Kratos. We’ve seen some things together over the past eight years. The blood spilled; the lives taken; the Gods conquered. It has been a thunderous adventure, one which saw us knock the mighty Zeus off his throne; fight in hundreds of ferocious battles that included having the God of War, Ares, bow down at our feet; we’ve even conquered titans. You’ve inflicted more pain than most – ripping men from their families, their limbs from their bodies. Though you’re not without your fair share of torture – your mind, your body have succumbed to the ultimate of sacrifices. However, it’s time to take a look into your past, to see the origins of your beginnings, before your rise to greatness, to see the birth of your savagery.
God of War: Ascension grants a look into the early days of Kratos. After all, the mythology of the God of War universe and our protagonists role within it has always been a key draw of the critically acclaimed franchise. Set a decade before the original God of War, Ascension reveals a time before the rule of Titans and Olympian Gods, when Primordials were in control. After breaking free from the chains that had him restrained and tortured – both in body and in mind, Kratos sets about freeing himself of the illusions that plague him, defeating any who stand in his way.
Told with a time-shifting structure, it’s what you’d expect from a God of War tale; pain, redemption, slaughter, and a substantial dose of greek mythology. There’s no great twist or mind-numbing coherence issues, just a simplistic and easy to follow plot. Kratos’ future is given some greater context, but there’s not much to hold onto otherwise.
With the next-generation hastily approaching and the lengthened duration of the PlayStation 3’s life, Santa Monica have been able to squeeze yet more power out of the console to craft one of the most stunning games to date. Character models are detailed, animations slick, environments vast, and combat effects delicious.
With an at times gargantuan sense of scale, Ascension has some unparalleled set pieces which are quite simply breathtaking (including a battle within a rotating room being held by a gigantic animated statue). There are multiple scenarios that will astound you by their impressive execution and bemuse you as to their technical implementation.
Whether it’s graphically or gameplay wise, Ascension is incredibly well polished. It’s virtually bug free and exceptionally smooth in all areas. The one aspect that was a little out of sync was the audio within the opening five or ten minutes or my first playthrough. Speech and accompanying music was fine, but the sound effects were a second or do delayed with was quite jarring; however, after approximately ten minutes the sound realigned and there were no further problems.
As for the aforementioned gameplay, it’s an evolved iteration of previous God of War combat that places the focus on attacking vigor and brutal executions. Light and heavy attacks comprise the bulk of your offensive options, although alternative attacks with weapons are also an option. The traditional combos make a return to devastating effect, but it’s the introduction of the amulets and magic that really advance the combat.
With the ability to time-shift enemies (or objects in the often cunning puzzle elements) thanks to the Amulet of Uroborus, Kratos can temporarily suspend enemies in time, thus slowing them down, allowing for window of savage attacks. The Oath Stone or Orkos and the Eyes of Truth add additional dimensions to combat – as do the quad-elemental attacks of Blades of Chaos. Quick-time events are still present and, as with all God of War games, there are some skull carving, self-impaling, and eviscerating deaths.
by Dave Irwin
When you first select the multiplayer option, you are shown a scene from the single player campaign where Kratos frees a prisoner who then disappears into a bright light when attacked by the Hecatonchiles. Instead of carrying on though, you are transported to a shrine where you must select your allegiance to a God. These grant you a class for your warrior, a skill, and items that grant you buffs. For example, if you select Ares – the God of War, you will become a warrior with fire magic and items that enhance melee combat. The other three include the assassin class with Soul magic for those who succumb to the temptation of Hades, the battle mage class with Electric magic for those who align with Zeus, and the support class with Water magic for those who side with Poseidon. Contrary to the instructions given, you can change your allegiance at any point when looking through the menus, so you should never feel pressured into picking one god to pledge your services to.
A brief tutorial with the combat mechanics used in multiplayer quickly gets you up to speed, as well as providing useful information on the various colours seen. By completing an advanced tutorial you will also see that there are plenty of unlocks for weapons and armour, which give you plenty of increases and decreases to stats and combat variety. Speaking of which, the menus will seem familiar if you’ve played any form of modern military shooter in the past few years online. Aside from weapons and armour, you will also gain access to new and upgradable magic, items, and relics which are unlocked via chests in games. One reasonably nice touch is to change your origin and armour tint for that little bit extra customisation, while labours act as in-game objectives that further increase experience for ranks.
Game types include the standard affair of Team Deathmatches and Free-for-All for eight or four players, while also including an eight player Capture the Flag mode and the Trial of the Gods single player or two player cooperative mode. Maps tend to lean towards a sprawling design where every location is themed around various points in the God of War franchise, featuring appropriately themed traps and hazards. It’s really easy to get caught out by things happening around you when you’re busy trying to rip apart your opponents. Fights with more skilled opponents turn into flashing parry stalemates, but you’ll more likely just bash away to your heart’s content.
Your first few matches will be lessons in frustration as you’ll repeatedly perish to seemingly cheap deaths, but with time things begin to click like a calculated plan and wins come thick and fast. The only real downsides are that multiplayer never really evolves much beyond the map design and disconnections with the smaller player-size game varieties are demoralising for those left on their own. The right person will have an absolute blast with the multiplayer mode, but it’s fairly safe to say that it isn’t for everyone.
There’s no questioning the quality on show; it’s incredibly well polished, features some of the most astounding set pieces this generation has seen and truly pushes the graphical benchmark, all the while continuing the strong and engaging universe the series has built up over the years. However, it too often feels like treading familiar ground. It feels like another chapter in a series that was pushed out before the current generation fell away. I’m well aware that it’s a harsh criticism, but I’ve come to expected great things from Santa Monica and God of War and the spark, the charm is just a little dimmer this time around.
Perhaps the biggest issue that Ascension had to face was too much too soon. God of War: Ascension is undoubtedly a fantastically well-developed game that has the hallmarks of everything it needs to be successful. Yet, something feels missing; maybe, like Kratos, it’s just lacking a bit of soul.