God of War: Ascension is a curious beast. Much like a similarly acronymed third person shooter on the Xbox 360, the series is enjoying one last jaunt on a console that has treated it well. Despite the benefit of spinning off from a beloved brand, there is still scepticism among gamers.
Being released right at the end of a console cycle, there is a suspicion that these games are (at worst) half-arsed attempts to wrangle as much cash as possible out of a machine as attentions switch to next gen. The reasons for Ascension’s existence can be debated, but its quality is undeniable.
My short time with God of War: Ascension started with a brief prologue setting up Kratos’ current situation, and the power-players in this fourth console excursion into ancient Greek myth. Ascension is a prequel, set six months after Kratos murders his wife and child, which sets it ten years before the events of the original God of War.
Having sold his soul to Ares, Kratos is seeking to break free from all that such soul-selling entails, but to do so he must defeat the Furies, three beings who operate separate to the Gods and Titans, and who uphold honour in the world. At the start of the game, the Furies have imprisoned Kratos in an enormous stone prison that was formerly their first victim; torturing him for his broken oath. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for the ash-laden sod to escape and for the claret to start spilling.
What follows is instantly familiar. Chasing down the first Fury Megaera, the camera sweeps around as buildings collapse and debris flies every which way. Enemies escalate quickly enough that within five minutes there’s already a boss encounter that carries through for the rest of my time with Ascension. As Kratos does battle, the stone prison that was once Aegaeo, the Hecatonchires comes alive, attempting to crush and shake-off our scowling protagonist. This is a game unafraid of throwing players into the deep end straight away.
Little has changed from Santa Monica’s previous three God of War titles – Kratos’ Blades of Chaos are his primary weapons, heavy and light attacks being the bread and butter of his combos, and the game goes out of its way to earn an 18 rating.
With only the game’s opening salvo on offer on this occasion, I purely saw the basics, none of the additional weapons or more complex combos that can be unlocked later on. However, I was assured that progression will happen in a way God of War fans are familiar with. There seems to only be a smattering of new single player gameplay features, many of which were revealed at E3, such as manipulating time and the inclusion of additional prompts in QTEs, making the player time movements with enemy attacks to dodge.
Where the circle button used to open chests, it is now a part of the combat. Kick enemies to make them drop their weapons then pick them up for additional ways to dish out punishment. It adds another element to combat that has been left largely unchanged for years. New enemy types are introduced immediately. Green glowing bugs that swarm players and require precision to defeat. It’s a welcome change from the standard attack sponges that almost encourage button mashing.
This is a series that has never been afraid to but the peddle to the metal from the word go and Ascension is no different. You can be sure that Ascension’s start has enough huge monsters and sweeping camera action to trump a lot of final boss battles from other games. It’s a gorgeous looking game too, one that really pushes the PlayStation 3 to its limits. In its gorier, gut-spilling moments it will have you wincing, but the character and enemy designs are straight out of the top drawer.
Of course the biggest change to this iteration is the addition of multiplayer for the first time in the series. Either alone or in teams of four, there are four classes to choose from, each with their own abilities. Each class is represented by a God to sell your soul to, either Zeus, Ares, Hades or Poseidon. Standard game type Favour of the Gods sees players accumulate points either by killing, finding treasure or by capturing alters. Each multiplayer area is based on an existing God of War locale, and has its own special ability for player’s to find.
God of War: Ascension is exactly what fans hungry for more God-slashing action are after. It’s not a massive overhaul but there’s enough invention and expansion here for it to be a promising continuation of a series nearing its eighth birthday.
But it’s hard to deny that with this title, the series is in need of a rest. The use of Greek mythology has made the design of the game so wonderfully unique, and that Santa Monica managed to make it so good over several console and handheld games is to be admired. How long it will be until we see another God of War remains to be seen, especially in light of rumours that Santa Monica are working on a new IP for Sony, but it would appear that whatever happens to Kratos in the future, Ascension is a nice send-off for a series entering a wise respite.
God of War: Ascension will be released on March 13 in Europe, March 12 in North America – exclusively for PlayStation 3.