Over the course of numerous titles, the much loved anti-hero has gone toe-to-toe with a wide variety of mythological beasts and omnipotent entities from ancient Greece. And while the three Fury sisters are certainly formidable, the quest to defeat them can hardly top the sheer awe factor of a battle to the death with the Kraken, the fierce murder of Poseidon, or a showdown with Zeus, leader of the gods. Because its predecessors have already offered so many epic moments, Ascensionfalls prey to the double-edged sword of comparison: yes, the game offers more of the sort of fun you’ve come to expect, but it also fails to live up to the reputation that previous installments earned.
Besides embracing the violence and gore fans love, Ascension adds a new undertone of repugnance. Acts such as vertically slicing through the head of a gorgon or disemboweling an enemy centaur are to be expected, but a few encounters are sufficiently disgusting that you may find yourself saying “Eww, gross!” For instance, one of the Furies is able to infect and transform living beings with insects that crawl out of small holes in her chest. The resulting monstrosities are quite disturbing, but the encounters are grotesquely enjoyable if you have the stomach for them.
Kratos encounters a number of new enemies over the course of his adventure, and not all of them are bosses. He’ll also battle new grunts that range from giant elephants to lion-faced dragons, all with different tactics and fighting styles. Hacking and slashing will only get you so far, and even quick time events aren’t a sure thing. Rather than allowing you to simply follow on-screen cues and receive an epic kill scene, certain enemies will retaliate during that execution, an ever-present possibility that requires Kratos to be ready to dodge at any moment while he slices away at his determined targets. The need for your constant attention is thrilling and the button-mashing is deliciously enticing, but after over five games, the experience is starting to suffer from the sort of fatigue that the mere addition of a few new aggressive monsters can’t entirely cure.
Of course, part of the issue might be the limited selection of weapons. Ascension focuses almost entirely on the Blades of Chaos and four elemental attributes that it can employ: fire, ice, lightning, and soul. While each element enables unique combos and special attacks, those moves all feel a bit too similar both in appearance and function. Scoring enough hits in succession with the elemental blades introduces only one key difference: after pummeling enough opponents, Kratos can elect to burn, freeze, electrocute, or vaporize an enemy of choice and earn a small reward in the process. If the Soul of Hades weapon is equipped, for example, vaporizing an enemy produces green orbs that restore health. Do the same with the Fire of Ares, and gold orbs materialize instead. Disappointingly, that’s about as far as any differences go. The use of specific elements isn’t required to solve puzzles or to overcome any obstacles outside of battle, which seems like a missed opportunity. Though you can also pick up a secondary weapon from fallen enemies–such as a javelin, slingshot, or club–the value of such an approach is limited because the upgraded Blades of Chaos is often more useful.
Another blemish on the battle experience is the occasionally distant camera. It offers a view that is zoomed too far out, which means that fighting against hordes of enemies can prove challenging even when it shouldn’t be. While the problem becomes less intrusive as the game progresses, you’ll likely have to deal with unnecessary frustration until you can get used to it.
The good news is that once you look past the disappointing combat, the world of God of War: Ascension feels like it could easily have taken place as part of Homer’s “The Odyssey.” The game boasts dynamic environments that change as Kratos interacts with them. Whether you’re riding atop flying mechanical snakes or traversing a colossal stature of Apollo, the world is as breathtaking as it is fun to explore. Perhaps one of the strangest areas featured within the virtual landscape is the prison of Hecantonchires, a structure formed within the body of a multi-armed giant. It’s creepy, it’s cool, and it echoes the fantastical atmosphere that you’d expect from Greek lore.As Kratos moves through that fascinating world, he’ll occasionally make use of special tools that add a fresh element to the exploration. The most noteworthy of those aids is the mysterious Amulet of Uroborus, which features the ability to show the life and death of an object. It’s essentially a time-manipulating device that permits Kratos to restore or decay pieces of his surroundings with ease. Watching a bridge or dilapidated structure reconstruct itself in a matter of seconds is a visual delight. Luckily, the game offers many opportunities to dabble in the realms of time, whether that means restoring objects as basic as small planks of wood or much more complex and intricate (including entire structures, on multiple occasions).
Although surviving the hostile environments is typically a cakewalk for Kratos, though, that changes during one specific chapter within Ascension known as the Trial of Archimedes. Elsewhere, the game offers ample checkpoints, boxes of health, and easily-killable foes, but the Trial of Archimedes is controller-smashing, TV-punching, yell-at-the-screen difficult. You’ll have to endure waves of enemies back to back without the slightest aid from health or magic recovering orbs. Not only that, but you’ll be forced to repeat the entire process if you die during any of the stages contained within. The challenge in that particular area has generated enough of a backlash from players to receive recognition from the developers, who have indicated that they will be patching Ascension in the near future to reduce the difficulty. Yes, it’s that bad.
Despite suffering from a number of flaws, God of War: Ascension still succeeds in offering an entertaining experience, one that remains true to the essence of the franchise. However, problems become apparent when this newest installment is compared to previous entries in the series. On its own, Ascension is enjoyable and it’s clear that the developers had the best of intentions. Unfortunately, there are simply too many instances where the experience that they crafted feels downgraded, watered down, and inferior compared to its triumphant predecessors. As hard as the new game tries, it never feels quite like it belongs in such admirable company.
Final Score: 7/10
This article was originally written for and published on Honest Gamers by yours truly.