by April 14, 2013 @ 11:30 am
Quick time events, gore, boobs, crazy camera angles, square-square-triangle. These are just five of the tropes that have been consistent in every God of War game to date. While normally you could argue that these elements are pretty awesome (though the boobs can certainly be a bit much), if you’ve been playing Sony’s Greek mythology-inspired first-party franchise consistently like I have, it’s very possible that God of War: Ascension will leave you feeling burnt out and underwhelmed. The fact of the matter is that while the latest entry in the long-running fantasy action-adventure series isn’t exactly a bad game, it doesn’t provide much that’s new, and the few novel moments it does present are marred by an overabundance of tired mechanics.
Ascension tells the story of the beginning of Kratos’ long and arduous journey for redemption. After walking away from the clutches of Ares and in the process breaking a contract of sorts with the god of war, the ash-skinned antihero is sentenced to a life of torment by the Furies. As per usual, it’s up to Kratos to shed seemingly endless buckets of blood and destroy his enemies. Chronologically, this is the first chapter of the blade-wielding Spartan’s story, which is actually quite problematic. It’s hard to really care about the plot and characters if you’ve been invested in the series because you already know how things come to a head in God of War 3.
Just like each of its predecessors, it doesn’t take long for you to encounter your first boss in Ascension. This is without a shadow of a doubt a by-the-numbers God of War game. Thae initial battle isn’t exactly flawed, but it’s certainly not all that exciting, either, and that’s due to the fact that these games have done it all before. The same could be said about almost every moment that follows with the exception of a select few. The game’s puzzles will certainly provide an ample challenge, but this time around, rather than feeling accomplished after you’ve completed them, you’ll likely feel relieved that you can finally move on.
Combat is as visceral as it’s ever been, if not more. Kratos has a number of attacks at his disposal and more can be unlocked by leveling up the Blades of Chaos. This time around, you can obtain different elemental upgrades. Selecting fire, ice, dark, and lightning with the D-pad allows you to dish out varied attacks, many of which must be employed to best certain enemies or get through specific obstacles. Additionally, you can now pick up weapons dropped by your adversaries. These can be used to bludgeon the hell of your foes, or you can toss them right at those fools’ faces for a high amount of instant damage, though you’ll lose the weapon immediately after.
Grappling enemies has seen a slight overhaul. You can fling one of your blades at a single enemy at any given time and keep him tethered. When you have him captive, you can then continue to swing your free blade at other enemies or toss the grappled enemy at others. Some baddies are also equipped with shields, so you’ll have to disarm them with your grapple move. It’s great that a few wrinkles were added to the combat. You’ve still got the context sensitive moments when your opposition is dying, but now that Kratos has a few more tricks up his sleeve, including some cool magic attacks, you can change things up a bit.
Some enjoyable platforming and climbing sequences have been introduced to the series with Ascension. Specifically, there are a handful of moments where Kratos will slide down crumbling structures, so you’ll have to avoid hazards, jump over pitfalls, and swing from structures. As far as the climbing is concerned, Kratos’ vertical movement has been streamlined. Rather than always having to hit the jump button to move upward, you can simply hold the left analog stuck in the desired direction and watch as Kratos moves smoothly across massive structures.
Sadly, other aspects that needed to be similarly stripped down to work in a much more intuitive way didn’t get an overhaul. Opening doors, for example, still requires you to mash on the circle button. That’s an action that has grown quite tedious over the years, and the simple press of a button would’ve sufficed. Additionally, while some chests can be opened by simply pressing R1, others still task you with holding down the button. Again, this is completely unnecessary and a bit archaic at this point. If certain gameplay mechanics can be simplified, there’s no reason for other similar functions to remain unimproved.
The biggest addition to God of War with this latest chapter is online multiplayer. There are a handful of modes for you to engage in including deathmatch and team deathmatch variants. These modes require you to enter arenas of either four or eight players with one goal in mind: gain the favor of the gods by killing your enemies. There’s also Capture the Flag, which works exactly like you might expect this mode to work, tasking you with entering enemy territory to steal flags and return them to your base. Then there’s horde mode, where you can team up with another player to battle waves of bad guys.
You begin with a very basic character, but the more you play and the more you level up, the better your warrior will become. Armor and weapons can be upgraded and unlocked, so you’re not just playing mindless matches without obtaining appropriate rewards. Instead,you’re working toward a goal, and your skill is rewarded with some nice enhancements that will likely keep this brand new feature feeling fresh for quite some time.
While there are only a few modes in the multiplayer component in Ascension, they don’t feel tacked on. Combat is taken right from the single-player campaign, which is to say it’s easy to get the hang of and really action-packed. If you thoroughly enjoy the gameplay of God of War and aren’t burnt out on it like I am, you’re bound to have a lot of fun battling competitors online. Someone like me who’s had his fill of this franchise, on the other hand, isn’t likely to stay intrigued for too long.
The presentation in Ascension remains strong throughout the entire experience, and this is easily the best looking game in the series to date. The first God of War games were able to push boundaries on the PlayStation 2. The PSP games successfully delivered some great looking moments on the handheld. God of War 3 set the bar quite high for the series when it launched. Now, the team at Sony Santa Monica has actually succeeded in surpassing all previous entries, delivering impressive graphics on the PlayStation 3 hardware and offering the absolute best visuals in all of God of War. The way the scenery changes up — from exciting Greek ruins to beautiful temples to breathtakingly lush forests — makes for some wonderful and awe-inspiring experiences. It’s just a shame that the gameplay isn’t as exciting as the graphics.
Let me stress that Ascension is not a poorly made game by any stretch. If you love these types of games and you haven’t had your fill, you’ll have fun with this latest installment. Even then, you’re likely to experience some level of fatigue, and if you haven’t been burnt out by now, it’s probable that you will be by the end of this prequel. Ascension is, for all intents and purposes, a bit of an unnecessary game. It doesn’t do much, if anything, to push the series forward, and its constant recycling of aging mechanics doesn’t help. Multiplayer is an interesting idea that works well, though you won’t get much mileage out of it if you’re already tired of the series. What you ultimately get with Ascension is a God of War game that gives you exactly what you would expect from a God of War game, for better or for worse.
Follow this author on Twitter.