Santa Monica brings Kratos back to his past in a great prologue to an epic franchise.
Kratos has been imprisoned by the Furies; a group of three God-like women in charge of Hecatonchires; a large prison made out of a large creature. Kratos has been imprisoned for breaking his oath to Ares and begins his escape. The game takes place both months before and in the present. In the months before, Kratos is shown to be living in fantasies created by the Furies themselves and he sets out to kill them in order to break the illusions surrounding him. When we head back to the present, it's during his bouts with the Furies themselves.
The story here is a little more interesting since Kratos is no longer engulfed by rage, he's a little more level-headed and focused this time around. I personally found this to be more preferable and found myself more invested with Kratos' struggle. Since this is a prequel story, the ending has to make sense and I'm happy to say that it doesn't mess with the previous games. It's nice to see Kratos as a character and not an instrument of murder in, what seems like, the last game in his story.
The gameplay here has actually seen the most changes than in any of the other games. Combat plays the same for the most part, but grappling has been changed, basic combos have been changed and a side weapon system has been implemented. As you attack, you'll notice that Kratos' combos have been shorted and as you deal damage and avoid damage, you'll fill up a rage meter. When this rage meter is full, Kratos' combos become extended and more powerful making it rewarding to build up your combo meter. The grappling is now linked to the R1 button and some enemies can be grabbed without an indicator. The indicator here is a white or red line above a weakened enemy and when grappled you perform either a special action, when white, or a brutal finisher, when red. When an applicable enemy has been grappled, you can either slash at them or the other enemies or throw them at the other enemies.
The grappling system works much better here since Kratos throws a blade to grapple from a distance. The grappling is also used to pull some levers as well. The side weapon system is a little less useful, some enemies drop their weapons or you can find them in the environment and they are assigned to the now vacant circle button. By default, the circle button does what's called a Spartan Kick and this kick disrupts an enemy and throws them off guard. I never really found myself using these weapons much, making them a very optional system. Second weapons, such as the Blade of Olympus, have been swapped with different elements for your blades which add some neat effects to your attacks. You can still upgrade your weapons and the elements and they still do what you expect.
The level design is similar and still linear, but the puzzles have been improved vastly. The special abilities you get can be used in combat for short benefits but they are put to great use in the puzzles. I never thought I'd see the day when I compliment the puzzles in a God of War game. They are well thought out and a joy to figure out, they aren't mindblowing but we are closer to see Portal-levels of puzzles in our action games.
The boss battles are still excellent and the scope of the game is as large as God of War III but also on a more personal scale. Overall, this is the best playing God of War game and it's close to becoming something more.
The music and voice work are still fantastic and Kratos' calmer personality in this adventure lets you hear him more as a person. His performance is still excellent, but he gets fewer lines than you'd hope. The music is still epic and the sound effects are still fitting. Kratos hold ups well here.
The visuals are the best of the series, as they should be, but they are well beyond most games on the market. The scope and beauty of some of the environments are stunning and the character models look fantastic. You go to many locations and fight multiple different enemy types, but it's sad to say that the enemy variety is pretty low. The cinematics are well made and the violence still looks brutal and over-the-top while still remaining realistic as they can be. Not much to be said other than it's a fantastic looking game. Keep up the good work Santa Monica.
- Combat has been deepened
- Story is more personal and Kratos is more calm
- Puzzles are vastly improved
- Stages are beautiful and large in scope
- Music is epic and voice work is great
- Visuals are amazing and top-notch
- Controls are slightly better
- Combat is still a little shallow
- Game isn't difficult
- Levels are still really linear
- Low enemy variety
Overall, God of War: Ascension is a fantastic start to the series. I am not the biggest fan of the previous games, but I think is shows us what is best about the franchise while giving us something new. Kratos is a lot calmer, the combat is deeper, the fights are epic and the visuals are beautiful. If you enjoyed the previous games and are itching for more, you should already have this game. I've left multiplayer out of the review because I haven't touched it since I played the beta and thought it was awful. Thankfully, the multiplayer hasn't taken away from the great story.