First look at God of War: Ascension

Whatever blocks there are, the God of War franchise has busted them. Without question it is one of the most visible and successful Sony-exclusive titles, so it was no surprise to learn that a new God of War game was in development. Even before the official unveiling earlier this month, it was taken for granted that a new God of War was in the making. It just made sense. What is surprising is the direction the newest title is heading.

The series is arguably Sony’s flagship gaming franchise, with iterations on each system bearing the Sony logo since the original God of War’s debut in 2005. But with the newest God of War, the franchise will, for the first time, enter a brave new world and feature multiplayer.

At an event in LA last week, Sony and Santa Monica Studios gave us a first look at God of War: Ascension. A few hints regarding the campaign were dropped, but for the most part the emphasis was on the multiplayer feature and what to expect. Ascension is still in the early stages, and the demo (part of which you can see below) was only a small glimpse at what is to come, but it highlights a new direction for the franchise.

“I’ve been there for all the God of Wars,” Tood Pappy, director of God of War: Ascension said, “and I can honestly say that this is the most ambitious one we’ve ever done.”

The campaign will be a prequel, but beyond that details are scarce. It isn’t clear when the game will be set, or even if Kratos will be the same, loveable, chain-wielding, homicidal maniac. Based on the recently released trailer and what the developers have hinted at, the story will be set shortly after Kratos received the Blades of Chaos but before the events of the original God of War, much like the PSP title, God of War: Chains of Olympus was.

More will undoubtedly be coming regarding the victims that Kratos will massacre, but for now the multiplayer was the star.

While the multiplayer will exist in Kratos’ universe, the game modes and settings will not have an effect on the story. The characters in whose sandals you step will be soldiers, but not specifically existing characters from the games.

The mode being shown was a 4v4 battle with a slant similar to a domination-style game. The final product will feature more than eight at a time and numerous other game modes are being considered, but for now the focus was on a 4v4 team battle. The teams were designated by red and blue factions, which are currently being referred to as Spartans and Trojans, although that is more of a placeholder than anything else, and the actual names of the opposing forces hasn’t been finalized yet.

Each character will be given the choice of aligning with one of four gods: Zeus, Ares, Hades, or Poseidon. The decision will open up unique options to each character, including their look, and most importantly, the magic they can use (there will probably be a much cooler name for their special attacks, like “divine abilities” or something equally impressive, but it is magic and we all know it).

Each character will earn experience towards leveling up and earning more weapons and armor. Currently, the plan is to feature at least 20 different armors and eight weapons for each god, but that could change and expand. The leveling system will be similar to the level-up options in the traditional God of War campaigns, where the more experience you earn, the more options you open up. Balance is important though, so while you can earn more weapons, they won’t necessarily be more powerful. There will also be a level cap, and a prestige-like system.

As for the gameplay, it will still move like a God of War game, just minus the traditional Blades of Chaos. The combos will be the order of the day, and each character will use a weapon that will likely feel familiar to fans of the games — one character used a giant sword, while another used a hammer — both using familiar animations and movements from the series.

“We took all the single player experience, boiled it down into an essence, and moved it into the multiplayer genre,” Pappy said.

As combatants go head to head, the fight will play out like a standard brawl in a God of War game — but instead of sending hordes of enemies to an early grave, you will be facing another Kratos-like character. The winner will then have the option to pull off an execution move, although how this is triggered wasn’t entirely clear.

Grotesque executions have always been a signature of the series, and in Ascension, the animations take it up a notch. When the demo began, a pair of Spartans took on a cyclops (this seemed to be a scene specifically for the demo, and not a hint at co-op play). After beating on him for a bit, a glow appeared over its head signifying that it was ready to be finished. The ensuing execution did more than just kill it, it eviscerated the monster. With a slash across the cyclops’ stomach, a mess of intestines stained the nice marble floors. No one ever thinks about the poor cleaning staff in games like this. Needless to say, it was suitably gross and awesome at the same time.

For the execution moves against other human characters, there is a similarly horrific end waiting for the vanquished, and it will change based on the winner’s weapon (and possibly their level, but that is a guess). In the move seen in the demo, the winning character used his sword to cleave the loser nearly in two, exposing bone, organs, and a brutal finisher. Although there will be more gametypes in the future, including some that haven’t even been dreamed up yet, following a death the fallen will then be able to respawn back in and go seek vengeance.

The mode being shown off at the demo was a slightly modified take on a domination match. As the teams battled through a relatively small, square area, a giant cyclops-like creature, whose eyeball was as big as a character, raged in the background, struggling against chains that held it in check. The teams worked towards reaching the first mechanism, which took a moment to activate, leaving that player vulnerable.

The mechanism was connected to the chains and, when activated, pulled the cyclops closer to the area. After a second mechanism was activated, the beast struggled to pull away, but it was trapped with its head at attack level. At this point, a lighting spear appeared for one character to grab, giving that team a huge advantage as they moved to the final platform and ended the versus portion of the map.

To finish the game, the four remaining Spartans moved in on the cyclops and began to attack its head. It fought back and knocked a few characters around, but eventually the glow signifying a quick time event appeared, and the characters moved in for a gory finale. With the lighting spear in hand, the Spartan jumped up, and with a downward thrust split the monster’s jaw in half. He then jumped up once more to thrust the spear directly in the cyclops’ eye, which is where the demo ended.

Although still a rough build, the game looked amazing. The execution animations were striking and crisp, and the giant cyclops in the background was hard to take your eyes off of. God of War games have always been leaders in the graphical front, and Ascension doesn’t seem to be any different.

God of War has always been a singularly solo outing, more so than most games. The combat has always been the star, but it wouldn’t have meant a thing if the backdrop and epic scope of the story weren’t up to the task. Moving in a new direction with the multiplayer is a bold and somewhat risky shift, but it may also be a necessary one for the series to remain on top.

The game will still revolve around the campaign, and God of War: Ascension’s primary focus will be the story of Kratos before he embarked on multiple bouts of deicide. But if the multiplayer can generate a sufficient amount of interest, if the gameplay can capture that God of War feel and translate it into a competitive PvP atmosphere, and if the series can do all of that while still retaining the level of quality that the series has been known for, God of War: Ascension has a chance at being the best game in a series that many consider to be one of the best franchises ever made.

{Warning: The following video may not be suitable for all ages}

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