BORN IN THE FIRES OF BETRAYAL

In March 2005 Santa Monica studios set out to tell the incredible tale of Kratos, a brutal and merciless Spartan warrior forged and shaped in bloodlust and ambition. It was Kratos’s struggle with the Gods of Olympus and the demons of his past that paved the way for an incredibly engaging and exciting franchise. With every installment the formula has been meticulously innovated and improved, bringing it to the precipice of setting who many believe to be one of the highest benchmarks for quality in modern gaming. There are numerous words that come to gamers’ minds when they anticipate a new God of War title, brutality, scale, presentation and did I mention brutality? All of which have become trademark qualities of the franchise. However as any story moves forward and evolves so must the game itself. It must continue to find new and innovative ways to entice and immerse the player. So is it possible for the franchise to have both quality and quantity?

As a prequel to the franchise God of War Ascension’s narrative kicks off with a very clear purpose in mind, to explore the origins of the blood stained Ghost of Sparta. After breaking a blood oath with Ares the God of War Kratos finds himself immediately at the mercy of the Furies, a trio of torturous and savage sisters devoted entirely to the enslavement and punishment of those foolish enough to turn their back on the gods.  It is Kratos’s imprisonment that serves as a means of propulsion for the narrative as he embarks on his bloody journey to claim not only his revenge but also his freedom.  A strong narrative has always been an integral part of the God of War experience which is why it’s a shame that the same standard isn’t upholded in this iteration. Players will find themselves constantly switching between the present day and the weeks prior to Kratos’s escape which in the beginning serves as an effective means to further flesh out the narrative. In the later stages of the game however this constant shuffle serves as somewhat of a hindrance as you struggle to follow the timeline of events, and it ultimately causes confusion to what is otherwise a completely immersive experience. It is unfortunate that the rest of the game is compromised by a somewhat clumsy and convoluted narrative. Luckily however its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.

a furious and downright brutal affair 

Combat in God of War as always been a furious and downright brutal affair. From decapitations to the systematic removal of the limbs from a horde of bloodthirsty brutes violence has always been at the formula’s core. The heart and soul of the game’s combat however has always been Kratos’s trademark weapons the Blades of Chaos. The mythical blades seared to the warrior’s skin by chains, a permanent reminder of his submission to the gods. The combat system in ascension however has undergone a great deal of reinvention and refinement.  New to ascension is the integration of the combo counter to Kratos’s core abilities, rack up a large enough combo and more devastating attacks are able to be utilized. This is a welcome mix up to the game’s combat as it encourages a far more intelligent approach to combat forcing the player to approach each confrontation with a degree of caution and preparation. Along with the new system however comes a learning curve and although this can prove somewhat frustrating in the earlier stages of the game when faced with numerous mythological beings born of Santa Monica’s mastery of Greek Mythology, a few hours in you will find yourself carving your enemies into submission quite literally. Kratos’s arsenal however has never been limited to his trusty blades. In past iterations progress through the story always saw the acquisition of an array of different weapons born of the gods, as well as wielding the powers of Olympus itself. Magic wielding makes a return in ascension all be it in an entirely new format.  No longer are Kratos’s magical abilities a completely separate entity but rather in integral component of the blades themselves. What makes this integration so intriguing however is Kratos acquires new abilities that completely augment the characteristics of the weapons themselves offering a vast new range of attacks. This variety in combat technique offers a welcome shake up to the combat as the player is not only encouraged, but dared to master a plethora of different combos at their disposal. If there is one area where God of War is simply unrivaled its boss fights. Ascension features some of the most engaging and truly memorable fights in the franchise’s history and players could look forward to numerous vicious encounters each more vivid and exciting then the next.

This variety in combat technique offers a welcome shake up to the combat

Upgrades have always been essential to ensure Kratos’s resolve and survival against the armies of Greece herself and they make a return in Ascension. You will once again find yourself spilling the blood of your enemies in an endless pursuit for the red orbs necessary to enhance his core combat abilities as well as potency of his magic. Platforming and puzzles have always been interwoven in creative and insightful ways in God of War and this is also true of the new installment. You will find yourself sliding, pushing and swinging your way through an array of different environmental hurdles which serve as an excellent break to the overall frantic pacing of the experience. Complementing the game’s excellent puzzles is a range of mythological items that must be mastered in order for the Ghost of Sparta to progress on his journey. The most noteworthy of these however is the Amulet of Uroboros a magical pendent which allows Kratos to completely destroy or reform structures in the environment completely changing the way the player perceives the environment.  Refinement and Reinvention however does not come without its pit falls as I encountered numerous bugs throughout the experience centering on the game’s camera. On various occasions due mostly to the immense scale of the environment, you will find yourself squinting to find your character on screen simply because the camera has panned out so far to showcase the lush and detailed environments. More crucial however where the moments when I found the camera breaking altogether completely impeding my progress through the game remedied only by religiously reloading the specific chapter of the story until it functioned correctly. Although these hiccups are few and far between they still manage to instill a great amount of frustration as such a blunder should not have been so cheaply overlooked.

They say a picture can paint a thousand words and this has never been embraced more than in the crisp detailed and simply breathtaking presentation of Ascension. Santa Monica has always upholding a stellar reputation within the industry for the seemingly endless strides forward they have taken into pushing the Playstation 3 to its absolute limit.  It is a sheer pleasure to behold the wonders of ancient Greece come to fruition before your very eyes all without any noticeable hiccups in the frame rate. The raw scale of this entries environments is nothing short of astounding whether you be doing battle with ferocious monsters a thousand times your own size, or climbing and swinging your way up structures of truly colossal proportion, ascension simply never fails to immerse and completely engulf the player in a sense of wonder. Complementing its first class presentation is a stellar soundtrack consisting of a broad range of both faced paced and ambient melodies which manage to not only raise and complement the intensity of the combat but also succeeds in immersing the player in the splendor of its gorgeous and detailed environments.

ascension simply never fails to immerse and completely engulf the player in a sense of wonder.

New to the franchise is the addition of a competitive multiplayer mode allowing enthusiast to take their aggression out online. Although the main focus of the franchise has always been the delivery of a superior single player experience the multiplayer does nothing but complement and add to an already impressive experience. With gaming becoming more and more digitally and socially integrated and such a heavy focus on multiplayer present within the industry the addition of multiplayer to the God of War arena is a welcome innovation and one that I’m sure will continually grow and involve as the franchise looks to the future.

There are few action adventure experiences out there that can even hold a candle to the exploits of Kratos. Santa Monica has managed to deliver a new, fresh and exciting filler to the franchise’s story whilst managing to completely avoid the monotonous and tedious nature that similar titles often suffer victim to. It would be fair to say that although Ascension does suffer from numerous issues not present in previous iterations it is God of War title worthy of the name and with the industry of the doorstep of a new era fans should anxiously await with eager anticipation what Kratos has in store for us in the next generation.

Developer: SCE Santa Monica
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release: 14th March 2013 (PS3)