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Praying for change in new God of War
Mar 15, 2013
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
If only Kratos were a little more approachable, someone, somewhere, would be a bit more willing to tap him politely on the shoulder and tell him he needs to change things up a bit. With God of War: Ascension, a prequel to the PlayStation trilogy, it's not just the story that's regressing, it's the gameplay.
If you look at the most enduring video game series over the past few decades, you'll notice that the majority of them stay true to their gameplay roots, while forging ahead with changes that help keep things fresh.
Consider series like Halo, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., or Street Fighter - despite massive advancements in technology, they're still all quite similar to their original iterations.
The latest God of War entry is a good game based on titles that are for the most part astounding, but despite the usual massive setpieces, gorgeous graphics, and mind-bending puzzles, there's not much beyond those things that allows Ascension to - pardon the pun - rise above its predecessors.
The game takes place before the original God of War. Famous anti-hero Kratos is not yet a god, but he has already formed a pact - and broken it - with the original god of war, Ares. Kratos is now being hunted by the Furies - a set of three sisters who don't take too kindly to broken promises, regardless of the circumstances. So what if Ares tricked Kratos into killing his wife and only child, right?
On your way to seek vengeance and the truth and freedom and whatever, players will do what they've always done in this series, and that is use Kratos' Blades of Chaos to cut through all sorts of horrific baddies, typically in the bloodiest ways one can imagine.
Many people have made the mistake of treating games in the God of War series as hack 'n slashers, and while you do a whole lot of that, there's a method to the madness onscreen. In Ascension, the difficulty is ramped up, but it doesn't make the game any better.
Developer Santa Monica Studio has made numerous small changes that make for combat that feels very different. For instance, instead of being given different weapons, Kratos only uses the Blades of Chaos, but as the game progresses, he'll earn four different powers for them - Zeus' electricity, Poseidon's ice, Ares' fire, and Hades' souls.
Although each power has its own positives and negatives, and some work better against certain enemies than others, it's entirely plausible to power up one weapon that suits you best, and use it throughout the game.
Each power has its own magic ability, but getting magic isn't easy. The upgrade system is back in this game, but magic is the last upgrade available for each power, so you'll have to spend the maximum amount of upgrade points in order to get your magic ability.
The rage meter has also been changed. You still have a meter that fills up as you land attacks on enemies, but in Ascension, you'll start losing whatever rage you've accumulated whenever you get hit by an enemy.
It takes some getting used to, but the most frustrating part is that it isn't very clear when your rage meter is ready to be activated. Countless times while playing, I would glance down to the bottom right of the screen to see what my rage meter was at, only to get hit and have to start from scratch. The player could always guess at when they think it's full, but if it's not, and you click in the L3 button, you're likely to pull off the useless dash move that was added into this game.
And then there's parrying. In past games, you pull this off by simply tapping the L1 button. Time it right, and you'll stun the enemy and open them up for a devastating attack. In Ascension, parrying is done by holding L1 and tapping the X-button. It may seem like a small change, but it noticeably affects the flow of battles.
And there is little flow to speak of, because it seems the developers decided to throw massive waves of enemies on the screen at a time in order to ramp up the aforementioned difficulty. It's not that the skirmishes are impossible; they're just not particularly fun like they were in past God of War games.
Boss battles are certainly front and centre in Ascension, but they, too, are missing that epic feel found in past games in the series. Quick time events have always been a part of the God of War franchise, but they feel slightly overused in Ascension.
Not only that, but few of these boss battles are very memorable. I can still remember, with utter delight, virtually every boss in God of War III - a game that was released three years ago - because they were absolutely phenomenal. A day after watching the final credits, and I'm almost stifling a yawn thinking about the bosses I can remember in Ascension.
For a game with 'God' in the title, you better be ready ahead of time for a lack of deities showing up anywhere at all.
It certainly isn't all bad. There are some thrilling - if simplistic - platforming sections, and the game looks absolutely gorgeous. The sound, meanwhile, is absolutely superb. It never gets old hearing the sound of tortured souls screaming as you whip around the Blades of Chaos imbibed with Hades' powers.
The new enemies, such as the elephant-like Juggernaut (a.k.a. The Elephant Dude), and the Fire Talos, are not just tough, they're legitimately fearsome. They're aggressive and smart, and the screams, shrieks, howls, and other sounds they emit are enough to get just about any player to mash that R2 button to activate magic.
Puzzles, as expected, are back in Ascension, and while they're generally enjoyable, there are too many of them added to the second half of the game, slowing down the overall pace noticeably.
As for that time-altering power Kratos acquires that was shown off at the 2012 E3 demo, it isn't nearly as awesome as you might have imagined. Only very specific sections of a few environments can be altered, and you'll know what those sections are every time you get close to them thanks to impossible-to-miss on-screen prompts.
One big change that Santa Monica Studio should be commended for is something not even tied to the campaign. For the first time ever in the God of War series, there is a multiplayer portion to help keep the disc in gamers' PS3's.
Players offer their allegiance to one of four gods, and from then on, use those powers as they fight in typical God of War fashion - violently - in several arenas in multiple game modes.
And honestly, the multiplayer ain't half bad.
Games can hold up to eight players, and while the game modes are nothing we haven't seen countless times before, they all get that God of War flavour to make things a little more unique.
For instance, in Team Favor of the Gods, players are tasked with earning a set amount of points in order to win, and those points can be accumulated in numerous ways. You can open red orb boxes, you can capture altars by standing inside them, and on one map, you can even kill a massive titan.
Killing players isn't always just a matter of hacking away in close quarters, either. Each map has environmental hazards, many of which can be activated and controlled by players. One map, for instance, lets you shoot death rays from the eyes of a massive gorgon. Another map allows you to set fire to the very ground enemies walk on. It keeps things interesting, and is especially great for new players who simply aren't that great at 1-on-1 combat.
Speaking of which, the combat is deeper than just mashing one button, but it's nearly impossible to pull off advanced moves when you're up against two foes. Juggling-type combos that seem impossible to get out of happen a little too often, and when all eight players happen to get together in one spot - forget about it. Just mash everything and hope you make it out alive.
The upgrade system is what you'd expect in any multiplayer game in 2013. You'll earn overall experience points after each match - and level up quickly and often - but you'll also power up everything you're equipped with, whether it's your armor, weapon, or special items. The customization choices aren't exactly mind-boggling, but there's just enough there to keep things interesting as you level up.
There is also a one- or two-player co-op horde mode, but while it's a lot of fun, it's bogged down by a decidedly unforgiving timer. You start off with two minutes in which to get past a round, earning extra time for things like pulling off violent kills or opening red chests, but it's all too easy running out of time once you reach a miniboss.
It's easy to think players have simply been spoiled by the God of War series up to this point; that had Ascension been released before God of War III, for instance, gamers would be blown away by the prequel.
While that could be argued until the harpies come home, Ascension is simply missing that certain something that past games in the series possessed. Santa Monica Studio has thrown in a few changes that barely register, and the ones that do stand out, do so for the wrong reasons.
There's enough good in Ascension to compel hardcore fans of the series to play through to the end, and the multiplayer is a solid enough offering for those looking for something different from twitchy first person shooters. Still, the game is a big step down from those that came before it, and it's proof that change isn't just good, it's crucial.
God of War: Ascension
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