Sunday, July 27, 2014

Review #134: God of War - Ascension

 I WILL HAVE MY (first)REVENGE... two games later.
 God of War Ascension is the latest entry in this hack-and-slash series, but chronologically, it's the first one. Because we really needed another prequel. One of my biggest gripes with the series in general is that they refuse to change, in more ways than one, but is Ascension the exception?

 The game takes place roughly 8 months after Kratos killed his family(Spoilers? Not that the game doesn't straight up tell you), imprisoned by the Furies. After breaking free, the game switches between past, on the beginning of his quest, and present, in the Fury Citadel. It's... and odd way of telling the story, interestingly, the "present" only gets three scenes, the start of the game, a short while midway through, and then the last part of the game, it's funny because midway through the game you defeat one of the Furies, yet in what would be the "past" scenes, which follow said fight, you'll be carrying more weapons(And probably enhanced them) and fight that very same Fury, unable to kill her. What I mean to say is that the style they chose to tell the story with doesn't mesh well with the gameplay. Not that it matters much, they promised a much more "human" Kratos, and they sorta delivered, but the story is very sparse(Not that it should matter in an action game) but the way this "nice" Kratos behaves around certain NPCs isn't very convincing. Furthermore, it being another prequel kinda takes some of the "impact" away, we already know how the story ends, who cares about the new story that won't affect or even be mentioned in subsequent games? Kratos has already slain gods, gone to Hades, awoken the titans... this adventure feels less impressive as a whole.
 Gameplay is almost the same as other GoWs, while I usually complain that combat is never changed enough(As in, you always get the same combos with the Blades of Chaos/Exile/Athena, but you have to earn all the levels back), this game does make some changes, in my opinion, for worse. For starters, Kratos doesn't get a real "alternate" weapon this time, instead, you can pick up weapons dropped from enemies, which sounds really cool until you realize that most of them are really weak, there's absolutely no reason not to use them over the other weapons. For some reason, they also decided to lock most combos behind the "Rage" meter, what's inexcusable is that they locked staple combos from the series! To be fair, since by the next game Kratos will have gotten stronger, it's kinda cool that he'll be able to use them without the need for rage, but seeing how most of us probably played this game after the others... it's kinda lost on us.

 As for the Rage meter, it increases as you deal damage, but taking damage or whenever you exit combat will make it decrease. It's not a fun mechanic in any way. New to the series, you can now imbue the Blades of Chaos with one of four "elements", Ares' Fire, Zeus' Thunder, Hades' energy? and Poseidon's Ice, each one has a couple of exclusive moves, unique bonuses and each one has a different magic attack. It sounds interesting, but Ice and Thunder are kinda weak when compared to Ares', and what Hades' lack in strength, it makes up in AoE and range. The game also introduces three objects that are used for puzzle solving or combat, these addition I actually liked. The Amulet allows you to freeze an enemy in place, or reconstruct certain broken structures, the Heart creates a double of Kratos that stomps the battlefield or can be used to hold levers or switches in place, and the Eyes can stun or dispel the Fury's Illusions.
 This is a GoW game, so of course QTEs return, but they have outgrown their welcome. Worst of all, it uses the same style GoW III used, with tiny prompts on the four corners of the screen. These create an illusion of interaction, and makes you pay more attention to the corners of the screen rather than to what is happening, which is a shame since cut-scenes are pretty cool. Just give me straight-up cutscenes, you are not fooling anyone, all I'm doing is pressing buttons. Another issue I had is that the button you use to grapple/initiate brutal kills on enemies is the same button you use to pick up weapons, and Kratos tends to prioritize grabbing weapons over causing damage, which was pretty annoying.

 While God of War has always had climbing segments, these were usually rather short, and often times there were enemies you could or had to slay while hanging... for some reason they decided to appease the Uncharted/Assassin's Creed crowd by adding scripted climbing sequences. While the vistas on some of these look rather pretty, they feel very out of place in a GoW game, not to mention that there are no enemies in these, it's just Kratos moving along ledges or broken walls, jumping from gap to gap just because. They also added some sliding sequences, they packed a ton of these in the earlier parts of the game, to a point where they seemed forced, but luckily they drop in frequency on the latter half of the game, maybe they realized that it was only amusing the first two times. And to further prove that this time they went with style over substance, there are a couple of times where the camera will zoom all the way out, which admittedly looks very pretty, but during combat you won't be able to distinguish what is gonna attack you next and/or how to dodge or block appropriately.
 The game lasts seven hours, probably less if you know what to do, which makes it shorter than any other console GoW game. But while previous GoWs, even handheld ones, held a plethora of unlockables in the way of challenge arenas and trials, Ascension has... nothing. Oh, they do have a tacked-on multiplayer mode, but it's hardly the same. In Multiplayer, you choose an allegiance(Zeus, Ares, Poseidon or Hades) which affects your magic and your stats. They also allow you to customize your character... barely. There's a decent amount of armor items, but everyone plays as the same tall, muscular, bald guy, but most of these items are either earned by playing a lot or a couple of them are only obtainable by paying real money. Microtransactions in a first party 60 dollar game, way to go Sony! Heck, the Cestus weapons are only obtainable with real money. As for the mode itself, it does offer a fair amount of modes, there's a couple of single player trials, co-op stages, variations of deathmatch and capture the flag, with both original maps and maps based off areas of the main game. Regardless, GoW never needed a Multiplayer mode, it does feel tacked on, and the addition of microtransactions does nothing to hide that fact.

 If there's one thing that can't be argued, is that the presentation is top notch. Graphics are amazing, textures, architecture, human characters and monsters, all look gorgeous and very detailed. Animation is as fluid as ever, with a silky smooth frame rate at all times. There's some particularly amazing vistas in this game, and the last boss looks amazing, even if the fight itself is a bit disappointing. Music sets the mood for each scene perfectly, and voice acting is top-notch, as per usual.

 I may have spent most of the review complaining about it, but the game holds the same foundations as every other God of War game, it is a fun game, it is entertaining, but it's probably the weakest entry in the God of War series.
 7.5 out of 10.

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