The God of War series made a mark on the gaming landscape by employing over-the-top brutality, colossally epic battles, and of course, an extremely violent protagonist. It’s difficult to imagine any other franchise capturing the essence of one man’s ruthlessness amidst the grand clash between men and gods. Now the Spartan warrior Kratos has returned for another round, and this time his rage is aimed at the keepers of oaths: the Furies.
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.
“Because its predecessors have already offered so many epic moments, Ascension falls 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.”The new adventure kicks off six months after Kratos swore an oath of allegiance to Ares in the first game. After experiencing a crisis of conscience, the Spartan soldier renounces his duties as the puppet of the God of War. That unexpected act of rebellion triggers aggression from the three Fury sisters, who are sent to capture and torture their target so that he will submit once more to the will of Ares. In order to free himself from service, Kratos must kill the Furies who hold his blood oath. In service to the story, the writers root out the fallen hero’s innermost demons and reveal a side to Kratos that is less vengeful and slightly more sentimental. He is forced at last to come to terms with the act of killing his wife and child, and in so doing he more believably showcases an actual range of emotions than ever before. Who knew that Kratos could display anything besides unbridled rage? Don’t let the sappy description fool you, though; ferocity and an insatiable bloodlust are every bit as prevalent in Ascension as they were in any other God of War game.
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.
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.
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.