I approached God of War Ascension with no expectations. Unlike the legions of Kratos fans, I’ve never had the chance to engulf myself in the brutal, hard hitting world that the series is known for. It’s not because I’m against blood and gore or cry at the sight of a pair of breasts. The simple fact is I never got round to it.
When Ascension was first announced in April, 2012, and as a prequel no less, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for someone new to the franchise to jump in and see what all the fuss is about.
After six hours into a twelve-hour campaign, I’d seen what all the fuss is about, and I didn’t like it. God of War Ascension is an adventure in the mundane, the uninspired, and the dreary. God of War Ascension is boring.
Anyone who follows gaming will have seen Kratos in some form; be it posters, adverts, or PlayStation All-Stars. Here is a man ripped straight out the 300 movie; he’s rugged, scarred, and personifies the term ‘badass’. Yet, while he is rugged, he does have scars, he’s more half-ass than bad-ass.
You would expect a Spartan to be a master of combat: Someone who is skilled enough to dispatch enemies with only the flick of the wrist. Kratos, however, exhibits the grace of a one-legged Donkey Kong. He wields two over-sized daggers but, for some reason, never directly attacks with them, instead, attaching them to chains that, for some other reason, shoot out of his arms.
Okay, so the game doesn’t want to explain why he shoots chains out of his arms, this is gaming though, so I’ll suspend disbelief. My issue here, is that two big ol’ daggers plus chains should equal a hack ‘n’ slasher’s wet dream, only it doesn’t. Combat is consistently flat and lifeless. Square, square, triangle, repeat. Hold triangle, hold triangle, repeat. There’s no variety. It’s just Kratos waving his daggers around in hopes he’ll one day hit something.
Where’s the skill? Where’s the finesse?
The combat is made worse by the accompanying, and downright poor, fighting mechanics. Enemies can interrupt mid-combo, knocking you to floor for a few seconds, but you can’t do the same to them. This is dealable is small doses, but after a few hours of getting repeatedly knocked on your ass and struggling to your feet to have it happen all over again, you begin to over-dose on annoyance.
To keep things fresh and exciting, there’s a magic system. As the player progresses, they unlock different elements that can be used to turn the tide of battle. The magic system is akin to watching a David Blaine performance; you know it would have been good ten years ago, but today; it’s just so very bland and tedious.
As an example: fire magic allows players to spin Kratos’ daggers in a circle; something that can be achieved before you acquire the power by holding square, which makes me wonder: what’s the point? There are special attacks, whereby the player presses the right-trigger causing Kratos to verge on interesting, but again, the animations are weak and uninspired: Angry Kratos slams his angry fiery daggers into the angry fiery ground and causes an angry fiery explosion.
Same old, same old.
The gameplay in general doesn’t lose the above trend of depressive repetition. It follows the formula of group battle, boss battle, climb up something, puzzle room, repeat for twelve hours straight. Even when you move onto to new area you know the game has a group fight, a boss battle, something to climb, then a puzzle before moving back onto a group fight, a boss battle, something else to climb, then a puzzle before moving onto a group fight, a boss battle – can you see how repetitive this is? And there’s twelve hours of this to get through.
Then we have the story, or as I like to call it, a sequence of events that happen around the protagonist. Kratos has the emotional range of a toothbrush, which is fine. Kratos and God of War isn’t supposed to be a deep, heart-wrenching story, it’s supposed to be about Kratos hacking up things. My only issue with the story is that in trying to be clever, it outsmarts the player to point of not knowing what’s going on for hours at a time.
The story is told in the present, before jumping to the past, then jumping to the present, before jumping to the past again, before jumping to the present one last time. This may sound confusing, but it does work … mostly. My gripe here is that the game opens with Kratos chained up as a prisoner and that the first hours are spent not having the foggiest what’s going on. The game doesn’t explain anything in terms of narrative, and it’s not until the ten hour mark that we find out why he’s been chained up in the first place. So that’s ten hours before the opening hook of the game starts to makes any sense.
Because, you know, us gamers love not knowing what’s going on…
There is one aspect of God of War’s single-player that deserves credit where credit’s due: The art style and scenery are a triumph to behold. Every area has a level of detail that makes you forget you’re playing a console that’s hooked up to life-support.
In particular, the bloodshed borders on beautiful. There is lots of unrealistic blood spraying, but there’s also an air of realism. Cutting open an elephant’s head shows it’s brain pulsating. Slicing down a torso reveals fatty tissue. If you’re going to show over-the-top gore, why not do it justice? Why not pull out all the stops and make it look real? It’s good to see developers taking a risk and not playing it safe.
All of the above poses a question: am I God of War’s target audience? The short answer is ‘No, I am not.’ I’m sure there’s an army of gamers ready to bathe in the blood of Kratos’ foes in a quest to free him of the God of War’s hold, and I’m certain they’ll revel in it.
For me, God of War is dull. For all the glorious gore, it does nothing to excite, nothing to show me a world I’ve yet to explore.
I now count finishing God of War Ascension as one of my gaming highlights, but for all the wrong reasons. When the credits rolled, I was beyond pleased with myself, but for all the wrong reasons.
Die-hard fans will love it. Newcomers will find it boring. It’s that simple.
[Note: This review focuses entirely on the single-player campaign.]
Born in Cyrodiil but raised in Ferelden, more commonly know as England. Wesley Copeland is a passionate writer with more opinions than an ostrich.