The lights are on
Following in the footsteps of the critically acclaimed God of War III, Sony Santa Monica’s God of War: Ascension takes us back to the time before Kratos became the god-slayer everyone is familiar with. The main question lies in how bold a step the prequel turns out to be and whether the multiplayer detracts from the core experience fans are familiar with. Is another trip into Ancient Greece worth sticking your blades into?
The origin of Kratos is a tragedy similar to any other great tragic hero from Greek Mythology and Ascension aims to fill in some gaps and see how Kratos prepared to take down every god in Olympus. Back in 2005, PlayStation 2 gamers were introduced to Kratos by witnessing him leap to his death off a cliff. They soon find out his suicide was due to the oath he made with Ares, the God of War, which resulted in Kratos mistakenly murdering his wife and daughter.
Beginning in the original game, Kratos set out on a path to eradicate Olympus of all its gods and titans. By the end of the third entry, not a single noteworthy deity was left and a few subtle clues insinuated that Kratos finally reached that cliff from the first game and ended it all… which left the possibility of a sequel in a bind – hence the reasoning for a prequel.
Players find themselves imprisoned inside the titan-sized monster, Aegaeon the Hecatonchires, who has been transformed into a large labyrinthine prison for the living damned by the game’s main antagonists, The Furies.
The story bounces between two time frames, first is Kratos’ battle through the prison to escape and take down the three ladies keeping him imprisoned for breaking his oath to Ares. The other time frame is about three weeks prior when Kratos decides to break his oath and travels to several temples to break the bond, which caused him to slay hundreds of innocent civilians (He is unaware that he is the one who murdered his family).
Kratos is determined to rid himself of this bond and must travel to acquire the Lantern of Delos to see past the consistent illusions being thrown at him by the Furies. The only interesting characters Kratos encounters are the barrage of enemies being thrown at him, which would be a serious downfall if it wasn’t for the enjoyable gameplay and gorgeous environments. It’s easy to look past the shortcomings since the story is simply the catalyst for Kratos to be in such awe-inspiring situations. The story jumps back and forth, which can be confusing at times but the main draw to this series is not in its storytelling, it’s in the gameplay.
The real joy in God of War comes from controlling the angriest man in video games. Since this story is after his bond to Ares, Kratos has his infamous Blades of Chaos and unlike previous games, he never puts them down in Ascension. Instead, his blades are infused with one of four magic abilities bestowed upon him by the gods. You can switch on the fly with a press of the d-pad between fire, ice, lightning and the souls of Hades.
Certain enemies will cause players to switch between types of magic since each has their own benefits such as ice attacks breaking blocks and the souls of Hades helping to attack distant and multiple enemies. Combat feels just as good as ever and pulling in a Cyclops to disembowel them is rewarding time after time after a grueling battle.
On that note, younger players should be aware that there is a large amount of explicit content including blood and gore, intense violence, nudity and sexual content, which leads to an obvious Mature rating. So, if this is a turn off for you, then steer clear.
But, if you’re a fan of beheadings and tearing brains out of large elephant warriors, GOW: Ascension is right up your alley. Unfortunately, there are no repeats of the Poseidon beating or fighting game style boss battles like encountered at the end of GOW III, but there is plenty of gruesome killing to go around despite the lack of gods.
With all the hack-n-slashing Kratos is known for, it’s easy to forget that God of War has always had platforming elements to change up the pace. Ascension is no different. The game keeps things fresh by including platforming segments amidst grandiose environmental backgrounds, which is easily compared to another Sony-exclusive Uncharted.
While climbing, Kratos is rarely at risk of making a misstep, but there are several areas that feature Kratos sliding down steep surfaces that will require timed jumps to use his chains to grapple or swing to other areas. While enjoyable, it can be frustrating at times when a hard to see grapple point is the cause of your death.
Other than combat, environmental puzzles are the main obstacle. Kratos uses items found throughout his adventure to manipulate time to deconstruct or reconstruct a part of the environment and also help him be in two places at once. The puzzles range from simple to clever, but rarely ever get too complicated. Trial and error will work most of the time.
Nobody does epic adventures like God of War and while GOW III was Sony’s Iliad and Odyssey, Ascension keeps up the scale. From riding “snakecoasters”, to battling titan-sized prisons and a ferocious kraken-like sea creature, Kratos is dwarfed in size over and over. While impressive in level design, it can be hard to see what Kratos is doing when the camera pans back, which can be frustrating in the heat of battle.
The enemies are designed with such intricate detail as well, pulling from Greek Mythology, each enemy is either directly from the lore, such as centaurs, chimera and gorgons and there are some new original additions such as the elephantaur who sports a club made of elephant tusks. Even the fodder sport armor than can be broken down over time.
Ultimately, this is a full-fledged single player entry that has not suffered from the addition of multiplayer. In fact, the addition of multiplayer only adds to the replay value of the overall experience.
The newest addition to the series is the inclusion of online multiplayer. While hesitant at first, I didn’t expect much from it as I rarely sink into online multiplayer modes. But, after trying all the various modes, it can be very entertaining and worthwhile to invest time into. Players choose an allegiance to either Ares (fire), Zeus (lightning), Hades (souls) or Poseidon (ice), which decides which magic and upgrades can be accessed.
The typical modes are included, Champion of the Gods (deathmatch and team deathmatch), Capture the Flag and also a Cooperative horde mode (that can also be played solo). A ton of unlockables are available for players and the learning curve is simple.
The replay value of single player games are reliant on New Game Plus. With four difficulties to try out with your suped up Kratos and a collection of items that provide post game perks, there is a lot of replay value on top of the multiplayer modes that offer enjoyable side content.
Being a fan of the series helps make this game a must-play as its more of what makes the series so enjoyable. The entertaining combat provides variety and the platforming and puzzles change things up to keep this adventure rolling along. The lack of entertaining and noteworthy antagonists does detract from the overall enjoyment but it is hard to follow up on the masterpiece that was GOW III. For all the good and bad, this is more God of War. If you've had your fill of Kratos, this is not a game you need, but if you can't get enough of the angry, pasty god-slayer, pick this up. Another important note is the vast incline of difficulty during the final hour of the game when Kratos encounters the Trials of Archimedes. After a fairly gradual increase throughout the game, players are suddenly forced to exhibit supreme knowledge of all the mechanics and different abilities acquired in order to defeat a three-tiered combat scenario without a checkpoint. While it is incredibly hard (and soon to be patched), it is beatable but can be too frustrating for the average action enthusiast.
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