Review: God of War Ascension (PS3)
Kratos returns in a rage filled quest to free himself of his bond to Ares. Is it a quest worth taking?
I’ll be up front with you and tell you this is easily Kratos’ worst outing to date. God of War has always been one of my favorite action franchises and previously I’ve had nothing but good things to say about it. Though this latest entry into the franchise doesn’t stand shoulder to shoulder with the best the series has to offer, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. In fact there are moments within the game that hit all the right notes for a God of War title and it’s every bit as thrilling as the first time you swung the Blades of Chaos. Ultimately though the game falters under a barrage of confusingly prominent bugs tied to one particular artifact and a poorly paced first half that does disservice to the franchise.
It’s almost impossible to discuss the setup of the plot without spoiling previous games, so if you haven’t played any of them yet: THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD. With that out of the way I can tell you that this game takes place before Kratos dethrones Ares as the God of War and follows the Spartan warrior shortly after he is tricked into slaughtering his family. Having decided that he will destroy Ares for what he has done, the Furies capture Kratos and try to convince him to become the servant of Ares once again. Primordial beings predating the gods of Olympus, the Furies are three sisters who punish those that attempt to break a blood oath with the gods. As such you’ll start the games in chains, Kratos truly beaten for the time being. Of course the anti-hero escapes and all sorts of shenanigans follow.
The story is rather bare bones, with very little in the theme that adds to the character. There are some really nice moments here where we see Kratos deliver a line of dialogue that isn’t through bared teeth and guttural, where he shows more of his human side. Overall though the quest reads as a series of go here and do this moments with very little invested into the plot especially in the first half of the game. In this portion pacing is slow and very little plot development happens which hurts the flow of the game. There is also less of an investment here because we already know what will happen. Since it’s a prequel we know that Kratos must defeat the Furies, that he has to escape, and that he will go on to kill Ares. Not that the God of War series has ever been a bastion of storytelling and character development, but it has always had a very good sense of pacing and timing within its own myth.
Thankfully this is one of the finest additions to Kratos’ legacy as far as combat goes and when he faces foes the game truly shines. Nothing here revolutionizes the franchise, if you’ve not liked God of War in the past you probably won’t change your mind with this installment, but instead hones the combat system and polishes it making it the best combat in a God of War yet. Instead of having multiple weapons you’ll purely focus on the Blades of Chaos (as is proper), and the different elements that you can imbue them with. Proceeding through the game you will unlock several different elements, such as the Flames of Ares, that will not only alter your magic attacks, but indeed the physical attacks you can do. In addition each different element has a rage bar that you can fill, which when unleashed hits enemies with a special attack.
Each elemental type also provides a different type of orb that drops when an enemy is killed with the rage mode, for instance Hades power drops health when enemies are destroyed. This adds variety to the move list, as they can be switched between mid attack, and hits a level of strategy due to having to determine what orb is needed most and how to kill enemies to maximize your gain. There are even secondary weapons that you can pick up that have a straight forward attack as well as a discard attack that is usually grandiose. Overall it seeks to do away with the repetitive feeling of combat and does so with a flourish becoming of Kratos himself.
The areas you’ll travel through are typically epic in scope with some stand outs, like the Furnace, being literally jaw dropping. This is offset oddly enough by some areas that are entirely bland and even backtracking that counts as whole chapters. Often enough you’ll have an odd feeling that the game is just check marking God of War boxes and going through the motions, then you’ll be hit with an entirely awesome sequence then dropped back into a humdrum environment again. This makes the game feel a little disconnected and the quality seems spontaneous rather than being the high shine that we are used to with the God of War franchise. It’s worth noting though that the graphics in the newest God of War are nothing short of gorgeous. It’s almost hard to believe that this level of fidelity is still being reached on current gen consoles.
All of this is mostly redeemed in a second half of the game that gives you artifacts that further diversify gameplay and starts injecting more plot and awesome boss battles. The end boss, though not difficult, was one of the most epic encounters I’ve had in a while. It was cinematic and an awesome capper to the game that leaves you with a good taste in your mouth regardless of how you felt about the rest of the game. This is a good thing because a few events in particular, revolving around one of the aforementioned artifacts, will leave a very sour taste in your mouth.
Around midway through the game, or a little before, you’ll receive the Amulet of Uroboros which gives you the power to decay or heal your environment. It was something that the team was proud to show off at E3 and sort of a featured part of the game in some aspects, so it’s baffling that it’s so blatantly unpolished. There is a part in Chapter 13, shortly after you receive the artifact, that you use the power to heal a ruined bridge. As you do so any sort of movement, and sometimes you don’t even have to move, will lock the camera in place. Because the camera is locked in place you can’t proceed, even if you do manage to make it through this area. The only way to fix this game breaking glitch is to restart the chapter completely. Granted, the chapter just starts prior to this, but it’s still a glaring problem that everyone I know who played the game encountered. How the testing team didn’t is beyond me.
In addition to that area I had similar things happen twice after that, once fixing an aqueduct and again fixing another piece of the environment. Again the camera got stuck, and I couldn’t switch the power off without restarting the chapter. Within these instances the chapter restart actually had me replaying a good chunk of content, and goes to show you why you probably shouldn’t pick your testers via a reality show.
The multiplayer portion of the game is almost a testamant to the idea that developers take away from the quality of the single player game by throwing on a multiplayer component. That seems to be the case here as none of the flaws that appear in the single player experience hit here. Instead what you’ll find is a multiplayer mode that will keep you engaged and happy far after you’ve finished the main game. You’ll control an avatar that pledges himself to one of the gods, though it allows you to change at any time and level each god independently. Each of the choices are essentially a class choice with some classes being support while others being focused on stealth. There are team death matches, team territory matches, and even a co-op horde like mode that will see you battling beside a friend for the rewards of the gods. All of this factors back into your avatar with experience and goals being hit that unlock new armor and magical attacks for a character.
I was a little surprised to be honest that the multiplayer game was as good as it was. It’s pretty well balanced which each god being a viable choice and I only had one bout with dropout or lag and I believe it was because of another players connection. Overall it’s a very solid addition to the franchise, one most people didn’t see coming, but that actually outshines the single player portion.
Aside from glaring bugs and a slowly paced first half of the game, Ascension has its moments of sheer epic action that the series is so known for. When it hits those highs, like the final boss battle, it reminds you why you play (and in my case love) the franchise in the first place. It helps the game’s case a lot that it has what, in my opinion, is some of the most versatile and strategic combat in a series that is already known for its fantastic battles. Throw onto that a fantastic multiplayer mode set in the universe of God of War, and those negatives start to fade a bit. If you don’t mind stomaching a few bugs and dealing with a stuttering level of quality, then you’ll probably enjoy joining Kratos on his latest jaunt for vengeance. However, if like me you’re expecting the high polish that you’ve seen in previous experiences, you’ll come away slightly disappointed.