We all know how it plays out. In five titles Kratos has killed gods, titans, the Fates, his peers, innocents and his own family. He is the ultimate warrior, showing no mercy, weakness or compassion. He is rage incarnate, snuffing out the life of everything around him. But under all that rage, all that shouting and unbridled destruction, there is a man. A human.
A human on the wrong side of the Furies. These beings, neither titan nor god, look after all of the oaths and are quick to punish those that break them. Masters of illusion, the Furies plague Kratos with nightmares and visions, driving him to the brink of insanity.
This time around, Kratos seems pretty happy with his Blades of Chaos, not bothering to get any other permanent weapons. To make up for this, Kratos collects various elements to imbue his weapons with. Each element modifies several of his attacks, often adding spectacular extra effects to the ends of combos, such as setting nearby foes on fire. Each of these elements can be upgraded with red souls, unlocking special moves, a rage attack and finally a magic attack. Kratos has a rage bar, which fills as you slice off bits of your enemies. It loses charge over time, however, as well as when Kratos takes damage, meaning that clever use of block and dodge are tantamount. Once full, Kratos can unleash his pent-up frustration in an elemental attack, or attack with strengthened elemental properties, as well as unlocking several devastating combo moves. These elemental effects add some tactical depth to the game, but nowhere near as much as I thought. No elemental weaknesses are apparent, meaning you can fight with your favourite one for pretty much most of the game. Each element also proudly boasts being able to provide you with certain orbs. This only happens if you kill an enemy with certain attacks, which normally nets you one tiny orb. I found this a bit annoying, thinking I could use one element to get my rage built quicker or another for a bit of magic.
Luckily most levels are littered with weapons, some of which you steal from your opponents. These weapons replace your physical attacks, which includes a familiar Spartan Kick, for while. They often have a better chance of disarming or breaking past blocks, or sometimes have a high chance to stun enemies or knock them off platforms.
God of War: Ascension has the most impressive and daunting level design of the franchise. A statue taller than a skyscraper is one example of how mind-bogglingly large everything is around Kratos. Some boss battles are similarly massive in scope, making Kratos use every dirty trick he has to make up for not being the size of a city. Some locations are revisited at night, with new abilities to traverse to previously impassable and impossible alternate paths. Kratos and many of his enemies are able to destroy parts of the level, creating new paths, using them as weapons or making the fighting arena smaller, which makes for more intense fights. A new type of QTE mini game appears too, one in which you have to dodge attacks with the left stick, often while attacking. Missing the dodge can either result in losing a chunk of health, or interrupting your brutal finishing move. While for the most part, like in boss battles, this is really well done, it tends to get stale rather quickly for standard fare monsters. Still, Kratos doesn’t disappoint, bringing creative, painful and sinister death to his enemies.
Then it happened. Mere moments from the end of the game, I hit a snag. I was in an impossible-to-beat fight. Now before someone mumbles Cerberus or Zeus at me, hear me out. I know each game in the franchise had ‘that fight’, the one that seems impossible, especially on higher difficulty levels. I also don’t mind a game having a good few challenges or to make me scratch my head during a puzzle for a while. This was, however, horrible. After finishing every other game in the franchise and a quite a lot of other hack ‘n’ slash titles, I was presented with a solid blank wall. After making it this far, about 7 hours in, without breaking a sweat, I was dying again and again and again. Curses were uttered. Controllers were threatened with flight lessons. My heart sank. I had failed. Through all the fights I thought I was doing okay, that I knew enough about the moves and skills that I could handle anything. But I couldn’t. So I quit to the main screen again, this time not to take a break but to change the difficulty level. I was defeated. Then I noticed you can’t change the difficulty level at all. So I started a new game, muttering curses at whoever made that section of the game. The second time through, I took time to look at the levels, still enjoying them, still marvelling at how dynamic and colossal they were. In time I learnt more about the finer points of the combat system, with easy dropping the frequency of attacks against you and enemy’s resistance to being staggered or interrupted. One day I will go back and beat that level, but I fear that some gamers will reach that point and sell the game, swearing off the franchise and telling all their friends to do the same. Which is a damn shame because it is so close to the end of the game.
This is the first game in the series to have multiplayer. I couldn’t actually find any players to play any of the modes except for the tutorial and a single player challenge mode. In multiplayer, you pledge fealty to one of four major gods. This gives you access to items and magic that is in line with their desires. Multiplayer has both PVP and PVE elements, with some levels containing bosses and various minions. Kills earn you experience, which is used to upgrade your character as well as the gear you are wearing, increasing health, damage, magic damage and a whole host of stats. Various tasks, called labours, can be completed to earn new weapons and pieces of armour. Several mechanics, as well as new weapons appear to be present. Without being able to play against anyone, that is about all I can say on the multiplayer at this point. From what I see, barring any netcode issues, it is pretty solid.
After God of War 3, many players were left wanting more. Some closure or perhaps a happy trip off to the lands of the Norse gods, where Kratos could get a fur coat, sleep with Valkyries and probably start off Ragnarok. (A man can dream right?) But this was not the case. After two filler titles on the PSP, the thought of a prequel had me worried. Ascension adds a new dimension to a character that is pretty much a bucket of rage, showing us more about his former life, before Ares manipulated him.
Throughout the game you are reminded that all of this happens before all the other hardships, the betrayal, pain and loss, that Kratos still has to suffer. At one point I felt truly sorry for Kratos. Too often we have seen the God of War or the demi-god stepbrother of Hercules. Now we see the man. His grief and his regret are both raw and real. The stage is set for an epic tragedy and I suddenly feel like replaying all of the games with this glimpse of the man Kratos used to be.