The tragic tale of Kratos ascended to the limelight first on the PS2, and grew to be considered as a Playstation All-Star, and while his time hasn’t been blemish free, his games to this point have all been considered enjoyable, if bloody, tiptoes through intestines. The last escapade of the Ghost of Sparta on consoles is still considered one of the best visual displays on the PS3, as well as a great conclusion to the trilogy. This makes it all the more unfortunate that while Ascension lifts the visuals to an amazing level, the rest of the game nosedives straight into mediocrity.
When we begin, we begin around the end, with Kratos imprisoned by the furies, Oath keepers bound to none other than their ideas of right and wrong. Rebelling against his blood oath to Ares has them on the warpath and out for Kratos’ blood. Eventually, he breaks free and gives chase through the prison, intent on killing the sisters and freeing himself from his bond to the god of war. Following the status quo with a rather awe inspiring opening, we flash back two weeks and begin the story from it’s inception. While the odd story structure doesn’t detract from the experience, it’s not exactly evenly split between the present and the past, leaving the exact point of doing so under question.
Kratos, before he became consumed by rage is a more relatable character, but the rest of the characters surrounding him, including an ally that guides Kratos toward his goals aren’t even introduced, leaving the only source of mystery in the story figuring out exactly who the hell this shadow guy is and why Kratos is interacting with him. The game is a side story, so it goes without saying that nothing integral really happens, but for what a God of War story is worth, it has it’s hiccups.
God of War combat has always been brutal, flowing and fast paced, especially once the chains are leveled up in previous entries. It’s still in here somewhere, and while technical enhancements such as grappling opens up the possibilities, the new rage meter, and everything it’s tied to holds back combat constantly to the point of tedium, limiting the once flowing combat to the choppiness only seen in the opening hours in previous games. This meter is typically slow to build, and quick to drain once hit with a cheap, unavoidable attack.
If you manage to gain and keep a charge in this meter, your full range of abilities becomes available, and you have access to a single use secondary magic attack that will once again drain your meter. It’s a mechanic that is rarely rewarding and frequently frustrating, holding you back in most situations when the enemy variety is stacked against you. This frustration permeates the whole game, making enemy encounters an event to be dreaded rather than an exhilarating, eye popping show of brutal carnage. On top of everything, an end game segment stacks the odds so far against you as to be almost deal breaking, leaving you back at the bottom of three back to back, incredibly difficult battles should you fail at any point during them.
Downtime between combat is much more satisfying. Set piece events are amazing to behold and the time manipulation puzzles are difficult enough to provide a really feeling of accomplishment when you figure out what to do, without being impenetrable to someone willing to spend time playing with the elements involved.
These are also some of the few times the camera isn’t completely in the way. For a series that takes camera control completely away from the player, it’s all the more important that the designer is showing the player exactly what they need to see at all times. This hasn’t been a problem in previous games, and here you’ll have sections where the camera will be so zoomed out, you won’t be able to see the single point of interaction you need to use to continue, which is only compounded by the tiny indicator that something needs to be done in the first place. There are even sections of the game where the camera will zoom so far out that you can’t tell where Kratos is, much less the enemies in the middle of combat. This is simply sloppy game design and when this piles on top of the annoyances already in combat, it won’t be Kratos doing the raging. It’s cinema over gameplay where it should never belong, and it all drags the whole game down with it.
Visually, God of War has returned to reclaim it’s place among the best looking PS3 games. the level of detail in the environments and character models is astounding, and every gory detail of the foes foolish enough to wander in range of the chains. Buckets of blood spill over the spartan with visceral splatters and the spilling of entrails. elemental effects applied to the blades come with their own splashes to the carnage. It’s visually stunning, especially considering the hardware it’s running on is far over the hill.
To speak briefly of the multiplayer, it is the biggest insult to the game. Entering it, your asked to align yourself with a god, and your choice helps guide your abilities. Hades has an affinity for stealth and sneaking away from combat, Poseidon is a support class, Zeus excels in elemental attacks and Ares in pure physical combat. Your custom avatar doesn’t quite have the breath of attacks and combos that Kratos has with a full rage bar, but it isn’t limited by the rage bar either. Game modes are mostly variations on territory control and capture the flag, with a lesser emphasis on deathmatch. Arenas are well designed and capture a classic hack and slash feel. It’s better, and that’s the real kicker. It’s clear the single player suffered for it, and only time will tell if the community sticks around long enough to make the effort worth the cost.
At the end of the day, even if Multiplayer is passable, and the puzzles are well executed, Kratos doesn’t so much ascend here and fall flat on his face. God of War is still somewhere under this terrible disappointment, but misguided new mechanics and sloppy direction bury the spartan so deep, not even Zeus himself can redeem this tale.