Kratos has been through some rough times. Accidentally murdering his own wife and daughter made him the angry God as who we played through a total of five games. After the climax of God of War III there wasn’t much room for future titles, so it’s prequel time again ala Chains of Olympus, but now with even more of an emotional touch showing Kratos’ soft side, or at least that’s the plan.
God of War: Ascension is the prequel of all prequels. The genuine beginning of how Kratos started to despise the God Ares and how he felt knowing the nightmares of his loved ones were in his mind to stay. The story begins when Kratos is being held captive by the sisters of fury, who were born from an ancient war before the Gods and Titans even existed. Now they are the oath keepers, who make sure nobody breaks their oath. You break the oath to a God, the furies will come after and punish you for all eternity. Surprisingly, Kratos breaking his oath to Ares, made him a high priority target.
After essentially escaping captivity, the game uses multiple flashback sequences detailing Kratos’ journey from two weeks ago to the present day. This gives the game a great excuse for jumping from a location to another and concentrate on the great pacing that the game has to offer. Kratos indeed seems more human than ever before. Trying to remember the past when his family was still alive as the sisters of fury try to consume his mind, diminishing his potential to threaten their plans with Ares. Ascension tries a lot with the story and to me I found it enjoyable, but I was more interested in its bloody combat, so how’s that?
Kratos still destroys his enemies fiercely with his signature Blades of Chaos, but unlike previous games, he will not acquire new weapons during the course of the game. Instead he will be given special powers for his blades from the Gods Ares, Poseidon, Hades and Zeus himself. Each God has it’s own strengths, special attacks and magic powers. For example Ares’ blades have a high damage, whereas Zeus’ is weaker, but more suitable for crowd control. Especially the magic powers from each God have their own appeal and they look absolutely wonderful, when Kratos puts his “I’m-gonna-kill-you-all” face on while wielding the magic.
Kratos’ moves list has taken a hit from previous games, but all the moves you have come to love are still there, with some tweaks to the “rage” meter. By continually killing enemies, the meter fills, but stop killing or getting hit will empty the meter. When the meter is full, it unlocks more powerful combos and a rage ability for each God’s specific weapon. This makes constantly attacking feel rewarding, but also forces the player to learn to block and evade at the right time to be efficient.
Kratos is also given three new and shiny magical items. Two of which can be used, in addition to the puzzles, in fights as well. An amulet which lets Kratos slow time and an oath stone that lets him make a double of himself for holding levers and/or standing on pressure plates. These items come to play at the latter half of the game and they make for great puzzle sequences. The puzzles are well made, with some really challenging you at times, but none becoming frustrating when you give them a little thought.
Every weapon and item can be upgraded for the better with red orbs, that you acquire from killing enemies, or by finding treasure chests scattered through the game. You can also upgrade your max health and magic by finding enough gorgon eyes and phoenix feathers. The chest are mostly straightforward, but sometimes keenly observing every corner will not hurt.
Being a prequel you will not have the chance of facing giant and literally epic bosses like the Gods from God of War III, but you will be confronted by a significant larger amount of basic minions and their slightly better armoured counterparts, who will be an annoyance to kill towards the end of the game. There’s always that dreaded “One wave too many” feel, especially towards the end with the “Trial of Archimedes”, just you wait. There are of course also the semi bosses, that bring variety to the minion enemies, consisting of the normal cyclops, centaurs, gorgons, but also some new enemies, that at first sight might make you laugh, but quickly will show their dangerous nature to you.
An honorable mention goes to the QTE’s. Addition to the normal “press button to execute”, enemies can be slaughtered with more of an interactive approach. After weakening the enemy enough you can eg. jump on a gorgon and slash its tail while dodging its stone gaze and after enough damage has been dealt, finish it with a gruesome and gore filled execution. Every enemy has its own execution moves and they never get old.
The most annoying aspect of Ascension is by far its camera. It’s still fixed and for the most part it works like it should, but on many occasions while battling multiple enemies on greatly build battlefields that are also mostly in motion, the camera pans away to show off its magnificent scale and scenery, which arguably are one of the best landscapes to date to be seen on the PS3, but it makes it harder for the player to see the action, resulting in cheap hits and eventually, deaths.
After finishing Ascension you can start a New Game+ or, for the first time in the series, go back to your favorite part via chapter select. You can also have fun unlocking special powers by finding godly possessions throughout the game, but you need to beat the game first until you can use them.
For the first time ever in the series, Ascension has a multiplayer component. It’s fun for a couple of games trying out the different modes from death matches to co-op action. You also have the basic customizing options for your character and different special attacks and powers, depending on which God you decide for at the start of your “career”. These spice things up a bit, but there’s really nothing that will keep your attention and make you play the multiplayer more aside from just testing it out.
God of War: Ascension tries to tell a new story to the saga in which it succeeds, but by limiting itself to be a prequel, it misses the little things that make GoW feel like a true God of War. The story is well told, combat is fun, and the levels in itself are a joy to explore, but instead of memorable fights the game pushes large amounts of generic enemy hordes against you over and over again and with the shaky camera, which too often deludes from the action, it doesn’t stand up to the greatness, the series is come to known for.
Game purchased by Reviewer
Images from Sony Europe PR