God of War: Ascension Multiplayer Hands-On

The focus on the upcoming God of War: Ascension so far has been on its multiplayer. As a first for the series, Sony wants to come out as strong as possible on that front, putting a big team behind the game and behind the multiplayer mode in general in order to make it a worthwhile contribution to the online conversation.

Ross Lincoln and I spent a little time at Sony Santa Monica earlier this week for a chance to actually play a little Ascension, although I’ve previously seen it in action during a press demonstration. The multiplayer mode has some pretty tough marching orders: Offer a compelling alternative to other multiplayer games out there (primarily shooters), and capture the feeling of God of War, but with other people. Everything we experienced is coming to players in the game’s multiplayer beta, which is set to start sometime fairly soon.

Phil’s Take

I’ve been pretty positive about God of War: Ascension’s multiplayer, mostly because it looks interesting, polished, and different — and frankly, there are enough multiplayer shooters out there and not really enough alternatives. I previously saw portions of GOW:A’s multiplayer in action, and during our time at Sony Santa Monica, I was able to play in the same level detailed the last time I wrote about the game.

Picking up the controller for the play test, I definitely felt like I had the hang of things fairly quickly, though I haven’t played much God of War in quite a while. Gameplay is broken down into several kinds of attacks: light, heavy, “physical” (which is a sharp kick you can give enemies to send them flying, rather than attack with a weapon) and grappling. You also have the capability to block attacks, parry attacks, and roll clear of attacks.

Not long ago I tried my hand at Playstation All-Stars, and I was a very big fan of Super Smash Bros. back in its day. Ascension feels like it channels both, in a way — the developers are leaning on the God of War combat feeling, which means big hits and big combos from a variety of moves, but they’re balancing it, it seems, with a lot of PAS and Smash sensibilities to make the game work with other players.

In any given combat situation, two players face off against each other on even footing and the light attack plays a major role. It’s your work horse move because it’s fast and effective, and good for starting up combos. Directions paired with attacks give players different outcomes for those moves, but speed is the most major factor; your heavy attacks, for example, are useless in most direct confrontations until you get rolling, because they leave you so vulnerable.

Primarily, the best thing you can do is try to anticipate your opponent’s moves and either beat him to the punch, or counter them. Ascension is built on a sort of rock-paper-scissors structure: You can use the parry maneuver to counter light attacks, for example, but it fails against heavy attacks. Rolling will get you out of sticky situations, but it leaves you vulnerable to grapple moves. Physical attacks can throw players off their game, launcher moves can shoot players up into the air, and blocking can be the difference between getting pummeled and surviving. There are also a number of other abilities that add depth to a combat scenario: Pairing any button with L1, for example, triggers a special move that then gets a cool-down period. The move tied to L2 can get you out of a stun or a combo, but takes a long time to recharge. Knowing what’s in your arsenal and using it at key moments, combined with reading your opponent’s moves and reacting accordingly, are the only ways to play effectively.

So on the one hand, Ascension manages to get something of a brawler/fighting game feel in the way moves play off one another — knowing what your opponent is planning and throwing a parry at a key moment, for example, or linking together a light-light-heavy combo to prevent yourself from being parried. On the other hand, you’ll spend a lot of time planning and adapting. An eye on your cooldowns is essential, as is environmental knowledge about things like health fountains that heal you, or magic fountains that give you a one-time magic power attack.

We played two rounds: a team-based four-on-four battle that included the giant cyclops that had to be killed at the end of the match, and a four-player free-for-all battle. The former, which I’d seen before, included not only kills but all manner of objectives, like treasure chests that could be smashed for points, control points that could be occupied for points, and the giant cyclops that eventually needed spearing (and which was also good for an infusion of points). The team that earned the most before the cyclops was killed was the winner, and so the battle required lots of situational awareness about where fights were happening, where you were needed, and where you could be effective. It’s possible to set traps on that map, and I often found myself suddenly facing down three enemies at once while I was trying to get where I needed to be. The frantic gametype definitely requires coordination for any team to be effective.

In the second game, I played in the Forum of Hercules, where Hercules himself would occasionally leap into the battle to cast a shockwave across it that could sometimes be lethal. Mostly, though, it was just a high-powered melee battle. Players could be punted into walls to kill them, combo’d to death, or thrown over the side for a lethal ring-out. Kill-stealing isn’t just annoying, it’s an essential strategy, since all players have a health bar and often are stunned right before being dismembered. Being able to capitalize on the fruits of other players’ labor is the best way to score points.

In both modes, though, the combat felt light and tactical. Though you can be combo’d into the ground in Ascension, you usually have some kind of recourse — plenty of times, I cut myself loose of certain death or recovered from a stun that could have been the end of me. Tactical planning against your opponents can get you far, and combat in Ascension never feels like the winner is the person who did the most button-mashing. There’s a lot of skill involved, and I think players who get into the game will find the combat deep and rewarding to those who take the time to learn advanced techniques.

The gametypes themselves, while not being too drastically different from what we’ve seen, were fairly refreshing. The cyclops level requires multiple steps to complete it, and the environmental considerations of the free-for-all level keeps the battle from getting repetitive. If you opened up Playstation All-Stars or Smash Bros. into bigger, 3-D arenas, allowed people to cut each other in half, and included capture-style gametypes, God of War: Ascension is what you’d probably have. I think that might be a pretty good thing, actually.

Read on for Ross’ take on it.

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