God of War: Ascension Single-Player Preview: Young Kratos, Old Formula
The God of War series knows what it’s good at, and it makes no apologies. The lead character Kratos just doesn’t give a sh#$, and he’s not conflicted about ripping Greek gods’ heads off. He’s very busy, and needs to get to his next deicide appointment. The series is extremely violent, combat is beautifully fluid, the scale is massive, Greek mythology is turned into a low-brow blood fest, and the graphics are insane.
But I kind of thought we were done with God of War after the third installment.
Enter: God of War: Ascension, a recently-announced prequel to the series, which will see a younger, slimmer Kratos attempt to get out of a deal with the devil (Hades). After checking out a guided demo of the game at E3 last week, I walked away entertained, but somewhat skeptical of the series’ future.
If there’s one thing the God of War isn’t good at, it’s change. Though Kratos is chronologically younger in Ascension, he looks more like an old dog with a few new tricks.
Let’s talk about those new tricks. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new in Ascension.
A Kinder Kratos
By the time God of War 3 rolls around, Kratos really has lost his humanity. It’s not just gods he’ll kill, but also innocent villagers by the shovelful. For no real reason, he burns a helpless Peirithous alive in his bramble cage, before stealing the Bow of Apollo. He’s bad.
In Ascension, it’s way before all of that, and in one scene in the demo we get a glimmer of his soul. As spears come flying towards a group of villagers, Kratos (almost begrudgingly) pushes one of the villagers aside, saving his life. How far this moral alignment extends is yet to be seen, but it’s an interesting shift.
Kratos can hook one of his blades into an enemy, tug them around the map and smash them into other enemies, all while slashing with his other free blade. This is part of Sony Santa Monica’s focus on “weaponizing enemies,” which helps with crowd conrol.
In addition to Kratos’ regular chain blades, in Ascension he’ll have access to several new “sub weapons,” including swords, spears and clubs. They’re disposable weapons Kratos can pick up from the environment, or commandeer from disarmed enemies. When a Sub Weapon is equipped, it’ll enable unique combos, which can be seamlessly blended into the flow of regular combat as Kratos alternates between his blades and the Sub Weapon. When you’re done with a Sub Weapon, you can just chuck it.
If you throw a Sub Weapon away and it hits an enemy, they’ll enter a stunned state, which will allow you to throw them into other enemies–another example of “weaponizing” Kratos’ foes.
If Kratos has no Sub Weapon equipped, he can blend in some bare-knuckle punches, which looked pretty cool.
Life Cycle & Better Navigation
With the Life Cycle ability, Kratos can magically take control of structures, either repairing them in slo-mo, or destroying them. When activated, structures become surrounded by green mist, as random bits of wood and metal congeal in slo-mo to form bridges, platforms and so on. Kratos can then use those structures to get to previously inaccessible areas.
Life Cycle is a puzzle solving mechanic, which is reinforced by better platforming control. Kratos has taken a page from the Prince of Persia and Nathan Drake, smoothly climbing up objects by fluidly grabbing specific points on structures. In previous God of War games, platforming was an exercise in crude right angles. Here, it’s more fluid and natural looking.
The Life Cycle ability can also be used in combat, making enemies move in slo-mo, as a good introduction to combos.
Elemental Weapons & Enemies
In Ascension, you can choose to infuse Kratos’ blades with the power of different elements, though the only element Sony wished to reveal at E3 was fire. This reluctance seems kind of funny, given that classical elements are no secret. So the options are: fire, air, water, earth and perhaps ice. Info leak!
Enemies can also take elemental form, such as the Brute enemy, which has fire beneath his mask.
Rage Mode is Ascension’s version of “God Mode” from God of War 3, but with a couple twists. For every positive action that Kratos takes, the Rage meter fills up a bit. When the meter is completely full, Rage Mode is automatically activated, putting Kratos in a supercharged state. Kratos’ elemental attacks take on more destructive characteristics in Rage Mode. When Kratos’ blades are imbued with fire, Rage Mode causes all attacks to turn enemies in little fire bombs, who then explode and cause area-of-effect damage on nearby enemies.
If you continue to execute positive actions while in Rage Mode, it can be continually sustained over a longer period.
Buttonless Execution Moves
In past God of War games, when an enemy was near death, you could begin an execution sequence that required you to carefully follow a few on-screen button prompts. If done correctly, the execution would be successful, and you’d rip of a minotaur’s horn and shove it through his eye, or something.
In Ascension, the executions have returned, but they’re now “buttonless.” Meaning, when it’s time to kill an Elephantaur–the new elephant-meets-centaur enemy–you’re not prompted with specific buttons. While you’re grappling with the downed foe, you can use heavy and light attacks whenever you want, and you must successfully dodge incoming attacks in real time. The training wheels are off, it looks like.
How’s Ascension Shaping Up?
The transition from God of War 2 to 3 felt pretty meaningful, since the leap in graphical fidelity from PS2 to PS3 was so massive. There was a huge sense of scale, and it was an exciting transition to HD–reinvigorating the series’ formula with an undeniable visual wow factor.
Ascension looks like a lot of what we’ve already seen from the series. The new mechanics look and sound solid, but will they be enough to drive another full retail release? It’s tough to say without having had a chance to play the game myself, but on looks alone, Ascension’s single-player looks good but pretty familiar.
Of course, then there’s Ascension’s multiplayer mode, which Game Front colleague Ross Lincoln had a chance to play.
God of War: Ascension is out March 12, 2013 exclusively for the PS3.