Our Titanic First Look At God Of War: Ascension's Multiplayer

I’m sitting in a cinema; the lights come up. The God of War: Ascension presentation is over. Amidst a hum of whispers and seat shuffles, there is a call for questions. Reluctantly I raise my hand. I’m handed a microphone.

“Maybe I’m jet-lagged,” I begin, “but I’m a little bit confused…”

No-one blames me. This isn’t what I was expecting from God of War: Ascension. Not even close.


The demo begins with a close up — a face, not quite Kratos, but recognisable as such. The camera zooms out dramatically; a Cyclops blasts through concrete.

"A prequel," I think to myself, "this is what Kratos must have looked like before…"

'Not-quite-Kratos' begins attacking the Cyclops, all slashes and stabs. But then another character, who looks a little less like Kratos, but still a little bit like Kratos, joins in on the Cyclops beat down. Seconds later ‘not-quite-Kratos’ and ‘a-little-bit-like-Kratos’ have spilled the Cyclops intestines (and various other internal organs) all over this level’s nice clean floor and subsequently moved on. Together.

"A non-playable team-mate?" I ask myself. "Or maybe God of War co-op?"

I really have no earthly idea what’s going on here.

The battlefield increases in scale. A barrage of new 'not-quite-Kratos's' enter the scene. Slashing, parrying, clefting one another in twain. One particularly vivid kill involves one 'not-quite-Kratos' slashing another 'not-quite-Kratos' right through the shoulder blade. In God of War the phrase 'tearing one another limb from limb' is always meant literally.

In the background, a titan-esque Cyclops. Absolutely massive. He’s tied down with chains and struggles against them as the carnage unfolds. The combat is God of War-esque, but it feels less precise — far more loose. Hits don’t appear to register as easily, enemies don’t follow the traditional routes — they don’t head directly towards the waiting blades of ‘not-quite-Kratos’, they judder and jerk, they parry. In short — they act like human players.

"Wait a minute," I think, the idea suddenly dawning. "Is this multiplayer?"

Slowly it starts to click. Piece by piece. It appears as though there are two teams of four, battling it out for control, attempting to hold various areas of a sprawling multiplayer map. Both sets of teams continue to skirmish as I compute.

One gains the upper hand, and eventually a massive, God-sized spear is hurtled towards the ground. ‘Not-quite-Kratos’ grasps at it. He leads his team to the gargantuan Cyclops where they, in the most grotesque manner possible, liberate the monster from his single, solitary eyeball.

This is God of War: Ascension’s new multiplayer component. And I’m still a little bit confused.

Favour of the Gods

“What did you think,” asks Whitney Wade, Senior Producer.

I answer honestly.

“Well, I was really, really confused, and maybe that was deliberate — maybe you guys wanted us to feel confused,” I say. “Then I sort of tried to piece it all together, and that was quite fun, the process of trying to understand the demo as it went along.”

She laughs.

“Ah, you were the one that asked that question!”

After watching the demo, featuring ‘not-quite-Kratos’ and ‘a-little-bit-like-Kratos’, we were funnelled towards Jason McDonald, a Lead Combat Designer tasked with helping us digest what we just saw. The afore-mentioned demo was presented completely without context — hence the confusion. It was his job to clarify things.

“So yeah, what you just watched was multiplayer,” he begins.

“Basically we showed a team component where two people killed the small Cyclops. Then we pulled back and tried to show that there’s a bigger fight happening on a bigger scale with a bigger Cyclops.”

The game we just watched was a four versus four affair — essentially God of War’s interpretation of ‘territories’. Each team had to hold two separate positions, and hold said positions for a specific amount of time before earning ‘the favour of the gods’, and the right to use the Spear sent from the heavens to slaughter the massive Cyclops.

Suddenly I begin to feel a little less confused.

The Titan Blueprint

“We’ve actually talked about multiplayer internally for quite some time,” claims Whitney, “even before this iteration of God of War.

“I think when we were thinking about what is the next God of War going to be, our focus was definitely on single player, but when those talks evolved we asked, 'what’s going to be our ‘Titan’ moment in Ascension?' A 'Titan moment' being a huge technical, artistic and creative endeavour. The timing just felt right to try multiplayer, so we just went into gear.”

Multiplayer may not seem like a challenge on the same scale as the Titans from God of War 3. Multiplayer has been done before, even in franchises known primarily for single player. But God of War: Ascension is attempting to push towards the unknown in a sense — there may be a blueprint for multiplayer in the first person shooter realm, but multiplayer in an action game like God of War is uncharted territory.

"It’s a huge challenge for us," admits Whitney. “But we’ve always tried to face our challenges head on.

“We had the same attitude when we initially started talked about the Titan – everyone was just like, ‘man, this is going to be crazy.’ And then we just go ahead and do it!

And that’s essentially what the team at Santa Monica did — went about the task of 'inventing' a multiplayer God of War.

“We started off building arenas, and then we started wondering what our wow moment would be,” says Whitney. “Then we thought about the simpler stuff – player versus player, balancing, teams – do we want to have AI involved? It was like that, there wasn’t really an initial conversation with a road map, we were finding our way as we went.

“We really thought about what was successful about God of War single player: visceral gameplay, epic gameplay, making sure the player feels powerful and fun. We thought about how we could transfer that into multiplayer.

“It was far from the traditional process you go through when you add multiplayer to, say, a first person shooter. It’s a huge challenge.”

The Multiplayer Challenge

‘Challenge’. It’s a word the Santa Monica team use constantly, almost like a crutch. Multiplayer is a ‘challenge’. The Titans were a ‘challenge’, designing levels is a ‘challenge’. The word ‘Ascension’ seems to be tied into that — because a challenge isn’t something you necessarily solve — it’s something you rise to.

“The biggest challenge of moving into multiplayer is making the combat balanced,” says Jason, and there’s that word again — 'challenge'. “Kratos is a powerful guy, but we can’t make everybody super powerful, because that would just be frustrating.

“The weapons are tuned a little differently – you might have noticed that the ranges were a little bit shorter, and we’ve done things to make sure you can actually fight with one another.

“We want people to understand what’s going on. — if you get the upper hand you know why, if you’re losing you know why. We want to make sure the attacks have defined ranges, and players recognise how to counter.”

The class system being introduced to God of War: Ascension is part of that need to define multiplayer — to give it a purpose, to provide players with a template to work with. It’s a familiar tactic, but perhaps a necessary one considering the circumstances.

“You’ll be able to select from one of four gods – Zeus, Aries, Poseidon, Hades – and based on that selection will come abilities, explains Jason. “Some of them may be magical, some may be perks, some might be an item you can use. I don’t want to give too many details, but there will be... ah, maybe I’ll just stop right there!

“Think of it this way — various games will give you perks like, ‘I’ll do a little more damage than you’. Maybe something happens after I kill a bunch of guys. Those are examples of perks that you may have in Ascension.

“We want to make sure that all the classes complement each other. We want to make sure a well balanced team works better than an unbalanced team. A good example is basketball — If you had all centres... well, Shaq might have been good back in the day, but if you have five Shaqs you’re still going to lose.”

Fear of Failure

Bringing multiplayer to a well established franchise — particularly a series known primarily for focused single player experiences — is bound to elicit backlash from specific segments of the game’s fanbase.

BioShock 2, Dead Space 2 — shoe-horned multiplayer is hardly a boon, and is seen by many as a drain on resources that could otherwise be spent on honing the established single player aspect.

This is an assumption Whitney Wade is well aware of.

“Absolutely we’re worried about it,” she says.

“I can remember working on God of War 1 the night before E3, when we were debuting the game for the first time. We were tuning the Medusa to the very last minute and we had no idea what people’s reactions would be the next day. That’s just how we operate! The fear of failure, the fear of rejection! That drives us to make sure we’re hitting it. And we don’t know if we’re hitting it until it’s out there."

But Whitney believes the experience with Santa Monica’s ranks, and the team’s extensive history with the God of War series, grants them a little more leeway. The team is far more comfortable taking risks as a result.

Still, there are no guarantees.

“I hope fans react favourably,” begins Whitney. “We’re proud of it otherwise we wouldn’t be showing it to you today. We’re trying to define action-adventure multiplayer and not only is that our goal, but we feel like we’re hitting it.

“Along the way fans have always talked about the potential of multiplayer, some fans have also mentioned they don’t want to dilute the single player experience. So we made the decision to move forward with multiplayer without diluting the single player experience.”

The pressure of working on a fourth iteration of God of War is intense. Expectations are high, not just from the fans, but internally. It’s that constant struggle to outdo previous efforts, to redefine production values — that’s what motivates every single individual working at Santa Monica. Every God of War must have its Titan and it just so happens that, this time round, said 'Titan' revolves around an attempt to redefine multiplayer.

“We’re definitely proud and ambitious people on this team,” says Whitney, finally. “We want to be proud of what we do, and we want to make sure we can enjoy the thing that we’ve made.

“We want to make sure we’re outdoing ourselves every time.”


    Wow Multiplayer... again.


    Why do developers do this. It's been proven that not all Singleplayer oriented IPs well with MP, and wasted time and resources doing it could have been used to enhance singleplayer.

    I really don't know what to say anymore :|

      So, you're saying that if a developer decides that they should add multiplayer, they shouldn't?

      The important distinction that you mentioned is "not all." Wait until you see something before you judge, you could be pleasantly surprised. :)

      'Proof' is an absolute term. I suppose it can apply when you say stuff like 'not all,' but that doesn't make any point at all. Sure, 'not all' games work well with multiplayer, but 'not all' sandwiches involve bread. It's been 'proven' that my name is not Jiminy Potahto, but who cares?

      Anyway, pedantry aside, I have a lot of faith in these guys. They wouldn't do this if they didn't think they could, and Sony aren't the type to force them into it. On a side note, those graphics look fantastic.

      I have complete trust in SantaMonica that the Single Player experience will be the complete GOW package as in previous games but better. They have improved on textures, lighting, animation and i'm sure that will all show in single player. Just note that they are not making a multiplayer based game with an added story mode, it's still a God of War game but with a multiplayer mode as well. The GOW team wont gives us something we wont like, trust me it'll be good.

    The multiplayer concept sounds interesting, but I'm still skeptical until I see gameplay footage. Also, enough needs to be done to shake up single player, that got stale after 5 games in 5 years =\. I do hope if they're going to include multiplayer it'll be both online and offline.

    I can't see it mentioned anywhere - is there still a single player component at all, or have they ditched it more or less entirely? To be honest, I'd be more interested in the latter than the former - a watered-down, resource light version of GoW single player and multi-player sounds not particularly good, but if they put all the work they'd normally put into the single player and made it multi-player... I'd be willing to give that a try.

      Agreed, although only if they play their cards right. I could imagine some type of class-based warfare, like a melee/chains-only TF2.

      Team Sparta. Yeah, this could work...

    Sounds like small-scale Dota. This might be decent if done properly, and with the amount of money behind it it could be fantastic cheeseburger.

    I just can't think of a AAA IP less suited for multiplayer, with the exception of Assassins Creed, which ended up being pretty good. I'll basically assume its bad, but I'll keep an eye out in case I'm wrong.

    Very well written article! Loved the point of view you used. Was like reading a dexter novel. Great work.

    As someone who has no attachment to the GoW series, and isn't too big a fan of multiplayer, I hope this does well. Probably not my game, but I think they can pull it off. And it should be very good looking.

    it could turn into a Mass Effect 3 case where the multiplayer actually ends up being good

    Colour me interested (a subtle Green and yellow hue), I hope to see an evolution of melee based multiplayer games.

      Here's your green hue, the yellow hue should be here shortly

      And I wonder how Anarchy Reigns handles multi :P

    I gotta believe. I GOTTA BELEEEEEIIIIVE!

    So I saw this pop up while browsing mobile TAY in bed and I started reading a bit (I hardly read articles) and I thought to myself "wow! A US article with actual content! It's fairly good, I wonder who the author is?" *scrolls up* Mark Serrels. Oh! No shit!

    Quality stuff as always Mark :), damn the lack of picture/flag threw me off guard and the timing of the post :P

    Wasn't really excited for a new GoW despite loving the others but this has got my interests up. Actually doesn't sound too bad! But I can't shake the feeling that multi is just there because everyone seems to think all games need it. I love me some good single player action! I guess we'll see what happens :). It's PS3 so free multi anyway, if I don't like it I just won't play. No biggie! (just as long as it doesn't affect Single)

    “Along the way fans have always talked about the potential of multiplayer, some fans have also mentioned they don’t want to dilute the single player experience. So we made the decision to move forward with multiplayer without diluting the single player experience.”

    This is a bit of a confusing statement. Are they saying that they didn't want to dilute the single player experience so they're going with a completely multiplayer game, or that multiplayer won't dilute the single player experience by the sheer virtue of them saying it won't? If it's the former, I honestly can't see many people jumping on board a purely multiplayer God of War game (and a recent trailer referenced Kratos and indicated a focus on more of his back-story, so I imagine the former isn't the case). If it's the latter, while Santa Monica is a talented studio (although I must be one of the few people who believes God of War 1 and 2 to be superior overall to 3), claiming that multiplayer development won't affect single player development and being able to back it up with the finished game is extremely tough, even if you outsource either single player or multiplayer, co-develop with another studio, or even double the size of your team.

    I'm certainly not saying that I don't want Santa Monica to succeed. Their idea for multiplayer certainly is interesting, I would very much like to see it be successful. I'm just very skeptical of the idea that a full single player AND multiplayer game can be developed by a studio the same size as one who produced an iterative, purely single player experience and not have the quality of one or both sections of the game to be affected in some way (even the development of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's multiplayer development affected the development of the single player component, albeit in fairly small ways).

    So how many hours will people have to pump into the multiplayer to ensure they have max 'God of War Assets' to get the best ending of the game?

    Gametrailers has updated their video to include gameplay footage. And yes, it looks BADASS!

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