God of War: Ascension! Did it find favor with the Gods? (Review)

Kratos, the #1 badass in the world of pixilation, is back for a 6th installment of Santa Monica’s critically acclaimed series God of War. After sampling God of War: Ascension at the Gamestop Expo last August while also having our Ascension posters autographed by T.C. Carson (voice of Kratos) himself, we finally got our hands on the full copy of this game some 7 months later. According to the official God of War website:

God of War: Ascension is a prequel to the original God of War. It is an unexpected and riveting journey that tells the dark and more human past of Kratos before he became the “Ghost of Sparta”, when he was a Man.

Specifically in the timeline, God of War: Ascension’s story begins… six months have passed since Kratos stood over the bodies of his wife and child, his hands stained with their blood – tricked by Ares into murdering the only people he ever loved. Swearing to avenge them, Kratos broke the blood oath that bound him to Ares, but oaths to Olympus are not so easily broken… Sentenced to an eternity chained within a prison for the living damned, Kratos battles insanity at the hands of the Furies. He will be tested as he seeks freedom, redemption for his sins, and the clarity to avenge his family.

So what did we think? Let’s try to keep this simple shall we…

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What We Liked

More blood splattering, back breaking, intestine spilling, eye gouging, head stomping, face smashing, brain exposing, tentacle slashing, dual blade combo wielding action we’ve come to know and love about this mature action adventure series. Known for its epic opening action battle sequences against massive bosses, this GOW installment did not disappoint in that area, as Ascension took you on an opening battle rollercoaster ride against Magaera and the Hecatonchires that lasted a few chapters. Have you ever battled in a massive room that was ripped from its structure by the hands of Hecatonchires, fitting inside the palms like a rubix cube showing you the true scale of your opponent? Kratos has, and it was a remarkable sight to see thanks to the graphical prowess of the PS3. Immediately afterwards, GOW Ascension did some interesting things with time and backstory that were pretty cool and which also added some substance to an otherwise subpar story. Back to the graphics, we just couldn’t get enough of the visuals provided on this journey. Absolutely loved it when the camera would zoom out as Kratos was climbing structures, showing us the incredible backgrounds, once again doing a brilliant job showing us how much of a pion our mighty warrior is in comparison to the world around him, especially when travelling in and around the statue of Apollo. We also enjoyed a couple of new magic attacks which proved exceptionally useful, not to mention new “duck and weave” mini-games against certain enemies and bosses that were just freakin awesome!!! Speaking of bosses, with this being a prequel, we knew not to expect battles against the Gods. Although somewhat of a disappointment, we still think that this set of bosses did a fairly decent job of filling those shoes.

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What We Didn’t Like

Well, let’s start with the “god” awful multiplayer. The easy leveling up in the beginning combined with the idea of aligning yourself with a particular god to determine your multiplayer skill set were cool, but that’s about where it stopped for us. Even with 100% connectivity, we consistently got kicked from a lobby just as the game was about to start. When we were finally able to get some games under our belt, it was just……meh! As a whole, there was nothing invigorating about the multiplayer experience and we think the addition of this facet correlates to the shortcomings of the story campaign. While we appreciate the efforts, some games/franchises just don’t need a multiplayer aspect forced upon it. Can you imagine a series like Tomb Raider having versus multiplayer? Oh, wait, never mind, bad example. Can you imagine a series like Resident Evil having versus multiplayer? My producers are telling me that’s been done as well. Uhm. Ok, can you imagine a series like The Legend of Zelda having versus multiplayer? I shudder at the thought. Bottomline, with those games and this one, the core values of your games that won over the hundreds of thousands of fans should never be compromised for the sake of adding “replay value.” Ever! Besides, we all know Sony/PSN and multiplayer don’t really belong in the same sentence and is nowhere close to the quality of Microsoft/Xbox live. Fact.

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Now to the story.  Besides a great opening, there weren’t really too many other “wow” moments in the story campaign, just much of the same of what we’ve come to love from this series, with sprinkles of the new features we liked above. The attempt to have us connect to Kratos’s human side failed miserably and parts of the story really felt thrown together. As mentioned earlier, the story also took a hit due to the absence of the gods. Again, the substitute bosses did a decent fill-in job, but we admittedly miss stabbing Ares with his own tentacles, pummeling and gouging the eyes of Poseidon, ripping the head off of Helios, or even tearing the flesh (and soul) from the body of Hades. And who can forget the epic battle against Zeus? Goodness gracious, God of War 3 was such an INCREDIBLE game, and herein lies the biggest problem for Ascension. Following a perfect 10 MASTERPIECE is not an easy task, but it was the task unfairly bestowed upon this game’s development. And sadly, it did not accomplish this task, falling short of expectations. This game had no chance of Ascending to the bar set by GOW3.

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The Trial of Archimedes

We struggled with where to put this section because it really belongs in both. By now you may have already heard about this ruthless section in Ascension that features 3 waves of enemies with limited health drops wreaking havoc on gamers and probably the cause of gamers heading to buy replacement PS3 controllers this week. Without question, it is the hardest part of the game. On Normal difficulty, you’ll be pressed. On Hard difficulty, only the most skilled and diligent GOW gamers will succeed. On Titan difficulty, I’ll go on record and say it’s probably impossible. Due to many complaints, the devs have decided that a patch will be released to essentially dumb down, er….sorry, “tune” the difficulty of this section. We didn’t appreciate the 5 hours it took to surpass this section on hard mode, but we loved the fact that there was actually a CHALLENGE in the game. The feeling of accomplishment is overwhelming after completion. The gaming community is up in arms one way or another on the idea of patching this section. Forums are lighting up with comments for and against this new generation of gamers who don’t know the experience of leaving your NES on overnight and coming back to tackle difficult sections of games that had no save feature. Everything is “now” for this generation, if I’m stuck for 30 minutes it’s time for a guide. It’s sickening, and most gamers on the forums agree with us on this issue. There was no patch for Battletoads or Ninja Gaiden. What we liked about the Trial of Archimedes is that you can watch or read 1000 guides on how to pass it; you still need the skill and diligence to do it. Without one or both, you’re S.O.L, and I’m sorry, that’s how it should be. Yes, you have your casual gamers who love gaming just for fun, and there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that. But newsflash, God of War is not a series for casuals so that argument holds no merit in this situation. We even tweeted game director Todd Papy in hopes of having this patch denied. If gamers want a trophy for beating the game on hard difficulty, let them EARN it. We did.

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Score

We wanted to try something different, unusual, stupid, whatever term you want to associate, with the manner in which we score this game.  We will be awarding God of War Ascension with 2 scores. Yep, two scores, and here’s why: First, because we can. Second, because it’s different, unusual, and stupid. Third, because after reading other reviews of Ascension, I see a common theme that resonates within, either directly or indirectly. Ascension is being compared to its predecessors, which is not unusual or wrong, but as we mentioned before, it’s unfair.  I get a sense from some of these reviews that “not meeting or surpassing GOW3” is equivalent to “this was just an average game.” Not only is that once again brutally unfair, but it’s also completely inaccurate. To be honest, we probably should have tempered our expectations a bit. Think about it, one of the factors contributing to the “epicness” of GOW3 is the fact that we saw a monumental leap from GOW2 to GOW3 because of the change in console generation! Even with the remastered versions of GOW1 and GOW2, when you placed GOW3 into your console, the difference in graphics and features were tremendous. Not even in the same stratosphere. The differences between GOW3 and Ascension on the same console were not going to be that great. There wasn’t much more that could be done with Ascension that we didn’t already experience in GOW3. Now if Ascension was released on PS4, reviewers would probably be calling it the greatest installment in the series instead of the weakest, because we all know how important graphics are to some of the more aggressive Sony fans. At the end of the day though, God of War Ascension is still probably ten times better than most games in its genre, and with that in mind….

Compared to GOW3: CG awards God of War Ascension an 8/10.

Compared to other games of its genre: CG awards God of War Ascension a 9/10.

Mean Score: 8.5/10

– JayDubb

Image Sources:  EdgeOnline, Technodominator, Joystiq, Calmdowntom, ShackNews