God of War: Ascension review: taking a step back

God of War: Ascension is a return to Sony Santa Monica's familiar hack-and-slash action series. However, with God of War 3 raising the bar so high and closing the book on Kratos' journey of revenge, Ascension sorely lacks the marvel of the previous games.

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God of War: Ascension is a return to Sony Santa Monica's familiar hack-and-slash action series. However, with God of War 3 raising the bar so high and closing the book on Kratos' journey of revenge, Ascension sorely lacks the marvel of the previous games. With little new territory to cover, players are placed in an all-too-familiar journey, with Kratos once again violently dismembering anything in his path. Ascension doesn't stray far from the God of War formula, as evidenced by the combat system. Perhaps the biggest twist is that Kratos now lives and dies by the Blades, instead of utilizing a full arsenal of weapons. In addition, the Blades can be upgraded with different elements of the gods--the fire of Ares, the ice of Poseidon, the lightning of Zeus, and the soul of Hades. The elements do about the same amount of damage, but allow players to adapt their play styles. Ice, for example, can freeze surrounding enemies and leave them open for punishing combos, while Soul can unleash the damned souls of Tartarus to nail surrounding foes or juggle airborne enemies. Puzzle-solving returns in Ascension as well, albeit in a frustrating way. The puzzles are frustrating, with little help offered upon hitting a wall. This is especially unforgiving when facing puzzles that require several steps, some requiring you to start over from the very beginning should you fail. With several of these moments scattered over the course of the story, I wasted hours simply not having fun. Quick time events return in full-force as well, with Ascension refusing to budge from the franchise's reliance on the antiquated gameplay mechanic. QTEs most often come into play during platforming sequences, whether they be moments you're sliding down a building, or cliff-jumping Prince of Persia-style. Expect to see the "YOU ARE DEAD" screen an awful lot as you repeatedly memorize these many sequences.

Ascension is unbelievably gorgeous

Of course, being a God of War game means more than having a lot of QTEs. The franchise has always been a graphics showcase, and Ascension is no different. The environments are mind-blowingly detailed. Unfortunately, Ascension would like you to appreciate its environments so much, that combat is sometimes obscured through a series of wide-angle camera shots. For example, while riding a giant snake, the camera panned out to show the beautiful architecture of the Temple of Delphi. As I stopped to watch the scenery, I didn't realize that I was being attacked--and with the camera staying at a wide angle, fighting back proved to be a taller order than it should have been. Perhaps the most significant addition to Ascension is the multiplayer mode, a first for the franchise. While I had limited time with Ascension's multiplayer offerings, I did enjoy Team Favor of the Gods and its Team the most, as it offers players of all skills varying objectives to work on towards a team score. The addition of a parry system in multiplayer also greatly deepens the combat, adding a rock-paper-scissors element to GoW's otherwise traditional combat. Series veterans will have good reason to explore the competitive landscape of Ascension's multiplayer offerings. Even as a fan of the original God of War trilogy, Ascension doesn't offer anything new beyond its multiplayer mode. With the stakes lowered, the journey no longer feels epic. In fact, it feels rote on so many levels: Kratos is still angry, he's still badass, and he's still an unstoppable force of rage--except maybe by an errant QTE. In spite of the promise to offer a "more human" story, Ascension does little to progress Kratos as a character, much in the way combat feels like it's been stunted. Ascension is a poor follow-up to God of War 3, and meant largely for the completionist. Otherwise, it's just another stroll through the Greek pantheon.
This God of War: Ascension review was based on a debug PS3 version of the game provided by the publisher. Online multiplayer was tested through publisher-set test sessions. The game is now available on PS3.
Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 12, 2013 9:30 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, God of War: Ascension review: taking a step back.

    God of War: Ascension is a return to Sony Santa Monica's familiar hack-and-slash action series. However, with God of War 3 raising the bar so high and closing the book on Kratos' journey of revenge, Ascension sorely lacks the marvel of the previous games.

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      March 12, 2013 10:18 AM

      meh...kind of what I figured based on trailers and previews. I might still grab it eventually if enough friends start playing the multiplayer.

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      March 12, 2013 10:27 AM

      Hmm, I loved the demo we shall see, mines in the mail am looking forward to playing it.

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        March 12, 2013 11:10 AM

        I don't think you'll be too disappointed if you like GoW. I personally felt a little let down, since GoW's 2 and 3 were both such amazing games. The bar was raised just a little too high and I don't feel like Ascension hit it.

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          March 12, 2013 11:35 AM

          3 is so good i'm just going to play it again first.

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          March 12, 2013 11:43 AM

          Probably. So what did you expect them to change in terms of gameplay? Or what did you want them to progress to in the series?

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            March 12, 2013 12:20 PM

            I hoped for a little more depth to the combat, even if I did find the elemental Blades to be a novel addition. After three console and two handheld titles, Ascension started to feel like "more of the same" after about an hour in. I also hoped for some refinements to the QTE's, but they actually felt even more unforgiving this time around. And storywise, I wanted something to warrant continuation to the series, just because 3 felt so conclusive.

            As an addendum, though I did complain a lot about the puzzles and their difficulty, I have to say that the Amulet of Uroborus (which lets you heal and decay structures) is one of the cooler additions to Kratos' inventory. I did genuinely like that.

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      March 12, 2013 3:12 PM

      Sorry, I don't buy it. Just because you people wanted something new from the franchise doesn't mean everyone else does.

      I look forward to more insane Kratos death dealing. Bring it on.

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      March 12, 2013 3:18 PM

      I just listened to Arther Geiss's thoughts on the RebelFM (eat sleep game?) podcast, between playing the demo which lacked music in several key places and basically felt unfinished / flat - then seeing that bros before hos video yesterday (the violence doesn't bother me, the shit editing / music / pacing / flatness does) - I'd say this one is a skip game. God of War NEEDS it's ambient sound of torches burning, water flowing through ducts, creaking wood and or music - there's so many 100% silent scenes which seem to break the pacing entirely.

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        March 12, 2013 3:35 PM

        Yeah, I don't think the long puzzles would have bothered me as much as they have if there wasn't complete silence surrounding them. Even a repetitive music cue would have been preferable to total silence.

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          March 12, 2013 3:42 PM

          How they could think that was a good decision is beyond me - I'm guessing budget issues.

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        March 12, 2013 3:48 PM

        Yeah, that bothered me as well.

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      March 13, 2013 6:09 AM

      Are we so jaded that another romp with a game that has solid mechanics, interesting character and story, that we will simply disregarded it?
      Thats very telling.
      Personally, I don't care if its a step forward or backwards, if the watermark is a ten, then I can afford to take a small loss. These games have been nothing if not fun, and consistently entertaining.

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        March 13, 2013 8:53 AM

        People enjoy and come back to the God of War series for different reasons. For you, it appears to be the mechanics and an interesting character/story. For other people it might be dramatic ambiance, a great score, or cool weapons which appear to be lacking this time around. It doesn't make us jaded; we just know what we want. From what I've read online and heard in podcasts, no one is slamming the game. They all have good things to say about it, but consistently I've heard that it doesn't match GOW3 in quality. As a consumer, that's valuable information.

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