God of War: Ascension Multiplayer Beta Impressions
When endeavoring to add multiplayer to God of War for the upcoming prequel God of War: Ascension, Sony Santa Monica had the tall order to making players feel like they’re playing Kratos as they tear into their human-controlled opponents.
Realistically, that’s no easy feat. God of War games have players taking on hordes of enemies, sure, but with combo-heavy button-slamming attacks that emphasize Kratos’ power over his enemies’ intelligence. Most of the bad guys in God of War games are fodder rather than real challenges, and once you get the pattern recognition down, you’re pretty much set.
Contrast that to Ascension, which has players fighting other players, and all of them have capabilities on par to what we’re used to dealing with in the series’ single-player offering. The fact that it often works, and works well, in God of War: Ascension is a testament to what must have been a huge amount of work on the developers’ part to find the perfect balance between power and control. The foundation is there to make every single player in Ascension feel like Kratos, if only for a split-second before getting pummeled into the ground by someone playing with a higher skill level.
After spending quite a bit of time duking it out in the God of War: Ascension beta, it seems that if there’s one thing Sony Santa Monica got right, it’s the ability to make each battle between players come down to deftly executed series of actions and reactions. Battles feel combo-heavy as well as skillful, but usually manage to avoid the feeling of cheap button-mashing. Strategy in your attacks is usually very important, as is anticipating what your opponents are going to do next.
Point and Counter-Point
The main component that makes Ascension work is a one-on-one battle between two players. This is not a button-mash-fest, either, because two characters are rarely capable of hitting each other at the same time. Instead, usually one manages to hit the other, and can then follow up with additional moves. Meanwhile, the person who took the hit is (somewhat) stunned, but has a few options available as well.
Every time you join a battle, it’s a race to input the right command at the right time. Say you go after someone with a fast, weak attack and manage to get it in before they land their slower, heavy attack. You’ll be able to keep laying into them, but had the heavy attack come sooner, it would have bested you.
Once you’re fighting, players can dodge away, throw up temporary shields in the form of “parries,” or use a load-out item to break up the combo. All those things come with cool-down times, so you can’t spam them. And even if you break free, there’s no guarantee you won’t find yourself mid-combo a few seconds later. It’s all about responding to your opponent.
But everything has its counter. Fast attacks can be deflected with every character’s standard block, or parried with the shield, which results in a momentary stun of the opponent and gives you the chance to turn the tides. Slow, heavy attacks can’t be blocked or parried, but they take a long time to execute, so they’re good for finishing up combos. You also have special attacks much like those of Kratos, which have cool-down timers attached to them, that can give you additional range and power.
Having the skill to respond to your opponent in the correct way really is what determines the winner of battles, although you’ll spend a lot of time in between battles tweaking stats like damage dealt and defense from armor. When an opponent rolls to dodge your attack or sprints to escape you, hitting your “grab” button can nab them out of the air. When an opponent parries, following up with a heavy attack breaks the shield. When your opponent starts a combo on you, breaking free with the right item can give you a second wind. And in every fight, you can only be bludgeoned for so long before your player reels back and gets a momentary invincibility, so no combo goes on forever.
Still, it’s a hard system to learn and harder still to be good with. Magic attacks and different items and armor all carry slight differences with them, so players will need to learn not only to respond to basic attacks, but what special attacks look like and what effects they have. More than that, though, is getting used to the sort of timing required to prevent a beatdown. Parrying at the wrong time leaves you standing there, looking like an idiot, while your opponent considers how to squash you. Spamming light attacks is a sure invitation to a counter. It takes a lot to get used to it all, and skilled players will definitely bring the pain to less-seasoned contenders.