God of War has been a Playstation main stay ever since the franchises initial debut in 2005. It has consistently pushed the boundaries of what the hardware can do, and helped redefine the action game genre. With Ascension, Santa Monica Studios tried to do the same for multiplayer games by releasing a full featured online mode for the game. This bold move proves to be a pleasant surprise; the overall product however, is a mixed bag.
The story once again focuses on Kratos and is a prequel to his adventure in the first God of War game. Here we see Kratos trying to sever his bond with Ares, the God of War, by killing the three Furies. The Furies are “The Guardians of Honor”, who seek retribution against those who break oaths and our protagonist is no exception. The game opens with a shot of Kratos in chains being tortured on the Hecatonchires, who is a one hundred armed giant whom the Furies have now converted into their own “Prison of the Damned”. The shot proves just how good the game can look and immediately puts you right into the action, where the combat proves to be just as fluid and tight as the series is known for.
Combat overall works very well, but is incredibly unforgiving. The sheer level of timing that is required to effectively avoid or parry attacks is just ludicrous in many cases. I often times found myself dying for what seemed to be incredibly unfair reasons. For example, against the Cerberus enemy you have to time parries and attacks perfectly to avoid getting stuck in a four to five attack loop where you have very little chance of blocking or dodging. It becomes unnecessarily frustrating. I will say though, when you the player do figure out the combat it becomes a beautiful and visceral experience. There are frequent times during the game where combat feels entirely unnecessary. For instance, in puzzles Satyrs will spawn for you to fight for no real reason.
This feeling of being unnecessary is something that plagues the game as a whole. The game has an entire feeling of monotony about it. For the early portion of the game (beyond the tutorial) there is a lack of real direction for the story. You are dropped into a village after being told to go see the Oracle of Delphi and just expected to fight foes that are attacking you for some reason and solve puzzles. This type of storytelling plagues the game as you can go for about an hour or two in between cutscenes or narrative explaining what’s going on. Many of these storytelling problems seem to sort themselves out toward the end of the game but it all just feels like too little, too late. I will give the story credit though as the ending is a very humanizing moment for Kratos, showing us how he really is a broken man from having killed his wife and daughter in the past. It is a beautiful moment and almost makes the entire previous 9-10 hours worth it.
As I stated earlier the game is just plain beautiful, as is expected in God of War games and on the PS3 in general. The textures on the enemies and environment bring a new gold standard to the franchise, and the sound design is no slouch either. The enemies all look gorgeous and the execution animations are top notch. The games camera shows off these works of art very well but it also detracts from the game as a whole. During all parts of the game the camera will often swing outward to show off these beautiful landscapes but I found myself often quite lost in the chaos. You are so small on the screens that I died at least three times purely from the camera angles. These three times are not including an awfully frustrating platforming section in the Prison of the Damned.
Glitches are something I have never really experienced in previous God of war games, but were found plentifully in Ascension. Two stages in particular, Delos Landing & Passage to Delphi, had multiple glitches where the camera would stay in one place or the game would freeze due to certain attacks I use. Having to restart an entire chapter just to get past these glitches is just plain sad in AAA first party title these days.
Introducing multiplayer for the God of War franchise was met with a lot of hesitation upon its announcement, but I am happy to report to you today that it is one of the areas where the game excels. They seem to have put a lot of time and effort into making this into more than a simple tacked on mode. Starting you off by pledging your allegiance to one of four gods of Olympus offers a great introduction to the fray, you then unlock new weapons, armor, and abilities by playing the matches and completing different challenges for each god.
With the standard fare of gametypes (Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag & Free For All) being its primary downfall, it all just works well. The combat can seem random at times, but seems to also have a skill gap not seen in many recent console multiplayer games. The ability to effectively parry an opponent’s attack or knowing when to use an item may seem simple but really separates the good from the bad in the multiplayer. There is also a two player co-op horde-esc mode that can be fun, but lacks any real depth that will keep players coming back. The primary versus mode however, could be an online draw for many months to come.
Kratos’ adventures have always been a high point for Playstation gamers and I suppose that’s what makes the mediocrity of Ascension such a letdown. The game just feels directionless and pointless for a large portion of its single player mode. The combat is as tight as ever, but with the newly placed importance on parrying and blocking it also becomes incredibly unforgiving and you may find yourself dying quite frequently. The camera angles, while showing off the stunning visuals, will also become a source of frustration. The multiplayer is a worthy addition to the franchise and I hope it continues to be a part of the series into the future. Kratos’ journey in Ascension is a rocky one that unfortunately causes the future God of War to fall from the action game throne.
Overall Score: 3 out 5
By Bobby Marquardt
Follow Bobby on Twitter @The_R3medy