Saturday, June 8, 2013

God of War: Ascension (PS3) Review

Just before E3 starts, we have the first review of June to share with you. It's a big one, too. Whether you love or hate Kratos, his games and the God of War series have been consistently solid. Let's see if the case continues with my review of God of War: Ascension.

Ascension in the Ranks


Kratos is one of the angrier heroes around (seriously, he looks like he has a perpetual case of hemorrhoids), but even if he is somewhat unlikable, the fact that he can kick so much ass and look like a god doing it makes for an entertaining character regardless. The God of War series constantly throws in a tremendous story line of redemption and revenge, tremendous set pieces, and combo-heavy combat that makes fans return to the franchise time and time again. God of War: Ascension is the latest in the series, and the second new installment to hit the PlayStation 3. Does God of War: Ascension light up the sky like Zeus, or does it fall faster than a damned soul to Hades?

God of War: Ascension is a prequel to the original God of War trilogy. It begins with Kratos's imprisonment and subsequent torture by one of the Furies for breaking his blood oath to Ares. The Fury becomes too reckless and actually inadvertently helps Kratos escape from his chained imprisonment. The story moves from past to present, showing the events leading up to Kratos getting captured. The game is all about getting revenge on the Furies and escaping their grip over Kratos, resulting in many illusions throughout the story. While the Furies are competent foes, they really don't hold a candle to Zeus or Ares. That said, God of War: Ascension's story is well told, and one that is just as epic as the set pieces the game contains.

The chains that bind...
If you're familiar with how God of War games are played, then you'll feel right at home with God of War: Ascension. Combo-filled combat is performed when there's a roomful of enemies to eliminate, there's exploration to be had, and platforming and puzzle segments break up the fighting to make a nice pacing throughout the game.

The beginning of Kratos's quest
Kratos may decidedly be a one-dimensional character, but the gameplay of the God of War series is anything but one-dimensional. Ascension features similar combo-happy combat, blocking, and evading of its predecessors, but it also introduces new concepts to combat, such as the ability to pick up and use one of five subweapons, such as a sword, a club, or a javelin, for instance. There's also the idea of elemental attacks. As you go through the game, Kratos will reach certain gates that will bestow him with new magical abilities. For example, the Ice of Poseidon can not only freeze foes or at least slow them down, but outside of battle it is used to grant Kratos the ability to breathe underwater.

When Kratos is through with you, you'll have
your obituary printed on some nice Papyrus scroll.
When Kratos connects with attacks, his rage meter builds. When it is at maximum, Kratos's attacks dish out more damage and by pressing L3 and R3, he can unleash a powerful blow to a given enemy. The meter goes down as Kratos is damaged, so it's important to keep evading and blocking while tossing in some hits on foes.

The combat in God of War: Ascension is a lot more skill-based than what was seen in previous games. That isn't to say past titles were blatant button-mashers, where slamming onto the attack button guaranteed victory. Regardless, Ascension requires more finesse to stay alive. Sure, even on normal mode getting hit by an enemy's attack takes off a small sliver of health, but in order to survive and keep a combo going, you need a skill set of proper timing for attacks, blocking, and evasion that goes above and beyond what something like the original God of War required.

Even enemies have elemental abilities to them.
God of War: Ascension is an incredibly violent game, but its violence is more on the fictitious side than the side of realism. What else can you say about a game where the main character slices in half the cranium of a bipedal elephant, revealing its brain? Yes, it's glorified violence, but man, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't satisfying!

As for the exploration, platforming is a huge part of that. There's your superhuman climbing that would make even Nathan Drake jealous, leaping across pits and other chasms, and scaling and sliding down walls. Discovering chests is a common element of God of War games. There are still magic-increasing Phoenix Feathers and health-boosting Gorgon's Eyes to uncover in hidden chests around the game, and there's multiple treasures to be found that, once the game has been beaten, unlock cheats for the player to use (though these will not allow you to unlock any trophies if they are turned on). Many items and treasures can be found with a minimal amount of exploration, but some are tucked away in truly clever locations.

The boss fights are really enjoyable.
Puzzles are an important part of the God of War series as well, and Ascension delivers in providing some interesting puzzles to flex a player's mental muscles instead of just their finger muscles like combat does. There's sensationally simple ones such as pushing a block to a wall for Kratos to jump on and reach an otherwise inaccessible area, but there's also more complex puzzles, many of which feature relics that Kratos comes across in his epic quest.

The Amulet of Uroborus grants Kratos the ability in combat to levitate a fearsome foe while he can dish out damage to them, but it is mostly used outside of combat. Certain pulsating objects can be healed or decayed to, for instance, construct what was once a broken bridge to make it whole again or to decay a colossal chain to sever it and open a closed door.

Let's see Bob Vila fix something this fast!
Then there's the Oath Stone of Orkos, which Kratos comes across in the second half of the game's thirty chapters. It summons a direct copy of Kratos, allowing him to essentially be in two places at once. While one Kratos holds a switch that holds open a gate, the other Kratos can slip through the opened gate, allowing the player to progress.

For the first time in the God of War series, online multiplayer is an option, offering skirmishes between up to eight players. First, players align their custom warrior to one of four gods, Zeus, Ares, Hades, or Poseidon. Their choice makes the difference in what kind of combat play styles their warrior has. Through battles, players earn experience points which in turn earns them new magic, upgraded or totally new weapons and armor, relics, and other helpful treasures.

There are four modes to be found in Ascension: Team Favor of the Gods, Match of the Champions, Trial of the Gods, and Capture the Flag.

Take on friends and foes online.
By far the most fun mode I had the most enjoyment playing was Team Favor of the Gods. The goal of this is to have your team, either the Spartans or the Trojans, acquire the requested amount of points through killing opponents among other tasks before the other team does. Match of the Champions is more of a deathmatch-themed Team Favor of the Gods, only being a free-for-all instead of a team affair. In the middle of matches, your aligned god will request Labors. Complete these certain objectives give your warrior more experience points, so they are good to follow, as long as you don't sacrifice your team's chances of victory for them.

Fe-fi-fo-fum, multiplayer has finally come.
Meanwhile, Trial of the Gods is a cooperative affair that pits two players against waves of increasingly more difficult creatures. This is all while in addition to fighting the enemies and bosses, fighting the clock. This mode can actually be played solo too. Lastly, Capture the Flag is your traditional team-based mode where you must take the opposing team's flag and run with it back to your own flag.

Multiplayer can be somewhat chaotic, maybe too much so, as there is a lot of things happening on the screen at the same time. I don't just mean action, I mean there's icons for treasures, kills, requests from gods, etc. It can be a bit overwhelming at first. Ascension's multiplayer also has bouts of slowdown when there's a good deal of action on the screen at once. That said, the multiplayer is something I can definitely see myself coming back to, if only to increase the options available to my own warrior. It's not the greatest that the PS3 has to offer, but it's competent enough to be fun.

God of War: Ascension looks absolutely amazing, as would be expected from a late-gen game from one of Sony's own studios. Environments and characters are meticulously detailed and outside of multiplayer everything runs at a steady frame rate. The set pieces, while not as glorious as past God of War games, can blow one's mind. From climbing aboard colossal stone snakes that slither in the sky to climbing aboard an enormous jaw-dropping statue of Apollo, God of War: Ascension does not fail on delivering memorable locations. As is standard for each God of War game, Ascension also uses a fixed third-person camera that generally works well. The only time it doesn't do so well is when the game zooms out really far to create a sense of immense scale. While it's cool to see a gigantic creature, it's not so cool to see Kratos and the creatures he's fighting look like ants on the screen in comparison. It's sort of difficult to dodge, evade, and heck, even know which character is Kratos.

Some vantage points are just jaw-dropping.
As for sound, God of War: Ascension is a top-tier title in this regard. The music is dynamic, powerfully orchestrated, and enhances each set piece and area splendidly. The voice acting is also tremendous, displaying proper emotions and reading each line remarkably well.

God of War: Ascension does stray a little too close to the traditional formula of the series than I'd like. The game's ascension is more like a trip from ground level to the fifteenth floor of a 50 story skyscraper rather than a trip to the very top. That's not to say Ascension doesn't impress. It does, but I really think the series needs a serious shakeup. There's far more familiarity than total surprise with God of War: Ascension. That notwithstanding, God of War: Ascension treats players to a wild adrenaline-pumping ride, full of masterful combat, engaging puzzles, and tight platforming to make a game that is an essential purchase for God of War fans and action fans alike.

[SPC Says: 8.5/10]

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