God of War: Ascension follows the footsteps of the franchise in practically every way. From the quick time events riddling the otherwise chaotic combat, to the puzzles scattered throughout the world, Ascension delivers a truly God of War experience. Though the cinematics may have been improved from earlier iterations in the series, the sense of carnage and mayhem in Kratos’ actions, both during gameplay, as well as in cut scenes, has remained largely intact.

In his continued struggle to free himself from the bond forged with Ares, Kratos now seeks to vanquish the Furies, the creatures responsible for enforcing oaths made to the gods. The story of Ascension is not exactly linear, as you wake up imprisoned by the Furies and eager to vanquish them and be done with it, only to have a flashback bring you three weeks back in time, where you’ll have to cleave your way through the backstory. Along the way, you’ll find yourself visiting the temple of Delphi to see the Oracle, climbing through a gargantuan statue of Apollo in a bid to restore it to its former glory, and eventually making your way to the Furies’ prison, which is the core of the narrative.

You start off armed with little more than your trusty chained blades, which you’ll eventually be able to imbue with fire, ice, lightning, and soul. Each of these elements has its own special moves associated with specific button combinations. Throughout the game you’ll collect Red Orbs, which can be used to upgrade your items, by defeating enemies, smashing objects, and battering chests. This leveling system allows you to unlock the full move list for each weapon element, as well as powering up your blades and other objects you use throughout the game. While you are progressing, you’ll have to make a decision as to whether you want to go all in on improving your basic attacks, or level up your various items. While you can eventually upgrade everything, in the short term, you’ll need to balance the value of upgrading a number of smaller items, or spending all of your points upgrading the high-cost chained blades. Leveling up your gear will give you a well-deserved sense of accomplishment as you move through the story, though if you want steady progress, you’ll need to upgrade lesser items before going all in on your expensive main weapon upgrades.

The combat system more than makes up for the other minor failings of Ascension, since spamming attacks simply doesn’t cut it, forcing you to learn special moves, combos, and the subtleties of dodging. It’s no simple feat to implement an interesting combat system into the hack-and-slash genre, but Ascension did a stellar job of keeping the combat fraught with action, while requiring use of more than just the attack buttons. If you try to dive headlong into every fight swinging, you’ll find yourself loading checkpoints very frequently. Sure, button-mashing will suffice some of the time, but for a good portion of the encounters in Ascension, you’ll need to be able to execute a well-timed dodge before you can even really get into the fray. Your enemies can interrupt your attacks, and they’re often coming at you from all sides, so it is imperative to avoid the interruptions if you hope to keep hammering away at the enemy. You’ll learn a special move that lets you follow up your dodge with a powerful attack, making dodges all the more essential to a successful battle.

Kratos’ various kill animations can be brutal, but given the quick time events that are required to pull some of them off, you’ll sometimes wish you could just watch the animation without having to keep an eye out for quick time prompts. These are typically reserved for the more powerful monsters, though, so you can always sit back and enjoy Kratos tearing the head off the weaker foes, ripping the torso from the legs, or impaling them with their own weapon.

Quick time events are part and parcel for God of War, and Ascension is no exception. From the first encounter with the Hecatonchires to various lesser enemies, you’ll be expected to pay attention during cinematic sequences from beginning to end, with no indication of when to expect a QTE. Not knowing whether a given animation or cinematic is going to require input is one of the more frustrating aspects of Ascension. Fortunately, most times that you fail an unexpected QTE, you’ll only take damage or lose a short bit of progress.

The platforming side of things isn’t particularly exciting, as the climbing sections aren’t significantly different from the linear walking segments. You don’t need to scout handholds or anything like that to climb, you simply push the joystick around until Kratos inches along in whatever direction he’s supposed to be going, watching for the occasional change in stance where you’ll need to press X. Platforming around through the levels can offer some impressive sights to be sure, but you’ll need to pay more attention to catch the random QTEs in the animations and cut scenes than you do to the platforming pieces of Ascension.

In contrast to the rudimentary platforming, the puzzles can be at once infuriating and gratifying. It’s a nice change of pace from the intensive combat to have to solve an esoteric puzzle, but the utter lack of direction for certain sections requires either an immensely keen eye, or a perseverance typically reserved for the likes of Kratos himself. The Catacombs of Delphi puzzle provides the most poignant example of this, where the solution is anything but obvious given the setup. Once you’ve figured out just what you’re supposed to do, however, seeing your efforts pay off can be thoroughly satisfying, especially in the rare circumstance where you solve the puzzle on the first attempt.

Bottom Line: God of War: Ascension is an intriguing blend of action-oriented hack-and-slash combat and puzzles. Though the platforming aspects don’t really sell Ascension, they do give you an opportunity to catch your breath.

Recommendation: Though it’s not for the faint of heart, God of War: Ascensionis a worthy addition to the franchise, with a lot to offer anyone that enjoys a serious challenge.

[rating=4.0]

Game: God of War: Ascension
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform(s): PS3
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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