Review: God of War: Ascension
The God Of War games have always had a very clear sense of purpose. In the first game, you have to kill Ares, current God of War. In the second and third, you set your sights on the rest of the pantheon, your all consuming rage directed at anything in a toga. In God Of War: Ascension, your motives are less clear than before. More than once, you’ll find yourself asking, “Why am I here?”
GoW:A is a prequel game, and rather confusingly, kicks off near the end of its story. Kratos begins the game imprisoned by The Furies, beings who exist to make sure that oaths are followed. If you break your oath, such as Kratos trying to leave the service of Ares, the Furies will hunt you down and punish you. Of course, Kratos escapes sharpish, and sets his sights on the Furies who imprison him. As you start making some headway, the plot jumps back a few days.
This timeline bouncing comes up a couple of times, with the majority of the game spent in the past. The problem here is that it’s quite ham-handed, and it can often become quite difficult to work out why you’re doing the things you’re doing. The timeline jumps will show you other characters, but not explain who they are until later on, which makes it hard to care about them early on. It seems a rather bizarre way of doing things, and one wonders if the developers couldn’t think of a decent set piece to begin the game with, so cut and pasted one from the end.
Plot misgivings aside, the combat is as bombastic as ever. Kratos can still swing a mean blade, and the death ballet has had a couple of adjustments made, in probably the biggest mechanics shake-up the series has ever had. Kratos can now latch on to a foe with one blade, and either drag them about, zip in close to them, or fling them at other beasties. This gives you more tactical options, and being able to zone out multiple enemies in one go is handy.
A new style system has been included too, where your Rage of the Gods powers are activated by performing well in combat. Chain a few strikes together, and your meter builds. Take a couple of hits, and the meter falls. Filling up the meter allows you to fire off a rage special, a powerful attack that can cripple nearby foes. This is a cool way of implementing it, but defensive problems hamper it greatly (we’ll cover that in a bit).
Kratos acquires four different kinds of godly magic over the course of the game, and these are used to infuse the blades with different powers. Ares grants you fire, and increased rage attacks. Hades gives your blades the power of the dead, and spirits can be summoned to attack your enemies for you. Each power is upgraded separately, which would be fine if not for the fact that three of the powers have their magic attack nestled at the very end of their upgrade path. These attacks are incredibly useful, but only being able to acquire them after playing most of the game is ridiculous, as it forces you to stick to the elements you have upgraded.
You can find subweapons scattered about the place, which have varying degrees of usefulness. All are disposable too, and can be hurled at enemies for a special discard move, often stunning or knocking down multiple targets. You won’t be relying on these for the most part, the chain blades are simply too useful.
On the other side of the coin, Kratos’ defensive options have been severely hampered. The parry in particular has been made needlessly more awkward. The previous games parrying worked by tapping block as you were being attacked. It was elegant, it was easy, and it worked. In GoW:A, you have to be holding block and then tap X when hit. In practice, this is too awkward to pull off every time, and you end up getting hit due to the slight period of helplessness on a missed parry. The dodge roll is still useful, but too many enemies can still hit you while dodging, which results in some very one-sided fights.
The problematic defense brings us nicely to the difficulty. For the most part, the game flows quite nicely, with the difficulty well balanced. Most fights feel fair, and they reward you for playing well. Sometimes though, the difficulty spikes up for absolutely no reason, and you’ll find yourself getting stuck against hordes of enemies that won’t give any ground. Getting your rage meter up so you deal more damage is a nightmare sometimes, and you’ll be winning fights by cheesing them out, not by playing well.
There is also a massive difficulty spike right near the end, a three round gauntlet with no checkpoints or health pickups, facing against the most annoying enemies in the game. This is where the irritating blocking and parrying come into play, as you can literally find yourself being spammed into a corner with no way out. This section is so incredibly out of sync with the rest of the game that the developers have already said they are looking to patch it, which speaks volumes on it’s own.
It’s a shame that the numerous mechanical problems hold the game back, as it looks great. Kratos has never looked better, and you can really see the fury in his expressions when the camera cuts in close. Animations are great too, with each character having a real sense of identity about the way they move. Blood and gore look superb, and there’s always gobs of it flying about the place, and anatomically correct surgery going on. The environments are nice and expansive too, and you get a great sense of scale as you progress.
New to the God Of War franchise is its first ever multiplayer mode. You meet your multiplayer character early on in the solo campaign (don’t ask), and upon beginning multiplayer, you are tasked with choosing your God. The Gods provide you with different upgrades and powers, Zeus will give you ranged lighting, Hades will grant you stealth, etc. Once you pick a God, you learn the systems, which work differently in multiplayer, and crack on with crackin’ skulls.
You get a variety of modes here, which form variations on standard multiplayer game types. You get free for all deathmatches, for four or eight players, a horde mode for two players to conquer together, and Favour of the Gods, a more unique take on Team Deathmatch. Not only will you be killing each other, you’ll also be capturing points on the map, and grabbing chests as they appear. This encourages you to move about, and the big points are gathered from going on the offensive. Some stages also feature a unique element, such as the giant cyclops shown in the pre-release information. Killing this beast earns your team tonnes of points, so competition on this is always high.
The combat in multiplayer works kind of like rock-paper-scissors. Light attacks are fast, but can be interrupted by heavy attacks and parries. Heavy attacks are damaging but slow, and can be dodged away from. Dodging is handy, but leaves you open to grappling. Grappling is damaging, but can leave you open to be attacked in many ways. You really need to be paying attention to do well here, and spamming on your attacks will result in failure.
As you play, you’ll unlock new armours and magical abilities. These are mostly governed by your chosen God, and unlock when certain criteria are met, such as achieving a certain rank, or pulling off certain feats in game. The XP keeps coming nicely, and even poor players can grab enough XP to see them through. The nice part about the gear and ability upgrades are that they still seem fair. Even a low ranking player can do some real damage against a high ranking one by playing skilfully, which is nice to see. The upgrades always offer you advantages, but matches never feel imbalanced, skill seems to win out over gear every time.
God Of War: Ascension feels a bit like it it was made to keep the franchise rolling, as opposed to saying anything new about Kratos. The plot of the main game is forgettable, and the alterations to the combat are hit and miss. That’s not to say that it’s a bad game, far from it, you’ll barrel through nicely from place to place, and it’s still fun to play. The problem is that its just average, which is a shame when you compare it to the stellar trilogy it has followed. The multiplayer really boosts up its value, with it’s surprisingly fun take on online combat. Many of you will buy this game for the man on the cover, but you’ll stay for the man you take online.