God Of War Ascension: The Kotaku Review

For the first four and a half hours of the new God of War, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the game was made by malfunctioning robots. They were given the God of War formula, and with swivelling clamp-hands, they made what is technically a God of War game. Kratos is angry! Chain-blades must be swung! Beasts will be gored! The first level must be as epic as Mount Olympus! You will be given extra attack moves! And then more attack moves! And then more — the ones you'll never use!

And...then you'll... be....riding a giant... flying... snake. And... remember the big slides in Super Mario 64? Kratos will slide down some slides. And then...

Does.

Not.

Compute.

At about the halfway mark of the game's 10-hour campaign — as the made-by-robots theory struggles with the I-guess-this-studio-spent-their-effort-on-the-new-multiplayer-mode-that-nobody-asked-for theory — you discover something new.

You discover that the game is weird, warped and way better in its second half. This second half almost entirely absolves the first half, which transitions from the snake section to the doling out of a bunch of elemental powers (fire! ice! lightning! and, uh, denizens of the undread!) and then to the granting to the player of what I thought was God of War's big new gimmick: Kratos's ability to turn a pile of rubble back into, say, the bridge it once was, and the corresponding ability to turn a bridge into rubble.

Look, we're never going to get an official Lego God of War, so let's settle for this? Actually, let's not. The offering is half-baked. Kratos can't rebuild any old rubble sitting around. He can only rebuild the rubble that glows green. He can only use his new magic to un-make structures that are green. This would work in an abstract puzzle game, but in a game that is richly rendered with all sorts of rubble and structures that beg to be made or unmade, this is just another video game invisible wall.

And then the game makes you backtrack through a bunch of areas you cleared and has the audacity to describe that reverse run as a handful of official story chapters.

Maybe we should move on to the good part.

God of War: Ascension

Even though the first half of the game is as tired as the next Zelda quest that has you fetching a bow-and-arrow, the game alters and refines the series' combat into an arsenal that feels, by halfway, glorious to wield. Plus, the camerawork's amazing.

Developer: Sony Santa Monica Platforms: PS3 Released: March 12, 2013 Type of game: third-person ripping of Greek deities into bloody bits, now also with multiplayer What I played: 10 hours, 20 minutes to clear the game's campaign, and a sampling of multiplayer modes, but only enough to rank my fighter to level three

Two Things I Liked

  • A varied arsenal that, at last, feels accessible and balanced, encouraging a winter weather system's worth of attacks.
  • The camerawork. Still the God of Cinematography.

Two Things I Didn't Like

  • The sexing-up of enemies that I am then required to cleave into bloody bits. Gross.
  • Block-pushing puzzles. Give me a micro-transaction to skip them, and I'll pay double.
  • Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

    • "Unless you're going to say he got angry because of midichlorians, I'm past caring." — Stephen Totilo, Kotaku
    • "Watch the game, and you'll just think the players are sick. Play the game, and you'll understand what feels so right." — Stephen Totilo, Kotaku

    The good part: the second half of the game mostly takes place in and on a giant skyscraper-sized statue of Apollo. Levels are named after Apollo's body parts. You're playing The Foot of Apollo! The Forearm of Apollo! The Ribs of Apollo! (Not making this up.) And as you play, you gain a few more ridiculous abilities that may or may not have been swiped from Zelda games. (Hint: Elegy of Emptiness). But you stop caring about the game's problems because you begin to enjoy least I began to enjoy — that this game feels good.

    You've been given a ludicrous arsenal, and though you are probably neglecting the weak ice moves, you're taking advantage of five hours of practice and five hours of being armed with new powers to switch from chain-blade attack to block to dodge to.... the game's refined grapple system.... the new melee moves that let you disarm enemies and use their weapons on them...the rage mode....the special magic... even that dopey decay/restore magic is good in combat. Moves chain together. Almost nothing is mapped to a many-button (dialled) combo. Almost all of it is a couple of button presses away. And it all feels so good to use against a crowd.

    The game is sick with whatever disease the new Zelda games have. Its developers feel obligated to spend a stupid number of hours early on starting you from zero and giving you your proverbial bow and bombs and boomerang. And, as with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, it's only after you get past what amounts to newbie initiation that your move-set has enough new stuff in it (and enemies that compel you to use that stuff) that you get a sense of what Ascension is supposed to feel like. It feels like chaos, controlled.

    The robots probably wouldn't have thought of some of Ascension's better tweaks to established God of War combat. The new disarmament system introduces some good risk-reward, as you first try to grab a knock a weapon from the hands of an enemy and then have to take the time to grab it while the enemies nearby are probably still trying to attack you. For all of Ascension's tiresome fealty to the God of War tropes of old — the slow-opening treasure chests, the red, blue and green orbs, etc — the development team improves the button-combo finishing moves. No longer will you simply press a few buttons, when prompted, to stylishly kill a cyclops or gorgon. Nope. Now you will engage in a "mini-game". You/Kratos will hold the enemy with one hand, stab the enemy via rapid button presses with the other while occasionally needing to dodge the flailing enemy's counter-attacks using the analogue stick. The sense of intimate struggle in these moments is Ascension at its best. Its violence is lurid as ever, but now it feels uncomfortably close. It feels like a struggle. And that feels like an improvement.

    Ascension's story is as unnecessary as most prequels. Six or so games in, we don't need any further explanation as to why Kratos is so angry or how he broke from Ares. The game's villains, the Furies, are a step down from the Greek heroes, gods and titans of games past. Adding to the nonsense is the fact that this prequel is told and played mostly in flashback. That's right: it's a prequel that nests its own prequels. Spoiler (not really): at the end, Kratos is mad and a bit sad. Same as he ever was.

    As you play the game, you may notice that it looks amazing. The series remains king of all games with fixed cameras. The cinematography is astounding, as you retain control of Kratos in combat while the camera glides from distant, epic scenes to close one-on-one battles.

    You might also notice that the game contains a lot of breasts. They've got blood and entrails, too. But so do so many other violent combat games. God of War games are the ones that toss in a sex scene and then let us all marinate about why one censored sex scene per game is forever more scandalous than each game's many bloody eviscerations. I didn't even find a sex scene in this game, just a harem scene and an extraordinary amount of toplessness. The harem scene? It's gratuitous, but, hey, it's Greek mythology and Kratos is topless too. Or something. Most of the game's female enemies are topless too. I'm not sure if it's meant to titillate but it remains one of God of War's less justifiable elements: that it can have its female toplessness and its male loincloths, too. Some private parts must remain private? To satisfy the ratings board? Maybe. But when a close-up kill include the slicing of a half-woman/half-snake from her neck to her breast, my takeaway is that I'd rather the sexualisation of video game characters and the gory rendering of the death of game characters not be mixed. Please. Unless you're trying to elicit a reaction that's more "ugh" than "awesome!"

    Sexy-death weirdness aside, Ascension pulls together nicely. Its back half justifies the training-wheels of its first half and then ends abruptly, properly leaving players wanting more. The "more" that is offered is a new-game-plus that, as with previous games in the series, lets you play through the game again with some of the moves you've earned and special combat modifiers.

    The "more" is also the game's new multiplayer mode, which I've sampled but not soaked in. These multiplayer modes let you play in two-player (or solo, oddly) endurance runs against hordes of enemies or in competitive team or free-for-all battles against other players. Battles are set on levels that are packed with traps and platforms. Some good touches are imported from the singleplayer game: many of the combat moves, the disarming stuff and the ability to jack a giant troll and ride him like a bulldozer over other players, to name a few. These multiplayer modes justify repeat playing by tying weapon, armour, item and magic unlocks to the accruing of experience points. The foundation seems good. We'll see what players make of it in the weeks to come.

    There's something quite tired about Kratos that makes all of these God of War games feel at least partially like factory productions. The loyalty to Kratos's two-note demeanour feels in need of a shake-up, and the game suffers from a wearying checklisting of recurring enemy-types. Plus it all takes place in the same over-familiar setting, telling the same style of story, reusing the block-pushing puzzles (enough! no more of them! please?). For the love of God of War, Sony developers, can we go to Egypt next? Or something else that actually feels fresh?

    But for all my belly-aching, there's no denying that this new game feels good. There's no denying that its combat tornadoes into something gloriously varied and responsive. And that's why, despite its shortcomings, it feels like a success.


    Comments

      Am I the only person who gave this a pass despite liking the God of War series? When this was announced I was like, "Really? Another God of War game? Seems like it was mainly built just for a lame multiplayer".

      I'm not saying it's bad, or being one of those lame fanboys who can't view the new game without nostalgia goggles. But at the moment it feels like there's nothing I'm going to miss by passing up on this game.

        I'm with you. I think launching the game's marketing by focusing on the new multi-player was a bad choice.

        I agree. It's just like Gears of War: Judgment. Do we really need another? It'd just be the same thing.

        No, I'm with you. Love the GoW series (5 platinums there, so have put enough time into them) but because they've pushed the multiplayer over the single player, I'm putting this aside until it drops to the $30 mark.

        The gameplay of God of War is top notch - but Kratos had his story tied off nicely in GoW3. Maybe an entirely new setting, story and character (the way Dante's Inferno tried to be) with a similar hack & slash gameplay vibe is in order.

      This game isn't needed in the grand scheme of things, but the games are really good fun, so will enjoy this...

      On the review...

      "Block-pushing puzzles. Give me a micro-transaction to skip them, and I’ll pay double."

      No, just no... stuff like this just doesn't need to be thought of, just play the bloody game!

      Did you proof read this review before you published it? It reads like a ramble, like the writer was overtired/drunk, and that there was already a negative bias towards the series. I'm not saying your opinions aren't valid, but I feel like you had been given a list of things you were told to mock/have a problem with, rather than coming up with your own evaluation.

        This. Your review is all over the place. Somewhere between your shitty metaphor about Santa Monica being robots and your freaking out about killing topless female enemies I got too frustrated to bother deciphering. Did you - or any of the editors - even bother reading this article before it got published? Just saying.

      Keen as hell for this. Just hope it keeps the scale of GoW3. That game blew my fucking mind. Even if it was just smoke and mirrors, I thought that THIS is the sort of grandness PS3 games should have been aiming for.

      I quite liked the demo, i didn't like the last GoW however.

      Will be getting this.

      God of War 3 was fkn epic. Best game this gen. So I expect nothing less on this (especially based on the demo), though I do not care for MP on it.

      I've always felt that Sony Santa Monica was a studio without a true visionary. Ever since David Jaffe left, it always felt to me like the other directors were keeping the flame alive as opposed finding new territory to explore.

      And things got worse when GoW started making lots of money for Sony.

      GoW1 was always my favourite just because it made Kratos/you feel like a man, instead of a superhero that he now is. Gow2 was really the height of the series, just as Uncharted 2 was. Subsequent sequels have just been uninspired games with a logical through-line for the story. Little risk was taken, and there is a fear of innovation.

      I sincerely hope that for GoW4, they reboot the gameplay and give the franchise the direction the original game had. I still like Kratos and thankfully, the seek-redemption storyline from the first trilogy is done with. They need to go in a new direction with the character.

      But I hope they don't give us a new character, because anger is synonymous with game, and thus, Kratos.

        What exactly can they change?

        Almost every game series rarely changes the formula, and the most (in)famous one that did (Resident Evil) gets a whole lot of crap for it.

        Heck, GTA runs with the same formula, gameplay and the same damn story and it is ALWAYS praised. I couldn't tell a discernable difference between Halo 1 - 3, Uncharted 1 - 3, etc
        There are minor changes, sure, but nothing ground breaking.

          What I'm talking about is something akin to the new TOMB RAIDER being an evolution from the UNCHARTED games. Uncharted was perhaps too linear and Tomb Raider opened the game up for exploration and at the same time, kept the Uncharted-like mechanics intact.

          Gameplay changes don't have to happen on a mechanical level, but I do think for GoW it is somewhat necessary if they want things to feel fresh/new.

          What I would do is make Kratos more of a man in the next game. Have him lose all his god-like powers, his ability to cross 50 foot gaps just by jumping etc. and reflect this in both gameplay and narrative. Introduce a objective based gameplay so you're doing more than just killing things. In essence, make things more Zelda like. The first game did this, and same with Darksiders. It all contributes to making the game feel like a journey.

          The first game also had puzzles that were better contextualised. Most people remember the part in the GOW1 where you first go into Pandora's temple and find the man in the cage who asks for your help, only to scream and shout when he discovers you're going to sacrifice him in order to open a door. Contrast this with GOW3 where you're pulling levers to raise Hades' dead wife's coffin to use as a battering ram in order to enter his chamber. Um, why? It's just badly contextualised compared to some of the eariliest games.

          This is a bit crazy, and an entirely personal choice, but I would revamp the combat. I would make it more macro, and have Kratos taking on no more than 2 or 3 enemies at a time instead of slashing indesriminately several enemies at one. I want it to be more like BATMAN: ARKHAM games where you're brutalising one guy before moving onto the next. I don't like when enemies tank your slashes, flinching only after 20 slashes have been dealt. This one's hard to get just right so I won't be surprised if they don't change the combat.

          QTEs: I think they did a great job introducing the PUNCHOUT dodge mechanics into ASCENSION and that needs to continue evolving. The player presses to grab button to enter/initiate Close Quarters Finisher where you use the left stick to circle around a Cyclops, let's say, and attack various parts of wherever you're standing and the corresponding animations will play out. For example, circle behind the cyclops, slash behind it's legs and it will fall to its knee. pressing jump will have Kratos climb onto the creature. Then Square for eye ripping animation, Triangle for cyclops riding. This could play out in real time where other enemies can attack you, but the safe bet is putting the player in a closed state with the target enemy so other enemies can't ruin the fun.

          So that, to answer your question, is how they can change the game. It's important to remember I'm just spit balling ideas here, but more importantly, they aren't (what I consider at least), hard to implement for a studio of this caliber.

            Yeah I agree. They need to try to open the game up and give players a bit more freedom to explore. Kratos in a big playground would be alot of fun. They would have to give the camera control to the player for the majority of the game.

            I'm interested in some more platforming like 1&2 and some better thought out puzzlesas well.

        GoW 1 made you feel like a man? As in, mortal? I dunno bloke, I think Kratos' exploits are just as insane as they ever were. Hell, they ramped up more and more - as you'd expect from a game about a path to revenge taken by the most pissed off character on the planet.

        Agree that GoW 2 was amazing, but GoW 3 was definitely by no means even close to this uninspired game you're yarning on about. The set pieces were grand in scale, they traded out their well-known CGI cutscenes and used in-game tech because the game looked brilliant enough to do so, they allowed for a lot more action on the screen at one time, and I quite enjoyed the mechanics of some of the boss battles, especially that of Hades'. You're describing an uninspired mess, but I found the game to be great. Sure, it might have been easier than previous entries, but the good far outweighed the bad. You can't tell me God of War 2 didn't stick to the same formula, with the usual host of neat improvements.

        Besides, I hate games that have a perfectly good formula ruined by overly ambitious sequels that make so many changes you could hardly call it the same game anymore. If the formula doesn't work, sure - reinvent. But if it was amazing, then why not improve? Say what you will, but God of War 3 did come with improvements, and plenty of them. Off the top of my head I can think of quite a few cases where a developer took something that people loved, and tried to change it for the sake of being 'innovative'. I love innovation as much as the next guy, but I really don't see any of God of War's sequels as bad games in the slightest; they might have their minor issues but there's usually always something new there.

        Anyway, I know you're mostly talking about the story, but I think they're more than likely to move on to something new with the next generation; as for this prequel I've always been interested in Kratos' human side. And as far as I know, they started using motion-capture tech, right? That's what made Uncharted 2's cutscenes so very human and lifelike. Is that not an innovation in the way of storytelling? I know it's a prequel, so you're getting a slice of something you already vaguely know about, but it really isn't all that bad. God of War 3 was not a failure; you knock out Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Gaia and several other great figures on your path to revenge, all in the climactic finale that is the third game. I think it seals off the trilogy perfectly well, and I don't expect Ascension to innovate because it's just a prequel to that story. Again, I think you'll probably get what you desire - a new story - with any potential God of War IV. God of War 3 was perfectly fine, in my own opinion anyway. I dunno.

          Anyway, I've not yet had the chance to play Ascension because Australia. But even this terrible kotaku review does mention they've made changes to the combat to a degree unseen in 1, 2, and 3. Guess I'll be able to judge this when I actually get a chance to play the game.

          Only thing disappointing in GoW3 was the QTE. I knew they would be in there but they all seemed to be pressing the same button. It was odd.

          GOW1 did made you feel much more of a man than ASCENSION does. Kratos is capable of making a 30ft. monster with blades for arms slice his own throat? A man can't do that. Kratos uses a giant lumber shooting machine thing to pin the armored minotaur boss to the door in GOW1. This shows Kratos is resourceful, and knows he can't manhandle the thing on his own so he has to use is environment to his advantage.

          I'm not saying they didn't push the envelope in terms of believable actions, but there is more of a believable David vs. Goliath thing happening in GOW1.

          I'm not saying there's nothing new in GOW3 I'm saying largely, it's uninspired, which means most of what they put in there were superficial improvements that didn't give a new dynamic as to the way the game was played. The only parts I was truly impressed by were the Kronos section, which turned Kronos into a level with climbing sections and swinging sections, fighting, and objectives like breaking the crystals etc. etc. The problem is by the time you get to this part of the game, you realise how little they've utilised the Titans in this way.

          Remember this? http://youtu.be/Hiieqlgbn2c?t=41s

          I was expecting a forest level on Gaia and maybe a Volcano level on Perses, and a few others but those Titans were essentially just throwaway sections. At one point, you fight inside of Gaia, but does the scale and the fact that she's moving around have any bearing on what was happening in the fight with Zeus? For most of the game, the Titans were just really nice eye candy.

          Sequels have to evolve, that's just how it is. Otherwise they risk getting stale. ASCENSION has the lowest average score, ranking below even the PSP titles. You can't tell me that they need to stay the same. The formula has started to decline.

          Besides, I hate games that have a perfectly good formula ruined by overly ambitious sequels that make so many changes you could hardly call it the same game anymore.

          I'm sorry but that's bullshit. Almost every popular Nintendo franchise begs to differ. Miyamoto could have kept churning out oldschool MARIO games and sell a bajillion copies. But he changes the formula almost everytime on a dramatic scale and as a result you see games like SUPER MARIO 64, PAPER MARIO, SUPER MARIO GALAXY, MARIO KART --- That last one isn't even a traditional Mario game but it was still awesome.

          And as far as I know, they started using motion-capture tech, right? That's what made Uncharted 2's cutscenes so very human and lifelike. Is that not an innovation in the way of storytelling?

          Nope. Something is only an innovation if you're one of the first ones to do it. By the time ASCENSION comes out, using facial capture isn't an innovation, it's the standard. It's almost like saying "The Wii U can produce graphics on par with the 360/PS3, is that not an innovation?#CheapJabsAtNintendo

          The way LA Noire used Facial Capture tech... THAT, was an innovation, because they used it in a way that nobody had done before. AND, it was part of gameplay, as it had you to investigate whether characters were lying or not.

          I don't think GOW3 is a bad game. I don't think I said that at all, but for me it just didn't push the game or genre forward that much. I thought they wasted the use of the Titans and some the King gods --- I wanted just as long and drawn out a battle with Hades and (to a lesser extent because of the epic intro) Poseidon as the one you had with Zeus --- but that didn't happen. There are many Titans and Gods and it felt to me like most of them died off-screen.

          Was it great eye candy all the way through? Yes. Was it still better than 90% of hack and slash games out there at the time? Yes. But that shouldn't mean they should rest on their laurels.

          EDIT: At the end of the day, if you liked the 3rd game, I'm not going to change your mind no matter what I say, and I was never aiming to. I just think now more than ever, GOW needs to change. I would hate to see it be passed by the likes of Bayonetta and the like, because that's how much I love the franchise.

          Last edited 14/03/13 3:07 pm

      I can't wait for my copy to arrive! I won't be touching multi though. Yuk!

      I liked the demo to be honest. I'm a huge God of War fanboy, and even I thought another one on PS3 was too much. But that demo sold me.

      Having said that, the ability to reverse crumbled rubble and stuff was in Chains of Olympus too.

      Resident Evil get's crap because it changed from a great survival horror game to a bad action game with annoying QTE's. Halo 1-3 change gameplay, enemies, playable characters. Only played Uncharted 1 so not sure but I've heard Uncharted 2 dramatically improves on the first one. GOW could change quite a bit just like most games can.

        Resident Evil changed everything.

        Halo runs the same formula. You'll fight those alien things, then the flood will come. Granted they added a second character in 2.

        Uncharted 2 is a lot better than 1, but gameplay wise it is pretty much the same. Same as 3.

      yeah im not interested in this.
      ive played and enjoyed GoW 1 and 2 and finished 3.
      i was a bit bored of 3 even back then so this hasn't gained my interest. i was hoping to read reviews that would persuade me to change my mind but alas it looks like that wont be happening.

      I liked 3. The first two are great stories but the spectacle of GOW3 was nice and it ended well.
      If Ascension is the same level of flashiness with the new combat system mentioned to make mashing fresh again then I will be happy.
      After Aliens CM anything will feel brilliant.

      After Tomb Raider my immediate gaming life has peaked though. Everyone buy Tomb Raider instead lol.

      It's alright, we've got the R18+ now. We don't have to treat every title like it's edutainment anymore. Spec Ops makes you kill innocents and it gets praised. God of War has enemies with boobs and all of a sudden we can't separate games from reality. I know boobs can be disorientating but I think the secret is to keep one eye on your horizon.

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