When I first saw the Ashfall trailer I was immediately impressed – then a tiny bit pessimistic. It looks beautiful, and a little too good to be true. Cinematic trailers have lied to us all before, and there have been too many live-service mobile games that have died a slow death over this past year. However, I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic settings (and capybaras), so before I knew it I was signing up for the beta test, and soon enough I had snagged a coveted spot.
I’m currently in the middle of a hectic house move, so I’ve not been able to sink as much time into Ashfall as I would have liked over the past week, having only dipped my toes into its rich world and systems. However, I feel compelled to write up this Ashfall preview to tell you about my journey so far before I disconnect from the gaming world for a week to finally move house. I will, of course, turn this into a full review come the game’s full release.
Now, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The game initially plunges you into a vivid, futuristic cityscape full of neon lights, robots with guns, and chaos all around you. It takes this brief moment to show you all the combat basics, including how to take cover behind objects, aim your gun, and shoot your enemies, while also introducing you to a few handy items that you can use such as healing sprays, grenades, and drones.
Don’t get too used to this cyberpunk world, though. Just as quickly as you’re thrust in, you’re thrust back out again, only footnoted with a brief line of text stating that the soldier you controlled was KIA. Fear not, as this story isn’t about them anyway – this is just a precursor to the destruction you see in the main game.
From here you get to play around with a respectably equipped character customization menu, where you can change your avatar’s hair, eyes, facial features, and even what circuit board they have on the back of their neck (fancy!). After you’ve undoubtedly spent far too long fiddling with presets and what nose shape suits your character best, it’s back into the action, and time to introduce yourself to Ashfall’s real world.
Ashfall is set in a Fallout-esque, post-apocalyptic landscape, with the first areas you see full of highly saturated orange sand dunes, scrap piles that reach the skies, giant bugs, robots with guns, and plenty of unique characters to meet. After doing a bit of busywork for your elder, she gives you a gun, pats you on the head, and tells you to get out there because it’s your time to shine (in more mystical words, of course).
You say a brief goodbye to all the residents in the shelter where you used to live, then wander out into the toxic and dangerous world in search of your predecessor Yuri, who’s been missing for some time. Oh, and you’re also looking for the Core of Creation – you know, that mysterious box that holds the secret to the restoration of human society? Apparently, you’re the chosen one, and therefore humanity’s only hope. Mind you, they thought that about Yuri, too, and it certainly doesn’t look like he’s managed it – but you’ve got plot armor and limitless respawns, so I wouldn’t worry about that.
Ashfall features an overworld reminiscent of the one in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands (and probably several other games that I can’t think of right now). It’s a large yet simplistic map that you view isometrically, traversing with a miniature version of your character. Around the map you find question mark icons, which you can interact with in order to trigger special events.
These events are sometimes text-based, multiple-choice occurrences that simply require you to choose from a few different options, such as flipping a switch on a mechanism or giving a stranded man some water, which sometimes results in you netting a couple of items. Other events allow you to investigate a separately instanced map, most of which are full of enemies or lots of loot. These event maps are often reused and can get a little repetitive, but generally, the events that take place in them vary and offer some interesting worldbuilding and snippets of lore.
Some of these random events include stumbling across an area full of dead enemies with no clues as to what killed them, a group of robots worshiping a giant mechanical wreck, a pack of monsters wreaking havoc, or a bunch of human enemies trying to steal valuable items or resources. I even found a strange abandoned lab with the corpse of an alien inside, which is wonderfully bizarre.
Beyond that, you also use the overworld map to travel to new cities and settlements which act as safe areas that signify the last real bastions of humanity. In them, you can find vendors, crafting stations, gunsmiths, a guild master – all the stuff you expect from in-game hub towns. They’re major landmarks in the game, generally integral to progressing the story while also offering plenty of side quests and challenges for you to take on. There are also bars in most towns, where you can talk to special NPCs and share your adventure stories in exchange for handy rewards.
Then there are the separately instanced quest-related maps. These are usually a bit bigger than most of the event locations you find dotted around the overworld, densely packed with enemies, loot, resources, and the occasional quest item or quest-giving NPC. And if those aren’t enough for you, you can explore the unique maps called Secret Realms, which you can access at any time after talking to specific NPCs in towns.
Secret Realms are large maps that you can explore at your own leisure – as long as you don’t inhale too much of that toxic air, of course. You can dip in and out of them as you please with a simple click of a button. They feature a wide variety of puzzles, plenty of enemies to mow down, and heaps of treasure to find.
The puzzles are simple but generally pretty fun, requiring you to do a range of tasks like lighting up pillars in a certain order, wiping off some hidden stone tablets, finding a selection of keys, or even hunting down a lucky cat figurine. You can get some pretty great loot and heaps of EXP from the Secret Realms, and you can even find and tame mounts.
On the topic of mounts, I am absolutely in love with my giant capybara pal. In order to make one of these critters a mount, you have to approach them quietly, hop on their backs, then complete a short minigame. After you tame them, you can ride them around to your heart’s content (in most maps, that is – there are some areas where mounts are banned). You can also increase your bond with your mount by feeding them specific foods, and when you level up their bond, you unlock a random trait, such as increased carry capacity.
Of course, your mounts aren’t the only ones with traits to unlock, as there’s plenty of vertical and horizontal progression for you to explore. You have a variety of ways to make your character stronger, including equipping, modding, and upgrading your weapons and gear, levelling up to unlock your own traits, and more.
Some of the character traits are pretty standard stuff, such as increasing your defense or decreasing your dodge cooldown, while others are a bit more out there. A personal favorite of mine allows you to trigger a slow-mo sequence when you crit, allowing you to shoot enemies while they trundle towards you at 0.25x speed.
In addition to the main and side story quests and exploration, there’s also a social system. The solo gameplay is so absorbing, I often find myself forgetting that it’s an online game – that is, until I glance at the ever-present global chat in the corner. If you do fancy being a bit more social than me, you can join or create a guild in order to team up with other players, chat, and take on multiplayer challenges. It looks like there are plans for plenty of PvE and PvP content, too, though I’ve yet to explore the social aspects myself.
Combat is simple but effective. Duck, cover, roll, shoot – maybe toss a grenade in there now and then. Learn to read how long your enemies shoot before reloading or charging up for a new attack, and you can dodge most incoming damage while still taking them out effectively.
You’ve got a shield that depletes first (with its capacity determined by the quality of your armor), then a health bar that goes down quite quickly after that. I’ve found Ashfall pretty easy so far, though you can take on more challenging content if you like, and I presume things will ramp up a bit more down the line.
As you can probably tell by now, Ashfall borrows elements from a multitude of different genres. It features action-style, third-person-shooter combat, RPG-like skill trees and levelling, the consistent new drops of weapons and armor of looter-shooters, the social structure and crafting of MMOs, and more. Surprisingly, it manages to wield all these separate elements pretty well, making for an engaging experience from the offset that’s reminiscent of many of my favorite games yet still manages to stand on its own two feet.
Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty. I can’t speak on microtransactions at the moment, as they aren’t included in the beta. However, I know Netease has quite the reputation for aggressive and predatory monetization – looking at you, Diablo Immortal – and I’m honestly quite scared to see what will come of this when microtransactions inevitably flood the game on release. I’m genuinely really enjoying Ashfall so far, but this type of practice always puts a bitter taste in my mouth, especially in games with PvP.
There’s definitely some room for aggressive monetization, too. You can upgrade your character using chips, which you seem to only be able to obtain through a lootbox-esque gacha system. Chips look like they’ll play a pivotal role in late-game content considering how substantially they boost your combat power, so it very much could evolve into a pay-to-win situation.
I acquired about five chip-boxes (essentially gacha pulls) through a few quests and chatting with a lady in a bar at Hope Town. The beta also gives you a lot of currency in your mailbox, as well as a couple of chip boxes by completing a few daily quests. However, it’s clear that the currency is premium, and I’m sure it’s going to be yet another forced change situation.
I would much prefer Ashfall come at a ‘AAA’ price tag (inevitably with some paid DLC and cosmetics, I’m not delusional) rather than it be a free-to-play, pay-to-win type of game where PVP always favors those with the fattest wallets and prays on neurodivergent people.
I shan’t stray too far down this path of pessimism, but, while I know microtransactions are less controversial in other countries, I’m afraid that these practices will once again scare off a Western audience from what could genuinely be a top-notch and very successful game. Only time will tell, I suppose.
I’ve dabbled in Ashfall on both mobile and PC, and both versions control well and look impressive. Rather than going with another open-world game, the choice to have an overworld populated with separately instanced maps means each area feels a lot more fleshed out while also putting less stress on your device, allowing room for more rich and detailed environments.
While some areas can become a little samey after a while, the variety of locations I’ve explored so far are beautiful. From the desolate and dusty dunes to the creepy caverns and caves, each environment has a unique feel while still looking cohesive. Similarly, though you do end up fighting a lot of the same foes over and over, although their designs are really great.
I love the range of robotic, human, and animal enemies that you take on, and the heftier bosses have some pretty cool moves and mechanics. I specifically love the cave-dwelling monsters that look like something out of a Resident Evil game – I’m not usually skittish, but the first time one of those beasts leaped over a fence and charged at me, I was shook.
In terms of performance, Ashfall is impressively polished despite being in beta. I’ve had some minor issues with fast travel not triggering, enemies getting stuck, or my character running on the spot instead of opening a door, but they’re few and far between and really don’t impact the gameplay. Load times are quick, tutorials are easy to understand, combat is fluid, and I’ve experienced no stuttering or framerate drops at all.
Currently, all of the voice acting is in Chinese, though there does appear to be an English dub in the trailer. The Chinese voice acting is honestly brilliant, truly emotive, and the individual voices suit the characters to a T. The rest of the sound design is great, too, from the gunshots to your character’s footsteps. Naturally, the music is absolutely gorgeous – as is to be expected, considering Hans Zimmerman is the composer. It captures that adventurous, fantasy feel perfectly, with each location featuring a soundtrack that truly enhances the environment.
Overall, I’m very impressed with Ashfall so far, and I see a lot of potential in it. As long as the game continues to get strong content updates and doesn’t fall too far into the world of aggressive monetization and microtransactions, I can definitely see myself playing this a lot come its full release. Here’s hoping that the future is bright for this post-apocalyptic world and that the Core of Creation saves it from suffering the same fate as the many ambitious live service games that came before it.
If you fancy something to pass the time before the Ashfall release date, head over to our lists of the best mobile RPGs, the best mobile MMORPGs, or, for a wider selection, the best mobile games overall. And, if you’re looking for a hot new device to embark on this adventure with, check out our list of the best gaming phones.