God of War: Ascension is a return to Sony Santa Monica’s familiar hack-and-slash action series. However, with God of War 3 raising the bar so high and closing the book on Kratos’ journey of revenge, Ascension sorely lacks the marvel of the previous games. With little new territory to cover, players are placed in an all-too-familiar journey, with Kratos once again violently dismembering anything in his path.
Ascension doesn’t stray far from the God of War formula, as evidenced by the combat system. Perhaps the biggest twist is that Kratos now lives and dies by the Blades, instead of utilizing a full arsenal of weapons. In addition, the Blades can be upgraded with different elements of the gods–the fire of Ares, the ice of Poseidon, the lightning of Zeus, and the soul of Hades. The elements do about the same amount of damage, but allow players to adapt their play styles. Ice, for example, can freeze surrounding enemies and leave them open for punishing combos, while Soul can unleash the damned souls of Tartarus to nail surrounding foes or juggle airborne enemies.
Puzzle-solving returns in Ascension as well, albeit in a frustrating way. The puzzles are frustrating, with little help offered upon hitting a wall. This is especially unforgiving when facing puzzles that require several steps, some requiring you to start over from the very beginning should you fail. With several of these moments scattered over the course of the story, I wasted hours simply not having fun.
Quick time events return in full-force as well, with Ascension refusing to budge from the franchise’s reliance on the antiquated gameplay mechanic. QTEs most often come into play during platforming sequences, whether they be moments you’re sliding down a building, or cliff-jumping Prince of Persia-style. Expect to see the “YOU ARE DEAD” screen an awful lot as you repeatedly memorize these many sequences.
Of course, being a God of War game means more than having a lot of QTEs. The franchise has always been a graphics showcase, and Ascension is no different. The environments are mind-blowingly detailed. Unfortunately, Ascension would like you to appreciate its environments so much, that combat is sometimes obscured through a series of wide-angle camera shots. For example, while riding a giant snake, the camera panned out to show the beautiful architecture of the Temple of Delphi. As I stopped to watch the scenery, I didn’t realize that I was being attacked–and with the camera staying at a wide angle, fighting back proved to be a taller order than it should have been.
Perhaps the most significant addition to Ascension is the multiplayer mode, a first for the franchise. While I had limited time with Ascension’s multiplayer offerings, I did enjoy Team Favor of the Gods and its Team the most, as it offers players of all skills varying objectives to work on towards a team score. The addition of a parry system in multiplayer also greatly deepens the combat, adding a rock-paper-scissors element to GoW’s otherwise traditional combat. Series veterans will have good reason to explore the competitive landscape of Ascension’s multiplayer offerings.
Even as a fan of the original God of War trilogy, Ascension doesn’t offer anything new beyond its multiplayer mode. With the stakes lowered, the journey no longer feels epic. In fact, it feels rote on so many levels: Kratos is still angry, he’s still badass, and he’s still an unstoppable force of rage–except maybe by an errant QTE. In spite of the promise to offer a “more human” story, Ascension does little to progress Kratos as a character, much in the way combat feels like it’s been stunted. Ascension is a poor follow-up to God of War 3, and meant largely for the completionist. Otherwise, it’s just another stroll through the Greek pantheon.
This God of War: Ascension review was based on a debug PS3 version of the game provided by the publisher. Online multiplayer was tested through publisher-set test sessions. The game is now available on PS3.
God of War: Ascension review: taking a step back