God of War: Ascension is likely to be Kratos’ final appearance on the PlayStation 3. Perhaps fans will be graced with yet another installment on further consoles, possibly even portables like the Vita, but for now, Ascension is all we have. These are Kratos’ final goodbyes to a generation that will no doubt be obsolete within a year’s time, and with that, we ask ourselves, Was it really worthwhile? Did the game top what’s already come? Was it a finale that left even the slightest of fans craving for more, something the series has, naturally, always done? I’d want to say yes. But, as desperate as I am to justify myself, Ascension’s ambitions of giving Kratos a proper narrative and an actual threat, unfortunately, just don’t cut it this time around.
Set prior to the first God of War, Sony Santa Monica’s newest chapter in their ever-expanding series shows a torn Kratos struggling to break free of the mind games and endless torment posed by The Furies, three obscure, and frankly underwhelming, sisters. The game, essentially just a quest to kill The Furies, opens with an introductory boss battle, as we’ve come to expect. However, unlike those previous, killing the first Fury is a dumbed down experience that seems to cater more towards younger audiences — those accustomed to games like Uncharted — with its simple-structured layout and all. Basically it’s a string of Quick Time Events split by smaller waves of enemies. And while one could argue that that’s all it’s ever been with a God of War game, this intro in particular just wasn’t quite in line with what we’ve seen before. Think back on God of War 3 and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Story-wise, Ascension’s mediocrity is a probable result of it being set in such early stages of Kratos’ quest for retribution, as many of his most unforgettable moments come later. In other words, a prequel may not have been the wisest decision for SCE Santa Monica’s next project. Prequels tend to limit the developer more often than not, as they’re mostly trying to work around the sequels. Gods are essentially out of the question, since they’re practically all killed off in later games. Likewise, second-tier villains like Apollo and Hermes are equally unavailable; they’ve been killed off as well. So in the end, it ultimately came down to the three underdeveloped and uninteresting Furies. Hardly an improvement when we’ve been trained to go up against the likes of Ares and Zeus himself.
God of War has always looked beautiful. And while you’d be hard-pressed to say that Ascension doesn’t, the game, unfortunately, isn’t quite as polished as its sequels. Strangely, this doesn’t stem from a lack of detail — rather, it comes from an excess of it. There is no doubt that Kratos and his surroundings were at their prime in God of War 3, which surprises me because you’d assume that a more recent title would show off even greater visuals. Sadly, Ascension’s Kratos is spotty and looks unfinished, as his environments display a similar convolution. At times there’s just so much going on in the backdrop that your ability to distinguish objects from one another is degraded, and walls suddenly become an uneven mixture of multiple tones of brown. I suppose it’s not as bad as I make it out to be, but considering the height at which previous God of War games have set the bar, Ascension admittedly doesn’t showcase that same extraordinary graphical achievement.
On a more positive note, Kratos’ latest outing is just as enjoyable to play as it’s ever been. Being the pissed off brute he is, Kratos will once again venture through this Greek mythology-derived world, mow down wave after wave of demonic beasts, slay monsters literally 100-times your size, and do it all simply to shed more blood. Always filled with unending rage, always corrupted by the evils that torment his mind, Kratos is absolutely inseparable from his Blades of Chaos (for now). Additionally, there are four upgrades you’ll be able to acquire throughout the game’s entirety, each one expanding the blades with the gods’ elemental powers: Fire of Ares, Ice of Poseidon, Lightning of Zeus and Soul of Hades. Each has its perks and each offers a special attack utilizing your magic. While players are more than likely to stick to their preferred blade, there’s certainly an assortment of combinations and techniques that grant those having a tendency to work out of their comfort zone with a much wider range of play.
Furthermore, God of War: Ascension’s gameplay is diversified not only by its combat but its tendency to throw in a puzzle every now and then, an aspect that’s consistently lightened up my experience throughout the series. I’ve always felt up to the challenge, and I find that incorporating them is a wonderful way to break free of the game’s constant seriousness, like, you know, tearing your foes limb from limb. The frequency of these puzzles, I noticed, was also upped from previous installments, providing a much-needed levity to the overall product.
To describe it as “bad” would be rather off. More in line with most fans’ expectations, God of War: Ascension is, very bluntly, disappointing at the least. Sharing a compelling story is nearly second nature to the developers over at Sony Santa Monica, and so it comes only as a surprise that Kratos’ latest was far from it. Bland and entirely off-putting, The Furies were also an unforgiving mistake and totally justified my disinterest throughout. Combat was fresh, as it always seems to be with the series, but even that could not help the game through its many dire moments. So close to failure, it’s hard not to admit that Ascension is the weakest link among God of War’s other three, nearly immaculate, titles.