God of War has been a genre-defining single-player experience since its 2005 release, so it came as no surprise that series fans were up in arms when Santa Monica Studios announced a multiplayer mode for the upcoming God of War: Ascension – but that’s a conversation for another day. Today, I descend the peaks of Mount Olympus bearing great news: God of War: Ascension’s multiplayer is an addictive, enjoyable, and highly replayable action experience.
The beta begins with a bare-chested gladiator atop Mount Olympus giving an oath of fealty to one of four gods who each specializes in an area of combat. Zeus, for example, grants elemental damage and magic boosts while Ares blesses his followers with physical combat advantages. Poseidon and Hades are the two other god options, but they are unavailable during the beta. This is clearly an attempt at balancing the multiplayer game, but without all four factions available it’s difficult to say if Santa Monica Studios met that goal.
Soon after pledging allegiance to a god, you’re treated to a brief tutorial that guides you through your character’s abilities. Hades offers his trademark blade while Zeus grants you his mighty hammer. Both are formidable weapons with their respective pros and cons, but Ares’ sword is faster and has a bit more range than Zeus’ hammer which is slower and a bit clunkier.
God of War fans will find the controls familiar as nothing has changed. L1 blocks attacks, right stick causes you to roll/evade, square performs light and fast attacks, triangle unleashes heavy attacks, circle grabs enemies, and X jumps. L2 can be used to cast spells or use found items. Holding down the triangle button performs a launcher that can be followed up with an air combo for devastating results. Mixing and matching your combos with defensive maneuvers is essential to success in the multiplayer arena, but of course it’s easier said than done. Skilled players can quickly incapacitate players who are simply too aggressive or to passive — a proper balance of both is crucial.
Ascension’s menus, unfortunately are slow to navigate and sometimes unresponsive, but do expect this to be addressed in the final build. You can choose from one of three game modes: the eight-player Capture the Flag, Team Favor of the Gods, and Free for All.
You’ll duke it out on Hercules’ Forum, the location in God of War 3 where Kratos savagely destroys the demigod. The small arena is riddled with spiked walls, and arrows occasionally descend from the sky to inflict damage to anyone within the danger zone. The unsafe zone is conveniently marked by a pulsing circle on the ground. Hercules will also come down from his perch and cause damaging shockwaves; if you’re near the edge of the arena when this happens it spells immediate death. The small Free for All arena is where the gameplay inconsistencies occur.
The fast, non-stop action is akin to the recently released Anarchy Reigns, but slowdown and connection issues damper the gameplay. Another interesting issue that will likely arise is “griefing.” It’s a term created by the MMO community that is usually used to describe a player or group of players set on making an experience less than enjoyable. During Free for All matches, players can gang up on one particular combatant and things quickly turn ugly. This isn’t a problem when you play Team Favor of the Gods as you’ll certainly have someone on your side.
Team Favor of the Gods is where you’ll probably experience the bulk of your multiplayer fun. You play on Desert of the Lost Souls which has been featured in just about every Ascension multiplayer press image. There are two teams, Troy and Sparta, that run around a multi-level map, zipping from chain lines, sprawling walls, setting traps and wrecking havoc on each other on a sandy deathtrap. All of this happens while the Titan Polyphemus tries to pulverize you at every opportunity.
Points are earned by killing opponents, collecting treasures, and taking control of areas on the map. After you earn enough points, the gods grant the Spear of Olympus which you use to brutally dispatch Polyphemus. It’s a cinematic team affair. One combatant slices the Titan’s face and separates its jaws from the chin. As the Titan flails in pain, jaw flapping, three members of the team force the Titan’s sole eye open so someone can jump in and impale it with the Spear of Olympus. It’s a difficult sight to behold in a true God of War fashion.
The Capture the Flag mode, however, is relatively bland. It’s the standard grab the enemy flag and run to your flag contest.
Ascension‘s visually impressive, but the graphics have been toned down in multiplayer to keep things running smoothly. Character models aren’t hyper-detailed, and some of the execution animations are not as smooth as the ones found in the single-player suite. It’s understandable due to the limitations of having multiple characters moving at high speeds and using unique attacks. The locales featured in the beta are beautifully gruesome.
There are pick ups scattered around the maps like the Boots of Hermes which causes players to move with enhanced speed. FPS fans will also fall in love with the leveling system as its very similar to Call of Duty. Earning points during matches causes you to level up. Each new level your character gains unlocks equipment that boosts strength, magic, damage output, and other attributes. These armor pieces and helmets also help individualize you character.
God of War: Ascension’s multiplayer has been amazing. Hopefully, Santa Monica Studios fixes the minor bugs and has received enough data from the beta to correct errors. You’ll be able to sink your blades into opponents and mythological beasts when God of War: Ascension hits stores on March 12.