God of War: Ascension.
Let me preface with saying that God of War 3 is one of the greatest games I’ve played in a long time. It had an incredible sense of scope, amazing battle mechanics, and a storyline that was engaging. So, will the prequel God of War: Ascension be able to follow that up, or is it a misstep for the franchise?
If you’re unfamiliar with the franchise, we follow an anti-hero named Kratos, who is a murderer and general badass, who doesn’t mind tearing apart anyone and anything that stands in his way. In the original God of War trilogy, we follow him as he defeats and takes the throne from Ares, and then defeats all the other Greek gods as well. In this prequel, we learn a side-story that happens before he goes after Ares. It’s not an essential story, since the trilogy succeeded without it, so it doesn’t really have much impact.
In terms of mechanics, the game plays nearly identical. Probably better. In past games, Kratos had an arsenal of four weapons that all played the same. Here, it saves you that choice and you only have your set of chaos blades, but now you can give them elemental powerups, such as fire, ice, electricity, and death, reminiscent of Hades. I used death the most. It’s an amazing feeling to watch hands reach up from Hades to swat at your enemies.
Visually, this game is stunning, just like its predecessors. With God of War 3, they kind of backed into a corner though. You fight on a titan, I mean… What could be better than that? They attempt to do that here by building an entire level that is built into (and on) a giant named Hecatonchires. It’s a stunning opening scene, and every once in a while, it brings you back to that level, so you get to keep exploring it. The scope can sometimes be a disservice, though, as Kratos becomes a speck on the screen and you lose track of where you are and who you’re fighting.
What doesn’t work?
Let me start chronologically. I put in God of War: Ascension last night, hoping to play it. I’m greeted with a screen that says there are eight updates to download and install, before I can play. It took nearly four hours (and yes, I have a decent connection). I had to go to sleep while the updates still downloaded.
And then imagine my surprise… I play the game and it’s still absolutely full of glitches. It froze on me probably four or five times, I fell through floors twice and died, and I played a whole level while random tutorial tips rotated across the top of the screen.
While those were glitches, there were some just bad decisions that caused my game to be really rough. It’s not an intuitive game. I watched a few behind the scenes specials after I beat it and they kept gloating with how minimal the interface was and intuitive it is for the player. It’s not. I repeatedly dove off of ledges to nothing, because there didn’t seem to be any other way. I repeatedly fell short of grappling hooks that I had to latch onto it. And I had to look up a handful of puzzles because I had absolutely no idea (and I’ve been playing games my whole life, it’s not usually this bad). I don’t think I died once from enemies but I died dozens of times from horrible camera angles and awkward quick-time events. Just a little too much.
But now we arrive at the actual game. The substance. Like I said in my intro, it was going to be hard to beat God of War 3. And it definitely didn’t, we just get that out there now. The villains were less memorable, though the furies were interesting enough (but not to be the headlining villains in a game like this). They tried to add a few new mechanics, which were great ideas but fell short. The most abundant new mechanic is the ability to /rebuild parts of the level, to help you get around. Again, it’s meant to be intuitive but it’s not. The icon shows up on the screen and it says “Press L2 to Heal” (or something) but I press L2 and nothing happens. It’s very fickle and often was even completely unresponsive.
Let’s say that technical issues are aside… Is this a solid game? Yes. It’s relatively short (I beat it in a day) and the story isn’t quite as expansive as its predecessors, but it’s a worthwhile adventure. Great combat, some exceptional level design, and interesting villains, but it just can’t compare to the other entries from the series.