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There is no denying that Sony’s God of War franchise has been their big trump card for eight years. Even though the three main console games had three different creative directors with David Jaffe at the helm for the original, Cory Barlog with the second, and Stig Asmussen with the franchise’s conclusion, another new director steps in to lead Sony Santa Monica with God of War: Ascension, a prequel that takes place before the events of the first game. Todd Papy and his team had great ambitions for Ascension ranging from not only delivering another satisfying and epic campaign starring Kratos, but also taking new steps with the franchise by the addition of multiplayer. Sony Santa Monica was able to succeed on one half of this anticipated prequel, but disappointed on the other and it is not what you expect from this series. God of War: Ascension takes one step forward and two steps back in this aging franchise.
The story with Kratos this time, since the events of Ascension happened before the first game, revolves around him and the Furies. It has been six months since pledging allegiance to Ares and killing his own family as Kratos is captured by the Furies at the Hecatonchires prison. After breaking free from torture by one of the Furies, Megaera, he is dead set on killing all of them so he can get rid of his oath to Ares. Most of the game is told in a flashback before Kratos got captured because he is pursuing to see the Oracle at Delphi and finding the Eyes of Truth thanks to Orkos. The whole story is my first issue with this prequel as it was not told as well as previous God of War games and the fact it did not motivate me that much to see what happened. In other words, it felt like I was beating single player for the sake of beating it rather than being excited to what transpires at the end.
You know that feeling when a magician runs out of magic tricks to show off? That is God of War: Ascension’s single player in a nutshell. It felt like there was nothing else to show that was epic and breathtaking like the series has been known for throughout its existence. Sure, it is a prequel, but there were no memorable moments that stood out throughout the campaign compared to the three mainline games. The last boss fight has its moments, but the whole eight hour journey to that point just feels uninspired and soulless. I never expected those last words I just said apply to a God of War game, but that is indeed the case.
Then there is the combat, which Sony Santa Monica also dropped the ball with this prequel. The franchise trademarks are still quicktime events to kill certain enemies, ripping body parts off the opposition, and so on, but some changes are made for both better and worse. Instead of Kratos carrying multiple weapons around for battle, he only has his signature blades of chaos for this outing, but in elemental forms. These elements relate to the Greek gods from Ares, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Each element has its advantages and weaknesses in battle, but other different heavy attacks, the moveset for all these elements mostly feel the same. As a matter of fact, Kratos’s move set in Ascension actually feels limited compared to prior games. You can still mash your way in most enemy encounters, but you actually have to fight more with a safe game plan in mind in the harder encounters, more specifically one of the final sections of the game. This final section of the game, the Trials of Archimedes, is hard enough that the developers are addressing it in a future patch.
Another change with Ascension’s combat system is the addition of sub-weapons. Kratos can grab other weapons such as a sword, club, and a javelin after killing enemies. These weapons also have limited uses, so they don’t really mix up the gameplay that much as I thought they could. The platforming and climbing sections are fine for series standards along with the collectables system, which remains the same with collecting enough gorgon eyes and phoenix feathers to increase Kratos’s health and magic respectively. However, new to the platforming sections are sliding sections where Kratos has to slide through a section of obstacles before moving on to the next section.
The biggest flaw with God of War: Ascension’s combat has to do one of the franchise’s staples, which is the use of scale. This series has a knack of using scale to showcase some of their bigger and epic fights. However, this design tactic backfires in Ascension where the use of scale becomes more of an issue than a showpiece. The majority of time I spend in these battles and Sony Santa Monica did go a little overboard with more scenes like this were actually finding where Kratos was as if he is just a dot on my TV screen and whether or not he is actually hitting these enemies. Single-player wise, Ascension is the most disappointing God of War game I ever played, but luckily the addition of multiplayer saves it from being a complete disaster.
Multiplayer consists of the standard modes you see when in most games these days from deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and co-op, but with a God of War twist. Customized characters are the stars as they can choose one of four classes to align to. Pledging allegiance to Ares, Hades, Zeus, or Poseidon has their own strengths and weaknesses, but these classes can be changed at any time before a match. Ares for instance, is more focused on damage, Hades has more stealth, Poseidon is more defense-focused, and Zeus allows your character to have better magic stats. Other than classes and their powers, weapons and armor sets round out the customization features for characters in multiplayer. Players can either go into battle with a sword, hammer, or a spear as each as the hammer is the slower yet more powerful weapon, the spear is faster but weaker, and the sword is between the other weapons in terms of power and effectiveness. Different armor sets also affect your character’s stats whether or not they can take more damage, have more health, etc. Players can also decide which magic spells, items to escape opponents’ attacks, and relics (this game’s version of perks) to use as well. More weapons, spells, items, armor sets, and relics are unlocked as you level up along with collecting treasures with white chests during matches. The customization and leveling up aspects of multiplayer are deeper than you think and is up there with today’s popular shooters.
As far as actually playing the multiplayer is concerned, it is actually fun and also chaotic. In some modes, there will be choke points to control for more points for your team like Domination in the Call of Duty series along with killing the opposition. Stage specific objectives such as damaging a Trojan horse with a catapult at the Troy map or waking up the gorgon at the Bog map are also spread throughout the maps for more scoring opportunities. Like the single player, the move set is that deep of any class, but it is not much of an issue here compared to Kratos, but it is a matter of mixing up your light and heavy attacks to keep your opponents guessing whether to block or parry. The action does get chaotic where six to eight players are on screen at the same time fighting it out to the point you can’t tell where you’re at like the scale issue I mentioned earlier. The trial of the gods, the game’s co-op, is the only thing disappointing about multiplayer, where you have a time limit to defeat waves of enemies with just one other person, but time increases per kill. Other than that, multiplayer is the much needed replay value the God of War franchise needed even though it needs more maps, but that will be solved by downloadable content.
God of War: Ascension is a pretty good looking game as expected and arguably the best looking of the franchise in some cases. The character models are top notch from Kratos and the various beasts he faces throughout the single player. The backgrounds are also fine for the most part as well, but the game needed more polish on the bugs department. The game crashed on me a hour in, for instance, and the sound mixing is off at certain times. Sometimes, the music is not playing in a certain section and instead of Kratos is just exploring a section in awkward silence. Sony Santa Monica has said they’ll address those issues in a later patch along with the fixing the trials section. The framerate is also not consistent as it rarely sustains at 60 frames per second, so you’ll be playing the game at mostly between 30 to 60. The soundtrack and voice acting are still some of the best things for the franchise too with orchestral tunes suitable to the Greek theme.
If God of War: Ascension only had single-player like the prior games, it would the most disappointing entry in the franchise. You can tell that multiplayer was a bigger priority right from the game’s initial announcement last year of showing that off instead of the single player. Also, it seems that Sony Santa Monica ran out of magic tricks to show in terms of delivering on epic and memorable setpieces because there weren’t any that stood out personally. The combat was also the weakest of the series with a limited moveset and the use of scale backfiring during the action. The story itself also feels uninspired and soulless as it did not motivate me to keep going unlike the previous games. The multiplayer saves this game from being a complete disaster with fun gameplay and a surprising deep customization system. Ascension is still worth it for fans of the franchise, but expect it to not live up to the series’ expectations. In terms of the being up there with the other character action games that already came out earlier this year, you’ll be better off with those than this God of War prequel. Hopefully Sony Santa Monica finds ways to rework some of the series’ aging flaws if they decide to continue working on the franchise on the Playstation 4.