Since 2005, Kratos has been on a revenge-driven odyssey to take down the gods. Through his travels, he has been to Hades and back a few times, killed countless waves of Minotaur, Medusas, titans, gods, and even Zeus himself. In “God of War: Ascension,” we finally get to see the beginning of the tale and what started Kratos down the path he will eventually take in the rest of the series.
If you are new to the series, “God of War” is set in ancient Greece and is filled with all manner of ancient Greek mythology. You play as Kratos, a proud Spartan warrior in service of the God of War, Ares. Kratos was involved in a losing battle against a barbarian horde, so he made a pact with the God of War himself. Ares spared his life and granted Kratos the power that he needed to defeat the invasion, but he was doomed to be a slave to him forever.
When I first heard this was going to be a prequel, I was skeptical because I thought the first game did a great job of explaining his back-story; however, “Ascension” does tell an interesting tail that expands the mythology.
“God of War: Ascension” takes place after his deal with Ares and before the events of the original 2005 game. The story is not as epic as the main entries, but it is still quite interesting. After Kratos is tricked by Ares into killing his family, Kratos is so angry he has vowed to break his oath, which causes him to be punished by the three Furies.
He is sent to Hades and tortured with visions of his family for years, which understandably drive him mad. This is the real start of what drives Kratos to revenge against Ares. In order to accomplish this goal, Kratos needs to redeem himself in the eyes of the other gods; he must kill the Furies in order to sever his ties to Ares and avenge his family.
For two console generations, the “God of War” series has been one of the hallmarks of third-person action titles, and the action in “Ascension” does not disappoint. Even though this game doesn't have as many epic moments as its predecessors, there are some really incredible scenes that are nothing short of spectacle.
When it comes to combat, the controls and action are what you remember. You kill all manner of beasts in order to collect orbs that upgrade all of your combat abilities and spells. The only difference here is there are not alternative weapons this time around; there are only the chains of chaos. However, you can attain different attributes for the chains this time around, which do change the combat in some interesting ways.
Most of the new abilities are elemental-based: there is Ares fire, Poseidon ice, Zeus lightning, and the non-elemental ability from Hades that can call the undead. Along with the upgraded chain blades, the magic system is more advanced. Magic does much more damage and is harder to unlock, so you have to think wisely about how you want to allocate orbs. There are also some sub weapons, but they aren't that useful.
The biggest addition to this game is the multiplayer – this is the first “GOW” game to have any type of multiplayer experience. One good thing is that no one can play as Kratos, so there are no matches with four versions of Kratos to keep track of. Instead, you pick from one of four customizable warriors that are aligned with a certain god, which gives them different abilities and weapons. The multiplayer is an interesting distraction; the different modes include variants of free-for-all, team deathmatch, team objective, and capture the flag. The levels are pretty cool; they include different locations from throughout the series and have elements that can be used to your advantage. It is very fun to experiment with the different parts of each map. The multiplayer is fun, but it grows old rather quickly in my opinion.
Overall, “God of War: Ascension” is a pretty good game, but it doesn't quite live up to the standard of the previous games. The story does a good job of fleshing out Kratos as a character more, but it just doesn't feel as important because we know what happens to him in the later games. The graphics are still amazing, the action and combat stands up, and the multiplayer is quite fun, so if you are “GOW” fan, you should play this to learn more about why Kratos is so warm and cuddly, but this shouldn't be the jumping-on point. I recommend picking up the “GOW HD” collection and playing the remastered original two games.
-Robbie Vanderveken is the digital operations specialist at The Times Leader. E-mail him at rvanderveken @timesleader.com.