God of War: Ascension Review — Kratos is back but he’s not the God of War
Authored by Alex Co
Sony Santa Monica has crafted yet another God of War game and one that’s quite logically the last major entry for this console generation. Did they manage to pull the best one yet or is Kratos’ quest for revenge still unfulfilled? Read on to find out.
Ascending the PS3’s Limits
I think it’s safe to say that Ascension’s predecessor, God of War 3, might just be the best looking PS3 game to date. Fortunately, God of War: Ascension trumps it graphically. While it might not be as big of as a leap as one might hope, it’s nonetheless the most impressive visual showcase the PS3 has to offer. Sure, there are a few screen tearing and other technical niggles; but for the most part, Ascension is the PS3’s piece de resistance when it comes to pushing the console to its limits…much the same way God of War 2 was for the PlayStation 2.
In short, it’s a visual feast for the eyes and one of those games that will make you wonder why other developers can’t push the console as much as Sony Santa Monica did.
On the audio front, expect the same from previous installments. Kratos is once again voiced by Terrence C. Carson; though he isn’t growling every line of dialogue like in past entries, he manages to convey a more “human” Kratos and shows us there’s more to both his and the character’s personality than being the bald, “angry Spartan.” Narration, is again, handled by the very able Linda Hunt and just like in previous God of War titles, she manages to make every exposition moment a tale worth listening to.
Regarding the game’s audio, don’t expect anything different to God of War: Ascension’s booming orchestral music from previous iterations of the franchise, but at the same time, music and sound effects weren’t a slouch to begin with, either.
A Spartan’s Tale is Never Over…or is It?
While Ascension isn’t a pushover when it comes to visual and audio design, its actual narrative is a different matter altogether.
Simply put, God of War: Ascension’s story won’t grip you the same way as Kratos’ other adventures. One could blame it on the game being a prequel and the player (I assume) already knowing what’s going to happen. But at the same time, The Furies and other characters don’t really resonate the way God of War’s characters usually do.
Yes, we get to see Kratos’ more human side and how he came to be one an angry badass, but the overall arch is weak as you stumble from one combat scenario to the next. The main baddies themselves are relegated to the three Furies, and unfortunately, they’re not half as enthralling a villain as Ares or Zeus. The overall plot though is easy enough to follow, but for those who’ve ridden the God of War rollercoaster before, don’t expect any twists and turns that will hook you in like the game’s furbearers did. God of War: Ascension is a prequel and you won’t forget it as you traverse the game’s environments and brutally murder anything that gets in your way. Again, don’t get me wrong, Ascension’s story is more than passable, just don’t expect to know anything substantial by the time you finish Kratos’ 8-10 hour quest.
To Olympus and Back Again – Sort Of
Here’s where things get interesting. On one hand, God of War fans will feel right at home once they use the Blades of Chaos to pummel enemies into oblivion, but on the other, it feels a tad too familiar. I’m not just talking about the controls, which I’ll get to in a bit, but the actual gameplay itself.
I distinctly remember how awesome it is gutting a centaur in previous God of War games, and unfortunately, I never had that same level of “holy shit” moments in Ascension. It could possibly be because we’ve slaughtered almost everything there is when it comes to Greek mythology, but during my entire playthrough, I kept waiting for the that epic moment when everything comes together and made me feel like Kratos was against insurmountable odds that he just somehow was able to overcome with brute force and will. This fact is made even more apparent by the game’s rather “weak” opening act. Remember in God of War 3 opening salvo when you were atop Gaia and had to face Poseidon in various forms before ultimately gouging his eyes out and killing him? Sadly, Ascension’s first part is nowhere near as engrossing and even sadder, there’s nothing in the whole game that matches that spectacle.
Don’t get me wrong, combat is still as fluid as can be. Transitioning between each weapon, elemental power and whatnot is still as intuitive as one remembers. Sony Santa Monica has also added a few additions to Kratos’ arsenal that will make you wonder why it wasn’t implemented before. One of these is the grapple or “hook” move that will let you snag an enemy to continue pummeling them or use it to chain combos uninterrupted.
However, there is one mechanic that SSM did that honestly baffled me and it’s parrying. In previous God of War games, players can parry an enemy’s attack by hitting the L1 button the exact moment an opponent strikes. For some reason, pulling off the same move now necessitates L1 and the X button that just further complicates things. I truthfully did not use the parry mechanic much due to how cumbersome it felt and how it broke the overall flow of the breakneck combat.
Speaking of breaking the pace, one thing Ascension has in spades compared to its brethren are puzzles and climbing sections. While both are scattered throughout every God of War game, for some reason, I “felt” them more in Ascension – and not in a good way. For every wave of enemies, you’ll then be trudged to a climbing section, a room where you need to figure out the puzzle or participate in a “sliding” mini game of sorts. Yep, there are a few instances in Ascension where Kratos is “steered” rather than controlled and to be blunt, it doesn’t really need it. It’s not like the God of War games are lacking when it comes to Quick-Time Events (QTEs) but in this particular entry, it’s done a tad too much and in a rather ubiquitous way, too. There were instances where I didn’t know if it was a cinematic or if I had to press the square or triangle button to continue. Only after seeing the same thing happen multiple times was I on the guard in anticipating them.
Another little niggle I had was the camera and enemy placement. Ascension is the only God of War game where I was annoyed at the camera panning during combat and at times, making Kratos undistinguishable from his foes. It only happened when there were too many enemies on the screen, but it still occurred nonetheless.
But for every gameplay annoyance or “been there, done that” event, Ascension will have moments where it shines. I was just hoping there were more than what was in the game.
God of War Now Has Multiplayer, Should You Care?
Ah, the highly-controversial multiplayer component of God of War: Ascension. I admit, I was skeptical in this new addition and up to this day, I’m still on the fence about it. Firing it up brings you to a tutorial level where you’ll learn the basic attacks, blocks and other necessities. Unfortunately, that’s as far as the training goes. Once on the actual battlefield, expect chaos and randomness to permeate even amongst teammates.
By all accounts though, expect the usual tropes when it comes to competitive multiplayer components. You can customize a character as you see fit based on their armor, weapon, powers, relics and more. Leveling up gains you Skill Points and unlocks new stuff, which is par for the course when it comes to “drip feeding” people into playing more.
Its overall structure is sound enough, but I didn’t feel hooked on it for some reason. It might be due to the haphazard way combat feels, or how each game mode is not explained properly. However, it is a solid feature that I already see Sony Santa Monica implementing in future GoW titles.
All in all though, multiplayer is a useful diversion nonetheless and I have no doubt it has its staunch supporters, but don’t expect it to be the main selling point anytime soon.
Kratos Stumbles on His Ascension but Olympus is Still Within Reach
At the end of the day though, Ascension is burdened by familiarity rather than build on it. From start to finish, it’s plainly a God of War game, but one that doesn’t necessarily move the franchise forward in any form other than to showcase Kratos’ tale and how his bond with Ares came to be. Quite frankly, it feels a bit like “God of War 3.5” but with an added multiplayer feature.
For long-time God of War fans, the journey is still worth it even if it’s not as epic as we were hoping it would be. But Kratos is showing his age, and I’m hoping the real sequel to GoW 3 will inject new life into our favorite Spartan.
Give God of War: Ascension a buy if you’re a series fan, just don’t expect God of War 3’s scale.
Final Score: 7.5/10
God of War: Ascension was given to us by Sony to review; I played through the single-player campaign on Normal, which took me 10 hours to finish. Played a few hours of multiplayer, earned a few abilities, unlocked a few stuff and slaughtered a few Champions in the process.