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Hands-On with God of War: Ascension
God of War is one of those franchises that doesn’t exactly change a whole lot between installments. Sure, the bosses may be bigger and the graphics may be better, but the core gameplay of puzzles and brutal combat remains relatively unchanged each time we join Kratos on an adventure. Not that we’re saying this is a bad thing. The core mechanics of God of War are so incredibly solid that we don’t mind things not changing. This may make us sound like psychopaths, but ripping heads off monsters and ripping humans in half never gets old.
God of War: Ascension continues this proud tradition. What you get is the same God of War, only bigger. Gameplay still consists of puzzles, followed by a few rounds of combat with various creatures of Greek mythology, with each section usually followed up by a massive boss battle and sweeping views of the game’s gorgeous vistas. The only area things have been changed up seems to be the controls, which are a little different than games past, and the influence it has taken from other games.
God of War: Ascension has taken a lot of influence, at least from what we saw, from the Uncharted games. Climbing in God of War has always been a little iffy. It was never broken, but it was always slow going. Now, Kratos moves along walls at a brisk pace and will automatically jump between small gaps. Climbing feels just like it does in Uncharted, and is a hell of a lot better than it used to be. Speaking of “feel”, we’re not sure if it was our imagination or not, but it seems like Kratos controls better than ever. The animations and controls are a lot smoother and it seems you have more fine tuned control over Kratos.
Magic is a little different than it has been in past games. Rather than activating a spell with a shoulder button and draining a meter, magic now works off of a rage meter. At any time, you can switch the element of your Blades of Chaos (assuming you’ve unlocked that element) and you build up the rage meter by fighting enemies. The more damage you do, the faster it fills while taking damage yourself or refraining from combat causes it to go down. Once it’s full, clicking both thumbsticks will unleash a spell similar in style to the past games, such as a gigantic explosion for the fire element. It seems that different enemy types are weak to different types of elements, giving you a reason to switch things up (although you can do very well without ever switching).
The final changes have to do with new or modified game mechanics. As you play you can find weapons scattered throughout the environment, such as a spear or a sling. Once you pick them up, pressing circle (grab has been moved to R2) makes Kratos swing that new weapon and gives combat new possibilities when mixed up with the more traditional blades. Finally, grabs have changed slightly. The grab based executions from previous games make a return, but now when fighting pressing the grab button causes Kratos to embed one of his blades into the enemy and continue fighting with just one. This gives a neat visual effect as you see the chain lead from Kratos’ wrist the enemy as it moves around, and mixes up the combat because you now only have one blade to fight with (and fewer combos) until you whip the enemy around and slam them into his friends, thereby releasing him and getting your weapon back.
God of War has always been a graphical showcase for Sony’s consoles, and Ascension may just be the best looking game the PS3 has ever seen. The scale is absolutely huge and the stages seem to stretch on forever, while the combat is exquisitely animated, detailed, and busy. If you weren’t playing it for yourself you’d be excused if you thought that some of the combat scenes were prerendered video and not actual gameplay. This is helped by the camera work that always tilts dramatically as Kratos climbs and fights bosses and highlights all the effort that went into bringing ancient Greece to life. We cannot overstate how gorgeous this game is.
We were particularly impressed by the “Tower of Delphi” area of the game. After ascending the tower, Kratos must unlock 3 gigantic, clockwork snakes that wrap around the tower and activate a machine inside in order to proceed. We got to fight on the backs of the snakes as they wound through the sky and even go inside their mechanical bodies as they slowly get broken apart. We haven’t seen anything with a scale this impressive since the battle with Poseidon in God of War III, and jumping from section to section really highlights the new controls and how maneuverable Kratos really is.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try out the multiplayer or the newly announced co-op mode.
God of War: Ascension is exactly what we wanted it to be. It’s all about incremental improvements while keeping the same basic game we’ve been in love with for years. God of War has always stood at the top of the action game pile, and Ascension just confirms that it’s well deserved.
If you still can’t get enough God of War, make sure to head over to our Youtube channel to check out the gameplay footage we took while playing the game.