God of War: Ascension review
Kratos Unleashes His Fury...And You Might Too
- Generation-defining graphics
- Some excellent setpieces and boss battles
- Refined combat system adds more depth
- Weak story
- Rage-meter linked to combos
- Punishing difficulty at times
- Disappointing multiplayer
I can understand people's criticisms of yet another God Of War game, as the perfect trilogy becomes a series that now includes 7 titles across 4 different platforms. Even the very best franchises can become tired over time.
Yet, on the other hand, all you need to do is look at God Of War: Ascension and you can see why Santa Monica Studios decided to give Kratos a second send-off on the PS3. The graphics engine used in God Of War III has been used once again and looks as spectacular as ever. Lighting is eerily realistic and overall the graphics are easily the most impressive you can find on any console today. Indeed, at times they give some of the PS4 gameplay videos a run for their money. They are that good.
As with any God Of War game, you expect a certain level of scale that isn't found in other titles. Ascension certainly doesn't disappoint. The game opens in typically spectacular style with a battle against one of the Three Furies and the Hechatonchires; without giving too much away, to say the level itself is your enemy would be an understatement. There are other very impressive setpieces throughout too, with the final boss battle in particular arguably the most visually impressive in any God Of War game yet. Despite this, the level of scale never quite reaches that set by God Of War III. GOWIII set the bar to such a level that Ascension simply wasn't able to match it on a consistent basis.
Where Ascension differs from GOWIII, however, is the new combat system. The Blades of Chaos are your standard weapons, but they now switch between four different elements offered by the Gods - fire, water, lightning and souls. Fire and water seem to offer little, but the choice between lightning and souls as the game progressed became an important battle tactic; particularly as each element was linked to a magic attack that needed to be unlocked. Yes, no longer is it possible to upgrade all your weapons and items in one game, becoming the ultimate killing machine. Instead, you need to think very carefully about where you use your orbs and which elements you want to upgrade. Other changes include interactive mini-games as opposed to quick-time events for finishing off some enemies, R1 as a 'chain grapple' button, and 'world weapons' such as clubs, spears and swords that can be picked up and discarded and used at your leisure. Far from being useless, as is often the case in God Of War games and secondary weapons, they can prove a lifeline against certain enemies. Indeed it's arguable that the combat system hasn't just been tweaked but rather overhauled; by and large, the changes work well.
It's not all rosy, however. Certain combos that are staples of the franchise are now linked to your rage meter, that now fills quickly and is lost unless used immediately. Unfortunately, this limits the fluidity of the combat to a certain extent by limiting the amount of combos available to you; this isn't helped by the enemies who are now tougher, faster and more aggressive. That isn't a bad thing in itself, but when you can't even get in a square square square combo before you're attacked by one of the myriad of enemies on screen at one time, you know something has gone awry.
This is never more noticeable than in the 'Trials of Archimedes'. Yes, Ascension is hard throughout - but this is something else. The Trials throw enemy after enemy at you without any save points, with many of these enemies combined proving tremendously difficult to fight with any fluidity. Some reviewers have spoke of this level being 'game-breaking'; for God Of War fans it is nothing of the sort. The Loom Chamber battle from GOW II and the Ares boss fight in GOW are just two examples of much harder fights. Nevertheless, like those fights, it is harder than it has any right to be, and the lack of save points, health/magic chests and more rigid combat do not make it an entertaining experience.
God Of War games are also famed for their stories, which makes it even more disappointing that Ascension is weak in this area. The story meanders between past and present and seems to have little relevance to events in the other games until the final moments when various plots are tied together.
Lastly, let's discuss the multiplayer. Santa Monica have long spoke of their desire to get multiplayer in a GOW game and at last it's here. So was it worth the wait? Unfortunately, no. The versus battles are manic, with button bashing and the right weapon usually being enough to do well. The only mode truly worth playing is the cooperative Trial of The Gods, a sort of hack n' slash version of Call of Duty Zombies, with an increasingly large number of enemies challenging you each round. Far be it from me to say that the franchise can't do multiplayer, because I do believe that there is a lot of potential for cooperative gameplay. But hack n' slash games cannot do versus modes, and Ascension is no exception.
Overall, Ascension is a good game. Yes, this review has noted a lot of negatives, but when the bar has been set so high over nearly a decade of blood, guts and Greek Gods, you can't help but notice these things. Ascension is not a disgrace to the God Of War name, and you will have fun with the campaign mode; but afterwards, all you'll want to do is replay a previous God Of War game instead.
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