I believe it was around this time last year if not earlier that Sony and Santa Monica Studios unveiled the teaser for the next installment of the God of War series. Most of us thought it was going to be God of War IV but we should know better. Instead what they dropped on us was yet another prequel in Kratos’ struggles. But does this game do anything different than the predecessors? Or is it just another romp with Kratos that feels like all the others? To be honest familiarity in these games is great but at the same time it’s not. I know that sounds stupid but is it really?
Ever since the early 2000’s games like God of War have littered consoles with their arcade like action and intense blood. It all started with Devil May Cry and God of War being the main culprits. Simple (yet respectable) stories, gameplay that had you mixing weapons and the hack and slash type play style. We then saw several copy cat franchises. Darksiders, Dante’s Inferno both draw heavily from the formula that helped Kratos become a household name. And while many gamers complain about the redundancy they still sell like hotcakes. I don’t have a problem with the fact that there are so many games like God of War out there but what I want is a little bit of mixture between the styles. Now I have a soft spot in my game library for God of War (I have both HD collections as well as III) so you can imagine my eagerness and then slight disappointment when I concluded with the latest installment.
How do we start this review here? Should I start by commenting on the story? Should I harp on the game design or just go off on a tangent?
Let’s do the story then. The game starts off with Kratos being charged with breaking his oath to Ares. So it is a prequel. He’s being held by the three fates or the sisters. His whole mission is to find what’s real, he’s being plagued by I guess you could call it fake memories. As you move on through the game though you essentially travel in time. To events earlier in the narrative and back to the current situation. This does at times get confusing and complicated the timeline of the story but it’s God of War so the story takes a back seat to the entire game itself.
While most will say but the narrative wasn’t that bad, think about what the first three and side games did. Yes they were not great narratives but if you look at it in the right light you could say you were playing the villain. Kratos is not a hero. Why would you want to kill all your gods? For petty revenge? What I find hard about playing a God of War game now a days is that after the big reveal in the second title is getting around the fact that we all already know about what happens later on seeing as three of the last four titles have been prequels. But what I will say that I loved about this game’s narrative was this, Kratos actually evolved as a character in this one. There was some sort of sympathy you felt for him. He wasn’t just a killing machine, you saw a human side to him and I know I’ll be flogged for this but that was the best part of the narrative.
As for the visuals, of course they look fantastic. It’s a Sony game made on a Sony Console. The backgrounds look amazing. The animation is fluid and smooth. Everything moves well. Even the basic enemies look great, except for the lack of the variety on them. The cut scenes and other pre-rendered scenes looked fabulous. I swear at several points in time I could see the textures on Kratos’ skin. Sony first party titles always look great so it’s no surprise that God of War looks amazing. The score and voice acting is on par for a GOW game so it’s not like there is a disappointment in this title with that.
Here is where they changed the game the most was in the gameplay. No more do you get several weapons to upgrade. Instead the only weapon you get is the blades of chaos and you can level those up but outside of that there is scant any extra weapons. Sure you can pick up a sword or a spear from the ground and use it but your trusty blades are what you use in most GOW games right? I liked to level everything up evenly but that was kind of taken away from me. Gone are also several of the combos you would get as you leveled up. This is an actual frustrating change. I miss holding L1 and hitting Square. It was my crowd cutting move. Now that I can get past the changes I will say, it works still. You get magic abilities that you place on your blades. There are abilities for several gods, Ares, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. You level these up to do extra damage with your blades and do more powerful moves. This wasn’t bad, I enjoyed using Hades and Zeus powers more than the others to rack up not as insane combos but still sexy numbers.
To say God of War’s latest installment is the worst in the series wouldn’t be a lie but it also wouldn’t be that much of a negative statement. The original trilogy established the series as one of the best in Sony’s library. Ghost of Sparta and Chains of Olympus gave quality titles on a handheld that lacked a large amount of quality. So by saying Ascension missed the mark in continuing the extreme excellence that the series had brought wouldn’t be far from the truth. In fact Ascension tries to reinvent the series but politely sticks to the formula by disguising it. The pros still outweigh the cons and it’s still a God of War title and factor in that this one has some of the best evolution of character in the series and we get a solid title worth purchasing. (83.5/B)