In the beginning, there was the end.
At the beginning of God of War 3, there was little doubt that the ride set before you was one of epic proportions, as it brought to a climax a war Kratos had been waging against the Greek gods all his life. In the end, it was a bloody mess, with Kratos himself, after defeating everything in his path, saw a life of no purpose, with utter confusion plaguing his mind to madness. But that was the end of a long and heroic journey – and God of War 1 isn’t where it all started, God of War: Ascension is.
Before Kratos became a god, he was a man. A man, dare we put the brutal god-slayer in such a bracket, with a family that he was tricked into mercilessly killing and, throughout the game, Kratos sought the truth.
So it begins…
God of War: Ascension is a good game and fans will enjoy it from beginning to end, albeit not like its predecessors, as the game misses the mark on all but two areas: visuals and gameplay.
Santa Monica was able to somehow squeeze out even more juice from the aging PS3 hardware to churn out a game that not only looks better than its predecessors, but plays better, too. There’s a fluidity in the gameplay of God of War: Ascension that will satisfy fans and newcomers alike. Every action is on point and without delay, visuals will marvel even those who are the most absorbed with the graphical fidelity of a game. However, compared to former outings, that’s where it ends.
But what did we expect? How could we assume Kratos to be more of a god when it’s a prequel we’re playing? Sony Santa Monica, I suspect, struggled to create a balancing act that would not alienate fans who’ve come to expect a “badass” Kratos, and at the same time keep in line with the story they were trying to forge, which is Kratos as a man who went into oath with a god, only to find that it’d cost way too much, and that he’d been betrayed. He’s now seeking revenge – as a man. Obviously he couldn’t be the Kratos of God of War 3; it just wouldn’t make sense. But my issue isn’t so much with Kratos’ “weakness”, but rather the inability of Santa Monica to tell the story effectively.
You rattle through the game’s first half almost completely unaware of what the mission is, and the only things keeping you plugged in are the bar-none gameplay mechanics of the franchise and its jaw-dropping visuals, all refined to their peak. The set pieces are awe-inspiring throughout, and in the first half, it’s a ride on a city-sized metal snake leading you to your destination that keeps you going. The battles are only so slightly different from prior God of Wars, only this time the game’s difficulty level has been turned up a notch.
Move on to the second half, though, and things start picking up with the story, but by that time you would have already been disappointed with the plot, and would be expecting the killing spree to continue without respite. Nonetheless Kratos is finding that there’s truth in the confusion, and so are you. You’re faced with hordes of familiar beasts, most of them female – who you’re to eliminate like the devils they are with moves so amazing you’ll sometimes be left with your eyes wide open, marveling at Santa Monica’s ability to create outstanding set pieces. Speaking of set pieces…
It gets no better than this, folks. If you want a game that includes some of the biggest and baddest boss fights anywhere, then God of War: Ascension is your game. Without revealing much, you’ll be thrust into battles so monumental that you’ll feel like your $60 was well spent if only for such enthralling action – and there’s more. Finally Kratos is tearing away at his foes, the sisters – called The Furies, solving puzzles that are much easier this go around, winning extra orbs in not too secret places, powering up weapons along the way, pausing, lusting at the game’s beautiful visuals, and finally beginning to enjoy an experience that actually tries hard to tie-in the game’s story and enjoy its signature gameplay. And that’s all while dealing with a difficulty unseen in God of War games. It gets amplified at the Trial of Archimedes, where you are to fend off waves of incoming foes for three levels, without the game saving and with minimal health orbs. It’s without a doubt the game’s most difficult stage for which you win a trophy afterwards named “Next Time Use The Steers” or something along these lines, and in my mind I thought, freaking right. Game director Todd Papy said they’re sending out a patch soon to lessen the difficulty, something I definitely understand. Trial of Archimedes is the last great battle before the game’s boss fight, but it’s truly too difficult.
God of War: Ascension is also the franchise’s first foray into multiplayer and it honestly does not disappoint. I’ve had a few battles in the various modes, and the levels are very well designed, offer countless in-game items to power-up, gain health – and virtually all the features of single-player were brought seamless into MP action. That, I reckon was well executed by Santa Monica.
Players align with one of four gods, which gift them different abilities. Followers of Ares are all-out warriors, the minions of Hades favour stealth kills, and Zeus’ warriors are battle mages. Doesn’t matter which god you choose, the difference in strength are subtle, and mostly depends on your own preferences.
There are a few modes, with the most enjoyable being Favor of The Gods, where four-men teams go head-to-head in all out battles. You’ll enjoy the MP for a while, but as with every God of War game, single-player is where it’s at.
So this is it, then, a great game that didn’t quite live up to the complete overall package that was God of War 3. I also feel like Kratos has seen his end in Greek mythology – and although it wasn’t the best execution, it’s still Kratos’ goodbye to the world by going back to find out what exactly lead him to his end. A truth he found only by going back to the beginning.
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