One of the big issues I had with God of War III is that it dehumanised the already-inhumane Kratos. In earlier games, there was some semblance of a motive behind his actions, abhorrent though they were. After the third game, I frankly just came away thinking he was a bit of a dick; worse still, I helped him achieve his dickhead goals, making me something of a dick-by-proxy.
God of War: Ascension promises to make those of us affected in a similar way feel a bit better about ourselves, by showing Kratos’ early days as a superhuman, as he tries to sever his ties with the original God of War, Ares. In truth, the relatively short gameplay demo focused on visceral combat, new beasties and beautiful graphics rather than telling story, but that didn’t make it any less impressive.
With many of my GoW skills still intact, I proceeded with the demo, which pits you against a succession of manimalistic beasts. The first thing I noticed was the somehow fleshier-looking graphics, which perhaps are indicative of the fact that Kratos still has plenty of human in him, in contrast to his grey, stone-like skin of the last game.
As I tore through a couple of goat-like Pans, I noticed the first gameplay changes. The Circle button now utilises whatever weapon you picked up off a dead enemy; be that a spear or a ridged sword. You now also have a new Rage meter, which adds power to your L1 combos when filled up. Finally, pressing R1 when an enemy has a red marker above their head unleashes a finishing move, and it’s nice to see that Kratos has more than a couple of fatality moves for each enemy type.
After making easy work of the ill-fated goat people, I used the new ‘Life Cycle’ mechanic, which can manipulate time, freeze enemies, and – in this case – fix broken structures. After using this mystical green aura to suspend some detritus in the air and use it as a platform for reaching new heights, I easily ploughed through a Talos statue-man, smashing him with his own hammer.
The next interesting encounter I had was with the Elephantaur; a beautifully-rendered beast that seemed to benefit from the fleshier, more textured look of Ascension. In finishing the hapless creature off, I was impressed by the new mini-game, in which I had to dodge the creature’s flailing arms as I proceeded to slice its skull in half. This was refreshing, as it adds an element of randomness and timing to the mini-games. Suffice to say I passed the test, and was rewarded with the sight of an exposed Elephantaur’s brain (it was actually quite big).
The subsequent encounter with the Charybdis sea creature was true GoW-101. A few well-timed button presses in a mini-game get rewarded with Kratos flying through the air in truly Vertigo-inducing, which-way-is-up fashion. The demo comes to a close with Kratos plummeting towards the water with his Blades of Chaos drawn, uttering a roar s he flies towards the creature’s gaping mouth.
There are few games like GoW that genuinely make you snarl and grit your teeth as you play them, and it’s nice to see that Ascension is taking this noble tradition to the next level, grittier and fleshier than ever.