Although I’ve been a gamer since Pac-Man (read: really old) I’m not a fan of being stuck on a multiple-stage boss fight or killing an endless wave of re-spawning enemies. I’m looking at you, Devil May Cry – excuse me, I mean, ‘DMC‘ – and Bayonetta. Things start off easily enough, giving me only two attack options (quick and weak or slow and strong), but soon I’m overwhelmed with X, X+O, triangle, circle plus shoulder button madness. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying all games should be a cakewalk. I respect RPGs need to make me spend countless hours leveling up, and I enjoy my shooters a notch above ‘normal’, but twitchy, button-mashers? Not a fan.
However, I love the God of War series, even though I came to the franchise late. For some reason, I skipped out on the first one, but everyone was all abuzz about GoW 2. On my state-of-the-art PlayStation 2, here were visuals that were gigantic in every sense of the word. Quickly, I went back and played part 1 and was awestruck by a three-headed hydra that filled the screen. The music swelled like a blockbuster film. The blood and violence put Mortal Kombat to shame. As Kratos, the perennially pissed off gray-skinned he-man, I experienced just how badass being a Spartan was before Gerard Butler exclaimed, “This. Is. Sparta!” in 300. I couldn’t wait to get my blood-soaked hands on part 3: the end of Kratos’ journey, which would be in full HD on the PS3. (Yes, the PS2 ones had a 720p mode, but come on now.)
Presenting a more even-tempered Kratos is God War: Ascension, a prequel of sorts, so I’m back to attempting to be manly. I really wanted that “Bros Before Hos” trophy. (Sony has made a statement after numerous complaints saying a renaming will occur via a patch.)
I forgot how throw-controller-at-the-wall these games are. (Thankfully, the DualShock 3 is wireless so the console doesn’t get uprooted when my rage meter burst.) For a nerd that doesn’t play these types of game anymore, playing God of War reminds me how wimpy I am.
5 Old School Ways Ascension is Hard:
5. Saw “You Died” a Lot in the First ‘Hour’
Fans of the series will recall the now-signature openings begin with Linda Hunt speaking about Kratos and pretty quickly, we’re fighting our way out of some hellish world. After tons of centaurs and other mythological beasties, there’s a creature the size of a small mountain to topple. In Ascension, Kratos is chained up and some old-timey witch is torturing him. Soon the villainous hag is bewitching an old temple, having tiny beetles slither out of the concrete, transforming into scaly monsters, out to stomp us out. Literally.
Learn from my mistakes: use the right stick to duck and roll as much as possible. Use R1 to hack and slash. One scene took Kratos (me) forever, but no one wants to save the game before finishing the prologue, right? So TWO HOURS later, after being tossed about like a mouse in an apartment-sized hobble, I was victorious. I checked my playtime: 1 hr. 03 min. (Dying doesn’t count towards your time.)
The slap in the face begins…
4. Even the Puzzles are Tough
Lara Croft’s latest didn’t have mind-benders like this. Things start easy, with just pulling some glowing levers – a GoW staple – to open doors, but soon enough there are some pretty fiendish brainteasers that rely on your memory of a room’s layout. Fans of Odd World will be pleased as the trick is in what you destroy or create. (And something else that I don’t wanna spoil.) I remember when Lara and Kratos used to just push obvious-looking blocks around. Those were the days….
3. Really Kratos, No Bread-Crumbed Path to Lead Us?
Follow the yellow-lined path! NOT GoW (it’s Fables 3)
As I’m barely keeping it together throughout the campaign there’s still a lot to explore. This series has always had a fixed camera though. The basic rundown is that Kratos will open up some new area and the camera will zoom out to show your path. Except I had a hard time keeping track once the path was set. One of the blessings of this current generation of games is getting a glowing line that shows you which way to go; Dead Space and Fable both have excellently lit up lines to follow. You don’t have to have them on, or even use them outright, but it’s great that that function is built-in. True, God of War comes from the PS2 era but by now would this feature be that hard to implement? The new Tomb Raider uses a beacon and that series started on the PS1! Light my way Kratos, I’m beggin’ ya!
2. Like Most Big Guys, Kratos Still Sucks at Jumping
Kratos is a big guy. His means of dismembering are second to no one in the gaming universe (even poor elephants are not spared this time!), but he has never been able to jump worth a darn. As such, the platforming aspects can be tiresome at best, frustrating at worst. I don’t really think this is the player’s fault or Kratos’, for that matter. I think the level artists are so skilled at finely detailed caves and castles that they don’t want to dumb down their visuals by making certain rocks or bricks look like you can reach them. This leads to a lot of trial and error. Joy. There are some stones that light up though. Thanks for that, programmers!
1. New Elemental Attacks are a Great Idea, But Hard to Master
Hmmm.. do not use fire on this thing.
Early on, Kratos gains the ability to augment his blades with fire, demon, ice or lightning. Each has a different effect. Cool idea, but I wish the enemies gave more of a tell as to what I should use on them. Once I got used to it I dug switching powers, but the learning curve was much higher than I would have imagined. Mario always knew when he was in a ice world; just sayin’.
5 Ways Kratos’ Latest Shows the Player Mercy
5. Checkpoints are Helpful
This might not seem like a big deal, but most if not all of the checkpoints are save points too (you can see “saving” in the bottom right corner of the screen.) Yeah, boss battles are still something you’ll have to accomplish in one sitting but that seems fair. What used to drive me crazy was slashing through horde after horde only to have to restart at the beginning if I bit the dust. To my knowledge, this started getting better (less frustrating) with God War 3, so I’m not sure if it has to do with the architecture of the PS3 as opposed to PS2. Whatever the reason, I felt much relief.
4. The Upgrades Rock
Some newer games allow all the collecting you do to keep adding up even if you die. Meaning if you get killed, but racked up 3000 points, you still keep all 3000. This is not the case in Ascension but it never was in the series. However, with all those red, blue and white (Gorgon eyes!) chests to rip open with R1 you’ll have no problem upgrading your weapons and skills rather quickly. On my first play through, I’m still partial to putting everything into my blades and health, but that’s just me. The blood-red filling of the meter is still as satisfying as ever.
3. The “Videogamey” Aspects are Exploitable
(skip to 1:08 in the video below)
Fans of God of War and Uncharted will keep the argument going but both series are perhaps the best-looking videogames franchises ever. I loved the new Tomb Raider but much within the first few minutes of booting up Ascension I remembered “oh yeah, THIS is what amazing visuals are.” Kratos is so finely detailed his features give way to tiny specs of hair, scars, heck, even his pores are easy to spot. The areas are ginormous, of course, but spacious and lived-in as well. That said, all the tech and glitz can’t hide how obvious it sometimes seems that Kratos is separate from the background. Sometimes his feet still seem too floaty on the ground. His switching from battle to pretty much anything (jumping, um, walking) suffers throughout, making him seem one click away from being a cutout.
Other times, objects you need to interact with look equally separated from the terrain, which came in handy when I found myself lost or not sure about what I areas I could or couldn’t enter. I basically looked for the more obvious-looking crevices and peaks and victory was mine.
2. Kratos is Less Angry, More Relatable
Since most of the game takes place ten years before the events in the original God of War, Kratos is less angry. Some critics have said this creates a discrepancy between playing an unstoppable killing machine in the game who, in cutscenes, seems sober, reflective, bummed out. All true, but I think this is probably Ascension ‘s greatest storytelling feat. As a gamer, I don’t need much in way of motivation to attack and maim but I appreciate the writers’ intent here: namely, to make us feel just how human Kratos was.
1. Quick Time Events are Finally Easy and Fun
One of the defining parts of the series has been the huge set pieces that are amazing to watch but annoyingly have the player frantically hitting triangle, square, circle or x at precise moments. Here the placement is key: if you know the arrangement of the buttons like a true geek then you really don’t need to “see” the exact icon anymore. If the icon is at the top of the screen you can know for sure it’s triangle. A tiny fix (that started in part 3), but it makes the QTE a pleasure to do and experience. Plus, new to the series, Kratos is given a little button mashing in between the QTEs. Ripping a head off a centaur by his own hands…priceless.