'God of War: Ascension' - review

Friday, 15 March 2013 12:53 AM Written by 
(SPOILER ALERT FOR STORY ELEMENTS IN ALL ‘GOD OF WAR’ GAMES EXCEPT ‘ASCENSION’)

Anyone who has played the three console “God of War” games knows the essential stories of Kratos, The Ghost of Sparta. If your biography read, “Killing Zeus” somewhere in its text, it’s likely that there aren’t going to be any events that trump that achievement. Herein lies the biggest risk in crafting a prequel. We already know the story of Kratos. What could possibly be more exciting than taking down the gods of Olympus? And if there was something else seriously noteworthy in his life, why are we only hearing about it now?

The story takes place a decade before the events of the original “GoW.” Kratos had just recently been tricked into slaying his wife and child, and he remains bound to Ares, the God of War, by the blood oath he swore to him. His anger with Ares comes to a head after the murder, and he begins his journey to break the blood oath. That act doesn’t jive with The Furies, a trio of mystical beings whose sole purpose is to torture and punish those who break a blood oath with a god. “Ascension” follows the actions of Kratos as he attempts to defeat The Furies and break his bond with Ares.

Santa Monica Studios wasn’t quite able to succeed in the impossible task of upping the ante for the series, but that doesn’t mean “Ascension” should be skipped. “God of War III” remains one of my favorite games for the PS3, and “Ascension” comes close to matching that greatness.

Some may argue that the “GoW” combat has grown stale after eight years, but I still find it challenging and satisfying. It’s always been about hack ‘n slash gameplay, and “Ascension” continues that lynchpin, but adds some new elements. Kratos now has the ability to pick up secondary weapons to supplement his trademark Blades of Chaos. These weapons include swords, spears, and hammers, to name a few. These weapons can be used to continue combos and mix up the combat.
 
 


Rather than earning magical powers through progression like in the previous titles, the gods bless the Blades of Chaos, giving them different attributes and abilities. Zeus gives them lightning powers, Poseidon gives the power of ice, Ares grants fire, and Hades allows them to summon the dead. These blessings can be changed in combat on the fly. If only these gods knew what would be waiting for them in ten years, I doubt they’d be so willing to aid Kratos’ quest for blood.

There aren’t any huge strides to set the gameplay of “Ascension” apart from the rest of the series, but I expect a new “God of War” game to play like the other “God of War” games. That’s why I love the series, even down to the quick time events (QTEs), which also return in this latest addition.  Some of them have been slightly altered to play more like minigames than the typical, “press the button when prompted” approach.

Even though this is gameplay that I had experienced in the five games before it, I still found myself as hooked as I was when I played its predecessors. The series has an inherent ability to both reward progression and keep me wanting to see what lies ahead. Part of that is due its underrated presentation. The art of “GoW” is some of the best in the genre, and “Ascension” is no exception.
 
 


There are towering, gorgeous set pieces that have their own story within the main plot of the game. Like the first “GoW” had the Temple of Pandora, “Ascension” has the statue of Apollo playing a major role in the story. There’s character development here for characters that don’t have any dialogue. These games have a layered narrative that is better than many are willing to give it credit for.

Aiding the game’s visual presentation is a stellar soundtrack from Tyler Bates. It creates the perfect tone for slaying mythical beasts on gorgeous sprawling environments. It’s arguably the best in the series.

Finishing the eight to ten hour campaign unlocks the always enjoyable New Game+. Kratos keeps his upgrades, earns new outfits, and unlocks cheats like unlimited magic and damage boosts. I always find “God Modes” like this an undeniable treat.
 
 


Multiplayer is included for the first time in the series. I wrote some scathing thoughts after playing the beta a few months ago, but it turns out that the beta was a horrible representation of the final product. The multiplayer offerings are surprisingly creative, from the maps to the gametypes.

The multiplayer journey begins as a fallen warrior whose demise is actually witnessed in the campaign. After his death, he appears in Mount Olympus in front of the statues of the gods. He must swear allegiance to one of them, which decides the strengths and weaknesses of your multiplayer character.

There are 2v2 and 4v4 objective-based gametypes where the goal is to capture territories. The typical team-based or free-for-all deathmatch is also an option. Capture the flag is another choice, as well as a co-op or solo timed endurance run where slaying enemies grants more time.

Playing matches and earning kills grant experience which strengthens armor, and weaponry. This aspect of the multiplayer experience feels very similar to almost every other action-based game with multiplayer. Play to improve. Rinse, repeat.
 
 


The intricacies of the maps play a huge role in making the multiplayer as fun as it is. Each stage is multi-tiered with clever environmental effects that can be activated later in the round. This does, however, create a learning curve in order to understand how each map can help or hurt, but it’s an enjoyable process.

“Ascension” is likely to end up as a footnote in Kratos’ biography, seeing as taking on The Furies hardly compares bringing Mount Olympus to its knees while riding on the back of a Titan. But this is still a story worth hearing. Multiplayer is a new venture, and some may even make it a go-to experience for the PS3. Even if it does nothing for you, “Ascension” provides a single player campaign worthy of its $60 price tag thanks to high production values and some of the finest presentation in the business. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be sick of the series. It’s not its finest entry, but any “God of War” is better than no “God of War.”


8.75 out of 10
 
 
Pros:
Stellar presentation
Inspired multiplayer
Familiar yet improved combat
 
Cons:
Story doesn't match the excitement or the rest of the series

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