God of War is a game about getting angry. It tasks you with laying waste to anyone in Ancient Greece, god, man or monster, who has done so much as even look at you funny.
The series looked like it had come to an end with God of War III on PS3, as its protagonist, Kratos, had pretty much put an end to all things Mount Olympus-related. Instead then, God of War: Ascension, is all about Kratos's rise to power and his breaking free from Ares, while smashing up plenty of things along the way.
Before we get into the review, know this, God of War: Ascension is a proper send off for the PS3. Graphically it finally does justice to those renders we saw all those years ago when the PS3 launched and leaves us wondering just how stunning the PS4 will look six years into its life cycle.
The game starts with Kratos chained up, left at the mercy of one of the Furies whom he must defeat in order to break the bond he has with Ares. As you might expect, this being a God of War game, Kratos's idea of defeating the Furies involves wreaking havoc across Greece in order to rip the heads off and break the bones of his captors.
The initial battle, which is absolutely incredible in its scale, leads to an epic journey which sees Kratos engaging in more modest fights compared to previous games. We don't want to give things away, but the sheer grandeur of previous titles is slightly lost here, not because the environments aren't spectacular, but more because the enemies are smaller in scale.
The younger Kratos in Ascension is more human, and given a slightly more conversational dialogue with other characters on screen. This dialogue, however, is sparse, leading to the game world feeling severely unpopulated. This is a bit of a signature of the series, but if Santa Monica Studios' intention with Ascension was to develop Kratos's character, it does make things slightly difficult.
In reality, the story in Ascension is fairly forgettable, acting more as a means to justify environments and push gameplay forward. It lacks some of the exciting characters found in God of War III, such as Hades and the Titans, but given how finite the ending was of the last game, the story does a good job developing the world of God of War.
The gameplay of God of War is what makes the series so great. Kratos feels so pumped, so devastating, that controlling him is always enjoyable. His Blades of Olympus act like a pair of whips which you can twirl about, inflicting pain on those around you.
They form the core of the whole gameplay experience and allow you to build up easily executable yet highly complex combos. Button combos are as simple as hitting or holding square or triangle, while using L1 as a modifier to add more power to your stabs and swipes. On top of this, you can shift elemental types with the blades by using the directional pad, or use R2 to bring in devastating magic and clear enemies away, should they start to overwhelm.
Ascension sees the return of the Rage meter, which fills the bigger and badder your combos get. Max it out and you can hit L3 and R3, granting Kratos an increased power and amount of damage dealt. Take a hit though and your Rage will stop, so using the right stick to dodge is vital.
It is all about building up a rhythm, attacking and dodging along the way. Once you nail the combat mechanics in God of War, the game becomes incredibly enjoyable. Kratos does damage with such a heavy hand and leaps about so quickly, that you genuinely start to feel like the sort of character that could give a Greek god a run for its money.
We would have liked to see a bit more fluctuation from the tried and tested methods of the series and perhaps a larger selection of weaponry to play with, but really we don't blame Santa Monica studios for its "if it ain't broke" approach.
God of War: Ascension is the first game in the series to feature a multiplayer mode. It tasks you with battling eight players either in teams or by yourself. You pick a god, or play style and then start smashing other people up online.
It is pretty much a points chasing exercise, with a fairly convoluted UI that can be a bit overbearing at times. Capture the Flag is an interesting aside, but really, the staple Favour of the Gods mode is the best multiplayer option.
Trials of the Gods is a "horde" mode style, wave-based co-op mode, which is definitely enjoyable when played with friends. Really though, God of War's multiplayer is more an addition than a must-play option.
This is a very good -looking game. That engine from God of War III has been given quite an overhaul and now you have a slowdown, free, stunning in-scale PS3 game.
Environments are massive, with high-resolution textures cropping up at every possible opportunity. Kratos also looks fantastic and the elemental effects as well as clever camera tweaks employed later on, are also brilliant.
This really is a send-off to the PS3 and shows just how innovative and impressive a console it has been. For a game still to have jaw-dropping graphics with the likes of Crysis 3 about, is very special indeed. We can't wait to see what Santa Monica Studios can manage to eek out from Sony's new console.
God of War: Ascension has lots of boxes ticked. It plays and looks great and delivers a gameplay experience worthy of the series.
The problem is, that it just doesn't take things forward enough, which is irritating when you see how incredible a job its developers have done with looks and design. We just would have hoped to see a slight format change for this, Kratos's final adventure on PS3.
Really though, it is a title PS3 owners must play. If you have had a bad day at work, put God of War: Ascension into your PS3 and do some damage - it will put a big, fat smile on your face.