As mentally-scarred, borderline insane, revenge-driven, unrelenting anti-heroes go, Kratos is somehow quite an appealing character. In this already five-game series he has been pulled from pillar to post, and has hit rock bottom more times than a soap opera character. But somehow, someway, Kratos always manages to rise up. To ascend.
God of War: Ascension is not a sequel, but a prequel to the entire series. This includes the 2 PSP prequels, so Ascension is really a pre-pre-prequel. As baffling as that may seem, or sounds, Ascension is no step back. In fact, Ascension pushes the world of Kratos (and the PS3) upon us more than ever before, both aesthetically and creatively. The graphics here are fantastic; lavish detail among each and every piece of brick and mortar, accompanied with bold, vibrant colours.
The motion capture of Kratos and the supporting cast looks more real than ever before, particular in the cut-scenes. As expected, Ascension does not hold back on the graphic nature the series is famous for. It is however noticeably more suppressed than the ever-escalating violence of the mainstay series.
What separates Ascension from its peers is the changes made to the combat. Aside from the series-stable light/heavy attacks and combination strings, there are some excellent additions and alternatives to use. When confronted by many foes at ones (as often is the case), a tap of R1 sees Kratos throw one of his chain-attached blades into the desired enemy, and latches on. This not only allows you to either attack your chained foe, but all those around you too, which makes for much more full flow combat. You can even evade and still be attached to a foe, making way to get those high numbered combos that bit easier.
Kratos only has the Blades of Chaos as main weapons this time around, but in various areas of the game there are alternative weapons that can be picked up if desired. This is known as the ‘World Weapons’ system. These weapons can be used with the circle button, and also in combination with the Blades if desired. The chain grab can be used to obtain a shield as a world weapon from an enemy too. It all comes together really well, making Ascension more advanced than any other God of War game.
Puzzle elements are another re-emerging God of War formula. There is the typical form of “push block to access ledge/activate switch”, but this time around there is much more on offer. An ability acquired within the campaign allows Kratos to ‘Heal’ or Decay’ promulgated surroundings to access the next area, or weaken other materials to break through them. These get more complicated as the campaign unfolds, and prove a welcome break from the hack and slash.
Unfortunately, despite its pleasing aesthetics, combat and puzzle mixture, there are a lot of confusing elements to Ascension as a package. This is the only God of War game where I have had issues with the fixed camera system. Quite often in a typical setting, although the exit is obvious, you have to blindly guide Kratos through it, which can be very frustrating at times. One instance even led me to have to reload a chapter, only to find that the problem was the camera didn’t react the first time.
The other major issue is the slightly bland single player campaign. From the original God of War through to III, the scale has always risen. The story always escalating through to the epic final confrontation. But in Ascension, once the first plot catalyst is confirmed, it just seems so long to get there. This leads to a lot more repetition and very uneven pacing. There is considerably less interaction with, well, anyone, for a good two thirds of the campaign, but does improves significantly from then on. Thankfully the action is noticeably different enough to keep Ascension from being the bad apple of the series.
New to the series is the introduction of online multiplayer. Although you don’t play as Kratos, you play another Spartan warrior in the same predicament. After a quick tutorial of controls, you choose which god you wish to follow, each one granting different powers and abilities. From there, you can throw yourself into free-for-all or team-based battles, to gain XP which allows you power up and suit up your character.
The gameplay itself is typical God of War combat. Except now there are eight of you at it at once, in maps littered with traps, power-ups and the like. Although originally sceptical, it works really well, and is highly addictive. The more you power up your character, the more you want to dive in for more XP. Where many will put a God of War game back on the shelf once the campaign is over, this will provide hours and hours of longevity.
Sony has really pushed for a complete package with God of War: Ascension. The excellent addition of multiplayer, the improved combat and puzzle elements, plus the fact it looks glorious throughout, is certainly testament to that. Only the less memorable campaign story and pacing is a slight blemish on what is overall a very worthy purchase. For fans, it’s familiarity with a bit more to tackle. For newcomers, there is enough here to get them hooked on the series. We’ve had the end of the series (so far), now we have the beginning. Prequels don’t get much better than this.