Game Guys review: 'God of War: Ascension' fun but flawed epic

7:10 PM, Mar 16, 2013   |    comments
'God of War: Ascension' for PlayStation 3 was developed by Sony's Santa Monica Studio.
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Wait, you thought slaying every Greek god in existence meant an end to the tales of God of War hero Kratos?

Not so fast. The muscular and merciless warrior of Sony's epic God of War action franchise returns in prequel God of War: Ascension for the PlayStation 3. Although the "hack-and-slash" title is filled with the same grandeur of the original trilogy, it lacks those titanic moments that helped make the franchise so spectacular.

For those new to God of War, Kratos is a Spartan soldier who vows to serve Ares, the god of war, if he grants him the power to slay his enemies. Kratos' tale turns tragic when he is tricked into killing his wife and daughter, setting him off on a quest to kill Ares.

Ascension takes place six months after his family's murder, as Kratos breaks his pact with Ares and seeks revenge. Instead, Kratos is trapped in a prison dominated by the Furies, a group of female deities attempting to drive Kratos mad.

The prequel features all the trademarks fans of God of War have come to expect. Armed with the Blades of Chaos attached to his wrists by chains, Kratos slashes through a variety of enemies such as giant cyclops, three-headed dogs (Cerebus) and a new "elephantaur," a hybrid elephant/minotaur. The combat delivers the same physicality and brutal finishes that have made the series popular.

Magic is handled a bit differently in Ascension, connected more closely to Kratos' blades. Players can link their swords to powers tied to four gods: Ares (fire), Poseidon (ice), Zeus (lightning) and Hades (souls). Each come with their own set of special attacks and specific magic strikes to slow down enemies. For example, tapping the R2 button while equipping Hades' abilities unleashes a flurry of souls, while the Poseidon ability starts an icy tornado freezing enemies. When opponents glow red, players can perform a "brutal kill" for an especially gory finish.

Players will find green and blue chests scattered across the landscape to replenish health and magic. Red chests give players points to upgrade their powers and blades, while white chests carry Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers to enlarge health and magic meters. Players can also pick up other weapons such as larger swords, hammers or shields for bonus melee strikes.

Ascension beefs up navigation and puzzle elements of the series through an amulet Kratos picks up that can manipulate structures and stop time. When an object glows green, players can use the amulet to rebuild or decay a structure. Some puzzles require players to partially rebuild a bridge or other structure to advance. Plus, players can use it as a quick way to suspend enemies in mid-air and hack away.

For the most part, Ascension is as enjoyable as every other God of War game. The presentation remains impressive, effectively using dramatic camera angles to make the world and his enemies feel massive. It's a game worth of its mythological subject matter. The combat is equally thrilling. Transitioning between attacks and rolls or other moves feels effortless, as players perform a variety of combination attacks to tear through opponents.

However, Ascension seems to carry one tragic flaw. Why should I care about this quest, exactly? The God of War trilogy earned its rise in popularity in part because of the incredible cast of characters Kratos battles. By comparison, Ascension's cast of villains seems rather tame, which results in fewer memorable moments. That's the price it pays for following up a trilogy that had players slaying a Hydra, several Greek gods and a fantastic sequence in God of War 3 where players battle the titan Cronos.

Ascension also introduces multiplayer to the God of War series for the first time. The third-person action genre doesn't dive into the multiplayer pool often, but it works surprisingly well in God of War. Players start with brief training followed by picking an allegiance to either Zeus, Hades, Ares and Poseidon. Each god carries his own advantages. Ares gives players more physical power, while Zeus is more focused on elemental abilities.

After choosing a god to follow, players explore a variety of matches such as Favor of the Gods, where two teams fight to capture altars and gain favor points, and the cooperative Trial of the Gods where players must survive increasingly tougher waves of enemies. Players earn experience toward adding armor, weapons and magic abilities.

It seems Ascension hasn't been blessed by the video game gods, if such entities did exist. It's a really strong title, with the same vicious combat and a clever multiplayer component. It just suffered the unfortunate luck of following up three very powerful console predecessors.

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sony Santa Monica
Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Price: $59.99
Rating: M for Mature
Release Date: March 12
Score: 3 stars (out of 4)*

- by Brett Molina, USA TODAY

(* Equivalent to a Game Guys score of 75/100)

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