God of War: Ascension Review: Similar, But Not Same Kratos
Yes, the game is competent in its fighting mechanics and in the occasional puzzle, but I found it as a whole to be really off-putting as Kratos ripped apart one character begging for mercy after another. It seems that Sony Santa Monica heard complaints from me and others about what an unlikable d–k their protagonist was by the end of the God of War trilogy, because in going back to the beginning of the god-killer’s story, they’ve backed down his douchiness significantly.
Trouble is, while there’s less to hate about Kratos, there’s really not a whole lot more to love about God of War: Ascension. The game itself remains the often-beautiful, mostly competent brand of God of War beatdown we’ve come to expect of a series we’re four games into on consoles (plus two more on handhelds and one phone game). But it’s a lot more of the same, and despite the addition of an impressive multiplayer mode, much of God of War: Ascension fails to fully capitalize on its new systems in a way that truly refreshes the formula.
God of War: Ascension
Platforms: Playstation 3 (Reviewed)
Developer: Sony Santa Monica
Released: March 12, 2013
We’ve been promised a more “human” Kratos in God of War: Ascension, but what Sony Santa Monica has actually delivered is a Kratos that doesn’t say very much and has few opportunities to interact with anyone not actively trying to kill him. The story focuses on Kratos’ quest to escape the Furies, three sister-monsters who capture, imprison and torture people who break their blood oaths. Ascension starts not too long after Kratos was made to kill his family in a fit of insanity triggered by his oath to Ares, and he’s since decided, “Screw that Ares guy.” That means the Furies are after him.
From a storytelling standpoint, Ascension is a bit of a disjointed mess. We’re supposed to gather that 1. Kratos is inflicted with some form of insanity or hallucinations because of the Furies, which makes him see moments from his past as they work to manipulate him; 2. Kratos can’t remember murdering his family, and is not yet haunted by that guilt (which is a major driving force of, like, five games’ worth of wanton destruction). With his mind all screwed up, the story bounces back and forth between the present — in which Kratos is escaping from the Furies’ living prison built into a huge creature called the Hecatonchires — and the past, in which Kratos was searching for a way to get the Furies off his back.
God of War has never been known for phenomenal storytelling, but why it was decided to tell Ascension in huge flashback sequences is beyond me. The result is a series of situations in which it’s hard to understand what’s going on or what’s important about the scene, or even who the major characters are. It’s lucky that the game isn’t more complex than “Kill that thing!” because if it was, it’d be really hard to follow.
But Ascension is primarily a game of “Kill that thing,” and if you’ve played any other God of War title, you’re aware of its various tricks and enemies. There are a few tweaks to the overall gameplay, but for the most part, Ascension’s single-player campaign felt a lot like stuff we’d seen before in God of War. All the same enemies, like gorgons, satyrs, cyclops and so on, are back, and they handle in pretty much the same way they did in God of War 3, with Kratos enacting the same strategies to beat them. One of the better additions are new “brutal kills” that replace some of the game’s many quicktime events with buttonless versions, in which Kratos has to dodge incoming attacks while continuing to stab away at the thing he’s fighting.