, or even spawn enemies behind you.

Finally, when the enemies are all dealt with and you have a moment to breathe, take a second to always loot the bodies on the ground. Many will have some cash you can collect, called uCreds, and even some loot on occasion as well.

What gear to pick

A character with a cyborg face in a menu.

The armor you find and purchase in The Ascent is more than a slight cosmetic change and damage resistance buff. They all have different types of stats that can reduce specific types of damage, as well as buff certain skills.

As you browse your inventory, or the shop, always look at the stats listed for the armor you’re thinking about. Some of the damage types they can protect you from are physical, fire, energy, and digital, and every armor will be better or worse for different damage types. Below the resistances, also look at what buffs the armor gives you. Attributes improve the corresponding attribute, which we covered above, and boosts are for individual skills. Pick armor that fits with the build you’re going for.

Like most games, you have three armor slots: Head, body, and legs. This means you can, and should, mix armor types to give yourself the maximum benefits. Rather than equipping decent all-around armor in each slot, put armor on that is great in one or two areas, but lagging in all the rest, and cover up those weaknesses with other slots that are great in those stats.

Upgrade your guns

Aside from cash and loot, you’ll be picking up a bunch of components as you mow down enemies on your way to the top of The Ascent. These components, of which there are three types, are used to upgrade your guns at the Gunsmith. As this is a loot-driven game, you might be tempted to hold these materials until later in the game when you find a really good weapon to dump them all into, but that will just make the early going way more difficult than necessary.

Upgrading guns essentially has two parts. First is upgrading your death dealer of choice to Mk.5, which can be done with just basic components, the most common components in the game. These drop from normal enemies and can be found in chests around the world, so are not at all in short supply. If you’ve got a gun you like the feel of, don’t hesitate to level it up to Mk.5 as soon as you can. An added bonus is that any gun you upgrade will affect all guns of that same type. For example, if you upgrade a shotgun, the next one you buy or find will still be at the same level as the one you upgraded previously.

Once you get to Mk.5, upgrading your gun again will start to require either Advanced or Superior components. These are harder to come by, either found in chests, hidden in the world, or dropped from bosses or other high-level enemies. These are the ones you want to be more careful with, but by the time you have a decent number of these you should have a good idea of which weapon you want to fully invest in.

Use your map to get loot

Speaking of gear, guns, credits, components, and loot in general, you’ll want as much of everything as you can get. The world, as beautiful as it is, can be a little visually cluttered with things that make it hard to identify an interactable object from set dressing. But by simply popping open your map, you can see all the loot in your location indicated by a handy orange treasure chest icon. Loot just lying on the ground has a white icon and generally has a distinct glow on your screen, making them easier to spot and pick up.

The map does take some getting used to, but figuring out how to use it to navigate will save you tons of time going forward as well, so this is a great way to get a handle on it.

Take on side quests

Mechs shooting a chaingun.

Another great way to learn your way around Cluster 13, and The Ascent in general, is by taking on side quests. Plus you’ll obviously get plenty of XP and rewards for your time, making your main missions a bit more manageable once you’re ready to continue your climb. After reaching Cluster 13 and speaking to Poone, you will have the chance to explore the area and start taking on side quests. By going to Serenity Plus, you can get the “Gear Up” mission, which is perfect for learning the area as it will task you with hitting up all the vendors around the map.

Don’t be discouraged when you aren’t able to finish most side missions as soon as you are able to get them. A lot will either pit you against enemies way beyond your level or simply block you off from accessing the areas you’re supposed to go to. The only one, aside from “Gear Up,” you can finish right away is “Balls Deep,” so start with those and grab the other ones for when you get stronger. You will know an NPC has a side quest for you by the yellow diamond placed above their heads.

You can try and mainline the game, but after a certain point you will almost be required to boost your level and gear through side quests, so picking them up early, and completing them as you go, will help give you the smoothest experience possible.

Learn to hack, and do it often

The Ascent is a cyberpunk game, and no cyberpunk game can come out without some form of hacking component. You will need a Cyberdeck to have the option to hack, but once you do you will start noticing yellow circles around objects like ATMs, chests, doors, and even turrets. While standing inside one of these circles, hold down to start hacking them. Once complete, you will get some easy loot, or friendly turret to fight for you, that would otherwise be lost.

Vending machines are another primary target for hacking. Rather than spend your hard-earned cash, just hack them to dispense some free health items!

You will eventually come across some chests or doors in particular that cannot be hacked, stating “Locked – ICE.” This means that you will need to increase your hacking skills by finding more Cyberdeck upgrades and then come back. Make a note of these, because the harder a chest is to open, the better the loot it has hidden within.

Unlock fast travel

Last but not least, get yourself set up with fast travel as soon as you possibly can. As eluded to earlier, the map in The Ascent isn’t the most comprehensible tool for navigation, so any way you can cut down on running around the complex map with only a vague objective icon to guide you will save you tons of time.

There are two forms of fast travel you can unlock in The Ascent, the first of which you get after the main mission called “Mutual Dependencies.” Once you beat this mission, Transit Stations will appear at specific locations on the map indicated by red M‘s. Reach one and unlock it for future fast travel use. You have to go to these locations to use them, and they will only bring you to other stations you’ve unlocked, but are far better than nothing.

The better form of fast travel is unlocked in the mission “Trading Places.” This is Taxi fast travel, and, you guessed it, lets you travel around the map via the use of taxis. This is basically an upgrade to the first fast travel option since you can call a taxi from anywhere on the map, but they will only drop you off at one of the Transit Stations, oh, and cost you 1,000 uCreds for the convenience. That’s a pretty hefty fare, so you may not want or be able to use it too often.

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