There comes a point in time where to much of a good thing becomes, well, a bad thing. You can only take so much of something, regardless of how much you enjoy or like it, before the abundance becomes a detriment. I am afraid that point is almost here for the God of War series. Sony introduced us to the world of Kratos and all of his anger eight years ago, and since then we have embarked on six adventures (counting the mobile phone release) and they have all been basically the same. Now, Sony is going back to the proverbial well one more time for God of War: Ascension.
Ascension gives us the earliest look at the eventual God of War that we have seen yet. The game is a prequel to all of the games that have been release thus far, set only six months after the fateful day where he was tricked into murdering his family, and nearly a decade before the events of the first game. Even from the very start of his bonds of servitude to Ares, Kratos doubts the deal he has made. There is a long road between these early days of his tale and the clifftop that he eventually leapt from to kick off the franchise, so there is plenty of story to be told in between.
Being the earliest look that we have had at Kratos, Ascension also gives us the closest look we have seen to his human side. The tale told here is of an angry man trying to redeem himself for his sins, not a mortal attempting to rise to the level of the Gods. This is a more human tale, but it is as dark and violent as ever. While you will get your hands on some magical powers and abilities, a bulk of your armory, aside from the Blades of Chaos, consists of traditional weaponry that you have read about in Greek mythology. We’re talking about swords, clubs, javelins, slings, and shields, weaponry any mortal could conceivably bear during a time of war during that era. This showcases Kratos’ mastery of the art of war and works to strengthen his character and the legend of the man that become the Ghost of Sparta.
The new weapons fit right into the familiar combat system that the series has relied on from the start. They each have their own strategies and combos that go along with them, as well as the ability to unleash a super-attack as a last resort (which drops the weapon in hand). You can even mix them into combos with your Chains, creating some incredible assault-strings. Despite its familiarity, this is a really good thing as Ascension proves that Sony Santa Monica be the master of the action game combat system. The free flowing combat is as fluid and expansive as ever, even allowing you to switch between weapons and elemental properties (magical abilities) on the fly. Sure, we have used this before, but it is as fun as ever and perhaps even perfected at this point in the series.
Along with the patented combat system, the style and flow of the gameplay remains largely the same. You will spend your time alternating between epic battles and solving puzzles. The dichotomy of the experience is another part of the God of War-patented formula. You will spend just as much time flexing the muscle that is your brain as you do flexing your brawn in battle. When you are not battling against legions of enemies or gigantic bosses, you examining your surroundings and searching for the key(s) to opening up the path in front of you. There are some key gameplay elements that ties into the puzzles this time around as the game has taken a Sands of Time-esque approach to time-manipulation. You will eventually obtain a few tools that will allow you to alter space and time, letting you be in two places at once and heal / destroy physical structures at will. This new mechanic does go a long way to keep what would otherwise be a repetitive adventure fresh.
The game still has the same epic scale that fans have come to know and love in the franchise too. From gigantic set pieces to intense quick-time events, there is a action packed feel to the entire adventure. Even if the scene isn’t physically intense, the surroundings and settings that engulf it will leave you in awe; the game and its world can be downright gorgeous at times. As I have said many times already, this is all a part of the now-patented formula that makes up the God of War experience and I wouldn’t expect any less from the franchise.
While the implementation of a such a patented formula is a good thing for the most part, it also proves to be the game’s biggest detriment. The problem(s) with Ascension isn’t one of the technical sense, but one of familiarity. Despite the epic feel to the adventure, which is as grand and fun as ever, you can’t help but get the sensation that you have been here before. This installment doesn’t really do much to set itself apart from the rest of the franchise; you control and angry Kratos as he lays down a path of destruction en route to the top of Mt. Olympus. There are plenty of new faces, and a couple of new ideas, but the plot is the same one that we have already played through at least seven times before. That isn’t to say that this isn’t a good game, because it is actually a great one, but the concept is starting to become repetitive and I am not sure how many more drinks gamers will take from this well. Perhaps it is time to consider changing up the franchise with a new setting and, dare I say it, a new character.
That same epic feeling that makes the campaign so great expands over the the newly added multiplayer mode(s) of the game. While Ascension’s multiplayer may break new ground for the franchise, it doesn’t explore any new water for the industry, and that isn’t a bad thing. Multiplayer lets you customize a character of your choosing after pledging allegiance to a God of your choosing. Each God will grant your character with a certain set of traits and abilities.Think of them as being each of the traditional magic classes that Kratos would normally collect in the game; they add variety to the gameplay. In addition to the customization available in terms of look and equipment, you have specific missions or feats that you can complete for bonus experience points that go towards leveling your character, as well as a variety of traditional game modes that rival even the most popular first person shooters.
We’ve have seen this before in countless first person shooter titles; the perks, the leveling, and the customization. What makes this experience fresh is its application to the action genre. Everything that makes the God of War franchise so enjoyable, the deep and fluid combat system to the epic scale of both the settings and the battles, translates perfectly into these new modes of play. Whether you are battling it out against three opponents in an arena or engaging in a team battle of capture the flag, the game is pure joy to play. It is likely that you already know how great the gameplay of this series is, now imagine facing enemies that are ever-changing and adapting to your skill. That is what the multiplayer feels like. It isn’t an original idea, but it is a fresh application, which really helps to liven up an otherwise (borderline too-) familiar experience.
I feel like I have gone on a roller coaster ride both playing this game and writing its review. On one hand, this is all ground that I have seen and played before; this is the traditional God of War experience through and through. At the same time, even though this we have been down this path before, it is still en enjoyable one to trek from start to finish. There is still a sense of enjoyment to be found with an adventure of epic proportions, even if we know where it is heading the entire time. The multiplayer does wonders to breath some fresh air into the experience, but I fear it won’t be enough for the next chapter of the franchise. We need more than that however if we are going to continue down this path; surely Kratos’ influence was felt in other times as war has existed throughout man’s entire existence. Why not explore another era, perhaps moving Kratos into Ares’ role and introducing a new anti-hero for the masses to love?