God of War has always been about power, rage, and revenge. Kratos gets angry at some god, titan, or other mythical creature, then rips their heart out. God of War: Ascension doesn’t lack in the heart tearing, but it has lost a bit of its rage and revenge. This softer side of Kratos is a bit awkward at first, but ultimately, it matters little to the amount of carnage and overall gruesomeness in this game. God of War: Ascension begs a lot of questions, but the most important of which is this: Does Ascension live up to the epic nature of its predecessor? Or does this prequel merely serve as an unneeded episode in a worn out series?
God of War: Ascension is basically a backdrop to the entire series. Kratos has made his oath to serve the god of war, Ares, in exchange for saving his life. Under Ares’ control, Kratos savagely murders his family and is haunted by visions of his wife and daughter. Seeking to break his bond with Ares, Kratos is captured by three beings known as the Furies. The Furies are the upholders of oaths and punish any that attempt to break them. Kratos, enraged at the Furies involvement with his bond, breaks free from them and plots his revenge.
Ascension plays pretty much like every other God of War game. This time around though, Kratos is limited to his trusty Blades of Chaos only. The new focus on the Blades of Chaos is refreshing given that, in previous titles, they were easily the most fun weapon to use and the same is true here. Throughout the game, Kratos unlocks elemental abilities that bind with the Blades of Chaos. These elements range from fire, ice, lighting, and soul. Each element is useful in it own right, and they each add an extra layer of depth that make the Blades of Chaos that much more accessible. Kratos also has the ability to pick up and take enemy weapons. These weapons are more or less useless in comparison to the Blades of Chaos, but they serve as a nice alternative if the player is looking for one. This simplistic combat is fluid and fun.
While less iconic than God of War 3, taking on bosses and mini-bosses is still just as brutal. Quick-time events are still a large part of Ascension, and when it comes to the combat, they are just as bloody and grotesque. A new Rage system is in place as well. As Kratos builds up a combo, his Rage meter fills. When full, his combos become more powerful and have higher hit streaks. This system encourages smart gameplay; blocking, dodging, and countering are all more crucial than they’ve ever been. While this new mechanic encourages smarter gameplay, it can become frustrating trying to achieve this powerful bonus because if Kratos is hit just once, it’s drops the gauge to zero almost immediately. This can lead to excruciatingly long battles, even for experienced players. This frustration furthers especially on the later levels of the game. Despite my rage with the Rage meter, most of the battles are intense and fun. These intense battles are broken up by platforming and puzzles. This time around, platforming is more organic, fluid, and enjoyable. Puzzle solving is fun as well. The majority of the puzzles are certainly head-scratchers, but none of them are so tough to call it quits. The gameplay in Ascension is just as fun as any God of War; it has its frustrations, but it has some quintessential God of War moments of epic grandeur.
The enjoyable gameplay is only amplified by the gorgeous visuals. Visually speaking, this is God of War at its’ finest. Ascension is one of the most visually stunning games this generation; huge draw distances, detailed textures, and jaw-dropping animations. The locations that Kratos visits aren’t as iconic, diverse and memorable as in God of War 3, but they look just as good, if not better. While swooping camera angles show off the wonderful scenery, they do it at the expense of gameplay. More than a few times, the camera zooms out so far it’s easy to lose Kratos among the enemies. Sure the view will look great, but getting beat to hell might not be worth it. Every character model is heavily detailed, and the voice acting is done well. Brutally decimating enemies sounds terrific. The sweeping score accentuates every battle and traversal. Ascension is a truly fantastic looking, and great sounding, game.
This newest addition to the God of War franchise brings the presence of a competitive online multiplayer for the first time. Early on in the game, a random characters death is witnessed by Kratos – Or at least we all thought it was random. Before the character died, he prayed for the Gods to save him, and they did. This is the basis of the multiplayer, which is actually pretty interesting. The player gets to choose between four Gods: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, and Ares. Each of these deities have their own style of play, and picking one of them comes with its’ own perks. The game modes featured in Ascension’s multiplayer are pretty standard. Deathmatch, capture the flag, team deathmatch, etc. The multiplayer is fun for the most part, using visual clues to help balance the gameplay. When multiple players come onto the screen, however, things tend to get hectic. Honestly, while Ascension’s multiplayer is enjoyable, its longevity is questionable and buying this game solely for the multiplayer would be a mistake.
So, is Ascension a lack-luster excuse for a prequel, or is it the epic follow-up to this acclaimed series? The answer is neither. God of War: Ascension does not live up to its predecessors, but it also isn’t a lame excuse for a God of War title. The simplified, Chaos Blades centric combat is a refresher to the series, even with the difficulty curve that can be frustrating at times. This, combined with the lack of iconic boss battles, decrease the overall epicness of some encounters. The stunning visuals are a sight to behold, even if the locations aren’t as memorable as God of War 3. The online multiplayer is an enjoyable and fast-paced experience, but it definitely isn’t what sells the game. Even though God of War: Ascension fails to live up to the high standards that the previous titles set and doesn’t take many risks, it is a well made, fun game that should be played by all PS3 owners.