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The new entry in the God of War series was a highlight of Sony's press conference at E3 last year. The runaway success of the series so far culminated in an outstanding final instalment, and left fans with a feeling that this trilogy was finished. But here we are again, and it’s a bit hard to know what to expect. Well, it's pretty much more of the same, but even more so, with a few tweaks.
Origin stories seem to be the new black, and God of War: Ascension follows suit, taking our angry hero Kratos back to before the series started, and just six months after the God of War, Ares, tricked him into killing his wife and child. Breaking an oath to a god is punishable with an eternity of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Furies, and the beginning of the game sees Kratos chained up and tortured. Guess what? He breaks free, and kills stuff.
Let’s face it: the storyline of Ascension is pretty thin: perhaps all that juice was used up previously in the series. What we have here is core gameplay aplenty, with dynamic third-person action melee combat, QuickTime events and brutal fatalities serving as a side dish. These in-game animations do seem somewhat limited, though, and could do with more diversity.
As expected, environments are lavish and grandiose, and they exist to be traversed, climbed and conquered. Enemies merge with and emerge from the environment in imaginative (and sometimes kinda gross) ways, and there is enough variety in enemy types to mix up things a bit. Boss battles are epic, and often require rounds of strategic battle punctuated by QTEs or simple mini games leading to visceral kill scenes. At times, the fixed camera position can be frustrating, especially when the camera zooms far out to show of the environment at the expense of showing what is actually happening in the battle.
As one of the first R18+ titles available in Australia, Ascension certainly earns its stripes in this regard. Developers are now able to inject as much blood, gore and ultra violence into a title as they like, and use a lavish palette of titillating nudity. When all is said and done, though, this doesn't really add anything much to the franchise, and makes R18+ somewhat, ahem, anticlimactic.
To be honest I've always found the series marginally adolescent at the best of times, and the extra 'adult' content adds to this flavour, and certainly doesn't make the game more complex or interesting, apart from the obvious. We may need to wait longer to see developers create genuinely adult titles with themes and complexity rather than just more of the same simple “adult” content.
What does work, as always in this series, is the gameplay. Ascension has a streamlined weapon system: here Kratos has just his Chaos Blades attached to chains, and he can pick up single expendable weapons with some special abilities. Where the variety comes in is in his use of elemental forces from fire to ice and lightening to dark magic. Each of these has different combos and animations, and yields different orbs (health, magic etc.) upon the death of enemies. This combines with light RPG elements which allow you to upgrade weapons for new combos and abilities.
Special items allow you to manipulate time or create a clone in order to solve puzzles or for help in combat, which provides another new twist. Apart from these refinements though, Ascension plays pretty much like other God of War games, which is to say that if you’re a fan, you’ll probably find a lot to enjoy here.
The main new addition to the series is a multiplayer mode, which was released via beta some months ago and works surprisingly well. Players choose to align themselves to a god (Zeus, Ares etc.) which endows the player with special powers, and the they are pitted against each other in variety of arena-type modes, including team deathmatch and capture the flag.
The balance works well, which is testament to thorough beta testing, and colour-coding to telegraph threats and openings avoids the mash fest that it could so easily become. This new multiplayer is diverting and enjoyable, but won't change the world and is unlikely to become a core experience for many players.
This is a prequel and origin story that appeals to core players of the God of War franchise, ven if some harsh difficulty spikes will alienate even the most hardened fans. If you failed to be dazzled by the amazing environments of this mythical universe, were underimpressed by the visceral combat and brutal kill scenes, or became frustrated by the interminable QTEs or environmental puzzles of previous entries in the series, Ascension won’t convert you. If you are a God of War fan, though, you will most likely enjoy a refined gameplay system, bigger and better environments and battles, and a functional multiplayer mode that brings a new way to enjoy a classic combat system.
Chad Habel likes long walks on an irradiated beach, and surviving deadly test chambers. His favourite dish is hadouken stirfry, and his Achilles Heel is gibbing headshots. In an alternate reality he works at a University.
Jimmy the Geek