Review - God of War: Ascension
Santa Monica Studio has their work cut out for them. God of War 3 began with one of the most epic fights of this console generation, and concluded with the violent death of Zeus at the hands of Kratos. Where do you go from there? God of War: Ascension is naturally handicapped by its own pedigree. Kratos is running short on creative mythological beasts and characters to kill, and it shows—making Ascension a solid game, but one that doesn’t live up to the legacy set by its predecessors.
Yet another prequel to the series, Ascension focuses on Kratos before he broke his oath to Ares which kicked off the events of the original God of War. To break this oath, he must kill the Furies; a trio of sisters that are the judiciaries of such oaths. The story begins with Kratos’ escape from the Furie’s captivity and then flashes back to the weeks before, where most of the game takes place. The nonlinear story format has been used in other games, but here it only complicates what should be a relatively easy tale. In the last half of the 8-10 hour single player campaign, it jumps back and forth between present and past, and if you looked down and missed the “two weeks earlier” that flashed up on the screen, you may get confused.
This story, unlike those before it, lacks any real sense of urgency. Kratos is usually a wrecking ball, destroying everything in sight because he is filled with rage. Here we have a softer Kratos, which is a nice change, (and I’m sure the voice actor was excited about not yelling for once), but his lack of anger just slows down the narrative. Kratos’ motive is not driven by vengeance, which is his defining character trait.
As far as the gameplay goes, Ascension is definitely the most refined of the series. Rather than choosing between different weapons, Kratos now attains four different versions of the Blades of Chaos, each with their own special attacks and magic. After finding the altars for Ares, Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades, their powers of fire, ice, lightening and soul can be selected with the D-pad to be used with the Blades. It’s a great way to interchange elemental effects on the fly, and lends itself well to the combat. Other weapons like javelins, hammers, swords and slings are now picked up from enemies and have their own standalone buttons. Also, R1 now acts as a ranged grab, tethering enemies to use as weapons themselves, or to initiate one of the many brutal executions. Some of these executions remain the same from previous games, which is a shame. However some executions (especially with larger enemies) now feature more interactive violence. For instance, de-braining an elephant requires you to pound the attack button while using the left stick to dodge his attempts to pull you off. They are cinematic and feel much more rewarding than in previous games. While the combat is as fluid and fun as ever, enemies will hit you while you are down and helpless, and death will come cheap.
If set pieces are why you love GoW, prepare to be disappointed. It starts off with a solid sequence, but nowhere near the epic-ness of any of the previous games. From there, the game runs pretty dry. There is one very impressive sequence that takes place on giant, flying mechanical snakes, but overall it’s pretty stagnant until the finale which was the only part that got a “wow” out of me. Still, I can’t get over the fact that in GoW 3 I fought Hercules hand-to-hand, and played tug-o-war with Hades over the river Styxx, and ripped the fingernails off of the Titan Cronos. There’s nothing in Ascension that rivals any of these moments.
Ascension also introduces multiplayer for the first time in the series. Players pick their allegiance to Ares, Zeus, Poseidon or Hades (all with different perks and weapons) and then take their character online. Combat is a tiny bit different than in single player, using spears, hammers, and swords as primary weapons. There is a relatively deep parry and attack priority system in place. Light attacks can always be blocked; heavy attacks break blocks, etc. This idea of paper/rock/scissors is great in theory, but it quickly turns to button mashing once you get online. Team games award players with XP for kills and completing objectives, which then translate to new armor and weapons for their character. The leveling system is somewhat deep, and bonus XP can be won by completing extra challenges. Matches are frenetic and are played on maps inspired by mythological locations and those from the games. I couldn’t imagine the multiplayer being any better than it is, but then again, GoW wasn’t ever intended to be a multiplayer game. Strategy here boils down to numbers: find a teammate that has already done damage to an enemy, help him finish the enemy off, then go find someone else to kill. I imagine it might have some staying power with a strong community behind it, but otherwise you’ll play a few matches out of curiosity, and then move on.
God of War: Ascension is in no way a bad game. It’s got the great combat and puzzles, cool creature design, and buckets of blood that fans love, but it’s just helpless in the fact that the series has peaked. There’s really no more story to tell, and nothing left to kill. Unfortunately, that was before this game was released.
Shaun Bolen is a freelance reviewer for ScrewAttack.com. After interning with the site for eight months, he left to continue his education. Shaun holds a degree in Foreign Language with an English BA on the way, and is now back with ScrewAttack to write reviews in his spare time. He can't wait for GTA V to come out, and enjoys taking emotive black-and-white self-portraits.