It nearly breaks my heart to say this, considering I’ve advocated for God of War: Ascension, but this game is not polished enough to be called a God of War game. Santa Monica Studios obviously took a lot of time to recreate Kratos in a sub-immortal light, but after experiencing all of the God of War titles, it’s hard to look at this Kratos and feel like I’m not playing David Jaffe’s original design. That may sound positive, but negativity has a strange way of cropping up with reality. Alongside other design flaws in Ascension, I cannot justify some of the decisions made in this PlayStation-exclusive title. Don’t treat this like a reason to stay away from the game, though. It has what God of War fans want, but there are quite a few bumps in the road this time around.
Lame boss fights
Boss fights have always been a highlight of the God of War series, but the beginning fight with the Hecatonchires met a status quo of lesser titles likes Chains of Olympus. In a multi-phased fight with this infesting baddie, all I did was dodge and attack. Surely, there have been many, many boss fights in God of War that are like this, but when I wasn’t dodging, the boss was standing there watching me condense him to shreds. There’s always a little down time for attacking, but over half of the fight didn’t require any thought outside of mashing Square and Triangle. Early signs are pointing toward this being an introductory title for newcomers rather than a genre- or series-enhancing one, especially since later fights only add bosses into each fight that all function the same way.
Dodge is less functional
During this same boss fight, the dodging mechanic also proved to have inconsistencies. Many attacks exacted on Kratos are designed to compensate for this ability, so dodging is that much harder to execute. This would be okay if it wasn’t so hard to recover from a dodge. Unlike the other titles, Kratos could always reach enemies with his chain blades after a dodge so building combos wasn’t too difficult. In Ascension, dodges, unless executed with pre-emptive disposition, more often than not leave Kratos well out of range for his chain blades to massacre his enemies. It’s arguable that the Kratos of Ascension is less powerful, less deadly, but his roll animations haven’t changed in length or style between his immortal outings and this one, which counteracts that point entirely. His chain blades don't seem to have the reach that they did in other titles, so the length of his dodge rolls end up sending him too far away to continue building his hit count.
Random immunity in combat
The dodge ability is altered such that Kratos is no longer invincible through the entire animation, and that change makes complete sense. However, what really blew my mind was the invincibility that Kratos' new grappling ability grants. After pressing R1, Kratos will grab onto mediocre enemies with a chain blade, and that enemy can be used as a projectile to attack other enemies. Immunity comes in for essentially all of this process: activating the grappling ability makes Kratos invincible for the entire animation, and he is impervious through the animation of throwing his enemy. That means that two attacks which can literally be spammed in almost every fight—unless the enemies have armor of any kind—can keep Kratos, who’s now very, very mortal, impervious to damage. What’s up with that?
Whenever Kratos executes a finisher in the other games, the battlefield stops and watches, but such is not the case in this outing. It might seem realistic for them to keep fighting, but enemy attacks fly through Kratos as he lays individual waste to whomever he's presently targeting--and bystander attacks don’t do any damage. Quite often, the AI to these creatures can time the end of your invincible grapples, and they send a barrage of stunning and damaging attacks that hit immediately after the animation is complete.
Random encounters are harder than bosses
The former two frustrations really come into their own once random encounters start happening, especially with centaurs. Using words like “difficult” and “challenging” falls short of describing the resulting pain; these enemies tend to spam their stunning abilities in half-second intervals. Considering that each fight consists of about five or six enemies, it’s hard to manage a group that trolls from close range. So, the actual challenge from most of these fights is staying far enough out of range from their attacks while still damaging them; that’s right, MMO players, these guys are better dispatched through kiting rather than fighting. The magical abilities that Kratos now wields through his weapons are all well and good for kiting enemies, but it lulls the game and frustrates when random fights, even after kiting for 5-10 minutes, fail due to bad circumstance and stun spams. As previously mentioned, the magical weapon abilities are a hearty counter to all of these problems, but they don’t perform the justice needed to balance out what makes Ascension so frustrating.
Combat and puzzles don't mix
To make matters worse, wall climbs and gargantuan puzzles aren't balanced well with combat gameplay. I spent over an hour between actual combat in some parts, and the fights flanking these sections were always the hardest. To worsen the whole ordeal, I was combat-rusty from all of that puzzle-solving and brain-wracking. Near the end of the game, it’s even worse. A merciless gauntlet leaves almost no room for error, and the enemy combinations are frustratingly treacherous. The video below features the first two tiers of that presumably three-tiered gauntlet. The icing on this flamboyantly outrageous cake is that there is no auto-save anywhere in this gauntlet. There are boss fights with three parts, and each part saves automatically, but this gauntlet has to be done in one sitting. Personally, I have yet to complete Ascension, because this gauntlet is grinding down both my patience and my willpower to continue playing it. After fifteen attempts, I have yet to traverse the whole thing. See for yourself what’s in store, below. Remember, the second tier is only half represented--there are two separate waves per tier.
God of War: Ascension feels like an extended cut to what could be a good God of War outing, but the amount of puzzles and downtime doesn't really constitute a completely enjoyable endeavor. Combine that with lame bosses, strange combat changes, and stupidly difficult random monsters, and you have a game that doesn't really know entirely where it's at. Be warned: Ascension may feature what you like in a God of War game, but it will come in random assortments that may not fit your fancy. If you stick with it, who knows--you may enjoy it, or you may find yourself, like me, wishing for something better.
Note to trophy hunters: there's a difficulty trophy here, so bring your patience when you're going for the platinum.