Kratos is a man of few words.
Sure, he shouts and grunts and generally sounds-off on whatever herculean task he's currently making his bitch, but in general, Kratos keeps quiet. The difference has always been that there's a lot going on around our hero. Massive figures loom in the background and the epic battles that serve as scenery leave the player with an impression of importance and significance in the timeline of Greek mythology.
Of course, the God of War games are also just an excuse to kick ass and tear shit up. Kratos feels incredibly powerful and stringing together a massive combo satisfies like nothing else. If you still need to drive your point home, a highly cinematic quick-time event is usually on its way to give your eyes something amazing to look at (or maybe something to upset your stomach). God of War: Ascension hopes to capitalize on these franchise stalwarts while also tossing head-to-head multiplayer into the mix. Have a few mortals hoping to earn favor with the gods ruined God of War's perfected brew of violence and spectacle, or can Kratos and company continue to improve on the now tried-and-true formula?
Before his conflict with Ares, Kratos picked a fight with the Furies, the keepers of truth. Obviously when Kratos breaks his blood oath, the Furies have something to complain about, but it becomes quickly apparent that there's just not a lot of inspiration in this campaign. In fact, I was shocked at the silence at some points in the game. Kratos navigates the environment like Nathan Drake, goes sliding down steep slopes with his blade for a rudder, and has his path blocked from time to time by enemies, but nothing feels as inspired as God of War III and its looming Titans.
Ascension presents some new ideas, like the element-infused Blades of Chaos and a couple other powers, including the ability to bend time to Kratos' will, which work both inside and outside of combat. Leveling up your elements and unlocking new abilities feels well-paced and keeps things fresh throughout the campaign. But I just couldn't shake the feeling that Ascension was basically a grab bag of ideas that didn't make the cut in the previous God of War games.
In one sequence Kratos has to unite three massive snakes to turn a gear and progress to the next area. You'll climb and run along the snakes, fight baddies, and slide through the snake's interior as it glides through the air to its destination. At the end you fight a boss. It all feels very familiar.
And frankly, it's not all that surprising at this endpoint in the current console-generation, is it? Kratos has seen (and killed) a lot of different things over the years, but you're likely to wonder why we're killing the Furies only now after all the Gods of Olympus.
Despite that, single-player is still very playable and enjoyable. The combat is entertaining and the things you do in-game do push Kratos forward on his path of violence. While the wall-climbing is incredibly boring, and not very befitting of a god, the sliding mechanics and elemental combat make for an entertaining, if uninspired, romp.
Honestly, I never thought I'd say this, but God of War: Ascension's multiplayer completely saves the experience. If it weren't for the competitive modes, I'd likely recommend you skip Ascension altogether. In fact, multiplayer is reason enough to buy Ascension outright.
When I originally saw the mode at E3, it seemed interesting, but ultimately too slow and unnecessary to the GoW experience. It felt tacked-on, more like a chore than a fun distraction. Having played the final product, however, multiplayer feels like a lovingly crafted fantasy world, where burly men gear up and beat the snot out of each other. Players can choose from one of four gods to align themselves with, each offering different magical powers and abilities, and then from one of three weapons: sword, hammer, or spear.
I started with the hammer and quickly discovered a combo that would deplete 90% of an enemy's health in a few short blows. Other players started to counter with faster sword strikes, and another decided to use his spear's range to break up our party and take the kills for himself. Each new weapon has new special moves, meaning a new variation on tried-and-true killing blows is only a level away.
Even the multiplayer level design is astounding. One level called the "Labyrinth" features spinning cubes, maze-like in design, that hang in midair. Another level has a controllable monster that fires lasers at unsuspecting players hoping to capture a control point or steal a flag. The oft-publicized cyclops level features a spear that the winning team has to jam in the beast's singular eye before calling it a day.
I quickly found that I enjoyed multiplayer more than anything I had seen or done in the game's single-player mode. Environmental traps keep you on your toes, and the vicious nature of hand-to-hand combat is made all the more satisfying when you can latch on to your opponent and break their jaw off their face.
God of War: Ascension proves itself an exception to the rule. Generally, adding multiplayer to an historically single-player franchise can get publishers in trouble, but Ascension is just the opposite. Santa Monica Studio's clever use of existing mechanics and and tightly wound combat means you'll be button-mashing for your life, sneaking up on unsuspecting warriors, and transforming into your own god of war in no time.
While the single-player will leave something to be desired, you'll find more than you need to stay entertained in online matches and the challenges, levels, and weapons therein. Kratos may have a lot of miles on him, but the gladiators that take to the online colosseum are fresh and eager for blood. If you're a fan of the series, you've got to take a demigod-sized leap and dive in. Even if you've got a passing interest in Kratos and his adventures, multiplayer bucks the FPS trends that dominate the industry and gives you control over your own Ancient Greece action figure.