Game: God of War: Ascension
Publisher/Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment/SCE Santa Monica Studio
Describe This Game in Three Words: Demigod at best.
To see what I thought about the multiplayer mode in beta-testing, click here.
Plot Synopsis: Set before the first God of War, Ascension follows Kratos as he wages war against the Furies for breaking his blood oath to Ares after the god of war tricked him into murdering his family. Now the most powerful spirits of Greek mythology wait for the Ghost of Sparta.
Up Up: God of War games are kind of like Mario games in a way. They don't really change a whole lot because they don't really need to. The people behind Kratos know their audience, and that audience wants to see the Spartan stride across a beautiful and improbable ancient world brutally massacring monsters and doing terrible things, but being conflicted about it. At the end of the day, for Kratos it's all "Dear Diary...today I fucked bitches and killed gods." That's how he rolls.
The series has never looked better, with the fantastical Temple of Delphi and the Prison of the Damned coming to life in an unbelievable way. Even in a series known for creating the greatest landscapes in gaming, Ascension outdoes itself to the point that it's hard to believe you're not watching a multimillion-dollar animated feature.
All of what you love about God of War is there in the gameplay. Kratos wields the blades of chaos same as ever, and the opening boss fights is truly magnificent. As usual, the game pulls out all the stops in the first go-round, pitting the Ghost of Sparta against the Hecatonchires. It's a huge, Cronus-esque fight with some absolutely disturbing imagery right out of The Thing. In the end, you win with the greatest game of quit-hitting-yourself ever devised. Classic Kratos, and fun as Hades.
Down, Down: That said, the game feels curiously phoned in sometimes. It's severely lacking in the tiny little personal touches that helped keep the otherwise endless massacre engaging. It's almost like the makers didn't want to waste money on voice actors, and within the first six hours of play you'll have little to no real storyline development at all. For a game where we already know the ending from the get-go, being a prequel and all, that really hurts. Where's Ascension's version of the Boat Captain who is Kratos' constant victim, or the sardonic wit of the Body Burner? Instead, all we have are little notes scattered through the game. Frankly, if I wasn't already intimately familiar with the series' story I wouldn't have cared about anything happening at all.
There's also the unavoidable fact that by this point, we're scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of Greek mythology. Aegaeon is badass, but I'm willing to bet only one out of a thousand readers knows who he is without Wikipedia. The Furies are fine antagonists, sure, but didn't we already pretty much take this route when Kratos fought the Fates in God of War II? If the series is to continue, it's time to explore a new mythology. Kratos has already killed all the good Greek heroes and monsters.
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With the battle against Aegaeon aside, the boss battles are also no great feat. It's mostly an endless stream of mini-bosses from previous games, with none being particularly inspiring. There's nothing that really gets the blood boiling like that armored minotaur fight in the first game, and the endless snake puzzle on the road to Delphi is a poor substitute for the Temple of Pandora.
Left, Right, Left, Right: Moving Kratos hasn't changed much since the PS2 days, and Ascension doesn't really add any new wrinkles. The climbing mechanic is annoying fussy, and by the tenth time you die climbing the wall while a big meat grinder comes towards you you will be cursing the controls. That's God of War for you, though. The puzzles are all split second timing, and you'll just have to get perfect at it to advance.
B, A: God of War III left off on a cliffhanger. Kratos looked deader than ever before, and that's saying something, but his body was gone. To pick up in a prequel seems sort of odd... as if no one knew what to do next. I suspect that no one wants to see what happens when we do God of War without Kratos, but you'd better learn eventually. You can only survive catastrophic injury so many times before no one cares anymore.
Start?: If you've played the first three God of War games, do not skip this one. It adds some real humanity to Kratos, and it's really got some tremendous art. Of the four main series games, though, it probably ranks third just ahead of III. Its haphazard conception and focus on multiplayer has cost the main story some depth. Still, it's Kratos, and that's always good, bloody fun.