- Platform PS3
- Publisher SCEE
- Developer Sony Santa Monica
- Release Date 13/03/2013
God of War: Ascension Review
Take these chains off.
God of War has endured not just as a series, but also as a study of Greek tragedy. Upon the original game’s release, Sony struck gold with God of War’s delicious blend of brutal violence draped over an interesting world based on Greek mythology. Since then, gamers have seen Kratos slaughter his way through legendary gods and mortals with nary a sweat broken, and with him taking down the mac daddy of all Greek gods at the end of the third game, it’s only natural that Sony would explore Kratos’s origin story to keep the series fresh. God of War: Ascension is the newest game in the franchise, and while it’s a bit of a step down from the original trilogy, it still manages to deliver a satisfying, if rather brief, experience.
God of War: Ascension takes place before the original game and details Kratos’ struggle to break his bond with Ares, the God of War. Naturally this is no easy task and there’s a few hefty strings attached; in order to break his bond and earn his freedom, Kratos must defeat the Furies, three godly sisters who have imprisoned him and do everything in their power to prevent Kratos from achieving his goal. The story doesn’t escalate quite as much as in the previous games and the stakes are never really raised; the plot instead just throws obstacles in Kratos’ path to make his life that much harder. Needless to say, Kratos is still a tragic, yet likeable character, and it’s interesting to see how he took the first steps on his quest to later slay the God of War.
If you’re familiar with the series then you’ll find very little has changed in terms of combat. Kratos’ signature weapon, the Blades of Chaos, are your primary means of disembowelling all that stand in your way. Sadly, there are no additional weapons to collect this time around. Instead, Kratos can make use of temporary weapons scattered around the world. These include spears that can be used as projectiles, clubs used for heavy damage output, and shields that throw your enemies off balance when struck. These world weapons are a nice addition, but their use is often unwarranted given the power of the Blades of Chaos and its various magic upgrades. They also lack the satisfaction of, say, the Barbarian Hammer or the Blade of Olympus from previous games.
To balance out their absence, the Blades of Chaos have been significantly beefed up. Kratos can obtain four types of magic: fire, ice, thunder and soul, gifted to him by various Gods. Each changes the properties of the Blades, offering unique combos and devastating magic attacks. By collecting red orbs, Kratos can upgrade his blades and each individual magic type to maximise his efficiency in battle. Most of these upgrades are inexpensive and it’s likely you’ll have fully upgraded Kratos by the game’s end. And you’ll need Kratos to be as powerful as he can possibly get, as there’s a challenging enemy rush towards the end that will push your skills to the limit.
Lambs To The Slaughter
Speaking of skill, Ascension isn’t quite as demanding as previous games in the series, purely because the Blades of Chaos become very powerful very fast. More often than not, mashing the Square button until everything is dead is a viable option. Kratos also has a ton of health; even the largest of enemies will only shave a few pixels off his lifebar with each consecutive hit. Pair this with plentiful checkpoints and healing orbs, and you have a game that doesn’t exactly punish mistakes. Given this, Ascension doesn’t really have a difficulty curve; it’s more of a difficulty slant. Thankfully Hard and the ungodly Titan difficulty present more of a challenge and optimise the many moves and combos Kratos has at his disposal. So if you’ve played through any of the previous games, I recommend starting on Hard for a proper challenge.
The combat system definitely takes a backseat this time around, in favour of some absolutely stunning locations and stellar level design.
The combat system definitely takes a backseat this time around, in favour of some absolutely stunning locations and stellar level design. Puzzle sections return and force you to use your brain quite a bit to crack them, as these parts provide some of Ascension’s toughest challenges. Levels seamlessly interlink as you briefly revisit older areas with new items to traverse to brand new locations. There’s a good sense of progression on Kratos’ quest to stomp out the Furies, and the sheer scale of some of the areas you’ll visit are evidence of this. A good portion of the game involves the player progressively scaling and rebuilding a gigantic statue of Apollo, for example.
Gods Of War
New to the series is the multiplayer component, which is surprisingly substantial. You begin your multiplayer campaign by swearing allegiance to one of four gods: Zeus, Ares, Poseidon or Hades, who will grant you with unique powers. The four game modes on offer will definitely be stuff you’re used to, and include team and non-team deathmatch variants, as well as a simple horde mode playable either alone or co-operatively. The best of the four, however, is Capture the Flag, which translates very well to God of War’s gameplay mechanics. While this mode offers nothing new to the CTF formula, the feeling of slaughtering your human opponents and coming out on top for the flag is immensely satisfying, quickly followed by a sense of dread and sheer tension as you aim to run back to your own base with it, netting you a point. It’s a ton of fun and I hope it becomes a staple for this franchise in all future titles.
Multiplayer does have some downsides, however. It can take a while to join a game, even with a filled up lobby; while you wait, you can customise your champion with a variety of weapons, armours and abilities. There is an EXP system in place that will allow you access to more advanced gear, but there’s a rather paltry amount to upgrade yourself with. While this keeps the experience from feeling imbalanced, it would have been nice to create a truly unique champion built to your own play style. As it stands, the only real thing that differentiates playstyles is your choice of weapon (of which there are only three types), and the boons granted by your chosen god and what armour you wear into battle. Also, the lack of gender selection won’t be a problem for everyone, but may turn some away. The multiplayer is a great new feature, so its expansion is not only a no-brainer, it’s pretty damn necessary to keep it alive.
All in all, God of War: Ascension treads dangerously close to simply going through the motions. There’s really nothing new on offer in regards to the single player component, but the campaign itself is enjoyable and New Game+ does offer some replay value. It’s also home to some memorable levels and some of the most devious puzzles of series history. The new multiplayer component is also a welcome addition that begs to be expanded upon. If you’re a longtime series fan then you should definitely pick up Ascension as it’s still a deeply enjoyable experience, but newcomers may want to pick up the God of War Trilogy before trying this one out.
A review copy of God of War: Ascension was provided courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.
Blades Of Fury
God of War: Ascension is a fine addition to the series, despite being a marginal step down overall. The campaign shines in some moments, but lulls in others. The multiplayer component is incredibly enjoyable, however, and will be the reason many players will keep coming back to this one.