Wednesday, April 3, 2013

God of War: Ascension (PS3): Alright already, knock it off.

I didn't really like God of War at first for some reason. I tried the first one and it did like nothing for me. It  was strange because it should have. It had: violence, boobs, Greek mythology, fast paced skillful combat, good voice acting, good story telling. Should have been at the top of my list right from the start.

It wasn't till I played God of War: Chains of Olympus that I really started to get into the lore and universe of the God of War franchise, and now that I've become invested in the characters its made the game more enjoyable for me. It seemed to come up to a fair and logical closure point in God of War III but for whatever reason they can't let sleeping dogs lie, so we are going to take one more spin in the world of Greek mythology in...


Our tale opens up with a bit of back story delving into the creation of earth in a time before the gods and titans. During this earlier time, a war raged for aeons between the Primordials. These creators of earth engaged in battle so long that it completely reshaped the earth, and in turn brought about the creation of the Furies. These Furies are self proclaimed guardians of honor, and punish those who they deem traitors.  When Aegaeon the Hecatonchires broke his blood oath to Zeus, the furies tortured him and turned him to stone, making him their prison for those they punish.

Flash to the inside of the prison, we find longtime protagonist Kratos bound and being tortured by one of the furies. Fueled by his unstoppable rage he manages to free himself and tries to make his escape from the prison. We find that he was captured by the furies for attempting to break his blood oath to Ares, the first god of war and that Kratos is seeking an answer to the illusions that haunt him. In freeing himself from these illusions he hopes he can completely sever his ties to Ares. 

"It's not nearly as sexy when it lasts for eternity..."
That's about as much of the story as I can make sense of, as this game jumps from perspective in the time line a couple of times and it makes it a little tricky to follow. And as much as I love the lore in these games, in this 6th installment of the series it really is starting to run together as the same story to me. There are huge gaps of game play between cutscenes so if you miss part of the tale, you get to eat shit. Switching to a  prequel makes sense, because its pretty much the only way to keep the story going since the end of God of War III was left ambiguous but left to think that the series was over.

When I heard it was going to be a prequel, I was expecting to to go further back in his origins. maybe just spend some time as a plain mortal in the service of the spartan king, witness his loss in the battle with the barbarians, witness the scene where he pledges himself to Ares. That would have been interesting and made more sense. This edition seems like it was shoehorned in where they could to squeeze out 9 more hours a gameplay, and is loosely connected to the story at best.

I will say in its defense though that the voice actor of Kratos, Terrance Carson, did a very good job of dialing back the raving psychopath we've come to know and love. Kratos at this point in the tale hasn't completely lost his mind, so for the first time in a long time he appears human. Has some rational and reason, manages to actually befriend someone during the course of the adventure. There is a scene with a small subtle gesture with him and his family where he shows the capacity to love, which actually caught me off guard and gave me a "huh, how about that?" kinda moment. it was the only real highlight in the story for me and was the only thing I felt I'd never seen before.

I honestly can't think of another time I saw Kratos crack a smile...
Much like the story department, this edition of God of War is pretty much unchanged from its previous installments. If you have played any of the other editions of the game, you won't be lost here. Same fixed camera angles, same blades of chaos, same quick time event structure. It really makes me wonder what exactly takes so long from release to release since the only things that change are the locations and story.

Actually, perhaps that's not totally true. This is one of the first times in the God of War series I actually would look at the Kratos character model and realize how realistically human he looked. His curse to be covered in ashes actually comes across clearly now when the camera is very close on him. It actually looks like he's covered rather than just having pale white skin.

The level of detail has never been better.
And this might be the first time I've ever really sat and took stock of how impressive the visuals in this game get. Some of the monsters and set pieces in this game are friggen massive much like they were in God of War III. Yeah a lot of them have the Quick Time Event finisher, and a couple of them are rehashes of the ones you've already seen in the series, but quite a few times I'd be doing some invasive brain surgery on a Elephant demon and just thinking to myself: "Holy shit, that was bad ass."

Some of the monsters have some different looks to them, and there and handful of new enemies to fight but for the most part the fodder enemies are pretty much the same ragtag band of monsters you've fought before in the previous God of War titles. I will say I'm happy I'm not stabbing the same goddamn Minotaur in the mouth. The only real plus I'll give in this area is I get regular boss fights again. No life bar, no excessive quick time events, Just me and my skills against a really tough opponent. I have to finish it with a QTE but I'm totally ok with that if it means I actually have to test my skill more than something dashing into a wall and then wailing on them.

The kill on this baddie is probably one of my favorites.
Speaking of that, is it just me? Or is God of War: Ascension hard as fuck? There have been a handful of points where I come to a gated door and get a new element ability, then have to go through a battle of attrition against of slew of regular enemies. I start off ok, but after a matter of minutes the sheer number of them starts to put to boots to me. I don't think I got past any of them on the first go. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the ratcheted up difficulty. If the game is gonna feel the same in all the other aspects, then increasing the challenge is the least they could do.

The big change to the combat, and probably the thing I am most thankful for, is the aforementioned elemental abilities. Instead of bogging me down with stupid additional weapons, this game keeps you handcuffed to using the blades of chaos. In addition to that,  you gain elemental abilities of the various gods which change the move sets for the weaponry that can be leveled up. They can be switched on the fly from preference, but from what I've noticed the elements don't appear to correspond to enemy weaknesses.

Combat also features the Rage Meter from previous games, but now it activates as soon as it is full which unlocks a number of the higher level combos some of the God of War faithful will remember. In doing this it gives a much tighter focus to the game instead of where to level up all the souls you collect. I like the change to the rage meter as well because it forces to perform well to get the heavy hitting attacks. To be honest, you can ■,■,▲ and pretty much mow through everything until the gauge fills. I basically spam the big spinning moves.

The game's largest change however, has nothing to do with the campaign. For the first time in the series, God of War will now feature an online multiplayer mode. You know, because every fucking game and their brother needs a multiplayer mode or game devs shit their pants in fear that their game will not sell. Seriously, fuck multiplayer games. If I wanted to be insulted or treated poorly while I play a game, I could hang out with my real friends. I at least kind of like most of them. Not every game needs to have multiplayer in it.

The 4 player maps are huge. They all have their own flavor with cool traps
and side objectives. In this map you get big points for killing the cyclops.
That being said? I actually really enjoyed the multiplayer in this game. The majority of game modes I played seemed to be some kind of strange variant on Capture the flag, where my team of guys could run around the map and capture bases to earn points. You can also get treasures or thrash the opposing team  to boost your score. First team to hit the goal or have the highest by time ends wins. There is also death match modes as well, but for the most part they are all pretty cut and dry.

I like this one better than most multiplayer because it actually relies on my skill to fight one on one. Not because some shitdick douchebag is at level 50 and has the most broken high powered weapons that can snipe me from the moment I respawn. I can approach someone, and even if I have weaker gear I can go toe to toe and fight them using my own abilities and come out the victor. Or, if I was getting outclassed there were ways to get points without having to fight by setting traps or getting chests. I didn't seem to experience any lag issues and call me crazy here but it actually seemed kinda balanced. Weirdest thing yet, it was fun to play. Madness right?

What I did not like was a little card that came with my game. One of those little cards that say "oh you want to play our online feature? Did you buy it new? Oh you didn't, well that sucks for you. You need one of these handy ONLINE PASSES to play our game, and its only 10 more dollars!" Sony? Eat a fucking dick. I expect this shit out of EA and Ubisoft. But you guys have always preached about your free online with an option to pay for a better service. Yeah I bought it new so I got a pass, but its a principal that pisses me off. Go Screw, Sony.

So can I give God of War: Ascension a recommendation? Ehhh... I suppose so. This is an example of a game just going through the motions. It still looks cool, and the combat is still skillful and fun to play. But honestly, for a completely new and original story it felt like I've heard it all before. Its gotten old. The only real saving grace to this installment is the addition of a fun, innovative, and balanced multiplayer. If that didn't drive me to keep playing the game, I might not of have turned it on enough to finish it.

Much like many other games that reach 6 or 7 installments, I feel that God of War has kind of run its course and they are starting to write themselves into a corner. I wouldn't be surprised that after the initial run the sales on this one grind to a halt. Which isn't to say that the game is bad, its just more of the same. I've played this game already, I've played it 5 times in fact. So charging me 60 bucks to play it again is kind of a bullshit move.

Two things should happen if they are going to bring out this tired horse one more time. One: There needs to be a new protagonist with an all new story. Try switching mythologies, you can keep the combat engine but I'm ready for something new. A new story and a new hero to get behind.  But if you can't shake from this story, then Two: Make Kratos the antagonist (If he survived 3's ambiguous ending). This could be a move that would shake the game to his core, and all the fans have seen what atrocities for his selfish ambitions he has done for 6 games. He basically destroyed the entire world in 3 just to make himself feel better. He deserves to be stopped at this point.

Bringing up a new hero to try to take Kratos down would be an interesting twist and I think would bring new life to this series. It may be a polarizing move for a lot of fans, but this series needs something to keep life into it. If Santa Monica studios has the balls to make that move, then I'd be down for one more trip of God of War. If not, they probably should put this series to bed while we still have fond memories of it.

Fond memories of horrible snuff....
Fuck, what the hell is wrong with me...

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