Video Game Review: GOD OF WAR: ASCENSION
The prequel to Sony’s flagship franchise, God of War: Ascension, continues the pedigree of brutality and mature rated chaos. But after battling a grotesque beast atop an impossibly large living behemoth, after ripping apart a cyclops at the seams, after snapping inputs at epically choreographed quick time button sequences, after showering in bucket after bucket of blood and viscera, after another square, square, triangle, square, square, triangle, square, square, triangle… I can’t help but feel as if I’ve done this all before.
Long before his battle with the Gods, we find Kratos imprisoned and tortured, physically and mentally, after he murders his own family and breaks his oath to Ares. I’ve never found Kratos to be a very empathetic character, and in fact, quite honestly, I hate him. A prequel would have been a perfect opportunity to provide Kratos some much needed humanity, or lacking that, at least some sympathy. But aside from a moment or two of sullenness the opportunity is squandered; Kratos’ mindset never waivers beyond- KILL EVERYTHING: his character wholly indistinguishable from every other God of War. And are we really supposed to believe he loved his family when almost immediately after he murders his wife, he nearly jumps head first into group sex at a harem? I guess he’s mourning. With his penis. But even in the harem, there’s no actual sex mini-game: a God of War staple. And that’s the main issue. Even when it attempts to match the ferocity and boldness of the other God of Wars, it falls short. Hecatonchires is certainly massive and impressive, but it doesn’t feel the same as bringing down Chronos. And the furies have a certain antagonistic appeal, but come on, they’re not the same as ripping apart Zeus, Poseidon, and the rest of the Greek pantheon one by one.
Thankfully, the combat and gameplay feel as tight and lucid as ever, even if it remains greatly unchanged. The core combos and mechanics follow the franchise formula, but a few new features help give the fighting a fresh, if only slight, edge. Instead of an arsenal of rarely used secondary weapons, Kratos now imbues his chain blades with the elemental powers of the gods. Switching between fire and lightning in the middle of a combo, stunning enemies, and then ker-sploding them, satisfies and succeeds at keeping what works but provides new depth for those willing to plunder. Puzzles still pop up regularly, with classic but gratifying results. A new time-shifting item makes warping your surroundings fun, and opens up some cool new mechanics, but ultimately is nothing we haven’t seen in other titles. Difficulty settings aside however, the main story doesn’t seem as harsh as previous entries. Aside from a sequence near the end of the game, I had few problems clearing the campaign.
Throughout the combat and bloodletting carnage, it’s impossible not to pause and take in the vibrant visuals. The opening Hecaton fight induces vertigo, and the Uroborus snake area glistens smooth and sleek. A few rare textures don’t quite pop as much as others, but you’ll hardly notice them amidst the spectacle of the graphical glory. And the score once again doesn’t disappoint as music seems to meet every mood and battle perfectly, always fresh, without becoming distracting or annoying. If the story and context of Ascension feel like a step back in epic scale, the visuals and audio certainly don’t follow suit.
The most noteworthy new feature in Ascension is the premier of God of War multiplayer. I definitely had my prejudices going into the mode, firm in my belief that God of War had no need of multiplayer. I wouldn’t say that I’m a full convert, but I also recognize the quality and work that went into it. It’s surprisingly deep, with seemingly hundreds of powers linked to different weapons, armor, and items, along with perks and level stats as you progress. Pledging loyalty to one of four gods gives the player even more customization options and further reason to explore the complex and dynamic arenas. The gameplay itself isn’t revolutionary, and I don’t see a wave of God of War inspired multiplayer games cropping up in the next few years, but it’s not without its charms. Basic GOW button mashing wins the day, but some clever parry and defensive moves help balance the brawl. During my time in the arenas, the brutal kills were especially satisfying, but at its worst, aggravating when a rival manages to chain a combo together on you, and you’re left without any recourse. In the end, I think most people will find some fun in the mode, but ultimately leave it after a few sessions.
The best thing God of War: Ascension has going for it, is that it’s the next in the acclaimed God of War franchise, unfortunately, that’s also what hurts it the most. In an industry populated with sequels and reboots trying to reinvent themselves (Tomb Raider, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance), Ascension does what the original God of War did with bravado, but rarely does it go beyond that. Kratos has big shoes to fill, and ideally outgrow, in this prequel, but Ascension hardly feels like anything more than a tertiary outing trying to grasp at the Titans that preceded it. The multiplayer entertains and amounts to more than a tacked on selling point, but probably won’t hold the attention of audiences. If you love the brutality, the mayhem, the rage, what makes God of War, God of War, you’ll like Ascension, but if you were hoping for something more, something that would push the franchise forward, you’ll just have to wait until Kratos’ next tantrum.