The lights are on
This was possibly the shortest God of War game to date, especially if you focus entirely on the plot arc and place it in chronological order. Very few events occurred in very few locations. This was the biggest disappointment for me, as the God of War series has first and foremost been a plot-driven endeavor with great art direction, which just so happened to showcase a cutting edge, supremely fun fighting mechanic. Throughout Ascension, I found myself repeatedly pondering my present location. Am I still on the Hecatonchires, or, even more so, in the Apollo statue? Apollo’s foot was so heavily featured in promotional material that I thought it was going to be one of the early stages. It turns out, that location is half of the game, and, more astounding still, is where the game ends. I couldn't believe it when I realized I was at the final boss fight.
Compared to the stellar past entries of this franchise, this was a very anticlimactic tale. I wouldn't even put Ascension on par with the handheld entries. I actually thoroughly enjoyed their plots—where they seemed more crucial, detailed, and prolonged, Ascension seemed incidental and stunted. This was a very miniscule piece of Kratos’s history. If they hadn't put so much effort and production value into the introductory sequences on the Hecatonchires, this would have easily seemed like an episodic entry deserving of a $10 or less fee for entry. They could have focused on more substantial flashbacks, and expanded this entry into the time long before Kratos was even in servitude to Ares, and then the Ascension storyline where he was breaking his bond from Ares, to make it feel less like it was still in the first chapter of what would be a normal God of War game.
In gameplay, Ascension does impress on more than one front. Additions to Ascension include the stylistic fighting mechanics for four different elements, which have slightly differing fighting styles and effects on your enemies, allowing for greater freedom with the blades of chaos, but lesser freedom in weapon selection. The non-QTE, mini-boss close-up kills are an excellent change of pace, which left me wondering why they even left QTEs in at all, considering how many people are turned off by them. Having a mix of button prompts and free-form boss beat downs actually leads to confusion and missed QTE prompts. The final addition would be something God of War fans have grown accustomed to, which would be four new magic attacks, but this time with slow motion close-ups on Kratos which are mostly impressive, if unoriginal. While these mechanics are the main point of playing a game and having fun, they really can't carry a game all the way. And the ridiculous amount of climbing felt like some kind of misguided attempt to compete with other franchises, especially since it was the cheesiest mechanic in all of God of War history. They changed Kratos’s climbing style entirely from all previous entries, where he almost always used his blades, to a half-assed Nathan Drake / Assassin's Creed style of climbing. Not only was it unusually jerky and unrealistic looking, it wasn't well done and there was way too much of it.
Other deviations from series tradition seemed to take a step back as well. The blocking and parrying has become so terrible it is almost entirely unused. Parrying was one of my favorite things to do in past God of Wars—it was very rewarding and required precise timing. The way it stands now, it’s more of a distraction, with a giant half-dome energy field (likely imported over from the multiplayer mechanics) that pops up and freezes Kratos in place for a short period, causing you to get hit more often than parry. This translates into an even more button-mash focused fighting style for Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry diehards to criticize.
It seems Sony Santa Monica took a few more pointers from Ubisoft, again in a bad way. This game is officially glitchtastic, especially with the more than irritating time manipulation ability. I don’t remember any God of War game having glitches, let alone so many fun-killing, game-crippling moments. I don’t know how many times I had to fix the water wheel in Kirra because of poor implementation, or how many times after I manipulated an object the game got stuck in a permanent slow-mo filter with the camera stuck so far back in the level that you can continue running through the level while being completely off screen. There are also issues with sound cutting in and out and too many colors being on screen causing frames to slow or entirely freeze. I don’t understand how they allowed this to happen, considering how polished God of War III was. I get the feeling that this game was rushed to completion when they realized they could begin working on a PS4 title. This is more apparent when locating and solving a teaser, sparking rumors of a sequel to God of War III, on a mural depicting the oracle Aletheia’s prophecy.
All of these criticisms are, as with many single-player turned multiplayer franchises this generation, likely the result of an unfortunately unnecessary addition to the franchise. Sony Santa Monica seemed to spend a large amount of their creative capital on developing an innovative, but largely unsolicited multiplayer offering for a fanbase which expects a stellar single-player experience.
Whether you are looking for a multiplayer experience or not, we have the privilege of being the first gamers to experience the future of competitive fighters. If developers out there fail to recognize this and advance the genre beyond the 2D side-scrolling fighters of Street Fighter & Mortal Kombat, then that would be a great loss for gaming. I find it hard to go back to SF & MK style fighters after this, Ascension’s multiplayer is that entertaining. This form of multiplayer is so well implemented over all, that it seems like it should have been a no-brainer for this style of multiplayer to exist for ages, but, where has it been all these years? On that front, I say excellent job Sony Santa Monica.
That being said, I’m still turned off by the multiplayer after about 30 levels, which, for many players, is a short period of time. It's been fun, but has fried my nerves more than any other multiplayer I've ever played. It's like the kind of rush you get from a hectic multiplayer match in an FPS, condensed into every second of every match, constantly.
As with any competitive multiplayer offering since the early days of DOOM, an obsession with the kill/death ratio plagues the community, and Sony Santa Monica is doing exactly the opposite to remedy the situation, promoting more updates focusing more strongly on that aspect. The thing is, if you have a run of bad luck, you can go an entire match without getting a kill, even though you have essentially been responsible for killing everyone you come across. To put it simply, it is very easy to steal a kill, or, more frustratingly, have your kills stolen from you. The k/d ratio statistic adds an obsessive component that distracts from what should be the main focus on teamplay and fun, unless of course you're in a Deathmatch. The Favor stat was a good start, especially since you can perform certain tasks and open chests to advance your character’s experience, but they should have extended it to rely on amount of damage delivered to opponents, instead of number of kills.
God of War: Ascension is a fun game with innovative new mechanics, brought down by a boring, almost pointless plot better left for a comic entry, a seemingly rushed time manipulation mechanic, an unnecessarily strong focus on multiplayer, and an astounding amount of glitches. As it is now, I hope they don't attempt to continue to explore his past, and just put it to rest. I said this immediately after I completed God of War III, their best entry, and unfortunately I have to say it again after a new unnecessary entry. I want to see what Sony Santa Monica can come up with next. They have great talent, and the art direction in Ascension was still awesome. I just want to see them work that creative muscle a bit more now.
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