God of War: Ascension Review
The God of War franchise is best known for its combat, its QTE sequences and its epic fights of unparalleled proportion. Although Ascension doesn’t fail to provide that sense of grandness and magnitude, it falls a little short in comparison to titles before it. Ascension offers insight into a more relatable Kratos by allowing you to play through the events that took place before the original trilogy. Featuring a new Blades of Chaos-based combat system and the beautiful portrayal of Ancient Greece, it is a worthy, yet a slightly lacklustre addition to the God of War franchise.
In Ascension, we get to see a different side of Kratos. A side that fans have long waited to be brought to life. In Ascension, we play as a Kratos that isn’t fueled by pure anger. Instead, we get to see his softer side as he fights for his freedom and ultimately, vengeance for the death of his wife and child.
The story takes place around 6 months after the death of his family. After being tricked by Ares into brutally killing the only people he ever loved. Stopping at nothing to find the clarity to avenge them, Kratos must break his blood oath that binds him to Ares. Little does he know that breaking a bond with a God isn’t a matter taken lightly in Olympus.
The game revolves around Kratos trying to break free from his eternal imprisonment at the hands of the three furies; the goddesses of punishment, justice and torment. Having been imprisoned, ruthlessly tortured and slowly driven insane, he must find a way to overcome their illusions, escape their prison and face them, in order to finally re-claim his freedom.
What I thought was a very smart move on Santa Monica Studios’ part was how the narrative of the story was laid out. You start off chained and weakened by the fury Megaera. After the epic battle that follows concludes, you start playing the events leading up to that point. This happens twice and provides incredible insight into how Kratos loses all emotion and turns into the monster we see at the end of the game and in the original trilogy.
God of War is essentially the franchise that introduced the hack and slash genre into modern gaming. It is also the franchise that got the formula so incredibly right, never failing to impress with the constant addition of new mechanics. As always, the combat never fails to leave players in awe and once again, has been implemented immaculately.
With GoW: Ascension, Santa Monica has done it again. This time round placing great emphasis on the Blades of Chaos. As you progress through the story, the blades will eventually be imbued with the main four gods’ powers, including the fire of Ares, Zeus’ lightning and so on. Each set-up has its own unique upgrades and can be used for both utility purposes as well as sheer strength. For example, by vaporizing an enemy with the fires of hades, you receive green, restorative orbs. So, if you’re running low on health or magic you can switch to the corresponding powers and go all Kratos on their ass.
The use of magic has changed quite a bit as well but is along the lines of specific blade powers. By leveling up abilities for your blades (Lightning, Ice, etc…) you will finally unlock a main magic spell for each one. For example, by fully leveling up the Ice of Poseidon and with the simple push of the R2 button, you can unleash a terrifying blizzard which will freeze all enemies around you. Each blade’s magic spell can be used for a little help in various circumstances and also provides a sense of incredible power as well as being visually stunning.
Instead of having equipable secondary weapons, Kratos is able to pick up an array of different weapons from his surroundings or beat enemies senseless until they drop their own. This allows for the use of a variety of abilities. By picking up a sword you can slash enemies up at lightning speeds and on the off chance you want to play a little more defensively, there’s a shield that you can use to block and attack with. Secondary weapons are linked to the ‘circle’ button and each one offers a distinct special attack by holding down L1 and circle.
The difficulty in GoW: Ascension is fairly balanced and checkpoints are spread out quite regularly. I played through the game on the normal setting and didn’t find anything to be significantly difficult. There are moments in the latter part of the game that are seemingly impossible, but Santa Monica Studios are soon releasing a patch that will balance things out a little and make for a fairer experience.
The multiplayer in GoW: Ascension has been harshly criticized and although I agree that they could have been a little more creative with it, I quite enjoyed what it had to offer. Obviously, we should account for the fact that this is the first time Santa Monica tries to implement multiplayer but by no means should it be considered “bad”. One feature that stood out in the multiplayer was the level design. It features levels spanning the whole era of the God of War franchise, placing you in a few locations that may seem a little familiar but with their own unique twists.
When you first log on to the multiplayer, you will be asked to choose to align with any of the four available Gods – Ares, Zeus, Hades and Poseidon – With each God offering a different gameplay aesthetic. Alignment to Ares focuses more on full on close combat, while aligning with Poseidon for example, gives you restorative power, such as absorption shields and health regeneration for allies.
My favourite mode – Team Favour of the Gods – Pits you and three teammates against another team of four. Each team has to reach a goal of 8000 favor (varies between game modes) and they can do so by earning kills (extra points for brutal kills), opening red orb chests for helpful +50 bonuses and capturing shrines scattered around the level. There are a few not-so-unique modes worth mentioning, such as free-for-all and team survival, that have you and a friend trying to slay as many waves of enemies as possible before the time runs out.
The graphics are as groundbreaking as ever. The kills themselves seem to be getting more and more creative by the game and it feels like the more horrific sequences are there just for the sake of being completely brutal. It is a God of War game and it should have its moments but it loses the effect it has on players and desensitizes them after a while…
The soundtrack features the distinct, powerful God of War music we’ve all come to appreciate and respect. From the moment the game starts, the music doesn’t waste a single second and gets you right into that adrenaline-filled frenzy that showcases Kratos’ rage and anger. In addition, the game does have some beautifully orchestrated music in the calmer parts of the story. These bits and pieces form an amazing effect of suspense as they fill players up with a sense of menace and dread.
Although GoW: Ascension lacks those “What. The. F***” moments that the series is known for, it makes up for it by brilliantly implementing the new combat system, painting ancient Greece as beautifully as ever, as well as the near perfect level and enemy design.
With a few exceptions, I would have to say that Ascension serves its purpose of a prequel very well. It allowed Santa Monica to experiment with the multiplayer, meaning more polish for the next title in the series, as well as showcase Kratos’ deeper, emotional side.
“Before he was a God, he was a man.”
Every fan of the series should definitely peek behind the shroud of Kratos’ mysterious past in order to uncover what really happened, what made him become Kratos, the God of War.