Some of the year’s first few AAA releases were spectacle action games with the likes of DmC Devil May Cry in January and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance in February. Not to be outdone, Sony released God of War: Ascension, thus completing the trinity. The question then stands is, whether Ascension can hold its own alongside these great games.
After God of War III wrapped things up and Sony announced Ascension, many, myself included, asked the same question: Who’s left for Kratos to violently murder? The answer, of course, were obscure things from Greek mythology—the Furies and the Hecatonchires. The game is a prequel and chronologically happens before God of War: Chains of Olympus and the first God of War game. Six months after having killed his wife and daughter because of Ares’ trickery, Kratos has stopped serving him. This leads to the Furies getting on his case and him trying to escape and/or fight back when necessary.
Don’t know who the Furies are? I don’t blame you. The Furies are little known in pop-knowledge of Greek mythology. They essentially enforce promises and oaths made to and by the gods. If, like Kratos, you break your oath to any of the gods, the goddesses of Punishment, Justice and Torment will get on your case, and if their names are any indication, meeting them will not be a very pleasant affair.
The combat looks as awesome as ever... too bad it's a bit shallow
Credit goes to Sony Santa Monica for trying something new with the series. The story is told in a Tarantino-esque non-linear anachronistic fashion. Some of the first few levels of the game are events that chronologically happen much later. Does it work? No. The game does a very poor job of communicating the story, and Kratos’ refusal to speak for the first hour or so doesn’t help. The only way I could figure out where to go next was to see if enemies were still alive in a certain direction. The bits that I could make out were thoroughly uninteresting. Guess there’s only so much entertainment to be derived from a bald guy with anger management issues.
Ascension doesn’t disappoint on the spectacle front. The environments, on the other hand, are amazing. The game is beautiful, and this is easily the most beautiful God of War game so far. This isn’t surprising, considering how deep we are in this generation and the fact that developers now know how to squeeze every last bit out of consoles. The areas are huge and there is little to no loading time between environments after the initial load.
The boss fights are pretty epic too. The game continues the series' tradition of kicking off on a high point and only going higher. The first boss is the remnant of a Titan transformed into a building/statue/thing (?) by the Furies’ torture. You fight it on a moving platform while also handling enemies coming in from all directions. The spectacle is awe-inspiring, to say the least. It doesn’t stop there. Some of the set-pieces on your way to Delphi are straight out mind-blowing once you realise what you’re doing.
When it comes to scale, God of War never disappoints
The combat has been changed somewhat, but it still retains the series' tradition of button mashing. Attacking is the same combination of light and heavy attacks, and grapple still manages to be a “f*** you button” against groups of enemies. What’s been changed, however, is the way grappling and weapons work. Instead of hitting circle and doing whatever you want to the poor sod you’re grabbing, you hit R1 to grapple someone in the general direction you’re facing. After that, you have a number of choices—press Square to hit enemies while keeping the grappled one on a leash, or press Triangle to slam the grappled enemy to the ground. This was presumably done to free up the Circle button which has a new interesting function now.
Usually, the Circle button is for a kick. This does next to no damage, but does interrupt some attack animations. However, to make the button more useful, you can find weapons lying around on the ground. After you pick those up, you can press Circle to attack enemies with them. These weapons include fast swords, slow clubs, or ranged javelins and slings. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but they do help change up the boring button-mashy hack-and-slash stuff.
Another major change comes to the magic and extra weapon system. Gone are the days where beating some bosses would get you a new toy to smash your enemies’ heads in with. Instead, as you progress through the game, you unlock four elements, each one being bound to one of the directions on the d-pad. The four elements are fire, ice, lightning and souls (can you guess who gives which?) Each of these has its own bonuses. For example, using the ice element in fights and freezing enemies will get you more red orbs, whereas fire will get you green orbs.
Looks like a friendly chap
All in all, the combat is the same old boring button mashing. While this may sound appealing to some people, it stops being fun and starts feeling tedious when the story doesn’t make enough sense for you to be able to contextualise your wanton murder. Instead, what we get is a fighting system that’s still pretty dumb and will let anyone pull off cool-looking moves by randomly hitting buttons. While this may be exactly what the developers were going for, the combat in Ascension feels hollow and dull when compared to the likes of DmC Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
Now we come to the most fun part of the game—the multiplayer. Sony had been advertising the multiplayer for longer than it started showing off the single player, and with good reason. Where the single player campaign fails with its lack of context in the story and shallow fighting system, these exact same qualities lend themselves incredibly well to the multiplayer. And before you ask, no, you don’t play Kratos, so there won’t be the danger of seeing multiple Kratoses (Kratii?) duking it out in an arena.
As is usual with multiplayer modes these days, Ascension’s multiplayer has a leveling and loadout system. The leveling system applies to everything—your weapon, armour, and deity. You pick a deity at the beginning of the tutorial, and depending on which one you picked, you’d get some abilities. There are four to pick from, with Hades giving you bonuses for melee combat, Zeus lending your magic a boost, Poseidon letting you soak in more damage, and Hades letting you skulk around the arena and catching enemies unawares.
This is essentially the set up for the main campaign
The multiplayer is great fun, especially when the gods decide to mix things up by putting random mythical creatures into the ring. Sometimes, some characters you might recognise from the Greek mythos even make appearances, like Hercules.
The multiplayer in God of War: Ascension is the closest we’ve ever gotten to a properly functional and fun multiplayer third-person action game. Yes, it is close, but it’s not exactly there yet. There are some minor issues with weapon balancing, and the shallowness of the combat eventually ends up being a detriment to the game. Despite this, though, the multiplayer will keep you engaged for a good eight or so hours, which is more than I can say for the campaign.
You can see how dire the status of ideas in Sony Santa Monica is when you look at the names of some of the trophies in the game. You can’t really expect much from a game that’s supposed to be set in Greek mythology and has trophies like Snakes on a Train, or Bros before Foes. The latter was especially annoying, not because I may or may not have found the bit before that somewhat disturbing, but because this kind of puerile writing offends my comedic sensibilities.
Multiplayer is hilariously fun with giant monsters thrown in for good measure
God of War: Ascension is proof that Sony needs to give the franchise a long break. Maybe even put it on hiatus till midway into the PlayStation 4’s lifecycle. Kratos is done destroying everything that the Greek pantheon had to offer, and rather than pulling out the intestines of some obscure creature that nobody really knows or cares about, Kratos should finally rest.
Sure the combat is okay and the multiplayer is fun, but let’s not kid ourselves. If there is another God of War game after this with Kratos and Greek mythology, it’s only going to get worse. Instead, what I’d like to see is for the developers to take the insane over-the-top action that God of War is known for, and apply it to new characters and a new setting with a different pantheon. Norse would be awesome, and if we stopped protesting about stupid crap, the Hindu pantheon would be epic too. But as it stands, Ascension is a slightly better than mediocre game, but definitely nowhere near as good as the other games in the series have been.
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