What GoW: Ascension Got Right
+ The combat is smooth
+ There’s plenty of challenge here
+ Revamped magic tree balances difficulty
What GoW: Ascension Got Wrong
– A forgettable story
– A timid Kratos
– Multiplayer is unnecessary
God Of War: Ascension does a fine job of challenging you, sometimes even going above and beyond any other game in the series, difficulty-wise, but it never treads that fine line of greatness and brilliance that its predecessors, at least on console, did so well. Kratos is a placid shadow of the angry anti-hero we saw (and loved) in God Of War 3, and while that doesn’t make this a bad game, it buries it deep below the original trilogy, never truly offering the memorable narrative and battles made famous in earlier games.
Ascension’s teasing introduction is representative of a game scared to take the next step. The outdated quicktime event plagues the opening 20 minutes, as the battle with Fury, Megaera, does a modest albeit unmemorable job of providing that initial “I AM KRATOS” punch to the face other games in the series have done so well. It’s not a bad introduction, and it’s actually a great way to introduce you to Ascension’s multiple combat changes, but after playing the great DmC earlier in the year, it seems the series could do with a kick of innovation, at least in ditching QTEs.
There is plenty of “oomph” to the experience, though, and it’s not that Ascension lacks the size or scope of other God Of War games: rather, it seems to take a foot off the pedal in a purposeful attempt to sit below the epicness of God Of War 3. Are we not allowed to like this game more than God Of War 3? Because it feels like we’re not supposed to.
The gameplay is as smooth as it’s ever been, but it certainly lacks the standard of depth set by Ninja Theory’s acclaimed reboot. It’s difficult not to compare the games when they’re really so similar: God Of War’s lesser focus on combos and player rating appears to hold it back in an effort to keep weapon and skill upgrades grounded for a more casual player. Intimidation is a bad word in game design, but Ascension may very well have benefitted from some added incentive to mix and match battle moves.
Kratos’ iconic Blades Of Chaos take the reigns as the primary weapon, with some great added upgrades that add variety to the gameplay. Ascension offers the aforementioned incentive with orbs relative to the move — use the Lightening of Zeus to fry enemies and some magic-healing orbs will be sent Kratos’ way — but the problem lies in a lack of consequence if you do choose to stick to a specific range of moves. DmC punished players with poor ratings if they failed to mix up their “style”, but battles in Ascension can certainly be won without much inventiveness on the player’s behalf.
An expansive sense of incentive shouldn’t be enough to deter you, though, as Ascension at the very least offers an upgrading system and a combo rating guide that makes lengthy battles and combos feel especially rewarding. It’s just that half-way through the game you might feel less inclined to mix and match your moves when you know the same ones are so effective over such a long period of time.
Ascension’s revamped magic system is arguably the game’s stand-out innovation. In an obvious attempt to quickly ramp up the difficult roughly half-way through the game, the magic progression tree is expanded so more powerful moves aren’t available until much later in the game. The difference to other entries is that the difficulty progression hasn’t changed, so while Kratos will be facing tougher enemies, he won’t necessarily have the resources to tackle them like he did in God Of War 3.
The story, unfortunately, isn’t quite the fantastical epic like other God Of War entries. Kratos’ is particularly timid compared to other games, and the villains don’t quite seem to have the same sense of evilness that has helped define the series’ many great boss battles over the years. It’s not that it’s a terrible story, rather that it’s just forgettable, diluted by what is obviously a door-stop entry in a franchise ahead of Sony’s PS4 launch at the end of the year.
The game, overall, is solid, but it never takes that next step into greatness. It’s a God Of War game, no doubt, but one that lacks the appeal of its bigger predecessors. It can probably even been considered an experimental title considering the tacked-on addition of multiplayer, which is OK, but probably not something you’ll spend much time with. While it has plenty of unlockables, and an interesting faction system based around the campaign’s different combat styles, it’s a considerably slower and therefore far less inviting action experience than the single-player offering. It stays far too close to the ground, perhaps in an effort to invite lesser-skilled players into the fold, but it lacks the competitive edge to make it a long-lasting multiplayer offering.
God of War: Ascension is certainly the most forgettable of all console God Of War offerings, but it’s still a solid action game in its own right. Subtle combat changes give it somewhat of a new coat of paint, while an amped difficulty range might give it more a challenging edge than other games. However, while it looks fantastic and sometimes reaches the scope of other entries in the series, its use of QTEs and less of a style-based combo rating system make it seem like an aging player in the revamped hack-and-slash genre.