The multiplayer’s a bust, but God of War: Ascension’s campaign is a gloriously bloody adventure filled with exhilarating combat.

The Good

  • Tight, satisfying combat
  • Impressive sense of scale used to great effect
  • Revels in its own juvenile bloodiness
  • Stunning visuals.

The Bad

  • Chilled out Kratos isn’t anywhere near as exciting as angry Kratos
  • Multiplayer lacks originality and compelling modes.

It’s hard to imagine a time in Kratos’ life when he wasn’t whipped up into a mad, revenge-fuelled frenzy. After all, if his last five outings have taught us anything, it’s that whether you’re a demon, or a monster, or even a god, Kratos isn’t afraid to quench his bloodlust by severing your head. So it comes as something of a surprise to see a calmer, more thoughtful side to his character in God of War: Ascension. This isn’t a story about revenge, or uncontrollable rage, but the tale of a tortured mind in search of the truth.

Ascension’s death animations wonderfully brutal.

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Sadly, that makes things a little less exciting. Sure, like in all God of War games, the action is bloody, over the top, and entertaining. And the sense of scale as you clamber over vast statues that stand as tall as mountains, or joust with the tentacles that topple entire cities is impressive too. But without that constant fury permeating every punch, kick, and bloody hack-and-slash dismemberment, God of War: Ascension doesn’t deliver that same gut punch of instant gratification as its predecessors.

There’s an element of series fatigue at play too, mostly because there’s little mechanically in Ascension that wasn’t taken to its logical conclusion in God of War III. The mythical beasts, the huge sense of scale, and the grotesquely violent combat are all here, but Ascension is not a fresh take on those things. Instead, it’s mostly down to the story (set 10 years before the original God Of War) to provide a change of pace, charting as it does Kratos’ descent from a regular, albeit uber-strong human being into an unhinged ball of rage.

It’s a story that tries so very hard to have you relate to the mellowed-out Kratos. And sure, there are a few touching moments when Kratos reminisces about his deceased wife and child, but for the most part Ascension’s emotional impact is limited to cut scenes of him looking moody, or getting a bit angry with one of the three evil furies he’s chasing. It’s hardly enough for you to empathise with his character, particularly since those scenes are surrounded by many hours of Kratos viciously tearing the heads off demons while he happily splashes around in their blood without a care in the world.

No beast is too big for Kratos' blades.

No beast is too big for Kratos’ blades.

But it’s those hours, gruesome beheadings and all, that prove to be the most entertaining. Combat is God of War’s forte, and it’s as exhilarating as ever in Ascension. Slaying goat men by snapping their spines in two, disemboweling a centaur, or tearing through the skull of a harpy are dark pleasures that few games can replicate with such ferocity. If you’re a fan of the series, they’re all things you’ve seen before, of course, and they’re even performed using the same button-mashing quick time events.

That’s not to say there haven’t been a few changes, though. An enjoyable new minigame replaces many of the quicktime events, letting you take down larger foes without following a specific set of commands. Instead, you’re free to stab away at enemies, only stopping to dodge attacks that are handily highlighted by a brief moment of slow-motion swinging. Dodge enough attacks and stab enough times and your foe is torn in half. Or its brains are squished. Or its jaw is turned inside out. God of War certainly isn’t for the squeamish.

Kratos’ blades of chaos make a return in open combat, letting you conjure up all manner of impressive looking combos with just a few simple button taps. After just a few battles you can hack, sweep, and hurl enemies into the air with a fluidity that’s mighty impressive, and mighty rewarding too. As enemies get stronger, combat becomes more challenging, with a greater emphasis placed on the timing of blocks and dodges in order to avoid enemy attacks.

Ascension's sense of scale is mighty impressive.

Ascension’s sense of scale is mighty impressive.

There’s also elemental damage to worry about, with Kratos able to switch between fire, demon, ice, and electricity powers for his blades at will. Each of them doles out a different status effect, with electricity’s ability to shock enemies for a brief period of time and suspend them in mid-air a particularly useful one. There’s also the usual array of devastating spells to unlock, each of them linked to an elemental power.

It’s all very slick and precise, and as you tear out the heart of a fallen medusa after a wonderfully skilful combo, it’s hard not to be impressed. The simpler secondary weapon system does wonders here too. Now you can pick up various weapons, such swords, spears, and giant mallets, from fallen victims, which can be used for a brief amount of time to mix up Kratos’ fighting style. Having a constantly cycled secondary weapon keeps the combat fresh and interesting, and the different effects of each weapon–the giant mallet knocking enemies to their knees, for instance–open up new ways to attack and string together combos.

The multiplayer’s a bust, but God of War: Ascension’s campaign is a gloriously bloody adventure filled with exhilarating combat.

By Mark Walton