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I love playing video games and I hate the new Microsoft Experience
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*NO story spoilers.

I'm not writing for style points here. I just want everyone's honest opinion about my qualms with God of War: Ascension. Am I way off base? Am I missing something? Does anyone feel this way? I haven't completed the game yet. I turned it off late last night, and I wanted some feedback before I play again.

Combat is the worst in the series

My frustration began early on when the Hecatonchires rips off a portion of a jail structure, and Kratos fights a few swarms of enemies suspended/turning in the air. The camera swings out far enough that Kratos is indistinguishable from the enemies, and you're left to blindly swing away. I died 8-10 times, because I was attempting to use block/parry and combos. On the brink of suicide, I tried to simply grapple the enemies with "R1" one at a time, and it worked like a charm! I'd grapple an enemy, which would reduce my chance of being stunned, then hurl him into his friends. I felt good about it, until I slowly realized that this is the ONLY strategy I would use for the duration of the night!

I turned off the game when I was just inside the the Tower of Delphi, and I had grappled my way through every standard infantry combat scenario to that point. The only exception being higher level creatures. The problem is that Kratos' combos rarely interrupt enemies' attacks, and enemy attacks always break Kratos' combos! It wouldn't be a problem if Ascension used the same block/parry system as GoW3, but the new system makes it utterly useless. Although I really can't say much about the parry system, other than the fact that I don't like it, because I'm not quite sure how it works. You "hold L1 and press X at the right moment...." Why the fuck would you map a counter-attack to the jump button? Parries are terribly difficult to time against more than one enemy, and if you finally pull one off you won't be able to execute a full combo move without another enemy striking you.

The block/parry system wouldn't be a problem if the game offered an alternative strategy. I tried being more nimble by using faster attacks and rolling with the right stick to evade enemies, but you can't roll out of a combo animation effectively, and the roll doesn't put enough distance between you and many of the enemies' standard attacks. Most standard infantry will strike twice in one attack and cover a greater distance than Kratos' roll. Generally, Kratos will roll once and freeze for a second after the animation, and in that time the enemy will be landing their second swing, and other enemies will be close behind beginning their attacks.

By the time I was riding the serpents before the Tower of Delphi, I would just hold "L1" (block) and let the enemies swing at me (without doing any damage) until it prompted me to platform to the next section. I'm so sick of grappling and using "R1," I can't stand it. Am I missing something central to the combat?

Who mapped the buttons?

By far, Ascension has the least intuitive controls of any GoW game. Throwing weapons, parrying, using your rage meter and combos are a game of Dual-Shock Twister! Also, It'd be great to get some better on-screen instructions or tips for effectively using some functions. By the time you add in the different elementals (fire, ice, lightning and soul), there's too much shit! Everyone knows the foundation of GoW are the blades, and everything else is just window dressing. So why are all the reviewers raving about the new elemental attacks (fire, ice, lightning and soul damage) and the weapons you can pick up on stage? It's just more clutter atop an already busy game.

Platforming

God of War is mostly about the combat, but I want to put in a short word on some other elements. It appears the developers wanted to improve platforming in this installment, and I can't say they succeeded. Until now, GoW only had the occasional grapple/swing, ledge shimmy, or wall climb. Ascension tries to mix up the action by adding Assassin's Creed style climbing, but it's nothing more than annoying. Even though Kratos reaches and hops between climbable protrusions relatively quickly, he does so with zero grace. The recent Tomb Raider includes lots of satisfying climbing scenarios, but Ascension has neither the style nor substance required to make climbing an engaging experience. Every climbing section in Ascension is just an instance of holding up on the left stick and watching Kratos climb a wall with abrupt/awkward movements, completely disconnecting the player. I wouldn't have mentioned it, but my impression is that the developers meant to bring this to the foreground of gameplay, possibly even a new feature.

The "sliding" sections are a bit more engaging, but certainly not much fun. Previous installments included the wings of Icarus free-fall sections, which were much more effective and exhilarating. The sliding sections in Ascension are alright, but ultimately your just dodging walls until the game prompts you to hit the "X" button. Hell, you can't even jump unless the game prompts you. There's really no thrill in it, and plenty of games have done it better.

Story and Presentation

I keep hearing, "God of War has never been about the story." True, GoW has never had exceptional dialogue, but it's always been expertly paced and presented. I feel none of that in Ascension. It's not the content of the story (wherever it's hiding), it's the whole presentation. I don't know where I am, who anyone is and what is going on!

For the first time in the series, the entire setting feels like a meaningless backdrop for the ensuing violence, instead of a lovingly crafted experience. Where's the attention to detail? The flare? Does anyone remember how you would pull a switch and the camera pans out and swings around the corner to show you where to go next? Never been a problem before, but it feels like the Ascension devs hired a child to operate the camera from Halo: Reach Theatre mode to record this shit.

In Summary

Overall, Ascension seems phoned in. It's not just more of the same, it's less of everything. I don't think it looks, sounds or plays as well as the previous titles. Even the graphics and animations feel off. There's no way this received the same attention that previous installments did, because it just doesn't have the quality one would expect from a GoW game.

My real beef is that the reviews still "S" its "D." I bought the game thinking it would be the same quality experience, just slightly underwhelming because the story wouldn't be as engrossing and Kratos would be slightly subdued. Come to find it's really not tight experience at all.

I'd love to hear others' thoughts and opinions on these points of issue! I'm passionate about the series, and I'm really let down. I'd love to commiserate or read a different perspective. I'm really looking forward to hearing what other people think. Hopefully I'll get some combat tips so that I can enjoy the rest of the game.

*Thanks to everyone who offered sympathy when I accidentally deleted this post*








I just typed an entire blog for hours, essentially reaching out to the community for feedback on GoW: Ascension, and my Mac detected a two finger trackpad gesture that directed me back to the homepage and erased all my progress. Who weighs more than 200 pounds and wants to stand on my head?








I recently read Corduroy Turtle's "Buy It/Avoid It Report," and his Dead Space 2 review gave me an interesting topic to discuss. (Great article, Turtle! This isn't meant to slight you!)



I'm actually a huge fan of backtracking, and I think it isn't getting the love it deserves! I love Dead Space 2, but I also miss the backtracking bits in the original Dead Space. When backtracking is overused it can be the worst (think of collecting all the stars in your least favorite world in Mario 64). But I also think that backtracking can provide a game the essential elements of a classic!


Content

My first argument for moderate backtracking is the level of content it can provide the player. A huge fun factor for me isn't just my first run through a game, it's how many items remain hidden, how I'm supposed to get into a locked room, or what rooms can I explore off the beaten path. In a game with little or no backtracking, content and surprises can be minimal.

For instance, I feel that Dead Space 1 has more rooms to explore and reasons to explore. Sure, Dead Space 2 takes you to a lot of different locations and gives you new armor on your 2nd run, but rarely did I look anywhere but where the waypoint system told me... there wasn't much else to do. If the player was given the option to return to earlier scenes, even just before going to the next chapter, they could have squeezed out way more content and made the areas more interesting by having secrets lying about (think how neat it was to find the Peng Statue hidden in the vent system in Dead Space 2). It isn't that Dead Space 1 was that much more in depth, but I still felt like I explored more...


Atmosphere

In Dead Space 1, I felt like the Ishimura was my big, scary stomping ground. I got to know the whole ship, and I had a sort of spatial awareness that allowed me to go to new parts of the ship during different chapters and feel like I knew where I was. If anyone think backtracking sucks, I'd argue that my favorite portion of Dead Space 2 was the thought of backtracking through the Ishimura; albeit, they could have done more to spice up my trip back. It's good to feel like you're character is actually impacting the stages, and I got that feel out during both my tours through the Ishimura.

On the other hand, Dead Space 2 was a great game that took place in all sorts of different locales. My gripe is that each new area felt like a gimicky new background to kill off the same enemies. Whether I'm in a nursery or a church, I felt sort of like I was playing an on-the-rails-shooter. No need to explore, just blow guys up and move forward. It made my second run MUCH less enjoyable, especially levels like the nursery that offer very little to do.

Creators can vary the levels and gameplay with the awesome space/zero-gravity sequences or puzzles, without abandoning the atmosphere all together I would easily trade the nursery stage for another chance to free fall back to Sprawl through space! Shit, I think that the game should let you ride an elevator back up to the solar reflectors and do it as many times as you want! THOSE are the scenery shifts that really made the game stand out, and you actually look forward to them the 2nd time through.


Nostalgia

If it means enough to you, you won't want to leave. Shadow of the Colossus (my favorite game) takes place in one seamless world. I never got sick of how awesome some of the location were. Other games, like Zelda: Ocarina of Time, had me returning to old location just because they made such an impact on me.

How would I have implemented this value in Dead Space 2? It would have been neat to give the player a better idea of what the entire station looked like and make it possible to go back to earlier chapters. For instance: the player could have been required to leave the medical bay through a security hatch and rocket through space to get to the next chapter. Imagine going back to the medical bay from a later chapter and be rewarded to a trip through zero-gravity space, with the silent behemoth, Saturn, gracing the backdrop (along with a fiery/chaotic vista of Sprawl)! Spice that scene up with some debris to dodge, and I'd return more than a few times!

In any event, I really loved Dead Space 2, and I really hope that Dead Space 3 keeps up the good work and gives fans something that we can really hold on to and come back to, like all my favorite games!

(Favorite Games: Dead Space, Shadow of the Colossus, Grand Theft Auto III, Final Fantasy X, Zelda Series, Shadow Complex, Limbo, Command and Conquer)
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