The God of War series has delivered a lot of severed limbs and Medusa heads since it first burst onto the stage in 2005 on the PS2. A mix of slick controls, rewarding combat and highly polished art direction made Kratos one of the most loved anti-heroes in gaming history. However, after watching the trailer at E3, I couldn't help but think that not a lot has changed in the seven years since its conception. While the visuals continue to get better with each iteration, the basic gameplay seems untouched.
This isn't necessarily a terrible thing and one could mimic the 'if it ain't broke, why fix it' line. But the unusual introduction of a multiplayer to the game makes me wonder if the developers are concerned that their tried and true formula might need a shake up as well. To put my mind at ease, I sat down with a rep from Sony Santa Monica studios to have a run-through of Ascension's single player mode.
Like a few other games on show at E3, this new God of War game is a prequel to the original and takes place around 6 months after the death of Kratos' family. Gone is his ash-coloured skin and the younger Kratos has an element of humanity to him now, rather than the burning hatred we've seen in earlier games. However this doesn't mean that our anti-hero is afraid of killing. Ascension is still packed full of brutal, eye-watering violence.
In fact the over-the-top gore in Ascension is almost a parody of itself. How is it that I can watch an elephant-man have open-air brain surgery via Kratos' flaming blade and not be shocked or surprised? The cruelty to animals in this game is staggering. I know these are mythologically inspired creations, but you still can't help but feel sorry for some goat-man who gets his organs juggled.
Kratos wastes little time in decimating wave after wave of foes. On top of his iconic fiery chained blades, Kratos can now pick up weapons from his enemies and use them, each with their own unique attacks and finishing moves. We saw him grab a giant sword from a minotaur-thing before going to town on his torso with it, with every gruesome detail carefully showcased. Ascension is a beautiful game, albeit a rather gratuitous one. But then again, this is why we love God of War right?
There are other new features in the campaign mode of Ascension to mention. The Rage mode, introduced in earlier games, now plays a much bigger part and is easier to charge up and deploy for ultimate carnage. Also the quick-time prompts are now a lot cleaner and cinematic. Rather than bold button icons appearing above fallen foes, now the game uses slick glowing bars where the colour dictates whether you can go in for a special kill, or if they are just stunned. To further the cinematic feel, a lot of the 'finish him' sequences don't even use prompts, instead the game expects players to intuitively push buttons and dodge attacks without any visual cues.
It's a welcome change and helps remove that repetitive 'now push circle, now wiggle your stick' chore that often plagued the previous games. Finally Ascension also introduces a plot device that allows Kratos to reverse time, known as the Life Cycle ability. With it he can build or decay structures around him and even freeze and hover enemies in a helpless manner before he decides to rip them a new one. The single player mode doesn't look like it will disappoint and true fans will find some new subtle changes that should keep them happy.
More details on the multiplayer will be announced soon as well, but already at this stage we can confirm that Kratos will not be a playable character. Sony Santa Monica studios explained this simply but saying that they didn't want a team of blue Kratos' wailing on an identical team of green ones. Instead players will create their own warrior and align themselves with one of four Gods (Ares, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades), each with their own perks and special abilities. Follow this game via NZGamer.com and we'll be sure to bring you more on this game shortly.
NZGamer.com appears at E3 2012 thanks to Orcon Broadband.
The Good: More Kratos
The Bad: More Minotaurs
The Ugly: More Megalops