Review: God Of War: Ascension
God of War: Ascension, created by SCE Santa Monica Studio, is the seventh entry in the franchise, and a prequel to the entire series. Its selling point is its multiplayer mode, a first for the franchise. Does this breathe new life into the series, or is the Ghost of Sparta finally beginning to show his age?
- Worth The Time?Yes for those who just want more God of War or who are dying for the multiplayer. No to those without multiplayer interest, and who want something to top God of War III and its predecessors.
- Things LovedAs a spectacle the game is incredible, the elements are fun to use, some good boss battles, it's visually stunning, the multiplayer is surprisingly entertaining and offers great variety, it's high quality, the action is good, the music and sound effects are fantastic, it's more God of War.
- Things HatedThere's absolutely nothing stand-out in the campaign, it feels like a big step down from God of War III, the elements don't influence combat tactics as much as they should, it takes a very long time before you start to feel a little powerful, the attempt to make combat more difficult has resulted in some fun being lost and too much emphasis on cheap tactics, it can get boring.
- RecommendationIf you're here only because you want more Kratos and God of War, then Ascension will be enough for you. But if you wanted something to rival or better God of War III, and its predecessors, you definitely won't find it here. Ascension is for Kratos die-hards and those who love new multiplayer experiences, because that part of the game is surprisingly good.
- Name: God of War: Ascension
- Genre: Action Adventure, Hack & Slash
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online (8 players)
- Platforms: PS3
- Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Price: R605
- Reviewed On: PS3
God of War: Ascension is the seventh entry in the franchise, and a prequel to the entire series. I’ll be honest here. I’m a huge fan of God of War, and I considered the final entry in the trilogy to be as near perfect as you could hope for, and one hell of an epic experience. It’s definitely one of my favourite games around. I was apprehensive about Ascension because I didn’t want “just another God of War” to follow up arguably the pinnacle of the series, but I suppose they had multiplayer to act as its selling point. However, my main concern was that, being a prequel, the major issue is that it will end up being a step down from God of War III, and the only question would be by how much. But as usual I go into all games with a clean slate, no expectations and an open mind, so let’s get into all of it now.
The game takes place years before the events of the first game and the PSP prequels, and focuses on Kratos trying to severe his bond with the God Ares. To do this, he has to kill the Furies, who are the guardians of honor who punish those they deem guilty, such as those who break blood oaths to Gods. The game starts out with Kratos imprisoned and tortured for his transgression by one of the Furies. Since Kratos is such a handy-man, he engineers an escape during the torture, and turns his rage onto his enemies. There’s a lot of backstory to the game, and the plot is fairly deeper than what I’ve outlined, but to keep things succinct here the basic premise is about Kratos trying to free himself of Ares’ control.
As far as the story goes, we’ve already had two prequels on the PSP and we’ve naturally experienced the finale of this story, so it’s very difficult to get excited about Ascension’s story. I can’t deny that I would have been more interested to see Kratos’ life as a Spartan general, when he first pledges loyalty to Ares on the battlefield, but that’s just my personal view. I guess it’s because I’ve just played every God of War title out there, so Ascension doesn’t seem so much an exciting story entry as it does another filler. It can be difficult to evaluate the story of a prequel sometimes. I mean, you know where it’s going to go, you know what the end result is, so some would say it’s all about the journey, right? In that case, Ascension is about adequate. It does enough for you to see it through, but there aren’t really many highs or things to keep you more than casually invested. And I’m a big time fan of this series.
I’d like to put it out there first, that as a spectacle this game is incredible, although who would have expected any less with Santa Monica at the helm. It’s admirable to see that nothing about this game is rushed, it’s high quality and full of polish, and it looks absolutely stunning. It’s probably round about the best that you’ll get out of the PlayStation 3 at this stage in its life. Of course with regards to sheer scale it doesn’t even compete with God of War III, but it makes a great attempt at being a visual marvel, succeeding quite comfortably. It’s packed with detail, the environments and character models are beautifully done, and the visual effects are magnificent, particularly when it comes to combat. Apart from some minor bugs, there’s very little to fault Ascension for when it comes to its graphics, and it really is at the quality you can expect from this franchise. The same can be said of the game’s sound effects and music, which are top notch and really set the tone of the game well, as you’d expect.
Where God of War: Ascension breeds the most difference is with its gameplay. Many tweaks and changes have been made to the core formula in order to meet two objectives, and those would be firstly to make combat more challenging, and secondly make it require more strategy. Those sound like good things on paper, but what of the execution? Well, the first thing, fitting in line with it being a prequel, was to make Kratos weaker than he was in God of War III, and it’s hellishly noticeable in this game. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the basics. In Ascension, there are no alternate weapons, as the Blades of Chaos is your main toy. That said, you can pick up and use throwaway side weapons such as swords, lances or shields, but these aren’t all that useful and you’ll just use them because they’re there most likely. Instead of four weapons, the Blades of Chaos itself has four elements, namely fire, ice, lightning and soul, of course acquired due to Ares, Poseidon, Zeus and Hades respectively. You’ll unlock these at set parts in the game, and they form the pillar of combat.
The elements are accessed using the D-pad, and you can swap at any moment even mid-combo. Each element has multiple levels to upgrade as well, which unlocks special attacks, rage attacks and finally a magic spell. Of course, you can still upgrade your actual Blades of Chaos, which empowers the four elements universally. While they all have the same inputs and moveset structure, their functionality differs, as does their intent. These elements allow you to force orbs if you kill enemies with them in a certain way, such as with rage attacks. Fire gives you gold orbs for rage, ice gives you red orbs for experience, lightning gives you blue orbs and soul gives you green orbs. This was intended to add more tactical depth to the combat, but it’s not that easy to get the elements to give you the souls you want, and in truth your choice will depend on preference or perhaps the magic spell, because enemies themselves don’t have elemental weaknesses or anything like that, despite some of them having elements. They’re definitely fun to use, and look amazing visually, but they don’t influence combat tactics as much as they should, and in the end it, most of the time, doesn’t matter which you use.
One of the biggest changes made to Ascension’s combat is the new emphasis on rage. While rage itself has always been a staple of the series, in Ascension the ability, called Rage of the Gods, is a core part of the combat. Chaining combos builds up rage, but it can drop in an instant if you take a hit. Once your rage meter is full, it automatically activates and you become faster, deal more damage and unlock rage attacks and the staple moveset, which includes the lethal triangle combo, five square combo and ground slam variations. Rage attacks are unique to each element. With fire, for example, the rage attack can be used in your combos and it’s a single strike that sets enemies ablaze. The lightning element renders Kratos immune to damage while dishing it out with a shock attack that lasts for a small duration. Maintaining rage can now be a vital part of combat, although it’s something that’s far easier said than done, and poses just as many issues as it does give you something cool to play with.
In theory, the elements and rage focus sound great, but in execution, they have serious implications that damages the God of War experience. Firstly, because the original moveset is locked out unless you’re in rage mode, for a large portion of the game Kratos feels severely weakened and lacking in moves. You lack the ability to crowd control, or dish out heavy damage in one attack, which is what the Blades of Chaos always allowed with the ground slam heavy hits. It takes a very long time for you to level up your Blades and the elements, as most have five levels, and in Ascension it often felt to me that combat just lacked power. On the one hand, I do appreciate the increased difficulty and the idea behind making combat more tactical, but it has given way to various shortcomings. One major issue is that you only really feel powerful once rage is activated, but it’s insanely easy to get hit even if you play safe, and it’s also hard to build up rage unless you resort to cheap tactics or spamming the same moves. The issue here should be obvious now, in that feeling powerful is a thing that lasts just a few short seconds, and getting hit makes you lose enough rage to lead to sheer frustration when you’re dealing with many opponents. You can even lose rage while locked in contextual quick time events.
The much more logical system, for me, would have been the system that has always worked for rage mode in God of War. You build it up, and then you activate it and it lasts a short duration. In Ascension, it can far too often restrict the way you play if you wish to access your rage moves, and who wouldn’t considering the power you feel. The elements become so much more fun, as every power hit unleashes awesome results during rage mode. For instance, when you use a power attack with the lightning element in rage mode, a large thunderbolt will strike the ground after your blades, with a tremendous sound effect that really makes you feel like a boss. But the way it is in the game, I just never really felt that powerful, which is what God of War is meant to be all about. The elements and rage were good ideas, but the execution could have used some tweaking. However, the worst offender in all of this, is that the attempt to make combat more difficult while simultaneously making Kratos weaker, has resulted in some fun being lost, and emphasis on using cheap or subdued tactics. In God of War III, by comparison, you were free to express yourself and run rampant, but here you just don’t have that privilege, at least not until much, much later in the game when you’ve upgraded all of the elements.
Another new move that has been added is the chain grapple. You won’t grab enemies with circle anymore, as that’s used for melee and side-weapon attacks. The right trigger now executes a chain grapple, which lets you throw enemies from a distance or execute them if they’re on low health, and it’s pretty great that you don’t need to be in front of your enemies to do this. A new chain tether attack has also been added, letting you latch onto one enemy and continue attacking the rest with your blades. While it builds up rage faster, it severely impacts your mobility and it’s all-round pretty weak, which means you probably won’t use it that often unless it’s to throw enemies. I’ve been looking at the combat a lot in comparison to previous games. On its own, Ascension is solid, it’s well put together, and the ideas to make combat more challenging and require more strategy were good ones. I have no problem with the ideas, but I did have issues with the execution. You just don’t feel the same sense of power.
There are three relics in the game that make up the items, namely the Amulet of Uroborus, the Oath Stone of Orkos, and the Eyes of Truth. The first allows you to manipulate time by either decaying or healing an object. For example, you can rebuild a bridge that has fallen with age, or destroy it only up to a point so that you can use it for platforming. It can be used in combat as well, allowing you to slow and suspend enemies. The Oath Stone of Orkos is very cool, letting Kratos literally be in two places at once as it creates a shadow copy of himself. This is used for puzzle solving, such as by depressing plates or holding levers in place. Of course, it can also be used in combat, because two Ghosts of Sparta are better than one. Finally, the Eyes of Truth, which you get deep into the campaign, removes illusions created by the Furies and casts a blinding light against enemies. I didn’t use it once outside of the puzzles that required me to. While the items are enjoyable to use with regards to platforming, in combat they’re very much on the weak side and you won’t often need them or use them.
An area in which the game has improved on is with its platforming. It’s more cinematic now, it’s faster, and it’s much more varied, introducing new mechanics and connected sequences that require a little more skill to get right. Another area the game shines a little is with its boss battles, as they’re well-designed and some are pretty cool. To be honest though, the truth is that the gameplay is still solid, it’s still God of War and it’s still good, but it feels like a big step down from God of War III, and half-way through the game my enjoyment was already starting to diminish. There’s just absolutely nothing stand-out in the campaign, and if you’re someone who didn’t want to settle for just another God of War game, then it’s possible that you’ll get bored through it. I know I’ve been negative, but that’s because I found God of War III to be the perfect game in the trilogy. Getting just another God of War was never really going to do it for me, but if you’re someone who wanted more Kratos, then this will be satisfying. It’s unlikely going to beat out the previous games, but you’ll enjoy it loads, which is enough. This is by no means a bad game, it’s just that based on its predecessors, it can’t help but just be lukewarm.
The campaign is actually quite long as it consists of thirty chapters. It should take you around ten hours to finish. Once you’re through with it, you have the option to start again on harder difficulties, like Titan mode, and New Game+, or head into the multiplayer. I was pretty curious to see what the multiplayer would be like, and I’m pleased to say that I was really surprised by how entertaining it is. When you first enter it, you’ll need to pick your alliance, whether it be to Ares, Poseidon, Zues or Hades. Ares is the warrior class and is all about combat, Poseidon is the support class, Zues is the battle mage class and is about spell-casting and combat, and Hades is about stealth, and being an assassin. Each class has its own moveset, magic spells, items, perks and ranks. Once you make your choice, you’ll have the option to train and learn basic and advanced moves before heading out into the online world.
It’s a bit more deep than you’d think. You can customise your character’s appearance and gear, with the former being cosmetic and the latter affecting stats, as well as magic spells, perks and items. More are unlocked as you rank up, purchase them or complete challenges called Labours. Your class can use any weapon, so you can decide to use a sword, spear or hammer if you prefer. You start out pretty empty, and you’ll need to naturally play to start building your character. There are a number of modes available for you to choose from. The main one is Team Favour of the Gods, which is effectively team death match either 2v2 or 4v4, with some twists, namely that you need to not just kill players, but also altars and open chests to earn favour. Match of Champions is free-for-all with either eight players or four. There’s also Capture of the Flag, which supports eight players, four per team. Finally, there is Trial of the Gods, which you can play solo or cooperatively with a friend, and this mode is a race against time where you need to kill, earn more time and survive for as long as possible.
The multiplayer is actually a lot of fun, and for me was the best part of the game. The combat has translated surprisingly well to the online component, and there’s a fair bit of skill involved with block breakers, grapples, parries and abilities. It’s hard to say how balanced the game is, but after I got used to playing, even as a level three character I could take out those at level forty if I employed skill, made use of my abilities and worked with my teammates. It’s very intense, and extremely satisfying to kill your opponents as well as outwit them in combat. There’s a lot of variety once you begin unlocking more abilities and ranking them up. You level up pretty quickly if you play well, especially if you complete lots of challenges. It’s hard to say whether the multiplayer has longevity, but it’s certainly quite addictive and I was always eager for another round after finishing one, and since the party sizes are small, it’s easy to invite your friends and really enjoy it. All-round I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. You’d think the multiplayer would be hellishly chaotic given that it’s God of War, but it’s actually very manageable.
God of War: Ascension is best described as a lukewarm experience. The single-player campaign doesn’t do a whole lot to impress apart from visually, and nothing really stands out. It’s still good, it’s still God of War, but it’s a noticeably weaker offering than its predecessors, and isn’t all that memorable. On the other hand, the multiplayer is surprisingly entertaining, and a sure highlight of the game. To be honest, if you’re here only because you want more Kratos and God of War, then Ascension will be enough for you and you’ll both enjoy it and be satisfied. But if you wanted something to rival or better God of War III, and its predecessors, you definitely won’t find it here. Ascension is for Kratos die-hards and those who love new multiplayer experiences, because that part of the game is really good.