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God of War: Ascension Review

by William Schwartz

There isn’t a studio that does spectacle as well as Sony Santa Monica. In 2010’s God of War III, the studio delivered the biggest and most epic adventure in the long-running God of War franchise. That game will likely go down as one of the best-looking games of this generation, if just because it was an eye-opener as to what is possible on the PlayStation 3. Following the conclusion of that game, it wasn’t clear whether or not Kratos would return for God of War IV. So lets clarify: God of War: Ascension is not that game. It’s a prequel, a game that tells more of an origin story than anything else.

Kratos is in search of answers in God of War Ascension, and this God of War adventure shows a more human side to the character than we’ve seen in the past. It tells the tale of his broken oath to Ares, and why he’s been imprisoned by the god of war. But make no mistakes about it, while the story might have changed, the staples that fans have come to expect from the franchise are still very much intact. The sense of scale, brutality, violence, and beauty have all returned in what might be the best God of War game to date, technically.

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God of War Ascension is an impressive beast of a game in the visual department.

Whether it’s series fatigue, or the feeling that we’ve been there and done that, it’s easy to overlook just how amazing God of War: Ascension is in the visuals department. The use of a few old tricks from previous games combined with that God of War color palette, if you put Ascension side by side with God of War III, you could have a hard time telling the two apart. Is that a bad thing? Not if you like what God of War III delivered, and that is what many consider to be the best looking game of this generation. The brutal and visceral combat is still a guilty pleasure, which means you’ll be dismembering foes in ways that you should only see in your nightmares. The sheer amount of gore and spectacle spills into nearly every crevice of God of War: Ascension, as it’s intended to. From the very beginning, there’s rarely a moment that doesn’t awe in some way. Whether it’s the awe of one of the game’s many massive boss encounters, or just a brutal finishing move that you’ve laid on one your opponents, God of War Ascension is an impressive beast of a game in the visual department.

God of War: Ascension is expected to be an impressive looking title after God of War III. Taking nothing away from Sony Santa Monica’s beautiful game, the sad fact is, that we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen a God of War game that looks as good as God of War: Ascension. Those hoping for retooled gameplay elements in God of War: Ascension are going to be disappointed. There are a ton of new enemies and new bosses, but the gameplay really hasn’t changed all that much. In many ways, it’s gotten worse due to some weird design decisions. God of War: Ascension is a hack and slash game. Though its also a game that tries to break up this action with puzzle elements, platforming, and quick-time events. Putting it all together makes for an impressive cinematic experience which is led by its visual fidelity. The changes to the traditional formula are marginal, and while impressive and fun to look at, are just not very much fun to play. Bosses follow more simple and predictable patterns than they have in previous games. While many of the interesting portions of combat come by way of quick time events, or instances where players hit the “win button” to dismember their enemies. It doesn’t have the feeling of a game that requires skill, so much as wherewithal, to progress.

That said, there are truly some unforgettable moments in Ascension. Sure, they very well may begin to blend in with other experiences in the God of War universe, but they are impressive nonetheless. When Sony Santa Monica isn’t throwing copious amounts of eye candy at you, they do split up the action with puzzle and platform segments, which at times, can be a very welcome break. Neither are new to the franchise, and once again, they aren’t breaking the mold set in previous games. Many involve levers, and aren’t too taxing as to their solutions. The platforming segments are also a mixed bag, with some oddly timed camera movements giving a unnecessary hurdle to progress.

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God of War: Ascension multiplayer has the potential sink its hooks in deep.

While the single player side of things is familiar, multiplayer is anything but. Yes, there’s multiplayer in God of War: Ascension, and not just some tacked on component that seems unnecessary. There has obviously been a ton of work putting together this multiplayer suite that feels right at home in God of War. It essentially takes the brutal combat, graphics, and other gameplay components of God of War and dumps them into a fast paced competitive mode that pits players against each other to win the favor of the gods (as well as other objectives).

Players can pledge their allegiance to Hades, Poseidon, Ares, or Zeus and will work towards gaining their favor in attempt to earn weapons, armor, abilities and other buffs for their character. The online suite comes equipped with four modes, with all of them relying on the core third person hack and slash gameplay. It’s somewhat slowed down from the single player, and the combat isn’t as deep, but it relies on players being able to parry and counter-attack during 1v1 battles. Battlefields are littered with chests and traps, and the third person gameplay works surprisingly well as a team based affair, as teams work to complete objectives like capturing flags or killing massive titans.

There’s a delicate balance that must be struck in God of War: Ascension’s multiplayer. Players must learn when to block, parry, grapple, and use heavy and light attacks at the appropriate times to stay alive. Any mistimed attacks or well-parried misjudgments could end up in a cinematic death sequence that rivals the most gruesome that have been seen before in the franchise. Give it a few tries, and there’s no doubt that God of War: Ascension multiplayer has the potential sink its hooks in deep. Will God of War fans respond to Santa Monica’s call to online war? Time will tell, but it’s got the chops to. The thing about God of War: Ascension multiplayer is that there really isn’t anything like it out on the market right now, or at least not doing it as well as this game is. If shooter fatigue has set in, and you’re looking for a fresh multiplayer experience, Ascension could be your new addiction. Like all online games, its as good as the company you keep, especially in the team based modes.

The Verdict

Sony Santa Monica has another game on their hands that could go down as the best looking game of the generation. God of War: Ascension is a marvel to look at, but less exciting to play. While we would have certainly liked to see the gameplay evolve more on the single player side of things, we’ll take the hefty compensation from multiplayer in its place.

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God of War: Ascension

  • Available On: PlayStation 3
  • Published By: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Developed By: Sony Santa Monica
  • Genre: Hack and Slash
  • US Release Date: March 11th, 2013
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 3
  • Quote: "God of War: Ascension is a marvel to look at, but less exciting to play. While we would have certainly liked to see the gameplay evolve more on the single player side of things, we'll take the hefty compensation from multiplayer in its place. "
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