Summary [8.0 out of 10]
A prequel to the God of War series, Ascension tells the story of Kratos’s attempt to break his blood oath to Ares and his subsequent imprisonment by the Furies. Ascension is a solid entry into the series but does very little to move it forward with a story and gameplay that is stuck in the past rather than looking to the future. Because it is a prequel it feels a bit light as nothing terribly shocking can happen because players know how it all ends. This installment adds a multiplayer mode with interesting character customization and decent gameplay that amuses for what it is but does little to keep players invested. After the triumph that was God of War III, Ascension feels more like one of the handheld titles that are great on those systems but lack the depth and polish of the console versions. Regardless, Ascension is definitely worth playing for fans of the series and offers a solid experience if not an outstanding one.
What’s It Like?
God of War Series: Sony has really taken a ‘if it isn’t broken don’t fix it’ approach to this iteration and if you have played the series before you will feel right at home here. It feels a little light compared to God of War II and III but it is more God of War and that is a good thing even if it doesn’t wow as much as previous entries.
Level Design: The God of War series has always done a great job with level design and this is one area that Ascension really shines. The environments are intricate both vertically and horizontally with a ton of explorable areas, hidden nooks and crannies and, thanks to the Amulet of Uroborus, entire sections to rebuild or destroy to allow for access to new areas. The scale of these environments is daunting and breathtaking offering up environments that are gorgeous, complex and sometimes deadly. Some of the sections that are essentially just killing floors are a little bland but the levels over all are amazing and always interesting.
Controls: It isn’t much of a surprise that the controls of a series that has not been changed as much as refined over the years is super tight and responsive but God of War has really turned tight controls into an art form. It is impressive that the game can feature controls as complex as they are without setting up finger twisting roadblocks to task execution. Ascension is very easy to pick up and play if you have played previous entries. A robust tutorial for each new move and control nuance makes it accessible to new players who might be intimidated by a complicated move set seven games into a series. With some very specific platforming sections, you will never find yourself fighting with the controller or otherwise dying cheaply. The controls just flat work and work without frustration. This is how you do third person action titles.
Amulets: With the lack of some of the items that Kratos picks up in later games, the new amulets pick up the slack and offer up new and interesting gameplay conventions we haven’t seen in the series before. The coolest of them, the Amulet of Uroborus, allows the player to repair broken chests and environments or to decay the same to allow for some interesting and clever puzzles. This not only looks cool but it allows the player to look at things from a different perspective and adds dimension onto problem solving. The Oath Stone of Orkos allows Kratos to make a duplicate of himself which makes chain pulling and pressure plate holding much more interesting and effective. Sure, the puzzles are designed with this in mind but, like the Amulet of Uroborus, this adds depth and dimension to the gameplay and puzzles. The Eyes of Truth allow Kratos to see through illusions the Furies set on him which makes for some very cool visual moments as the environment will change in front of your eyes while using it. Each of these have combat applications as well which adds an additional dimension to combos and gives the player a lot more options and variety instead of the same old grind.
Graphics: Most of the time, the graphics in Ascension are gorgeous and awe inspiring. The fidelity in some of the cut scenes, particularly in the facial animations of characters while speaking is amazing. Unfortunately, there are also some hiccups here and there where textures look flat or animations get out of sync. These moments are very jarring given how razor sharp the graphics look the majority of the time. The good definitely outweighs the bad but for a series that has always had consistent graphical fidelity it is really too bad to see the lack of polish in some sections.
Puzzles: Thanks to the addition of the amulets, the puzzles are largely very good with a level of creativity that surpasses some of the previous installments. The number of puzzles and length of time to complete them sometimes gets to be a bit much, however, and can sometimes bog down the experience. Largely the puzzles are fun and creative, though, and are generally a bright spot in the game.
Multi-player: The Multi-player component in Ascension is kind of a mixed bag. The control carries over fairly well from the single player game and the customization options and leveling up is well implemented but the game-play itself is a bit light and, while fun in small doses, is not compelling enough to really sustain itself. The matches are chaotic and there is a lot thrown at the player which helps to keep it interesting but also makes it something of a mess. There is a lot to do in each arena from weapons to grab and environmental hazards to unleash but the combat aspects devolves into a flurry of activity that can get lost with the pulled back camera and effects popping off of special moves and magic attacks. This is a good start for the developers to build upon but lacks refinement and polish to turn it into a must play mode as opposed to an interesting diversion from the main game.
Gameplay: The God of War series has been around a long time and has refined the controls and game-play over the years to a fine edge. The series conventions are as solid as ever and if you like what the series has to offer, Ascension gives you more of it. The problem is that because Ascension takes you back to a time when Kratos is less of a badass with fewer moves and weapons, the gameplay suffers a bit. The amulets go a long way toward rectifying this but the game play still feels light. What is here is very solid but this far into the series it needs more not less. This is a tricky point as it is not bad at all but it is not great either. After God of War III the game play really needed to jump to the next level and not take a step back.
Weapons: While Kratos does not collect items and weapons in the same way that he has done in previous titles, Ascension offers limited use weapons that give Kratos various advantages in battle. Each has its own properties and each offers its own limitations and benefits. They are offered liberally enough throughout the game that they are an asset and they bolster the combat in interesting ways. It would be nice if you could have held onto them and chosen to use them whenever you wanted but the game isn’t designed that way and they offer enough variety to be a valuable addition.
Story: The story in God of War has always been kind of straight forward. Kratos feels betrayed by some god or another and kills everyone in his path to kill them. It doesn’t really need to be intricate and deep. One thing other titles have had going for it, though, is that the cast of characters have been fairly epic. Going after Ares or Zues while ruining Hercules and Perseus’s shit is awesome enough on its own terms that you don’t need a super strong narrative. In Ascension we are offered the Furies and the quest you are on feels a lot lighter than normal. Nothing you do has any real consequence because you’ve already played through the games that come after it and nothing here affects that at all. The Furies themselves are not really in the same league as other series heavies and the time jumping of the story is more irritating than compelling. With the flashbacks taken out Kratos doesn’t make a whole lot of forward progress and it makes the narrative more confusing than necessary. Further, and this is really more of a personal peeve, I don’t buy that I have to ride mechanical snakes around a mountain range for two hours to gain access to the Oracle at Delphi only to see a frail old man show up to gain entry as well. Is there some back stair case this guy used that I didn’t know about? He gets killed pretty quick and I wonder how someone clever enough to bypass all the rigmarole I just went through will just stand there to get jacked up by a manticore.
Length: I honestly don’t know how long the previous entries were but I spent about 10 hours with this one, give or take, in the main quest. That doesn’t sound too bad really but it feels like goes really quick. I am not sure if this is a problem with length as much as the lightness of the story mentioned above but at the end I was left with a feeling of ‘That’s it?’ They say you should always leave people wanting more but this is not really the way to do it.
Glitches: Adding to the lack of polish discussed in the graphics section, Ascension has a few really nasty glitches in it that keep the camera from following you and requiring you to quit out of the game altogether and restart from the check point. This is in no way game breaking but it is not something you would expect to see in a God of War title.
Platforming/Collision detection: The most irritating and annoying thing about Ascension is that there are some platforming sections that apparently have a very narrow window for the grapple points. This sections are the height of frustration as Kratos will fail to grapple to the highlighted point despite being right under or damn near on top of it. This is especially frustrating when it happens in a string of grapples that the player has to navigate over and over again until whatever god it is that presides over grapple points has decided to take mercy on the player. I don’t mind difficult platforming sections but the arbitrary nature of these spots makes it infuriating. To spend 30 minutes trying to get one point to work is absolutely ridiculous especially when success is rarely repeatable. Luckily there are only about three or four of these throughout the game and the majority of the points work properly. This keeps the issue from ruining the game but it also highlights the sloppiness as the majority of grapple points work just fine.
Conclusion [8.0 out of 10]
God of War Ascension is worthy entry into the series but is not up to the standard of the previous installment. The lack of gravitas to the story and villains mixed with some moments that suffer from less polish than others keeps this from being a great game. It is still very good, however, and is definitely worth picking up if you are a fan of the series in particular or third person action titles in general.