God of War: Ascension (PS3), Review

God of War: Ascension takes some chances and while most of them pay off, the game never strays far from that core combo-infused fury that we all know and love

Platform: PS3

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio

Category: Hack and slash, action adventure

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From the moment that Kratos ripped off Icarus’s wings mid-flight in God of War II and then just stuck them on his own back and flew out of there like nothing had even happened, I knew that the God of War series would be one of the most amazing things ever to happen to gaming. I have fond memories of trading off control of Kratos with my best friend in high school and yelling at everyone on the screen to “Suck my chains;” and then promptly making them suck on my chains. It’s seemed like a long time coming, but the hugely anticipated prequel to the original God of War trilogy is finally here. So how does Ascension hold up to the rest of God of War’s incredible legacy?

Ascension marks the return of Spartan warrior Kratos, who is easily the angriest and most ruthless character in gaming history. This installment follows Kratos on a quest to sever his ties with the God of War, Ares, by murdering the three Furies who plague Kratos with false illusions; all of which leads to the events in God of War. I liked the focus on Kratos’ search for redemption here, but the story lacks that powerful intensity of past games in the series, like the revenge-hungry madness of hunting down and killing Zeus, the God of all Gods. It seems much more in line with a side narrative, akin to Chains of Olympus or Ghost of Sparta on the Sony PSP, rather than a plot worthy of the main console storyline. Still, the quest for vengeance against the Furies leads to some really great moments, like the awesomely deceptive mind tricks the Furies play on Kratos, including scenes with naked women trying to seduce him or the Spartan general crowning Kratos as the greatest warrior of their clan. Kratos has never looked better than here in Ascension and the unmatched presentation has that classic God of War graphic polish and shine.

I think one of the main reasons some God of War veterans may be a little disappointed with Ascension is that Santa Monica Studio set such an unreachably high bar with God of War III that almost anything new they could think of would pale in comparison. But in the game’s defense, I don’t know how I would follow up an epic boss fight with resident mountain Cronos or gouging out Poseidon’s eyes with my thumbs for that matter. Admittedly, Ascension gets off to a fairly slow start and once it does finally start to build up some steam, the game’s story throws us into a flashback that spans several chapters, during which the action is forced to build its way back up all over again. In this light, the game really feels like a prequel to the insanity that is to come from the later games in the series, and had it been released as such, might have seemed a bit more impressive. Luckily, the later chapters in the game manage to kick things up to more expected and colossal notches of awesomeness.

God of War: Ascension introduces some new gameplay mechanics to the God of War series which are very commendable and for the most part, welcomed additions to the classic action gameplay. Hands down, the best of these new features involve the Amulet of Uroborus, which allows Kratos to rewind or fast-forward time and in effect, heal or decay certain structures around the environment. This decaying/healing dynamic is a wonderful addition to the game, and makes for some really cool environmental puzzles. In one case, I needed to get from one chandelier to another, with a seemingly impossible gap between the two. By rewinding time and decaying the room, I was able to jump my way across a series of dilapidated and falling ceiling sections, before time reversed itself and the second chandelier snapped back into place. You can even use the Amulet of Uroborus to slow down enemies during combat or reconstruct broken chests for a burst of red orbs.

Kratos will also do a lot of sliding down inclines in Ascension, which wouldn’t seem so weird if this particular gameplay element wasn’t overused at times: almost to a fault. Sometimes it seemed you couldn’t take two steps without having Kratos start to slide down another structure again. However, that is not to say that a Slip ‘n Sliding Kratos can never look incredibly badass while doing it. At one point early on in the game, Kratos will be tasked with unleashing three giant, stone snakes, to twist a huge tower lever and gain entrance to the Oracle of Delphi. This lengthy chapter has you riding on top of mammoth serpents, sliding down their bodies and jumping over holes in their scales in a nonstop flurry of fast-paced action and fluid grappling events.

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Ascension reminds us why God of War should be the only video game franchise that’s allowed to incorporate Quick Time Events, as the game executes each one absolutely flawlessly. There are also new “button-less” QTEs, which challenge you to perform cinematic kills without any onscreen instruction. These can take a little getting used to at first, as sometimes you won’t exactly be sure if you have entered into one of these events or not, but once you get a feel for how they work, the button-less QTEs add an interesting, new dynamic to the game and make you feel more in control of Kratos during these powerful moments. And speaking of which, the killing animations are as bloody and brutal as ever, with the always inventive Kratos finding new and creative ways to stab an enemy through the face with his own horns. Another nice little touch to the game is that Kratos can now just smash through the tops of those big stone chests that hold Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers, instead of slowly just prying them open with his hands. This seems much more the speed for someone who is accustomed to taking down colossal rock titans and sleeping with the world’s most beautiful women all in a single afternoon.

One of the weakest points in God of War: Ascension is the magic elemental abilities that Kratos can use to augment his Blades of Chaos. As you progress in the game, Kratos will earn up to four elemental powers, including the Fire of Ares, the Ice of Poseidon, the Lightning of Zeus and the Soul of Hades. These mostly just add a fiery or electrical coating to your blades and unlock an added power attack that you can perform by hitting R2. A good idea in theory, but one that falls a bit short in execution. For instance, at one point I encountered two enemies wielding these enormous ice hammers. Okay, I thought, I’ll use my Fire of Ares to combat their ice attacks! But to my disappointment, both my fire and ice powers seemed to work equally well on these guys and I couldn’t really see that much of a difference between any of them anyway. I actually would have liked to see that kind of strategic thinking added to the basic, mindless combat. Each time you learn another one of these abilities, you will need to complete a little test run with the same boring waves of enemies and in the same identical closed-in setting which, by the third or fourth time feel really repetitive.

The combat is much more stripped down here than in God of War III, which is not necessarily a bad thing; as a whole, the game is probably the easiest entry in the series, even on hard mode. Your rage meter is back and it fills up and is unleashed automatically as you build up those combo chains by slashing into enemies. But other than that, Kratos will need to rely solely on his Blades of Chaos for the majority of the game. For a bit of variety, you can pick up different weapons lying around in the game world, like javelins, shields and clubs and use them for a little bit until they break. Sadly, this feels more like a gimmick than something designed to actually help you and the secondary weapons will often become more of an annoyance at times, by accidentally picking them up or using them in combat when you didn’t intend to.

Finally, perhaps even more controversial than the ridiculous “Bros before Hoes” trophy name scandal, was the announcement that Ascension would feature the first multiplayer component in a God of War game; and it basically plays out much as you’d expect. In keeping with the poorly envisioned elemental powers idea, players will choose to align themselves with one of four deities (Zeus, Ares, Hades or Poseidon), which affects the kinds of powers they will be able to harness. However, you can change your deity at any time by visiting the Olympus hub area, and your choice doesn’t really have an impact on the different team-based scenarios all too much. The combat in Ascension’s multiplayer is decent and all, but the map designs just DO NOT work in this type of setting and I always thought it would be a cold day in Hell before I ever saw the words “God of War” and “capture the flag” used in the same sentence. Other match types like Favor of the Gods (collecting orbs) and Match of the Champions (basic death match) can be hit or miss, but the surprise 2-player cooperative Trial of the Gods is actually pretty cool.

 I may seem a little nitpicky in this review, but the main thing you need to remember here is that Ascension is still a God of War game and if not the best, is a fine entry in the series; leagues better than most other titles in the hack and slash genre. The game takes some chances and most of them pay off. But Ascension never strays far from the core gameplay mechanics and combo-infused fury that we all know and love. I’ve been in need of something to cure my God of War fix for a long time and short, sweet and right to the point, God of War: Ascension is just what the Spartan ordered. Now here’s to hoping for God of War IV!

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Story – 7/10

Graphics – 10/10

Gameplay – 8/10

Music – 10/10

Multiplayer – 5/10

Replayability – 9/10

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