At times confounded and consistently getting trounced, I still like what I played.
I’m not a big fan of God of War. The trilogy on PlayStation 2 and 3 play well and look beautiful, but I’ve always found Kratos to be a shallow and at times outright obnoxious character. He’s predictable and, at this point, completely boring. But I can’t deny that there’s something to his games: my Platinum Trophy in God of War II proves that the series has what it takes to keep me engaged even if its protagonist doesn’t.
As I sat down to play Ascension’s multiplayer mode, those personal truths remained at the forefront of my mind. Remove Kratos from God of War and it isn’t very God of War at all. Yet, it’s exactly what I needed to truly enjoy what I played, a fierce online melee without the trite screaming and over-the-top antics that, for me, bring God of War down. I didn’t expect to like God of War’s first foray into multiplayer – and I still think it’s entirely unnecessary and something few fans of the franchise were actually asking for – but the truth is there’s plenty of fun to be extracted here.
video content courtesy of HassanAlHajry
The mode I got to play was called Favor the Gods, a team deathmatch-type setup that pits two squads against one another in gruesome combat. Veterans of the series will find a relatively familiar control scheme, even if the faces around you (and your own character) are anything but. Standard attacks are mapped to square, with strong attacks mapped to triangle. R2 allows the use of spells and L1 lets you block. Combat didn’t feel quite as fluid and smooth as it did in God of War games past, but I chalk that up more to the unexpected speed of multiplayer and my lack of skill compared to those I was playing with than anything else.
But there’s a lot more to God of War: Ascension’s multiplayer mode than meets the eye, and that’s where things started to get a little hairy. Fact is, Favor the Gods throws players into a deep and complicated battle system with the façade of something familiar, but coupled with something decidedly less button-mashy than you may expect. And in Favor the Gods, it all begins with the many options surrounding you, and how many different ways you can approach and achieve your goal.
Favor the Gods revolves around earning points. The particular setup of my game was 4-on-4 action that took place all over a desert-themed map. The time was set to eight minutes and the point threshold was pegged at 5,000. The first team to hit 5,000 points or the team with the highest point total at the end of the allotted time wins it all. But the points system proves subtle, with many different ways to achieve your goal outside of combat.
It’s at this point that God of War: Ascension became a bit confusing and overwhelming for me. Like so many frantic multiplayer games that came before it, Ascension will undoubtedly require patience, practice and study. I got my ass kicked over and over again as I listened to my Sony-employed guide explain everything I needed to know. There are new moves that Kratos could never employ, weapons to find and equip, a smorgasbord of magic, traps to set and avoid, treasure chests to open and melee and ranged combat alike to partake in. Throw in a battle with a fearsome mythological creature like a Polyphemus at the end of each match – which results in huge hordes of points to the team that scores the kill – and you’ll find all sorts of permutations to reach your designated point total.
With all of these options, earning points quickly turns into what you do best, which may not necessarily be fighting. For instance, when red-colored treasure chests are cracked open, 100 points get added to your total. Run around incognito-like and loot treasure chests and you can very easily add to your team’s total without ever raising your blade. Likewise, setting traps so that they only injure the other team can earn you points with very little effort. Beating the life out of your opponents with all matter of primary and secondary weapons will of course be the most straight-forward way to climb towards your threshold. But there’s a definite strategy to Ascension’s multiplayer, one that emphasizes teamwork and tactics far more than I ever thought it would.
Sony Santa Monica is currently toiling away on both the single-player and multiplayer portions of the game, and in the multiplayer realm, they’re still planning what the final suite will look like. They’re toying with the idea of having anywhere from four to six modes in the final game with an emphasis on “quality over quantity.” Multiplayer will allow completely upgradeable characters that can be equipped with all matter of gear, and allegiances to specific gods will direct the course of growth your character takes.
Add these online modes to the Kratos-centric prequel story told in the single-player campaign, and Ascension might just be the most robust and complete God of War game ever created. One way or the other, we’ll find out when it comes exclusively to PlayStation 3 in March of 2013.