By AUSTIN CONWAY
A new common trend in the game industry seems to have emerged within recent years. Traditionally, a successful first installment would be joined by a sequel, which in turn would set up a second sequel that would nicely wrap up long standing story plots and character arcs, thus satisfyingly concluding a trilogy. The “Rule of 3” doesn’t seem as cemented as it used to be however, with more and more series extending beyond just a simple “beginning, middle and end.” An ever hungry fan base combined with a powerful IP (Intellectual Property) relevancy has led several series to alter the classic formula for telling stories and instead offer a fourth installment. The move is often not chronologically a step forward however, but is often a step back, trading another sequel instead for a prequel; “God of War: Ascension” is one of them.
“Ascension” is currently the earliest installment in the “God of War” series, set even before the PSP prequel, “GoW: Chains of Olympus.” Kratos, the hero of the series, has been imprisoned by the Furies for breaking his oath to the god Ares. The story that follows is one of justice and redemption as Kratos battles all three Furies in order to escape his oath and eventually seek his vengeance against Ares for tricking him into murdering his own family. At this point, the story of Kratos’ crusade against the gods is an iconic tale, one that began in 2005 and finished in 2010; his clash with the Olympians has been told and well documented. Likewise, “Ascension”’s story instead offers a rare, more human look at the character before he lets rage and bloodlust get the best of him.
Kratos has always been somewhat one-dimensional as far as protagonists go, offering a physically imposing and threatening persona while lacking what truly makes a “character” a character. In this installment, Kratos obtains the depth that has long been absent from the Spartan. This is mostly due to the more personal story that is being told as well as how it is being told. In the past Kratos has cared very little for his fellow man, treating the few that cross his path with disdain or in some cases even sacrificing/using anyone and everyone in order to achieve his current goal or objective. Things are different with Kratos this time around; moments like pushing a man out of harm’s way or consoling someone while they die are actions that might at first seem out of character but are in fact redefining ones. Kratos’ new-found sense of sympathy perfectly offsets and balances the rage that is yet to come. We have witnessed him as the “God of War,” but now we finally are treated to the man he once was. In this regard, “Ascension” compliments the later installments rather well.
Every “God of War” has opened with a bang and “Ascension” is no different. The game’s response to the siege of Mt. Olympus from “God of War 3” is a segment that takes place on Aegean the Hecatonchires, a giant that surpasses the Titans in both size and strength. In fact, “Ascension” offers several “wow” moments and locations that send Kratos across the ancient Mediterranean world during his quest, from his home in Sparta to a towering statue of Apollo. Another standout locale is The Temple of Delphi, particularly a moment that utilizes mechanized pythons in an unconventional and rather thrilling way.
Visually, “GoW: Ascension” is certainly one of the best looking titles featured on the PS3. Like its predecessors before it, “Ascension” continues to utilize a fixed (developer controlled) camera angle, thus allowing the series’ cinematic presentation to endure, possibly in its grandest way yet. Gorgeous visuals aside, Sony Santa Monica has placed a great level of detail in this new outing. Kratos will progressively become covered in blood and carnage during battles and his gaze will follow his enemies on screen as they pace before him. Sony Santa Monica had promised that they had “muscled every last pixel, blood, sweat and tears into the most stunning “God of War” game,” a claim that upon viewing seems far from hyperbole.
One thing altered from previous installments is combat and inventory. Gone are multiple weapons, leaving instead the Blades of Chaos as the one constant, now linked to various magical effects relating to different gods (Fire of Ares, Lightning of Zeus, etc). Also new is the “world weapon system,” a concept that allows Kratos to steal weapons from enemies and use them independently or in perfect tandem with the Blades of Chaos to create satisfying and lethal results. Combat itself has certainly been altered, arguably for the best. A greater emphasis on timing and skill has replaced the ability to simply defer to combos that have been so effective in past games. As such,”Ascension” can be rather difficult at times (even on normal difficulty). The increased challenge however, although difficult, results in a greater sense of reward when said difficulty is finally overcome.
The game’s only completely new addition is also its most controversial. The decision to add multiplayer was always one that was met with anxiety and nervousness; the prevailing fear being that the multiplayer would take resources away from the single-player portion. In hindsight these fears seem to be unfounded, however, as “Ascension”’s multiplayer is actually rather solid. Sony Santa Monica has been able to retain the sense of scale and quality that the single-player portion has always had, offering up epic moments that can be enjoyed via team-based matches or in battle royale matches that pit everyone against each other. While the multiplayer might not be for everyone, it still offers up a solid experience that can be enjoyed long after Kratos’ story has been finished.
This will be perhaps the most polarizing installment in the series for some time, prompting some to love it and others to take a more “meh” approach when assessing its overall worth. Regardless of personal reception, there is no denying the quality that went into crafting Kratos’ latest (but chronologically first) adventure. Is it a story that had to be told? No, not really. Is it still a story worth telling? Yes, “God of War: Ascension” is an installment that finds itself among its predecessors and certainly not beneath them.