The epic saga we all grew to love just got downgraded a little on God of War Ascension
Kratos is back once again to kick some a$$ in this prequel and it feels like a trip down memory lane, even if it's a disappointing one. God of War games are known to be among (if not) the best of third person action-adventure beat em' up video games and God of War Ascension continues this lineage resulting in a Déjà vu "been here, done that" situation. Now don't get me wrong, the game is fantastic, gory and fun and I love it as much as the next guy, but it is the exact same thing we have done 5 times before and doesn't stand as high as what came before.
This is a prequel, meaning that the action takes place somewhere before the events of the first game. You play as, you guessed it, Kratos, the former servant of the God of War, Ares, who tricked Kratos into killing his wife and child. Kratos renounced Ares, breaking his blood oath to the god. For this act, Kratos was imprisoned by the three Furies, the guardians of honor and enforcers of punishment. Helped by the oath keeper Orkos, and learning that Ares and the Furies plan to overthrow Mount Olympus, Kratos escapes his imprisonment, defeats the Furies, and reluctantly kills Orkos. Although free of Ares' bond, Kratos begins to suffer the nightmares that will plague him throughout his adventures.
All of the above paragraph is taken from the Wikipedia page, cause when I played the game I didn't really understood WTF was happening. A moment you are chained and being tortured, the next moment you are free and start to kick some a$$, then you are thrown back and fourth in a series of flashback, that made no point and made me loose track of what was happening. The way the story is presented to you is a mess, I didn't like and to say the truth I didn't found it interesting as the previous games. It felt really boring like something made up during a coffee break. Ascension means climbing, rising or reaching something, but by the end of the game, I didn't see Kratos "ascend" to anything or do anything that truly mattered and had an impact on the world. In the past games, we've seen Kratos kill titans, take down Olympus and fricking kill Zeus himself, but in Ascension there is nothing to even come close to those moments. Also the ending was incredibly stupid, "something" happens and Kratos just turns back and walk...meh.
Kratos has always been a hard character to relate to, he is angry all the time and he want to smash and kill everything for no apparent reason, much like say Hulk. But Ascension was supposed to show us a side of Kratos we haven't really seen before, the human side, to make us relate more to him. But after finishing the game, I can say that it was only "supposed", since there is nothing like that in the game apart from 2 or 3 moments where Kratos saves someone or when he holds back on doing what he is asked to do. The epic live action launch trailer made Kratos more human in 2 minutes than the 13 or so hours of the game. Another thing that disappointed me were the main villains. The Furies man... they suck as the bad guys or girls in this case. They don't kill Kratos because "he need to be tortured for what he had done" and in the end these creatures facilitate his escape. It didn't made any sense and the Furies didn't felt worth of the might of Kratos. A spider-like lady, a lady who can summon a flying bird and the last one who can turn into a giant scary looking sea monster aren't as cool to interact with and fight as Poseidon, Hades or Zeus. To me they felt more like scrapped past characters and bosses of the previous games.
So the story sucked, but thank god the gameplay made up for it. If you liked the gameplay of past God of War games, then you will love the gameplay of Ascension. Everything feels perfect. The combat, movement, puzzles, platforming are better than ever. The combat is super fluid and extremely satisfying. Slashing down the many type of foes in the game, gives you a sense of satisfaction that no other game manages to do so, apart from the past God of War games. String combos, unleash devastating attacks, grab and split in two corpses, engage in a super f*cking awesome QTE moment while fighting a big boss... yeah everything can be found here and it's better than ever. Combat is cool and sweet, but it feels a little downgraded.
Now in the past games, Kratos gained new weapons like hammers, gauntlets, a bow etc. which he could use as a secondary weapon. You could upgrade these secondaries and unlock new abilities and combos like you would do for your Blades of (whatever). In Ascension you don't get that kind of secondary weapons. Sure there are some "secondary weapons" like hammers or swords you can pick up, but their use is limited and they can't substitute the badass secondary ones from the past. What you get instead of them are new element powers for your Blades of Chaos. The first is from Ares, the power of fire which has been the standart for every GOW game. But as you progress, you get three new elemental, Electricity from Zeus, Ice from Poseidon and Death/Summon Souls from Hades. I didn't like this, not one bit. Mainly because there is no clear point in using any other element apart from Fire. I figured that somewhere in the code of the game a stats program would be running causing each element to have different effect on the enemies, but it didn't really seem so. The only differences between them were the colors, particle effects and the sound effects. The only benefit was that each element dropped different orbs, so one will drop green orbs for health, one blue for mana, one red for "points to spend" and one gold orbs that did "something". But during my normal difficulty play I didn't see the need to use any of them for health or mana drops since there were plenty of chests, maybe in hardcore difficulty these make a difference, but I haven't tried it yet. Magic powers are back and they are locked within each element of your blades.
The enemy variety is vast and each one of them is unique and has his or her own style. But Kratos is a bada$$ and it doesn't matter if they are minions or fricking elephant men, he will murder them and bathe in their blood. Yes, you read it right, elephant men. The fights against them are amazing, especially proper executing them. After you slash him enough a "notification" like the circle button in past games will pop on top of his head. If you hit the R1, you will initialize a promptless free-form system, allowing you the choice of when to attack or dodge based on the enemy's actions. It's a nice new feature and it feels very fresh.
Traversing through the world is fun and beautiful to watch and execute. Platforming is fun even if it feels scripted and doesn't let you much freedom, it still cool to jump and leap from ledge to ledge or slide down giant mechanical snakes etc. Also very interesting is the ability or "Heal or Decay" which Kratos gains somewhere in the middle of the game. After he kill a, I'm gonna say, lame boss he gets the Ouroboros amulet (no, not the Razer mouse) which grants him the ability to heal of decay things in the world for example, you can fix a collapse bridge or destroy a structure that is standing in your way. Although it's a very cool mechanic it is so underused, there are only like 4 or 5 times you get to use this amulet and I wish there were more.
Another pillar even if it isn't as important as combat or traversal are the puzzles. Past God of War games have had cool puzzles, not very difficult but not easy either, and Ascension is no exception to that. The puzzles are here and they range from easy as pulling a lever to unlock a door to something where you need to use every ability Kratos gains in the game. Apart from the Ouroboros Amulet, Kratos also gains the Oath Stone of Orkos and the Eyes of Truth relics. The Stone of Orkos grants you the ability to create a shadow double Kratos for example, you can create a shadow double to hold a door open for you or things like that. The Eyes repel the black magic of the Furies. Some doors or passage ways will be blocked by black obstacles and using the Eyes you can clear them of. Now the combination all of three relics are the base of solving out some of the later puzzles in the game. Apart from being used in solving puzzles, these relics can also be used during combat like using the Ouroboros you can stop time or using the stone you can create a shadow double to fight enemies for you.
Now a staple of the God of War series has always been the gigantic scope of the environments and boy, there are a few in Ascension that make the past ones feel small. In some sequences the camera moves so far back and in the backgrounds you can see some giant constructs like the Apollo titan-sized statue that you eventually will reach. And this is what I like in GOW games, they tease you things before you even reach them making the wait and journey towards them even more amazing. There are also the sequences that happen on top of the serpents that are just plain fantastic. No game can even come close to the scope of the environments with God of War Ascension. Another staple of the GOW series have always been the crazy and over the top boss fights like the Poseidon fight or Kronos one etc. Each game had its "WOOOOW" moments, but what about Ascension? Well, it has a few, two to be precise that I can clearly remember, but the whole singleplayer felt like it was downgraded a little. The only boss fights that were over the top are the first one and the last one. Many stages, fricking cool QTEs and just over the top bada$$ery. The rest of the other boss fights...meh. Just beat him or her or it until he or she or it dies.
So with all of these shortcomings or downgrades you will naturally ask: "WTF happened with Sony Santa Monica, have they lost their touch? How come Ascension isn't at par or better than previous games?". Well, I don't think they have lost their touch or anything like that. I think that the main cause why the singleplayer wasn't were we would love to be is the multiplayer. Yes, for the first time there is a multiplayer mode in a God of War game. And I can go on and write three or more paragraphs describing my feelings towards it, but I already did. I was among the first to play the multiplayer on beta and after playing only an hour of the full version of it, I can say that nothing has changed apart from balancing things out and fixing the matchmaking. If you want the long answer about the multiplayer click here, if you want the short one: the mutliplayer is very cool and fun to play...for like 2 hours or so.
Presentation is what you would expect from a first party developer. Visually, Ascension is probably the second best looking game ever made, after The Last of Us, not only for PS3 but for everything current gen. The gore, the blood, the gruesome satisfying executions, all are present here and are better than ever. Character models, environments, animations, lighting effects are superb. Voice over is as perfect as ever so are the sound effect and soundtrack. And this makes me think, if they can manage to get these results with only 256 MB of RAM on the PS3, what can they do with 15 times more RAM? Greatness Awaits!
Bottom Line: God of War Ascension is a fantastic game, but in the "God of War" scale this can be considered only a good one and probably the worst in the series. It has it's moments, but they are not as epic as we have seen in the past. I think a better name for it would have been God of War: Kratos Unchained since that is the only thing that happens in the story. Going back to how I started the review, it feels like we have been there and done exactly the same before. It is not the sequel or in this case the prequel we were waiting for. This is a trend in "supposed" sequels that don't feature a number in their name (Assassins Creed Revelations, Gears of War Judgement etc.) Some games just don't need multiplayer!
[ God of War Ascension was reviewed on a PS3 using a promo copy provided by Sony. God of War Ascension is now available for the PS3.