In truth, the overall quality and widespread appeal of the God of War franchise never relied solely upon the stellar gameplay. The main character, Kratos, was a bad-ass of mythic proportions (pun intended) and fans must attribute part of their entertainment to his reckless brutality, his horribly scarring past, and his epic seething rage. When you get a seemingly more carefree hero and a largely ineffective and unnecessary multiplayer option, you get a less impressive title.
Which isn’t to say God of War: Ascension fails the quality litmus test. It really is a great game, even if the graphics are indeed the best part of this slick, scarlet-drenched production. The detail is fantastic and the animations are superb; the environments are beautifully sculpted and even eye-popping at times, and the coloring and shading is spectacular. That being said, I don’t believe the general design is quite as good as it has been in the past, and I only say that because I hold this series to extraordinary standards. It just doesn’t seem quite as diverse or as inspired as the GoWIII palette, which fans will undoubtedly notice.
It’s still gorgeous, though, and the audio absolutely crackles with every gut-wrenching impact. The sounds of combat have always been a high point of the series and thankfully, that hasn’t changed in the latest iteration. The soundtrack is also full of great musical selections, ranging from upbeat fanfare-type scores to deeper, more foreboding pieces. There’s very little to gripe about, but I will say the voice performances don’t seem quite up to par this time around. Perhaps it’s because acting in the industry has continued to get better with every passing year, and the standards continue to rise. Still, technically speaking, Ascension is an elite title.
What you remember and love from this award-winning franchise is still here: The gory, sometimes grotesque combat, the frightful, freakish foes, the awesome weapons, and the spectacular set pieces. There’s a great sense of scale throughout and one never tires of the combat. As always, fighting is the bread and butter of God of War and Kratos is as deadly as ever. He has even added a few tricks to his expanding repertoire of supernatural skill and ability, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy playing through the well-paced campaign. No reason at all.
…unless, however, the story and this new, more toned-down Kratos doesn’t agree with you. I think the writers wanted to make the plot a little more psychological and even philosophical here, rather than focus on the more obvious, blatant themes of rage and revenge. And typically, I would support that. But this is a series built on rage and revenge; as I stated earlier, it’s the core principle of each adventure. If you remove that core and attempt to replace it with another one, you’re going to lose the protagonist’s recognizable identity. To be perfectly honest, I have no desire to see Kratos on a quest for “truth.” I want to see him on a quest to beat heads in.
Maybe it’s a bad idea to quell creative ambition, and perhaps I shouldn’t be siding with the concept of producing the same ol’ same ol’ to appease those who despise change. And yeah, he still beats heads in, but the inner fire seems gone; now it just feels like he’s doing this for fun. And I really do believe that Ascension is missing some of the driving spirit upon which previous Kratos adventures thrived. As for the gameplay, that’s where you’ll find the familiar stomping grounds of our favorite bald brawler, and it’s almost as good as ever.
The combat is just as responsive and exhilarating as before, and there’s a ridiculous amount of grisly entertainment. Beheadings, disembowelments, spine snapping, skull crunching; it’s all in-your-face and appropriately insane. It feels like there are more QTEs this time around but they’re relatively easy and they don’t necessarily bother me. On the other hand, I know some action enthusiasts who frown on the practice, as it essentially negates the need to take down the toughest foes with the best and most complex combinations. And indeed, boss fights do feel easier this time around due to an abundance of QTEs.
One of the new additions is elemental damage, as Kratos can now imbue his blades with fire, lightning, ice, and demon powers. Electricity shocks an opponent, while fire can set foes aflame and inflict heavy damage depending on the enemy. You’ve also got your typical set of spells, which are both highly effective and a feast for the eyes. Another fresh gameplay feature is the well-documented ability to snag weapons from fallen enemies, so you can wander around with secondary arms like various swords, hammers and spears. These can also be used in new attack and combination styles, so there’s an extra level of depth.
Then you’ve got the puzzles, and I’m a little surprised they play such a significant role. Some of the later puzzles are definitely demanding, especially because you’ve got the new skill that lets you rebuild destroyed parts of the environment. Such challenges offer a good change of pace and allows you to relax and take a moment to recharge your combat batteries. The platforming isn’t as accomplished, though, as the camera can be problematic and such sequences just last too long, or are needlessly taxing. I had hoped the camera/platforming issue – which was in existence to some extent in GoWIII – would have been fixed entirely for this new entry.
Of course, we all know this new effort features multiplayer for the first time in the franchise’s storied history. And as I feared, it just doesn’t cut the mustard and as such, doesn’t enhance the experience. The combat is slower than it is during the campaign and as you lose much of the atmosphere that drives the story forward, most multiplayer sessions just turn into button-mashing bouts. This isn’t exactly satisfying and with such large arenas, you don’t get a distinct feeling of urgency or tension. I usually dislike crowded multiplayer maps but this goes too far in the other direction.
Trial of the Gods is probably the best multiplayer offering, as you and a buddy have to face down the oncoming demon hordes. They come at you in waves and as the arenas are smaller here and the action is constant, this is more involving. Plus, you get experience that can be used to unlock new abilities for your character, and that’s a good reason to return to the online fray. It’s just that none of this anything special. It’s probably about what you would expect with nothing to really amaze you. I am of the opinion that not all games require multiplayer (contrary to mainsream belief) and I feel vindicated in my belief that GoW definitely didn’t need it.
God of War: Ascension is another great entry in one of the most acclaimed video game franchises of all time. Unfortunately, considering the bar is always set very high, any entry that doesn’t score above a 9 will be deemed a disappointment; there’s just no avoiding that. Despite the greatness of the combat, the new additions that enhance our enjoyment of the brutal battle, the awesome spectacle and sense of scale, and the top-notch graphics, we do feel – to some extent – let down. We seem to be missing the very core of Kratos, the awe-inspiring nature of the series isn’t quite as obvious here, and the multiplayer isn’t up to par.
Just remember— It’s still a game you absolutely should play, as it’s better than most. That sometimes gets lost in all these complaints that arise when a game doesn’t get over a 9 on a 10-point scale…one of the fallacies of our accepted mode of game analysis.
The Good: Amazing, incredibly detailed visuals. Stunning landscapes and vistas. Hugely satisfying audio effects. Combat is gut-wrenchingly awesome, and the small gameplay additions work. Good depth and variety. Well-paced campaign.
The Bad: Camera can be dysfunctional, specifically during platforming. Kratos doesn’t feel like Kratos. Multiplayer isn’t anything special and ultimately wasn’t necessary.
The Ugly: "Oh, the ugliness is the best part."