God Of War: Ascension online review
God Of War isn’t a franchise that seems to lend itself to online play. A single-player hack-and-slash with some exploration and a few puzzles thrown in: it’s a formula that has worked well over the three main games as well as the two PSP titles, but how do you transfer the experience to a multiplayer arena while keeping it familiar?
It’s something we didn’t think possible, but Sony Santa Monica have not only succeeded, they’ve excelled. God Of War: Ascension’s multiplayer is wonderfully idiosyncratic and potentially the best part of the entire game.
To begin with, players create a character to take online. There’s a mild range of aesthetic customization options, such as changing the colour of your armour, but nothing too in-depth. The actual play-style customization, however, is hugely expansive. To start with, players choose an allegiance to one of four gods. This affects your basic stats and strengths – Ares grants you bonuses to your melee power, Hades uses stealth and tricks, Zeus bestows powerful lightning powers and Poseidon gives powerful support abilities.
Players then choose armour and weapons for their character, starting with a small pool but finding and unlocking more as they play and level up. Weapons are split between swords, hammers and spears, but a huge variety of each offers a slightly different moveset per-weapon. Finding the perfect one for you could take weeks.
Armour affects your stats, which are surprisingly plentiful and deep. Again, new items are unlocked as you progress, giving you further choice as to exactly how your character plays. As well as weapon and armour, players can equip an item, a magic attack, and a special relic to further customize their character. The result is an avatar that feels truly unique to you, and plays just that bit differently to everyone else. Crafting your own warrior is massive fun and the scope for entirely different play-styles is massive.
Basic gameplay apes the classic God Of War style while making some smart concessions to the online arena. Players have access to a basic 3-hit string with square and a more powerful, unblockable strike with triangle. Blocking is accessed with L1 and pressing square or triangle while holding it down uses strong special attacks that have brief recharge times. Enemies can be grappled if caught off-guard and blocking and press X at the same time will parry incoming strikes but leave you open if mis-timed. Moving the right stick will evade in that particular direction, and enemies close to death can be finished off with a special “brutal” kill move. There’s a bit more, but that’s all you really need to jump in. It’s a simple system that has leagues of depth that becomes clearer the longer you play.
Timing and spacing are everything, and knowing which of your attacks are unblockable and which leave you open is key to crafting a powerful offense. A well-timed parry can completely turn the tides in your favour, but missing one leaves you momentarily stunned and totally open to being brutally murdered. Your equipped item is mapped to L2, and magic to R2. Each can be a number of unique effects, such as breaking you out of an enemies combo or becoming momentarily intangible, but again have a high cost. Items take a long while to recharge, and magic power must be found through the levels before spells can be used.
Game types are multiplayer standard we’ve come to expect: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and domination essentially. All work well within the setting, our favourite probably being “Team Favor of the Gods”, a combination of team deathmatch and domination, with points gained through three key map points to control as well as kills and opening chests.
There aren’t that many maps at the moment, but each is expansive and full of tricks and traps to take out unsuspecting foes. Most stages also features a huge mythological monster that factors into the game in some way. A huge gorgon can be controlled if the right item is found, directing enormous laser blasts at enemy players. Another stage features an enormous cyclops that can get angry and smash you at random, and strategically attacking it so it then lashes out at other players is a nifty tactic. One level is based on Daedalus’s prison in God Of War 3, huge wooden platforms moving toward and away from each other giving the hilarious opportunity to knock opposing players to their doom.
The core combat is so compulsive and easy to pick up and the games so well-paced that playing “just one more round” becomes a scarily common occurrence. We’ve already lost considerable time to it, and we anticipate many more hours lost in ancient Greece in the future.
It’s not all perfect, with some balancing issues making certain load-outs far more preferable to others. This is par for the course for online games, and the kind of thing that gets refined over time with patches and support. No class is so overpowered as to make the game unfair and no fun, which is the key thing.
Team game modes are also more fun than free-for-alls, with the all-against-all format often descending into anarchy with little room for strategy or planning. Actually, that sounds kinda fun when we put it like that. Some will probably prefer the lone wolf approach, but we enjoy planning an assault with our buddies to back us up.
God Of War: Ascension online is a surprisingly fun multiplayer brawler that manages to feel like a God Of War game but totally work as a competitive online experience at the same time. Even if you aren’t interested in the story mode, Ascension’s multiplayer is different enough that online aficionados should definitely consider giving it a look.