Kratos' last slice...
God of War has been around the gaming scene for, well ever. It seems like the Greek inspired action brawler has become better and better each instalment. Now we're onto the next chapter in Kratos' tale...only this time it's a prequel.
It is also rather good.
Set in the early years of Kratos' life, he is captured and imprisoned by the Furies for breaking his pact with the God of War. Kratos escapes and thus begins to murder his way righteously across the story from point A to B killing swathes of enemies along the way, murdering bosses and generally following the story formula of previous God of War titles. The story in this one is pretty good and we're not going to go into details - sorry.
The more things change, the more they stay the same is an old saying - one that is thankfully proven wrong in the game, many of the changes are cosmetic in nature and many are polished iterations of previous game mechanics. These changes come thick and fast in terms of gameplay. The quick-time events have been sharpened up and extended to some truly epic boss fights. There are sliding sections where Kratos needs to dodge various environmental elements. Kratos' combat system has been smoothed out and the latest instalment features satisfying combat and great visceral action.
Kratos has a rage meter which fills as he's proactive in combat, dishes out combos and brutalises foes. Once it hits full then he becomes a wrecking-ball of destructive power and his attacks open up with new moves and even more devastating damage. The old magical power types make a return along with a few others we won't spoil. There's the usual weapon power-up system where you can feed the meter to improve Kratos' various blades and so forth.
The new combat system feels as though it's more about button bashing than any kind of tactical thinking, to begin with. Which is fine, this is what the game does best...crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you and hearing the lamentations of your fingers as they press buttons rapidly to execute bigger enemies in gory quick-time mini-events. That said, as the game opens up and Kratos gains more options your tactical move arsenal increases.
Once a decidedly weak Kratos is powered up and the game progresses, it gains a lot of familiar God of War action. Fans should delight in some of the more ott attacks and powers as well as weapons, there's a lot to love here and whilst it does feel toned down compared to 3, this is a necessary evil - since it is a prequel and Kratos hasn't yet challenged the mighty Ares, Zeus or killed his way through Titan and god alike.
Puzzles make a welcome return and there's a plethora of secrets and chests to obtain, packed with orbs and the health/magic boosting items which have been a staple of the series since the beginning. There are some truly mind-blowing set pieces in Ascension and the boss battles are again a highlight of the series, keeping Kratos (and the player) on their toes later on in the game. Yet later on it doesn't feel as though the game pushes you to go beyond a few combos. You can if you want exploit the new combat system to create tactical openings, but it seems to be easier just to keep to what you know and bust out a few powerful moves.
Perhaps depending on the difficultly, default being pretty easy - there's more challenge to be had in the game. Playing harder difficulties does tend to bring down Kratos quicker than in normal mode and the slight shaving of his health bar becomes a serious danger. It all depends on how you want to play and if you're looking for story over action.
We found it fun though, that's what really matters.
Ascension pushes the visual fidelity of the series to new heights and crafts a gorgeous take on Kratos' world. It is truly a lovely looking game and the whole thing rips along even when there are dozens of enemies on screen at once, magical powers and special effects galore. It doesn't skip a frame and renders a butter-smooth experience which will delight the gore-junkies out there.
Ascension pushes the boat out when it comes to fluid combat animations, the bar is set high and when the big fights roll in and the mini-encounters kick off it's a really impressive suite of moves. Kratos handles fighting like no other video game character and his personality comes through in his combat animations. Likewise there's a good level of animation given to the non-combat portions of the game and the cut-scenes are superbly done.
Ascension plays with physics here and there, mostly in terms of combat and combo weight/feel in terms of blows. That's about it though really.
There are various attack patterns employed by the smallest mook to the largest boss, they are well implemented and provide you with the best option for tactical thinking later on. Especially when the mini-event creatures appear and you can use them to regain health and magic. We have no problems with the AI; it works as it should do.
Good solid sound design keeps the game immersion high. The audio suite in Ascension is packed with the sounds of battle, the sounds of conflict and the ambient spot effects we've come to know and love from the series.
Ascension's score is a solid one and it has a great sweeping momentum to it which matches the onscreen action perfectly.
Ah Kratos' tones, so familiar and so beloved by fans of the series. Yes, there's nothing wrong with the voice acting in the game at all, all the voice actors do a great job on their lines - so moving on.
A good script accompanies the action, with some really solid lines and great verbal moments to match.
Ah the inevitable, if polished additional multiplayer. XP and grind-heavy with arenas packed to the hilt with tricks and traps. There are a slew of weapons, magic, items and so on to unlock as you rise through the ranks slaughtering your foes in death-match style game modes. There's even a cooperative and solo horde mode to keep your interest beyond the robust single player and story. Multiplayer just really didn't keep us all that interested beyond the first few fights and it seems very rock/paper/scissors with attacks and defences, especially when you meet more powerful players armed to the teeth with their best equipment.
It is a fun diversion, but nothing great or innovative beyond that.
Blood soaked farewell
This is a good way to go out on a series until the next gen, which is just around the corner. It's a solid game and worth getting if you're a fan.