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God of War: Ascension Review: The Fall of a God?
God of War: Ascension is here! Kratos’ metamorphosis from noble warrior into fury intoxicated demigod is finally showcased on a home console, complete with its own frenzied multiplayer mode to boot. The game promises not only to bring multiplayer to the enormously popular series, but also to create a single player story, of the same caliber of its PS2/PS3 predecessors, in the same package. It sounds like a dream for any owner of a PS3, a must own title for sure. So why does this game feel like its PSP counterparts?
To be fair, I should probably make some comment of the multiplayer mode before I delve into the story portion of this review. The multiplayer is as much a refreshing breath from all of the shooters that have been flooding the market as it is fun. You play as a nameless warrior who, in a comical moment in the campaign, is saved from certain death by pledging his alliance to the gods. The player is allowed to choose to represent Zeus, Ares, Poseidon, or Hades. Each god offers its own unique strengths and thus different play styles. For example, playing aligned with Zeus will start you off with more magical damage and more magical defense, but physical damage and physical defense are much lower. On the contrary, playing as Poseidon provides a bonus to defense all around as well as survivability. Character building reminds me a lot of MOBA games, like League of Legends, that have become so popular recently. Unlocking different weapons, armor, magic powers, and trinkets offer various stat bonuses as well as different combat abilities. All of this together with the button mashing fever that God of War is known for produces a fairly solid and brutally fun multiplayer mode.
The campaign of God of War Ascension follows Kratos on the very start of his journey. The story doesn’t flow anywhere near where I expected. Instead of playing through that key moment where everything is turned on its head, the killing of Kratos’ family, and watching the train derail from there; the game starts after that fact. Kratos finds himself fleeing the Furies, three supernatural oath keepers, who aim to bring him back into the control of Ares. The biggest standout in this campaign is actually the lack of story. In all the previous God of War games the story was the largest, and only, part of the game. The campaigns always provided a substantial story that was as entertaining to watch as it was to play through. Ascension has Kratos running from one scene to the next, without much reason or direction, only stopping to take on hordes of enemies. In his other adventures, Kratos always had some motivation for his journey. Whether it was Athena pushing him towards redemption in the first installment or his own hatred and rage for the gods in the third, there was always a clear concise goal and reason for you to meet it. Here…not so much. It almost seems that the creators of the game sensed this lack of story and purpose, and attempted to simply amend this by ramping up the difficulty and number of enemy waves that come at the player in each encounter. If some of these crushingly hard encounters were dumbed down to a fair difficulty I would imagine that a good 4-5 hours would get cut out of the game, and that’s from a game that took me roughly 13 hours to play through.
Well the campaign isn’t all it should be but it’s still fun to play right? Well, kind of. Although the combat system is largely unchanged, some major transformations have taken place. A rage meter replaces the Wrath of the Gods/Titans meter. The way it works is as Kratos combos it builds; once it is filled Kratos can begin to preform most of his powerful combo attacks. Getting hit or taking damage will decrease your meter. This leaves you in a sticky situation. You can only perform your most powerful attacks when the meter is filled, however, because of the increased number of enemies and their difficulty, you can rarely use these in combat because of how often you are damaged. This often leaves players in a purgatory of mediocre attacks and a sense that your spent xp isn’t going towards very much. Instead of getting various different weapons and magical abilities, Ascension gives players “fury” abilities for each of the prevalent gods. These “fury” stances each offer a unique ability when your rage meter is filled as well as a magic ability. The problem here is that each magic power feels extremely underpowered in comparison to all of the other games, also each stance offers little more than aesthetic appeal. Combos change very minimally, and even though each stance offers a specific bonus for killing enemies in it, often times it is more beneficial and fun to do a brutal kill mini-game.
So, final verdict? I would say that Ascension is still definitely a God of War game, if you’re a fan you might get some quick enjoyment out of the single-player before you move onto the multiplayer aspect of the game. Despite all I’ve said it really is only a lot of small things that, together, drag this game down to the depths of the Aegean. The multiplayer is fast-paced and fun, a great change from the norm. Unfortunately the single player campaign, that the series has been revered for, is lacking in spirit and reason.