Six games in – seven if you count a mobile release, and you shouldn’t – it’d be surprising if anyone reading this had never played a God of War game.
The formula is well established: murder everything in sight in the nastiest fashion possible, level up to earn better combos for more efficient murder, and maybe solve a few puzzles along the way. Such a reductive summary doesn’t convey how slick and enjoyable the God of War experience is though, and many contend that the only problem SCE Santa Monica actually faces with the series is running out of gods to slay.
However there is one further issue, acknowledged as probably the biggest challenge yet: that of familiarity breeding contempt. While many would be happy to pilot a crazed Kratos out of hell and on a path of violence vengeance another few thousand times, the well-worn formula is losing novelty for others.
Judging by what we’ve seen of the title, SCE Santa Monica has made changes that will keep the latter interested while not upsetting the former. As well as adding a multiplayer mode, the developer has expanded the series’ bone-shattering combat to allow the use of secondary weapons, and added new super moves based on the four elements.
Weapons are acquired from fallen enemies or simply taken from them using Kratos’ new disarm ability, and you can probably guess the rest. We had a great time impaling goat-men on javelins, and snatching a goat captain’s huge sword from his grasp to introduce him to its jagged blade was far more satisfying than we’ll admit to our psychologist. Such secondary weapons may be carried for as long as the player wishes, don’t hamper the use of Kratos’ traditional arsenal, and discarding them unleashes a special attack – in the case of the javelin, a number of them rain on hapless enemies from above. Naturally, secondary weapons allow for some fairly creative combos to be unleashed too.
Should no secondary weapon be equipped, Kratos is able to kick and punch for the first time, which is more fun than it sounds. There appear to be a few new combos and finishing moves to execute too, and to give the latter even more impact, a quick zoom gives the player an up-close and personal view of the carnage. Each enemy type is also susceptible to a special grappling attack – some may be used as battering rams while others may be tossed at their comrades or flung about on the end of Kratos’ chain-blades.
Ascension’s innovations are not limited to combat either. A time manipulation/rebuild mechanic sees Kratos able to reassemble destroyed parts of the landscape, and we’re promised that far from being a gimmick, this ability will factor heavily in the game’s puzzle elements.
So it looks like the God of War juggernaut isn’t running out of steam anytime soon. Refinements rather than overhauls have made the series feel fresh again, including what appeared to be a slightly faster combat pace. The takeaway? Expect something new, but more of the same goodness too.
An apt summary: our playthrough ended with the preposterously gory cranial exploration of an elephant general and Kratos diving blades-first toward a huge submerged kraken. The more things change...