Early last year, when we ran our 2012 IP Draft
, I was fortunate enough to pick up the God of War franchise in the fourth round. In explaining the reasoning for my pick, I noted that as strong of a character as Kratos was, the strength of the series lied in the mythology itself. Someone at Santa Monica Studio must feel the same way as the next installment in the series, God of War: Ascension, takes the spotlight off of the Ghost of Sparta a bit and shining it a bit more on . Sure, the game will have the tried and true campaign / story mode that will chronicle the roots of Kratos’ sworn war against Ares, but the title will also introduce something new to the series: multiplayer.
Now, you can’t have a dozen Kratos’ running around and battling it out and maintain the integrity of the great mythos that has been built around this series; the development team recognizes that and has developed an interesting and competitive take on the action game genre. In what plays out similar to a more action-oriented MOBA game, GOW: Ascensions multiplayer becomes, for the most part, a test of your skills with the series combat system. Players will be tested with proving their selves both on the proverbial and literal battlegrounds with up to 8 other players in a variety of game modes with both cooperative and competitive elements..
If you are like me, the mere thought of adding any sort of multiplayer component to the franchise seems, well, ridiculous. It is easy to envision the game having a cooperative aspect, but how do you make it competitive and still feel like the tight-knit, storyline driven classics that we have seen so far? To say that I have been surprised by the results would be an understatement! While many gamers will get a chance to test out the multiplayer portion of the new game when the beta opens up to PlayStation Plus members this week, I have been playing with a closed group of testers for the past month. I didn’t think that it could be done, but it has: multiplayer works, and it works well in the God of War universe.
Pledge your allegiance...
So just how does the multiplayer work for God of War? The first thing that players will be faced with is choosing a Greek God to align yourself with on Mt. Olympus. The beta program gave me two options: Ares and Zeus (the final game will add Poseidon and Hades). Each one has their own traits and abilities tied to that specific God’s powers. For example, those aligning their selves with Zeus will have access to magic abilities that focus on the use of lightning related spells; whereas Ares’ magic abilities are closer tied to fire and physical attacks.
Once you allegiance has been pledged (and it can be changed by returning to Mt. Olympus), you are given a brief primer on the ins and outs of the game’s combat system. This is all old material if you have ever played through one of Kratos’ previous adventure. Even though you aren’t controlling Kratos specifically, all of the same abilities and options are still there. You have your light and heavy attacks, a “grapple” to pull your opponent in, as well as launchers and magical attacks. You can play through this tutorial section as many times as you like, experimenting with the different fighting styles and abilities awarded to you by each God.
As I mentioned, the game plays out more like a test of your abilities with the series’ combat system. It feels just as refined as ever and still ranks among the finest combat systems available in any action game. Period. There are some new abilities, such as the ability to execute your opponent at will when their lifebar has been depleted. This is all explained in the tutorial however. The process of triggering them is as simple as hitting the R1 button when they are stunned and as I am sure you know, they can be pretty gruesome. I have seem limbs cut off, heads smashed into the concrete, and intestines spilled out while characters still try to crawl away. This is definitely not a game for the squeamish, but you should already know that.
The game, or should I say the beta program, gives you two chances to battle it out and prove yourself to the Gods in the form of Capture the Flag and Favor of the Gods (deathmatch). Favor of the Gods, which will also contain a team-based variation, plays out like a fabled battle in a Roman Colosseum; you will face off against a couple of other warriors in an attempt to earn points to “please the Gods”. The more violent and dominant that you are, the more points, or “favor”, that you will earn.
The beta program puts this mode inside an enclosed arena known as the Forum of Hercules; it is the same place that you fought against Hercules in God of War 3. You have more to contend with than your opponents physical skills however as the environment is laced with traps and environmental hazards that you must both avoid and use to your advantage. You can kick your opponents onto walls of spikes or perhaps trigger a volley of arrows from spectating archers; you have to pay close attention to everything around you in order stay alive and take out your opponents.
This mode in particular is insanely addicting. It feels like what the series might be if God of War was a fighting game. Imagine PlayStation All-Stars
with the violence level turned up to 11. Hercules will occasional interject himself into the battle as well, spawning powerful weapons as well as health and magic buffers on the playfield for those who are quick enough to reach the,. He may even drop down into the arena and launch attacks on the unsuspecting warriors as well, so you have to keep on your toes at all times.
Tools of the trade
While it doesn’t sound deep at this point, perhaps simply like a classic beat-em up style game, I can assure you that it can get very deep and complicated. In addition to selecting an alliance for your warrior, there is a huge variety of weapons, equipment, and accessories that you can unlock and equip to strengthen your character. Everyone pretty much starts off on the same page, but depending on how you do in battle, you will gain access to a ton of new toys.
As you defeat opponents and win matches, as well as do a variety of other tasks in the levels such as uncovering hidden chests and trigger environmental events, you will earn experience points to level your character. As you level up, you earn special points that can be spent to unlock stronger equipment and weapons or be spent to level up your attacks and magical abilities. It is all stuff that we have seen done in the previous games but applied on a much (MUCH) larger scale.
The equipment also adds a level of character customization to the game as they all look drastically different and the styles vary greatly. Zeus’ equipment looks very prestigious and “Godly” while Ares stuff looks to be more battle-savy and practical on the war field. They all have different traints to them that buffer your base stats and abilities plus, using them over a period of time will improve and strengthen the items themselves.
This equipment and leveling aspect carried over into the other mode of the beta as well. The other mode offered was a MOBA-styled version of Capture the Flag played on the Desert of Lost Souls stage shown in many trailers of the game. Two teams of 4 battle it out in a hazard-laden environment to capture each other’s flag(s) and return it to their base. This mode is particularly entertaining because it brings in the platforming and adventure aspects of the games as the level(s) has plenty of ground to cover. This mode also really pushes the aspect of teamwork as there is no way that you are going to capture and return a flag by yourself. You will need not only players to escort you personally to watch your back, but also teammates to guard the various levers and triggers for the environmental hazards which can be used to take you out in an instant.
As Brobee once said: try it, you’ll like it!
I completely agree with those who think that the combination of multiplayer and this universe is an odd combination, but it works. Oh my does it ever work. Every single match that I have played, and I mean that literally, has been action packed and frantic. Even those sessions early on when I was getting destroyed by other players who had more experience than me can be described the same and more importantly, as fun. There is that word that I use to describe games that hit my soft spot and something that is often forgotten in todays market: fun. God of War: Ascension is more than just a polished mesh of the tight action of the franchise and a multiplayer aspect, it is also a ton of fun. You will get a chance to find that out for yourself later today when the beta opens up on the PlayStation Store to members of the PS+ program and when the game launches in a few short months.
God of War: Ascension releases exclusively on the PlayStation 3 on March 12, 2013.