Kratos is back, well, it’s more Back to the Future, but he’s back all the same in God of War: Ascension. Does it fare well for our favourite anti-hero? Or is it a bit of a dry lunch? Read on for the full review.
Kratos first started throwing his weight around back in the good old PlayStation 2 era, with the God of War games garnering critical acclaim from bother reviewers and players alike. Then God of War made the jump to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) where we all expected it to land with a stumble, but much to our surprise, Kratos’ adventures were just as engrossing and satisfying on the PSP as they were on the PlayStation 2.
Then the PlayStation 3 came along and God of War found its new home, moving in with God of War III, with a late moving in party thrown by the God of War HD collection. It’s fair to say, we’ve seen a lot come and go with God of War, it’s been around for nearly 9 years, but it’s still swinging those chains like a youngster priming to strike.
Now we have God of War: Ascension, possibly the last God of War title that will grace the PlayStation 3, what with the much-anticipated PlayStation 4 hiding around the corner. If this should be the last time Kratos kicks ass on the PlayStation 3, then we’ve no problem with that; it’s a glorious way to end the battle.
God of War: Ascension is a prequel. Now I know what you think, prequel equals stinker. We’ve seen it happen time and time again (yeah George Lucas, I’m talking about you,) and more often than not, prequels tend to be a stain on otherwise sparkling franchises. Thankfully, we’re blessed with the good fortune that God of War‘s reputation as the supreme hack-and-slash remains untarnished, in fact, it’s had a bit of a buff and polish with some new features chucked in.
So, let’s start with what is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the game: the story. Anybody who’s followed Kratos through his journey will be familiar with the series and it’s storytelling techniques which generally, work to a high standard and is the reason we keep mashing those buttons until our thumbs are worn to the bone.
The story told in God of War: Ascension takes place ten years prior to the original God of War, yet around six months after Kratos was tricked by the wicked Ares into killing his beloved wife Lysandra and their daughter Calliope.
You see, Kratos had sold his soul to Ares, and now in God of War: Ascension, Kratos is hell-bent on breaking the bond that ties himself and Ares together, but to do so, he must first defeat the Furies of which there are three. Three of the most evil Goddesses of the Underworld which Kratos must overcome.
Understandably, the story feels a bit forced due to the fact that we, or at least those who have played through Kratos’ epic battles already know what is set in stone for our ruthless anti-hero. It’s here that the story falters in trying to craft a new tale, but it leaves one thing missing and that’s a satisfying end to the tale. We already know how it must end and what happens in the years after, so in this respect, the story doesn’t quite match the highs (nor lows) of the previous God of War games.
Still, that being said, it’s still a good story and provides good entertainment with a strong cast of characters and a more personal look at Kratos, who has up until now been very much a cut off character. This time around we get to see what motivates, what hurts and what pisses Kratos off. In an era where video games are pushing closer to the medium of film, story content has become a big factor in single player games, God of War: Ascension is proof of studios crafting better stories to keep up with the crowd, or risk being left behind with the cardboard characters with cliché dialogue.
Fans of the series will appreciate the deeper focus on the story where as newcomers might feel a bit overwhelmed with the spewing of information and the story being told. It’s not that God of War: Ascension requires you to have played the previous entries before, but there are advantages to being a seasoned slayer. In fact, if the God of War series has passed you by all these years, this is the best place to begin, it’s the start of the epic journey, one that you can follow on for three more games on your PlayStation 3, and even pick up the portable titles for the PSP, or better yet, get them for the PlayStation Vita (PS Vita.)
Story is important to games, something that is often getting overlooked by the military shooter crowd, instead of focussing on the online component, so it’s good to see a story worth following has been created alongside a multiplayer mode, but more on that later.
Where story may be lacking at times, you’ll have no problem with the gameplay itself. It’s God of War as you know it. Brutal, mega, epic, glorious, satisfying, everything you know it is to be and more! The combat is as slick as ever with brutal combos being dished out all over the show. I found myself instantly familiar with the way the game plays, with the buttons being more or less the standard affair, so getting stuck in was no problem. Though I will warn newcomers, it may take a bit of trial and error to perfect your slaying skills, but don’t worry, we were all there at one point, but there’s a God in all of us.
Fighting the waves of enemies is good and all, but sometimes, you just need a break. These come in the form of platforming sections, sprinkled with a light dusting of puzzle-play, making use of Kratos’ new ability to basically freeze time. Yes. Freeze. Time. Where does this fit in with the games timeline? Why is it not in God of War? Did Kratos feel he was bad-ass enough that freezing time was considered a dumb move amongst the other Gods? Or did Doc Brown and Marty McFly have some hand in this? What about the other new abilities that Kratos can wield? No idea to be honest. I suppose sometimes logic and storytelling have to remain separate at times to provide us with new and enjoyable experiences…
I have to admit, the platforming sections of the game seemed a bit forced and not in line with God of War. They were good, no problems there, but it just felt like it didn’t belong. I can’t quite put my finger on it, and it may just be personal taste, but it just didn’t feel right. You however may find it as easy flowing as the rest of the game, so keep that in mind, in fact, keep the fact this entire review is my own opinion in mind. It’s totally objective, but personal preferences ultimately play a part in how we see things, I’m no exception.
The gameplay, as I say, is locked down solid and feels fantastic to slash away at the various creatures you’ll be sending to the afterlife with your Blades of Chaos, a pair of gnarly swords with can be flung at enemies on your chains, or you can just go and do it the old-fashioned way and approach your foe, swords in hands and deliver the killing blow in person. Whatever suits you best.
It’s not all roses though. As with any game, there are flaws, without a doubt. Even the biggest and best games with astronomically big budgets have flaws, God of War: Ascension is no different. There are the occasional moments where you’ll find yourself angry with the difficulty, the seemingly impossible puzzle, or most annoyingly the camera. This is my personal annoyance, it’s something that has gotten on my nerves through the series. Amongst the glorious battles with crazy amounts of sword fodder just waiting to be cut down into Greek meat, I often found myself at a loss as to where Kratos actually was. In an effort to showcase the fantastic, and I mean really fantastic areas on which you’ll do battle, the camera is pulled so far out it’s often difficult to distinguish yourself from the crowd. You’d think being big, bald and stupidly pale would help, but it didn’t. Instead, I found good use for the reinvented ‘Rage’ mechanic. This time around you’ll gather your inner rage by beating the living bones out of foes until you automatically engage in some Kratos rage. The best use for this newly designed rage mode was, for me that is, to find myself amongst the mass.
That aside, it’s not the worst experience you could have for £40/$60, though bear in mind it won’t take as long to finish the story as in previous games, it’s a little shorter but you can still rack up at least 9-10 hours of gameplay, depending on what difficulty you play and how adventurous you are and if you’re like me, you’ll be taking your time and enjoying the visuals as much as the gameplay.
The God of War games have always pushed far ahead of the competition when it comes to graphical fidelity, but God of War: Ascension really does take it a notch higher. It’s not a massive graphical leap over God of War III, but there’s enough new technological wizardry at work that you’ll notice it’s an improvement. Characters are fantastically designed and you feel every blow when Kratos takes a hit, when he smashes the ground, cracking the surface and sending mindless enemies toppling over like a chess set. Sony Santa Monica has done a stellar job and must be more than proud of what they have achieved on hardware that’s getting on in years. I remember playing God of War II and declaring it the most lifelike game I’d ever seen. We all had that feeling about one game or another from a previous generation, but now seeing God of War: Ascension in action makes me feel a bit stupid. If graphical fidelity is what you like in your games, you wont be disappointed, it’s a stunner that uses the PlayStation 3 and its complicated guts to create a stunning world for us to enjoy.
Now, that’s about it for the single player. I’m not going into the end, that’ something you’ll have to find out by playing the game. Like I said earlier, we all know what the eventual conclusion must be, but it’s still worth experiencing first hand rather than reading it on the internet, trust me, you’ll enjoy it.
God of War: Ascension features a series first in the fact there is a multiplayer mode. Yes, a multiplayer mode. The God of War games have always been about the single player experience, something that you enjoyed by yourself for hours on end, long into the early hours of the morning, maybe taking it in turns with a friend who’s staying over. Maybe, if they have behaved themselves and have shown respect to your console and discs. (Tip: Don’t lend your best games to friends who think the games case is a temporary method of transport between your house and his.)
For me, the multiplayer was very much a hit and miss experience. The variety of game modes is nice, but they just don’t feel right in God of War. Seriously, Capture the Flag belongs in first person shooters or third person shooters, not in a game where Gods pummel the Holy (or unholy) shit out of each other. That said, of the variety of game modes, there was some fun to be had in Team Deathmatch, the battles you can pull off, especially if you have a group of mates pitted against each other online, are excellent. It’s definitely more fun to play with people you know, kind of like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.
I won’t count the multiplayer in the final score, because for me, I’m just not interested in the multiplayer aspect of the game, it’s not appealing and I can’t in good conscience tell you that it’s good or bad based on my experience with the mode.
God of War: Ascension plays to the familiar tune we’ve all be humming to since God of War appeared on the PlayStation 2 and thankfully, it’s still got the tempo, tune and rhythm to keep you humming along happily, as you murder your way through the strong, but shorter story. God of War fans will appreciate the deeper experience and what it means to be Kratos as well as some hard as nails action with awesome set pieces to make not only your jaw hit the floor, but your face.
Story: The story isn’t the strongest of the series, but it’s perfectly serviceable and will keep you entertained as you smash your way to Godliness. 8.0
Gameplay: If you’ve played God of War before, you know what to expect, but you’ll still be thrown the occasional curve ball with some new features and some slight reworkings of previous mechanics such as the Rage mode. 9.0
Graphics: You’ll be surprised at how God of War: Ascension has managed to best it’s predecessor in the graphics department. The epic battles have never looked so good, even if you do get a bit lost in the battle at time. 9.5
Sound: The characters are voiced by a strong cast who lend themselves to the story without the slightest hint of silliness, as silly as some may seem. Battle cries and the thunder of your enemies attempting to turn you into Kratos juice works well, the music however, is a missed opportunity. 8.5
Replay Value: Based solely off the single player offering, you can have more than one run through the story and still have a good time. For that fact that multiplayer is there, you can extend the life of your expensive purchase if it’s your sort of thing, otherwise, there’s a ton of Trophies to collect, some of which will test your patience. 8.0
The Verdict – 8.6 A worthy experience, you will feel like the God of War once you’re done with this one.
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Have you played God of War: Ascension? What did you think of it? More specifically, how did you find the multiplayer? Let us know down in the comments.