I love God of War. I love it a lot. When I played the original God of War way back when and ripped my first siren in two with Kratos’ bare hands, I knew this series was going to be special. There was nothing more satisfying in learning of Kratos’ fate and helping him to gain revenge on those gods who wronged him. It’s the ultimate rebellion against authority tale, and after killing the Hydra, trekking through Pandora’s temple, and finally impaling Ares with the Blade of the Gods, God of War burned itself permanently onto my mind.
And God of War II expanded the formula. It introduced The Titans, and was even better than the first. God of War III was a bit weak in the story department, but still was an absolutely gorgeous, fun and satisfying conclusion to the God of War trilogy. I’ve owned each game twice across two platforms, have played through each multiple times and used the replica of Pandora’s Box to hold my most prized possession.
Basically, Kratos is one of my favorite characters of all time, and I wish he could be my roommate. We’d have the most badass parties.
So it pains me to say that I was let down by God of War: Ascension. And it wasn’t because it’s a bad game – it absolutely is not. It just feels like we’re going through the motions with Kratos and company yet again. It feels very phoned in.
Each game dramatically heightened the stakes from the last. God of War focused on Kratos’ unhappiness with being Ares’ pawn, finding the means to and defeating the god of war, and finally exacting his revenge. God of War 2 begins with Zeus’s betrayal of Kratos, and his quest for vengeance against the god of all gods. God of War 3 continues his quest for vengeance against Zeus, brings in the mighty Titans, explores how the world is affected when the gods who run it die off, and his relationship with a little girl who is strikingly similar to his daughter (though it is barely touched upon).
What does Ascension offer? Nothing in the grand scheme of the God of War saga.
There’s a lame time-manipulation mechanic that is useless in combat and has been done to death this generation. The only time this mechanic comes in handy is during the puzzles, which arguably have been decreasing in quality since the original. Puzzles are a staple of the God of War series and to have them go from the fantastic labyrinth of Pandora’s Temple to the boring remake-that-old-bridge in Ascension hurts me as I cling to my Play Arts Kratos figure. The puzzles have no clear solution, and don’t involve logic. You can blindly pull levers to make another lever or ledge appear.
With that said, puzzles have always taken a back seat to combat, which I’m happy to report is definitely the smoothest it’s been in years. It’s still your basic light attack, hard attack combo system, but with a few added tweaks that make it really satisfying. Instead of giving Kratos multiple, less-fun weapons (though I do still miss the Barbarian Hammer), Kratos only has the Blades of Chaos. They’re enhanced with various elemental upgrades given by the gods, which I found myself a bit hesitant to accept mainly because I know the extent of Zeus and Ares’ sins in the future.
Each upgrade has a few different moves and magic attacks that have the ability to be upgraded. Each new attack is grand and can really rack up in combo numbers and adds huge versatility to the combat. Each element, as well as the blades themselves, have nearly five upgrade levels (all of which require increasing amounts of red orbs to purchase). In my playthrough, I fully upgraded the blades and two of the elements in my nine-and-a-half hour playtime of the single player.
The magic in Ascension is also very satisfying. It ranges from a massive explosion with the use of the upgrade from Ares, to summoning undead arms to bash your enemies through Hades’ soul upgrade.
I do have a few complaints about the combat: the rage system requires you build up the meter, but it decreases every time you get hit. And it’s incredibly annoying, as Kratos is usually attacked from all directions and it’s those times when you especially need your rage meter. It gets incredibly frustrating because Ascension‘s countering isn’t as easy to execute as God of War 3‘s countering, which involved hitting L1 with use of the Golden Fleece at the time of attack. Now you have to hit square right after blocking, which is a pain especially in mid-combo when square is usually an attack. It’s weird, yes, but now being able to grab someone from afar while attacking at the same time and using the same grabbed enemy as a living projectile never gets old. NEVER.
I’ve been extremely harsh towards Ascension. I’m only hard on it because I expect more, and I guess I’m selfish in this aspect. Kratos, as a character, isn’t the same as he is at the beginning. Kratos’ arc is convoluted, and his relationship with one of his only allies, Orkos, is barely touched upon. Which is a tragedy because Kratos’ and Orkos’ stories are near parallel. It’s a missed opportunity to see another side of Kratos that has been previously covered with rage — it’s strikingly similar to the lost opportunity of the relationship between him and Pandora in GoW3. It’s a little hard to take thoughtful Kratos seriously during a quiet moment of reflection when minutes prior we were dissecting goat men, ripping the head of Gorgons, and admiring the shininess of elephant man-brain.
“I have spilled enough innocent blood.” He says at one point. But he still goes onto God of War 2 where he uses an innocent maiden to hold open a door and lets her be crushed to death, or tosses a man into the gullet of a Hydra for a key. It’s just strange. Now, I’m not asking for MGS4-style 42-minute cutscenes, but a voice over during combat would let us peak into Kratos’ mind more efficiently than a short movie sequence every few hours.
But Ascension gives us something no other God of War game has given us: Multiplayer! It’s pretty fun for a solid weekend, but gets old quick. You create a hero based on four different gods, and each favors a different technique of combat. Backing Zeus focuses on magic, Ares on combat and so on. Your heroes’ looks aren’t very customizable, but your damage-, health-, and magic-enhancing weapons and armor (which are gained through playing) have numerous customization options. You have your typical deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture-the-flag type games that get fast and furious.
It has a small but loyal community that are still playing. I was there for a solid weekend, but the combat does get repetitive against the same human players after so long. Getting juggled is way too easy; the second you get thrown in the air there’s no easy way to counter or dodge. And when two players are hacking away, it’s far too easy to be killed. Overall, Ascension‘s multiplayer is mildly fun for a while, but doesn’t replace the usual insane fun that past single player campaigns have offered.
I absolutely love Kratos and company, and was delighted at the idea of seeing another side of this wonderful character instead of his usual screaming-at-the-sky-in-feverent-rage shtick. Instead, Ascension felt a lot like Uncharted 3 in that Kratos is dragged from set piece to set piece for barely any rhyme or reason. I understood the grand scheme, but everything leading up to the point wasn’t clear or particularly interesting.
And as is the case of Uncharted, I really want to see that Kratos and company get a nice, long break before his next game — we need a breather. Maybe the time off would give SCE Santa Monica time to craft an interesting story, and build some excitement and momentum leading into a future God of War release.
You can buy God of War: Ascension at Amazon.com for $49.99.