The God of War series has always prided itself on setting bars and continually raising them with each new iteration and this was summed on last generation. Just when it looked like the PlayStation 2 hardware was pushed to its absolute limits with the first game, two years after came God of War II - it completely shattered those perceptions. When God of War III came out, there was hardly an action game that could hold a candle to its production values and polish. However, as the second entry on the PlayStation 3 arrives, there isn't that same feel. It doesn't feel as though the developers have pushed things any further than they did with God of War III. Oddly, God of War: Ascension is a tepid step back with an equally muted Kratos.
Taking place immediately after Kratos has broken his vow to serve Ares, he finds himself mercilessly hounded by the Furies and is haunted by visions driving him ever further towards madness. He's aided by the son of the Furies, Orkos, who guides Kratos towards a mythic lantern and ultimately to break his final bonds with Ares. The most jarring change by far is the characterization of Kratos, who isn't the ball of ashen rage that he has been for the past five games. As something approaching a normal human being, it feels like a completely different character rather than a new side to a protagonist we know.
The mechanics themselves are classic God of War; heavy doses of action mixed with platforming and the occasional puzzle. One of the new tricks to Kratos' move list is the ability to tether one of his blades to enemies, leaving him free to attack with the other. It can be incredibly useful when it comes to managing multiple enemies, but overall the combat remains largely the same as it was before.
There are no sub-weapons to level up"”only disposable swords, shields, and spears that occasionally show up. On the positive side, removing the clutter has allowed Santa Monica Studios to expand the move list for the Blades of Chaos by the addition of four directional buttons that are assigned to different element.
The drawback is that some of Kratos' signature moves have either been removed or allocated only to the rage meter, working maybe a quarter of the time. Other moves can be difficult to pull off unlike the smooth combos of previous titles. At times, it feels there are too many moves and not enough useful situations to apply them in. Despite the breathtaking opening boss battle, for large portions of the game, fights are made up of standard arena battles where Kratos chews through the competition without much difficulty until"”out of left field"”players are thrown against nigh impossible odds near the end of the game. Beyond that, there are no sequences that particularly stand out.
With an oddly flat single player, the much vaunted online component of Ascension is where most of the entertainment value is at. Players start off aligned with Zeus, Hades, Ares, or Poseidon and are granted particular sets of magic spells and unique abilities, but alliances can easily be switched. Leveling up unlocks more weapons and armor that have their own stat-boosters and in general give your warrior something fancy to wear.
Every warrior can toggle between warhammers, spears, and swords, leveling up each as they go. Spears are light and quick, warhammers are slow and powerful, while swords are the happy medium between the two. There's a surprising amount of content as well as variety"”each weapon has its own move set, so players need to learn the advantages and drawbacks of each as they go along.
Modes consist of the self-explanatory capture the flag, team favor of the gods, match of champions, and trial of the gods. Team favor of the gods pits two teams made up of four players against each other to try and get the highest score by capturing control points, opening chests, and of course killing the other team's members. Match of champions is the usual free-for-all deathmatch where four to eight players can take each other on, using whatever mythical power-ups and traps are available. Trial of the gods is a cooperative mode not unlike Horde mode with increasingly difficult waves of enemies that need to be taken down in a race against the clock.
The combat might not necessarily be deep, but there are plenty of moves, power-ups, deadly traps, and other intricacies to learn giving the multiplayer portion plenty of variety to make up for any deficiencies in terms of strategy. Maps are gloriously detailed with one map having massive titans thrashing in the background while another depicts the city of Troy under siege. They capture the epic spirit of the God of War universe along with its hyper-stylized violence with a bevy of gruesome ways to finish off a foe.
Ascension's online multiplayer is a saving grace for the game and it's far from the tacked-on feature it easily could've been. It also brings something fresh to an online competitive scene drowning in "me-too" first-person shooters. It's just a shame that it came at the cost of the single player and left Kratos as the odd-man-out in his own game. Multiplayer aside, God of War: Ascension feels like the victory lap for the series - far from an awful outing, but an otherwise unnecessary entry into the series.
|The multiplayer adds a lot.|
|There's an expanded move set.|
|Using the different elements allows for some interesting combos.|
|Kratos seems different, in a bad way.|
|The single player campaign is throw-away.|
|Feels like a bit of an unnecessary entry into the franchise.|