Kratos is back for another go around of mythological mayhem, and Sony was kind enough to let us play the first hour of the game at a preview event at the Royal Ontario Museum a week before the game’s launch on March 12. I personally came away impressed with the game, but don’t expect a major overhaul of the franchise with this installment.
Being that I was in a loud environment for the demo with other media, it was tough to discern the story, but I can confirm that Ascension’s storyline is a prequel to the original trilogy. It has something to do with three Furies, guardians of honor and justice, who fight on the side of Zeus, who unleashed his furies on a fellow god named Aegaeon who was turned to stone and later a giant prison for damned of Greek mythology. It’s kind of confusing and silly, but it’s worth noting because Aegaeon not only represents the price of breaking a blood oath to the gods, but also serves at the setting for the first chunk of the game. As it begins, Kratos is imprisoned on the enormous living prison, and being tortured by one of the furies. After some exposition and an interactive session where you have to avoid the Fury’s attacks, Kratos breaks loose, using his chains to make his iconic Chains of Olympus blades, and the chase is on.
The entire first hour of the game is an intense fight as Kratos alternates between chasing the fury across the prison and avoiding the attacks of the prison itself. Aegaeon will attack you using its multiple limbs and hands, smashing itself to pieces as you jump from one platform and room to the next. In between, you’ll face smaller enemies in clever arenas, collect red orbs to level up your equipment and magic, and engage in some minor platforming.
If I’m being honest, the game barely plays any differently than the original God of War, which was released in 2005. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it goes to show how the original design of that game has aged like a fine wine. The enemies are a little smarter, the action is a little smoother, and Kratos has a small handful of new abilities like disarming enemies. Enemy weapons can be used mid combo for extra damage and can even be thrown to stun other enemies. I didn’t get a chance to play around with much of the magical powers that Kratos will wield later in the game, but if previous games in the series are any indication, you’ll have plenty of those to devastate your enemies with again.
Being an intense, action oriented series, the entire first hour was one massive set piece broken up by smaller set pieces. For example, one portion has you sliding down the collapsing prison, avoiding obstacles along the way. God of War has always been a quick time event-heavy series that has you pressing on screen button prompts to avoid hazards and commit crushing blows to giant enemies. All of that stuff returns here as well.
To put it simply, if you’re still a fan of the series, you’ll be satisfied with the visceral feel of the game’s design. If you got bored with the series back in the PlayStation 2 days, there’s not much here to get you excited about it, except for perhaps the breathtaking presentation.
Even though a high end PC is technically capable of better graphics than any console, I’m convinced that PlayStation 3 exclusive titles remain the best looking games on the market today as the popular system enters its twilight. This is likely because most PC titles are designed with console limitations in mind, and only PS3 exclusives are designed with the highest end of the system in mind. With that in mind, Ascension looks brilliantly amazing. The action runs at an excellent and smooth rate no matter how much is going on at any given time. Textures are exquisitely detailed, and Kratos himself is packed with details. I was most impressed by his facial animation, which portrays every ounce of strength Kratos puts forth. Perhaps the most impressive moment for me was a quick time event that has Kratos pulling down pillars with his chains. As he grits his teeth through his exertion, I noticed that every single one of his teeth was individually rendered as his face contoured and wrinkled in a perfect portrayal. Games today simply don’t look any better or run any smoother these days. Oh, and the game is intensely violent and gruesome, possibly more so than it ever was. The gore effects are gleefully over the top.
The first hour of God of War: Ascension provided some memorable moments, some tightly polished level design, and classic God of War gameplay in an exquisitely presented package. We’ll find out if the rest of the game lives up to this very high standard when it's released exclusively on the PlayStation 3 on March 12.