Platform | Release Date
PS3 | March 12, 2013
Developed by SCE Santa Monica
Published by Sony Computer Entertainment
Vengeance is born in the fires of betrayal in this prequel to the best-selling God of War franchise. Six months have passed since Kratos stood over the bodies of his wife and child, his hands stained with their blood – tricked by Ares into murdering the only people he ever loved. Swearing to avenge them, Kratos broke the blood oath that bound him to Ares, but oaths to Olympus are not so easily broken… Sentenced to an eternity chained within a prison for the living damned, Kratos battles insanity at the hands of the Furies. He will be tested as he seeks freedom, redemption for his sins, and the clarity to avenge his family.
It gets better.
In medias res. That’s Latin. It does not translate to “It gets better,” it means “into the middle of things.” This is how God of War Ascension begins. Confused, chained, and groggy, Kratos awakes with no memories of how he arrived a prisoner of the Furies. His first instinct is to start killing things. That’s not entirely out of his character. The Furies, however, are acting out of character; punishing him for breaking an oath he hasn’t broken yet. These creatures of Greek myth traditionally seek out and punish those that have killed a family member, which Kratos has done previously to this prequel (see: a flashback God of War 1 that occurs chronologically right before Ascension). Here they seek to punish Kratos for breaking his oath to Ares, but the punishment begins during the contemplation stage and before Kratos has taken one step towards his revenge against the god. In fact, nightmare visions caused by the Furies are part of what drive Kratos towards this goal.
Then you meet a really tough looking fellow prisoner and he gets teleported away by the gods. After that you experience a flashback. For those keeping track, you are now experiencing a prequel in the prequel: a prequelception. Don’t worry if you’re confused, it gets better.
But not before it gets worse. The beginning of God of War Ascension is an out of context, emotionless roller coaster ride. You fight something large, it turns into something larger, and then you encounter familiar scripted moments. These specific moments are reused from previous God of War titles, and play out verbatim, only with a different coat of paint. One example early in the game is from God of War 3‘s Daedalus chamber spinning 90 degrees with you inside of it, fighting a wave of enemies with each spin. In Ascension’s first level, it is a normal prison cell being held by a giant with a hundred arms, and with each twist you fight a wave of enemies. You’ll spot more as you embark on this adventure.
During the flashback that begins an hour into your adventure, you get the first bit of story explaining what is going on. A shadowy man gives Kratos some trinkets, tells him the Furies (which he hasn’t met yet) are causing his madness, and that he must defeat them to regain his sanity. We’re off to see the Oracle. For reasons.
The first half of the game is all about walking down a yellow brick road and occasionally spattering it with blood. It is amongst the worst God of War you’ll have ever played. The combat encounters are boring and poorly designed. The environments aren’t that interesting. There is no known motivation for anything! You’re assumedly making progress towards the Oracle, but don’t really know why you are walking in a particular direction other than because it’s the path before you. There’s very little exploration, even for a God of War title. I found 9 out of the 10 hidden items in the game without a walkthrough on my first playthrough.
In previous titles, Kratos was angry. For as much gruff as he’s given, he was an interesting character in the original God of War. He was less about killing everything and more about ‘taking you with me!’ He was as suicidal as he was vengeful; pursuing the power to kill a god, but also seeking a good death for his own crimes. Here, I have no idea why Kratos wants to visit the Oracle. Orkos, the shadowy figure that sent you on this quest, already knows everything the Oracle is going to tell him. Maybe Kratos wouldn’t have believed it from him? Whatever. Her words lead Kratos to the second half of the game: where he needs to retrieve her eyes.
She didn’t have those on her at the time. They had recently been removed.
Things significantly improve as Kratos travels to island of Delos. It starts off normally enough, but soon you are navigating a giant statue of Apollo. While smaller in gaming hourage than the Temple of Pandora or the Island of Creation, the statue and its many levels (each named after the body part) comprise the single large dungeon you’ll explore in Ascension. In fact, everything improves once you reach Apollo’s Ribs. The story beats become more frequent, there’s a greater feeling of continuity between combat arenas, the enemy encounters feel less forced, and the puzzles and transversal become fun. It’s like a whole new, polished game. I recognized the opening areas of Apollo’s feet from some of the earliest footage they showed of Ascension, so I might assume this island was designed or finished first. Besides a hiccup (difficulty spike) during the Trials of Archimedes, Delos is great God of War gaming. It has one of the better boss fights of the entire series, and the series is known for its boss fights.
Or you could skip all of this and play the multiplayer. Remember that buff prisoner you met back at the start? He’s you, in multiplayer. Saved by the gods, you pledge allegiance and gain a class: Fighter, Tank, Rogue, or Wizard. You can switch at any time between rounds and each levels up independently. Each earns perks and abilities and can equip different gear. A lot of the questionable balance changes made to single player, like limited use items and weapons, make a ton of sense in this environment. They were balanced for multiplayer and were carried over into single player. Sprinting, an emphasis on cooldown abilities, capturing territories — it’s all here.
I must stress that I deeply respect Ascension for introducing a distinctly unique multiplayer mode. The camera, the pacing of the combat, and player mobility all feels like God of War and it doesn’t offer a direct parallel to most multiplayer games you’ve likely played. If I had to draw one, it might be closer to Death Row for the Xbox than Powerstone, but with more combos, territory domination, and less ultimate death frisbee. It’s frantic, violent, and constant. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many maps or play styles, and the combat requires memorizing a few specific dial-a-combos.
I’ve only played a few hours and I feel like there’s not much more to see. It’s slightly sloppy combat where 2 on 1 almost always win. Worse, it combines Call of Duty’s grinding XP for ability unlocks while also requiring Quake’s memorization of power weapon spawn timers. As a part of a stronger package, it would have made a great experiment and a fun diversion. Next to a half-baked campaign, the multiplayer is not sufficiently competent to carry this package.
God of War Ascension is confused, repetitive, directed, amazing, and experimental. It heralds the end of the generation, but itself is a story of the beginning. Both Alpha and Omega. How appropriate.