He’s torn through rival armies as a Spartan general, spilled the blood of his own family whilst under the influence of Ares, formed and broken allegiances with the gods of Olympus before bringing his own legend to a dramatic close in the seminal God of War 3. Now Kratos takes us back to the beginning to experience his first big adventure as he faces the brutality of the Furies – a trio of sisters known for their skewed sense of morality and torturous methods. We’ve come to understand his ambitions pretty well over the years with a heavy helping of main games, handheld outings and high-def re-releases, but is God of War: Ascension an adventure too much for this surly anti-hero?
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3 (reviewed)
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Genre: Hack-n-Slash, Action-Adventure
Release: (AU) March 14th 2013, (EU) March 13th 2013, (UK) March 15th 2013, (NA) March 12th 2013
The series has earned its reputation for big set-piece openers that blur the line between gameplay and cinematic flair, and it’s a trend that continues here. You might not be cheering for him in the way you did during the opening hour of God of War 3, but such a thing was likely to go unsurpassed from a wince-inducing perspective at least. It’s a roller coaster of a chase sequence that gets the journey off to a thrilling start, though it’ll come as no surprise that things slow down once you’re given other locales to explore. Ascension never truly ramps up to the level we’ve seen in previous games, but this is more the tale of a troubled warrior than a no-holds barred quest for revenge.
That’s not to say that Kratos is a soft touch in any way, as the pain of loss is just as prevalent (perhaps even fresher) than in later outings. He’ll use his chains to slice mutated insect freaks before holding them aloft and splitting them in half, he’ll plunge his blades inside a centaur’s belly to spill its contents across the floor and even reveal a brain or two. It’s probably even bloodier this time around due to technical know-how, but you should expect to see a few common kill animations recycled from years prior, which is a shame. You’ll still see new twists on old executions, as some mid-tier types fight for their lives in a last ditch attempt to knock Kratos away. Dodging is often key to a seamless kill and this stands as a welcome variant on the usual quick-time events, despite the latter still playing a major role in the cinematic moments. One thing God of War tends to do well is punish you only slightly for a missed button press, rarely feeling the need to instantly murder you for failure.
The standard fixed camera returns in full force, but with the issue of occasionally pulling back too far in the name of showing the environment. It’s a game that proudly waves its high production values in your face, just as a game of this calibre should. It does become an issue, however, when your position in battle is lost because you appear as little more than a speck on a moving platform along with a shaky-cam effect. It might not happen too much, but it does occur enough to be a notable offence. The minute-to-minute action is more enjoyable than ever as you grab, throw and combo your way to victory. It’s an extremely gratifying system where the graphics, squeals and grunts come together to make you feel like the biggest badass around – the very thing that set the first God of War apart from the competition all those years ago.
Slight changes come in the way that magic and rage attacks are used. Rage is governed with a meter that empties once you take a hit, with certain techniques only available from a stored up meter. It’s a risk/reward system of a kind, though you’ll probably stick to the more readily available attacks in a scrap. Magical attacks are specific to the elements with which you imbue the Blades of Chaos and dish out unique bonuses, such as freezing an enemy or shocking a group with a ball of lightning. There’s been much talk of a late-game trial which caused a tremendous spike in difficulty, but since the patch was released to alleviate this issue, the version of GOW: Ascension that’s playable to anyone with access to the PlayStation Network could well be the most balanced to date. It can be challenging at times, but moments of frustration are rare.
One of the biggest additions is the online mode, where you play a warrior with a godly alignment of your choice. Followers of Ares get a little extra physical strength, whereas those loyal to Zeus are stronger with the elements, for example. You unlock new gear and items as you progress so those who wish to dive into the system will find themselves rewarded over time. As expected, it’s an unnecessary mode that’s been included simply because it was mandated, in turn running with the ‘me too’ crowd alongside Tomb Raider, which also features a needless multiplayer component. There’s nothing especially broken about the system that’s been fashioned here, but it’s just too basic and unremarkable to hold your attention for more than a few rounds. With a New Game Plus mode (and cheats) on offer, single player presents value through enjoyable replays.
Puzzles play a bigger role in Ascension than you might expect, allowing for some downtime where you’ll have to figure things out to progress. You’re unlikely to be stuck for too long, though you may find yourself sitting around with a confuzzled look as you consider what to rotate and at what point in relation to your time-bending powers. Climbing has always played only the smallest of roles in the franchise – not so this time, and while traversing the landscape with death-defying grace is more than a leap for the otherwise lumbering Kratos, it’s a nice change of pace that gives you a chance to admire the scenery.
There’s simply no denying the visual clout of Ascension. It surpasses the last game on both a technical and artistic level, providing gorgeous vistas, superb lighting effects and vicious looking characters as the meat in its visual buffet. Regardless, it’s hard to shake the feeling of déjà vu given just how many titles fans will have experienced at this point. It might not be the most jaw-dropping installment nor is the story especially dramatic, but Ascension is the culmination of a franchise that consistently delivers on quality. Make no mistake; the series needs to evolve if it hopes to compete in the coming generation, but for now, God of War: Ascension is a great way to tie off a series that has earned its fanbase and proved so influential.
8.0 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.