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God of War: Ascension

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I love the God of War series. Love, love love. I love the complete bastardization of Greek Mythology. I love the gratifying visceral combat. And I especially love Kratos; my breath of fresh air when I am sick to death of holier-than-thou or annoyingly sarcastic main characters throwing out one-liners that always fall short. He’s an antihero who usually doesn’t care what he has to do or who he has to kill to accomplish his goals. Even though he’s been wussified a bit in the last two releases, Kratos is still the biggest badass this side of Thrace.

I’ve played every God of War game released, including both PSP entries. I know I don’t pay as much attention to video game publicity as much as I used to, but Ascension didn’t seem to be hyped up all that much. Aside from the multiplayer beta, anyway. I didn’t allow multiplayer or negative hype to deter me from getting myself a collector’s edition so I could have an 8″ Kratos figurine to add to my collection.  Yes, I am a fangirl. And yes, I realize I am part of the problem.

Speaking of multiplayer, I played the beta for about a week but haven’t really touched on the final product. All I really have to say about the beta is that it seemed to do a pretty good job of reserving the spirit of GoW’s battle and magic but the balancing system needed a little work. I may tinker around with it for a couple of weeks until I find another game I want to play, but I don’t plan on writing an opinion piece about it as playing a game I can’t pause is a tedious exercise for me when I am home alone with a mobile almost-one year old, and my expertise with online console multiplayer runs about as far as playing Mario Kart Wii. Anyone want to suggest which deity I should worship before I invest too much time into a Hades character to find out I’m getting shafted?

Remember in my review of the rebooted DmC, my griping about video games getting a bit too complicated? Ascension pulls off a great balance, incorporating different toys to play with and things to level up without becoming overly complicated, burdensome, or just plain annoying. Instead of acquiring an array of weapons to swap out with Blades of Chaos, you are given four elemental variations to use with the blades, world weapons to pick up and use alongside them, and some nifty items to use later on in the game. Some people lament the lack of weapon variety, but it didn’t bother me much. Mostly because it has been an extreme rarity in my experience with the series that I actually wanted to use a weapon besides the Blades of Chaos. Their range and speed are so gratifying to me, I almost never want to take them off. And in Ascension, I never had to! Instead, I got to swap elements, thereby changing up effects, magic spells, and rage attacks. The rage attacks are sort of lackluster, seeing as how you need to fill the rage meter (by somehow managing to not get  hit) and then you only get to pull off your special elemental rage move once. The Hades rage ability is completely bitchin’, by the way.  As an alternative to the Blades of Chaos, you can pick up weapons conveniently hanging out on the ground at various points, or disarm certain enemies and take theirs. Some of them are fun and some of them suck, but I thought it was a neat and simple alternative to giving me more weapons to spend red orbs on.

I also have some beef with magic in this game. First of all, when I beat the game I was ONE Phoenix Feather short of getting my magic bar fully upgraded! Obviously I can’t fully blame the game for this, but Ascension loves cutting  you off from the previous area you just walked out of. Which means I suffered from a lot of “Let’s see whats over here… Okay, guess I can’t go back” instances. Oh well, guess it gives me something to look forward to in my New Game+. My issue with magic in this game is the fact that you have to invest thousands of red orbs into each element (except the initial) to obtain the corresponding magic spell. I beat the game without getting access to a spell because I decided to max out my Blades and level up my favorite item. Then I saw a video of the spell online and it looked rather useful, to my dismay. Something else to look forward to, I suppose.

The QTEs, brutal finishes and spraying blood are all present. In terms of combat, the game plays just as well as the previous entries…  Sort of. There’s one annoyance I am saving for later. Puzzles are present as well, and the items you’ll receive add an interesting layer of depth to them that definitely stumped me at a couple of points. I did find it ironic to see GoW borrow from other series this time around, namely with the new found obsession with climbing a la Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted style. There’s also more emphasis on grappling which humored me as I played the new DmC not too long ago also.

The story, well, it certainly pales in comparison to the epicness that is GoW3. I think we all knew it couldn’t really match killing all the Greek gods and Titans. There are some fun, memorable boss battles but they certainly don’t match up to GoW3. How could they? This is a prequel, prequel, so to speak. What memorable characters have they left for Kratos to kill? I was expecting to learn about Kratos’ rise to power in the Spartan army. But no, this still takes place after he does the deed and wants to get revenge on Ares. They can reserve that material for the prequel, prequel, prequel, I guess? Anyhow, there are some interesting moments and shallow revelations, but nothing earth-shattering or really vital to add to Kratos’ story.

While doing some reading online, I came across discussion regarding the Trial of Archimedes. Looks like it will be patched because it is so difficult.

…Huh?

I don’t know if this is a case of video game journalists who don’t play a lot of games hyping up the difficulty, or if we really are getting softer as gamers, but I’m not sure what the problem is here. GoW games usually have one section in them that makes me want to snap my controller in half. I expect that. And given the amount of discussion about this, I thought I was going to have much more difficulty with it than I did. Because, trust me, I am not the most skilled gamer out there, and I’d just as soon play some games on easy mode nowadays (and no, I wasn’t playing this particular game on Easy). Which makes me wonder if I happened to have the right skills maxed? Maybe. But I think it has more to do with the fact I’d already come to terms with not being able to pull off fancy full combos half the time. Because, and this is the strange step backwards with the battle system, enemies just don’t react to getting hit. I felt like I was playing Lollipop Chainsaw half the time. Up until the infamous Trial of Archimedes, this is easy to miss/ignore because health chests are around every corner and you don’t usually fight large groups of hard enemies. Then, you’ll get to the Trial and realize the only way you’ll make it through is by dodge rolling like its your job and abusing your Orkos item and Hades magic. At least, that’s how I muscled my way through it. I also couldn’t help but notice (and I can’t recall if it was like this in previous installments) but the Gorgons in this game get the pleasure of ignoring the fact that you’re holding down that silly guard button. Even when Kratos was in his (suggestive?) block stance they were still able to initiate their grab move and commence to squeezing the life out of me. This game really made me wish there was a way to cancel out of fancy combos, like the enemies seem to have no trouble doing, because while Kratos is making a whirlwind of chains and blades because I got a little carried away with my button mashing enemies will walk through it like nothing and take pot shots at him.

Overall, this game may fall short of most of its predecessors in terms of significance and memorability, but it is a satisfying 8 hours of slaying mythological creatures and Greek icons. But not too many Greek icons. Since beginning this post I spent a couple of hours in the multiplayer with a Hades character and am enjoying it until it is time to undergo a New Game+. I can’t find a reason for anyone who isn’t already a fan of the series to pick this game up. With that being said, this certainly isn’t the best the series has to offer and if you’re a newcomer I would strongly suggest buying time with the original trilogy first while waiting for a price drop.

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