Many feel that God of War is a series which may soon be coming to an end. "Nothing changes," they say, and while that may be true to an extent, this time around Sony Santa Monica has been listening, adding a brutal multiplayer experience to the already stellar single player campaign. There is no denying that while past games in the series may have lacked a little substance, they certainly made up for it with both good looks and brutal combat. The same can be said for God of War: Ascension, except this time it's more brutal and better looking than ever.
The campaign, which we clocked in around eight hours, sees Kratos out to seek redemption for past sins and break the bond that Ares has placed on him. The game is set six months after Kratos was tricked into murdering his wife and child and about ten years before the original. Unusually for the series, throughout the game you'll see a more human side to Kratos as he delves into his past in order to understand just what happened to him. Don't worry though as he's still as brutal as ever, which the three fury's who are standing between him and the path to breaking his bond with Ares will later find out.
While the story is an interesting distraction, to be honest, Ascension is all about the combat and would you have it any other way? Throughout all of the game's 30 chapters one of the most striking things you'll notice is the sheer scale of everything around you. Throughout the entire game you'll find Kratos making his way through some of the most impressive environments on consoles today, with all that's standing between you and the end being plenty of enemies and a whole load of bloodshed.
As is usually the case, when it comes to combat Kratos is fairly lightweight at first, only having his Blades of Chaos to rely on in order to take down the enemies which stand in his path. To make up for this he can pick up other weapons from the environment such as swords, spears and hammers, which when combined with the blade attacks help him to dispose of the enemies a little quicker. These environmental weapons also have their own little bonuses, allowing you to use spears to stun or swords to harvest red orbs, which certainly comes in handy when it comes to upgrading Kratos' main weapons. As you progress Kratos will, of course, find the powers which make the Blades of Chaos a force to be reckoned with. These powers include the 'Fire of Ares,' 'Ice of Poseidon', 'Lighting of Zeus,' and 'Soul of Hades'. As you kill enemies and find red orb chests you'll be able to upgrade each of these abilities, making not only for some powerful melee attacks, but also allowing Kratos to cast some powerful and devastating magic based on the power of your choosing.
It has to be said that Ascension's combat does retain a sense of familiar, with Kratos constantly spilling blood and guts over the environments. There is however a sense of improvement to it all. Combat just feels slightly slicker and quicker, almost as if you are dancing the enemy to its death. It's great to see that Studio Santa Monica has taken time to smooth out combat, because although it was hardly bad in previous games, the time taken to make things smoother helps God of War: Ascension feel a lot more fun to spend time with.
Combat aside, the puzzles in God of War actually stand up to their name this time around. In past series there has never really been any head scratching moments, however this time, thanks to the inclusion of some pretty clever powers, I actually had to use my power of logic. Three new powers have been added in total, 'The Amulet of Uroborus', 'The Oath Stone of Orkis', and 'The Eyes of Truth'. These powers all add some interesting elements to the game, for instance 'The Amulet of Uroborus' allows you to decay or heal parts of the environment. This results in some mind bending puzzles as you try to mend bridges and large mechanisms in order to progress further. There was certainly a few moments when I just didn't have a clue how to proceed, although perseverance eventually helped me through. The same can be said for 'The Oath Stone of Orkis', which allows Kratos to split himself in two (handy for escaping enemies) and also 'The Eyes of Truth' which allows Kratos to break through an otherwise unbreakable darkness. These three powers really add a lot to the game and prove that Ascension is more than just blood and guts, although to be fair the majority of it still is.
There is so much more to say about the single player, be it the massive boss fights or the moments where your jaw just hits the floor thanks to some of the sights you will see throughout the game, however this is a review, not a walkthrough and given the positive nature of what I've have written so far, I'm pretty confident that you'll want to find out more for yourself.
Away from the single player campaign, in a series first, God of War: Ascension dips its toes into the bloody waters of multiplayer, but far from being a tacked on clone of a game, God of War's multiplayer is as fun and brutal as the main game itself. In a way the multiplayer does mimic the classic God of War style, using moves identical to the campaign with light and heavy attacks, blocking, counters and parrying, though rather than an easy to figure out attack pattern from an AI you are now fighting against unpredictable human players online. Starting with the weapon and powers ordained to you by your God of choice, you are more than welcome to swap between others once you have leveled up and unlocked them. You are also party to some other more powerful attacks, allowing you to make use of the powers of your chosen God to cast havoc down on those who stand in your way.
The modes on offer include a whole mixed bag of goodness, from the Favour of the Gods which sees four players or a team of four versus four head into some very different arenas. Many of the four player matches I took place in were based in the Forum of Hercules, a simple round arena with spikes on the walls where Hercules watches over you. The aim is simple, keep on killing the rivals until you earn enough souls to win. There are plenty of other arenas too, many of which you can use to your advantage to knock your opponents into pits, off the edge or onto the aforementioned spikes on the walls, resulting in an instant kill. You can even hitch a ride and take control of spawning enemies on occasion, allowing you to cause carnage in the arena.
Elsewhere, other modes involve Match of Champions which is a Free-for-All mode in which every kill earns favour. There is also a classic Capture the Flag mode, while co-op fans will also be happy thanks to the inclusion of Trial of the Gods, a two player co-op mode which has you racing against time, with kills being your only ally to keep the clock on your side.
As mentioned you will be able to upgrade your character thanks to a very deep and rewarding experience system which has you earning points for many different reasons like kills, winning or just participating. With each rank you achieve you'll be able to earn new items such as lower and upper body armour and also helmets, items, magic and relics. This will allow you to equip your warrior with powerful items which can help turn any match in your favour, especially if you aren't the greatest fighter in the arena.
It has to be said that the multiplayer feels even more brutal than the single player at times. The action is very frantic and often you'll find yourself in a brutal and fast paced fight to the death. It's absolutely fantastic if truth be told and a brilliant introduction to multiplayer in the God of War series.
Strikingly beautiful is perhaps not the description you'd often associate with the bloody and brutal world of Kratos, but it'll be as good a description as any once you witness the magic that Sony's Santa Monica studio has once again worked on this aging series. Yes God of War is back with a bang and Kratos has never looked so serious. I don't know what it is with these games, but as soon as I picked up God of War: Ascension for the first time I just couldn't put it down until the credits rolled. That's the sign of a great game and Ascension has great written all over it.
(Version Tested: PS3)
- This is one stunning looking game
- Brutal fast paced action
- Brilliant original feeling multiplayer
- Excellent use of weaponry
- Can feel a little repetitive at times