As I reflected on the God of War series I have come to the realization that the overall quality and general appeal of the franchise never focused entirely on the gameplay. Much of what contributes to making this franchise so great comes from Kratos, the protagonist, and his reckless brutality. His horrible past and intense, seething rage is incredible, and in a dark way charismatic. The most recent release in the series, God of War: Ascension, you get to see a different side of Kratos as the game is a prelude to all of the previous God of War games
Ascension makes its entrance with violent flair, typical of the God of War series. Kratos is attached to a stone pillar by chains and he is being tortured by one of the Furies. This Fury is a disturbing netherworld goddess. Set before the events of the core trilogy, Ascension presents the tale of Kratos as he attempts to break free from his bond with Ares, a task made more difficult by the three Furies, whose role as ancient Greek oath-enforcers is to keep Kratos subdued. As the intro progresses, and you take control of Kratos, he breaks free of the Fury’s grip. The intro scene sees you destroying grunts, carving them into bloody messes with your Blades of Chaos. This is followed by slaying larger more imposing foes, where you are prompted by the series’ definitive quick-time event finishing moves. Though the game is immediately entertaining, I couldn’t help but notice that the God of War series is beginning to stray from its source material as each new tale in the series presents us with supposedly new content. The content isn’t bad by any means, but the gory action feels increasingly meaningless and begins to lack impact.
Much like the previous God of War games, Ascension features solid controls. Kratos’s animations look slick and tie in well with the action. Enemies offer visual cues, alerting players as to when they will strike. Given the cue, players can dodge out of the way with the flick of the right thumb stick. By the end of the game you’ll become a master of dodging. You’ll also have access to four elemental properties to add to all your attacks, each selected by a tap of the d-pad. Overall the controls feel great, although I felt a bit disappointed that the only main weapon present in Ascension was the Blades of Chaos – as opposed to earlier God of War titles which featured a slew of fantastic weapons equipable as your main death dealer. That being said, secondary weapons are still available with a smaller arsenal of combos.
The addition of elemental attributes to your Blades of Chaos is fun and varied, but more importantly, each element type offers a different strategy. Fans of the series will be familiar with the constant quest for green or blue orbs that replenish health and magic respectively. In choosing an element, players can expect to see different orbs. Lightning attacks reward you with blue orbs as you vanquish foes. The Soul of Hades attribute causes enemies to release green health-giving orbs. This concept isn’t ground-breaking, nor is it something really exciting, but it adds a nice feel to the game. It’s something else to keep in mind while enjoying the combat.
As in previous God Of War titles, boss fights are a particular highlight, capturing the sense of scale that has won the series many fans. Many bosses possess imposing aesthetics and attacks. Throughout the game they are featured on multiple stages and appear regularly enough to keep things interesting. The remainder of Ascension’s gameplay is rounded out by its puzzles. These begin routinely enough, with basic crate pushing puzzles and they later evolve into more intricate riddles that keep you on your toes.
New to the God of War series is the addition of multiplayer. Ascension’s multiplayer component is actually fairly deep and has many features that are enjoyable. In multiplayer games you can expect to find modes for domination, capture the flag, deathmatch, and a co-op mode for up to two players. The adversarial multiplayer maxes out at eight players. The maps have been designed in such a way that you never feel overwhelmed by people while simultaneously feeling that you aren’t engaging in enough skirmishes. Many of the arenas will be familiar to fans of the franchise as they are built from locales found throughout the entire God of War series. It was a pleasure to discover that the arenas had neat stories within them, and impressive creatures you could interact with. There is also a decent level of customization to be found, which allows you to toy with the armor your character wears, and the kind of techniques and abilities he has. Additionally, your character can ally themselves with Poseidon, Hades, Ares, or Zeus, all of which offer significantly different options from a gameplay standpoint. During my time with the multiplayer I always felt comfortable with what was happening, and I felt as though I were contributing to the battle going on. I didn’t have any technical issues, and enjoyed the exciting combat.
Trial of the Gods was my favorite multiplayer option, which is a cooperative mode. Here you and another player must face a series of oncoming demon hordes. They come at you in successive waves just like most other survival modes. The arenas are tight and therefore you have to be on top of your game. Throughout this mode you gain experience that can be used to unlock new abilities for your character, and that’s a good reason to return to the online fray.
In regards to the visuals and audio, Ascension looks and sounds impressive. The game utilizes the full audio setup, and with my sub-woofer cranked I enjoyed the massive impact everything had. Visually the game retains the realistic/cartoonish hybrid look the series has always had. Oddly enough, I ran into a few technical issues in the overall presentation. Most notably I encountered numerous sound drops, especially when the game was auto-saving. I know this happens frequently in most games and it’s just a minor annoyance, but to drop voices during a particularly action-packed scene, or even a mid-gameplay sequence, is a bit much. It really interrupted some great moments and I found it to be a bit ridiculous at times. Being that this is not found in any other entry in this rather polished franchise, it is one flaw really jumped out at me.
God of War: Ascension is an enjoyable game. The addition of multiplayer surpassed my expectations, and the gameplay is solid for the most part. While the story is decent it failed to remain as strong as the previous tales told in the series. As for the combat, it is polished and will satisfy returning fans of the series, though the lack of memorable locations combined with its disappointing usage of recycled enemies results in a game that feels less exciting in comparison to its predecessors. There is no doubt that God of War fans will certainly find much to enjoy in this latest installment, but when standing next to its colossal brethren, this game is the weakest link in this long standing iconic series.