*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.
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.
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*