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Mini Review – God of War: Ascension Just Doesn’t Feel Right

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God of War: Ascension released a few weeks ago amongst a crowded winter video game lineup that featured some early game of the year candidates in Tomb Raider, BioShock Infinite, and Dead Space 3.  I had to pass over playing this game in favor of finishing some of the others that I mentioned, which is why I’m so late providing a review for it.  With that being said, I’ll spare you my usual long-winded video game review structure in favor of a minimalist version since it’s been out for a couple of weeks.

God of War: Ascension

7 out of 10 Buddhas

The Awesome

  • Somehow the violence has been amped up to even greater proportions
  • Great use of the PS3’s hardware capabilities
  • The chastised multiplayer is actually pretty fun

The Not so Awesome

  • Combat doesn’t feel like God of War
  • Ultimately pointless story in the franchise
  • The Trial of Archimedes

Buy or Rent: In my opinion this is a rental unless you’re an uber God of War fanboy

 

 The Awesome

Violence

The God of War franchise has always been known for its over-the-top brutal violence, and Ascension is no different.  In fact, it’s the goriest of the entire series.  Kratos is a one man war machine, and he makes the best use of his skill set in this game.  The quick time event enabled deaths of his enemies feature executions that a mental patient couldn’t even dream up.  Watching the organs of my fallen foes spill out of their body cavities never got old throughout the game’s 8-10 hour single-player campaign.

Someone is having a horrible day

 

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The level of detail added to these kill shots is phenomenal, and they may make gamers with a weak stomach wretch at the site of spilled intestines, or severed elephant-man brains oozing on their screens.  Game developers looking for inspiration in video game violence only need to look at God of War: Ascension for what they seek.  This game has perfected the finisher in a way that only Ed Boon and his NetherRealm team has produced in the Mortal Kombat fighting franchise.

Graphics

It’s a shame that the PS3 got off to such a rough start with both developers and fans alike, because it is really an impressive piece of hardware.  I’m a 360 guy if you must know, but I can’t deny the fact that the PS3 offers the best console graphics this generation when it comes to first-party titles like God of War: Ascension.

Kratos and his stained white skin have never looked so smooth.  The cutscenes in this game feature some beautifully rendered CGI graphics, and the in-game engine features visuals that are just as sharp.  The sheer size of some of the environments that Kratos comes across is mind blowing when you see them on your HDTV.  The same can be said for a few of the main bosses, who at times take up the same amount of space as a mountain that just so happens to want to smash you to pieces.

Kratos has never looked better killing rabbit-goat-men

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Excuse my inner-male-pig, but I must also comment that God of War: Ascension features some of the most lusciously rendered digital breasts that my perverted mind has ever seen.  There I said it, but you know you were thinking it!  It’s a fair critique when it comes to a God of War game, so I don’t feel that dirty expressing it.

Multiplayer

When Sony revealed that God of War: Ascension would feature a multiplayer mode many gamers cried foul over the move.  Both gamers and journalists alike felt that the God of War franchise has always been focused on a single player experience, so why would Ascension need it.  These same people felt that its inclusion only meant that time was being taken away from the single player campaign, which may result in a less than satisfactory God of War experience.  After playing Ascension I do think that its multiplayer mode hampered development on the campaign, but at the same time I actually found it to be pretty entertaining.

God of War: Ascension’s multiplayer mode is unlike most of the traditional game modes found in today’s generation of online games.  Rather than formulating an experience similar to the FPS juggernauts of COD and Halo, Santa Monica studios opted for a new take on competitive gaming.

The multiplayer matches are still based on two teams competing against each other, but the outcome isn’t dependent on a set number of kills.  Each match has objectives or locations to hold to earn favor from the Gods.  When a team earns enough favor they win.  It’s a simple concept that provides for all sorts of location based battles.  At any given moment in a match there will be pockets of fighting centered around these objectives, but at the same time there will be other players floating around the map cherry picking undefended locations, or just trying to use one of the built-in traps of death that each map features.

Shot of a multiplayer skirmish

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This simple gameplay formula makes it very easy for anyone to pick up a controller and join a match and actually compete in it.  It’s not like COD where noobs stick out like a sore thumb as veteran players systematically pick them apart with their time tested strategies, and more advanced load outs.  In my first match I came out on top without really knowing the strategies for doing so, which is something I appreciate greatly.  It may not make sense to have multiplayer in a God of War game, but I think its inclusion in Ascension is a worthy one, and it’s actually fun to play.

The Not so Awesome

Combat

The God of War franchise is know for its excellent combo-based combat, but Ascension features a new style of fighting that just doesn’t feel right.  Maybe it’s a by product of playing games like Batman Arkham City, or the recent Assassin’s Creed games, but I just felt like Kratos lost a step in his latest game.  It’s nearly impossible to get a solid chain of attacks going due to the fact that the parry mechanic is completely different than games past.  Any time I felt like I was building up to a nasty 100 hit combo, I’d get bumped in the back by an enemy AI, which would result in Kratos’ current string of moves being interrupted.  This not only stopped the massive combo from taking shape, but it also opened Kratos up to cheap shots from other enemy AI.

Due to this I started using strategies that either involved me just blindly mashing buttons in hopes of stunning enemies before they could mess with my mojo, or I would turn Kratos into a gymnast-warrior through overuse of the dodge mechanic.  For the first time in the franchise Kratos just didn’t feel like a badass Spartan warrior.  He should not even flinch around lesser enemy types, but in Ascension it just felt like even the weakest of foes could stop the soon-to-be God of War from doing what he does best – Brutally killing anyone and anything in his way!

Story

For all intents and purposes the story of God of War: Ascension is a pointless one at best.  To be honest with you this game really didn’t even need to exist considering that the events of God of War 3 sowed up Kratos’ story in a very definitive way.  I’m not a fool and know exactly why this game got developed (cash money), but with that being said I would’ve liked to have witnessed a better tale in the Kratos saga.

The story featured in Ascension takes place before any of the other games, so it’s the ultimate prequel to the five other entries in the franchise.  Unfortunately, it’s a tale that really doesn’t add anything to the lore of Kratos.  We already know why he’s a blood thirsty Spartan intent on bringing down the Gods due to their mistreatment of him.  The fact that he was held by the Furies for breaking his oath to Ares really didn’t expose any new details about Kratos’ past.

The Furies – Queens of Mean

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His journey through their prison of mental torture and physical anguish is a non-linear one that features so many flashbacks and forwards, that you’ll never really know which timeline you’re currently playing in.  There isn’t any time travel going on, rather the story is told in chunks that take place before and after Kratos is captured by the Furies for breaking his oath to the current God of War.  I just didn’t find it to be that interesting, and it definitely didn’t reveal anything about the character of Kratos that we didn’t already know.

Trial of Archimedes

This particular chapter in the game takes place very close to the end, and it’s hands down the most difficult section in the game.  I would never criticize a game for being too tough, but I can’t stand levels like this that require you to completely change how you’ve played a game for nearly the entire experience before it.  This nightmare of a level features three consecutive waves of enemies that all need to be vanquished before Kratos can move on.  The catch is that if you die during any of these waves, you have to restart the entire chapter all over again.  There are no checkpoints in between waves, so if you make one wrong move you could lose upwards of 10 minutes or more of back breaking gameplay in an instant.

I can’t stand games that have poorly placed checkpoints, especially when it results in the need to replay a large portion of a level if you fail.  The Trial of Archimedes does exactly this, and its difficulty is unlike anything you have faced prior to it.  Most video games feature challenges throughout the entire experience that all build towards the final showdown.  These preliminary battles help you learn the skills needed to beat future bosses, and open up your eyes to strategies that you may need to succeed later on in the game.  This is not the case with this particular section in God of War: Ascension, and it gets so frustrating that it’ll make you consider quitting the game.

If you’re a designer and want to challenge gamers, there’s better ways to do it than not including checkpoints after battles that can take more than 10 minutes to complete.  This trial put my allegiance to God of War in question, and it definitely hampered the overall experience.

Final Thoughts

God of War: Ascension is an entry in the series that probably never needed to exist.  Its story is meaningless to the overall arch of the franchise, and it features so many time changes that it’ll leave you wondering what point in Kratos’ history you’re playing through.  The combat feels off, which makes Kratos feel more human than God-like.  Ascension does sport some awesome looking visuals, which produce some of the goriest death scenes in gaming, but they’re not enough to make this game a must-play.  The unique multiplayer is a fun addition to the game, but it doesn’t make God of War: Ascension that much better.

When the credits finally rolled and I had to decide on a review score, I couldn’t give it anymore than 7 out of 10 Buddhas.  I would only recommend buying it if you’re a die hard fan of the God of War series, because it doesn’t feature enough postive aspects to be considered a game that all gamers should play in 2013.  You’ve been hoping Kratos doesn’t slash my throat for knocking his latest game…

The reviewer paid for their own copy of this game for review purposes on the PS3 platform.

[#ff entbuddha] “Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”

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Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of EntertainmentBuddha.com where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he's not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB's Star Wars Time podcast show.