God of War: Ascension is the prequel to the God of War series and the first game in the hack-and-slash action series to feature a multiplayer component. When I started the game, I was interested to see how they portrayed the less furious, more human Kratos. I’d already played the demo of the multiplayer, but I was also anxious to see the changes made since the beta.
“Vengeance is born in the fires of betrayal in this prequel to the best-selling God of War franchise. Six months have passed since Kratos stood over the bodies of his wife and child, his hands stained with their blood – tricked by Ares into murdering the only people he ever loved. Swearing to avenge them, Kratos broke the blood oath that bound him to Ares, but oaths to Olympus are not so easily broken…
Sentenced to an eternity chained within a prison for the living damned, Kratos battles insanity at the hands of the Furies. He will be tested as he seeks freedom, redemption for his sins, and the clarity to avenge his family.”
The game jumps around the timeline of the story, starting with an epic battle, only to backtrack and explain the journey to that point. The initial cutscene tells a story of the Furies that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Kratos, which was a bit off-putting initially, especially to someone who actually knows Greek mythology. >_>
The main character is Kratos, of course. This Kratos is a lot less furious than his future persona, as he has yet to fully understand all that Ares has done to him. What we end up with is a Kratos who is somehow less interesting, and has less of a personality in most cases, and in others we see a side of Kratos we’ve secretly longed to see, watching in awe as he tenderly holds a stranger’s hand as she dies or shoves a soldier out of harm’s way. While it was nice to see a change in his demeanor (he was completely un-relateable in God of War 3), I almost wish they had taken it further and had a few more chances for Kratos to speak and show us a little more of his softer side.
The main antagonists of this game are the Furies. The first one we are introduced to is a little whiny and shallow, and the second one tries to use trickery to get her way. Another Fury isn’t even a female! Of course, he is given the most depth and an intriguing story, but I’ll get to this game’s treatment of women later.
The graphics are gorgeous, nice and crisp. They are used to full effect to show off startling vistas, monstrous towers, and some of the nastiest things you will ever see in a game. Scumbag God of War has beautiful graphics, uses them to gross you the eff out.
Besides the insanely gory stuff, there are also sick and twisted creatures roaming around, all displayed gaudily for your eyes in clear detail.
There was also more pure eye candy, such as watching a giant python train ascend a mountain or running along a sparkling aqueduct to sad, sweet music.
The music is great, at times haunting and at times urging you to battle. The music is best when Kratos is running along a straight path for a full minute. The atmosphere was perfect, although I found myself thinking of Xena a lot (I must assume they used didgeridoos).
The animations and powers each have unique sounds as well. The squealing of the dogs as I killed them freaked my roommate out, which shows the sound department did its duty!
Ah, the part you’ve all been waiting for. So how is the actual game? Well, it’s not bad. In fact, all of my issues with the gameplay stem more from a lack of innovation than actual negative attributes, with the exception of the broken camera angles.
Ascension features a variety of new gameplay mechanics, including a new button input system, the ability to pick up and switch weapons, time manipulation, cloning, and new enemies.
The time manipulation would have been more interesting if you weren’t prompted every single time you came to a part where you needed to use the skills. Since it was, it really just felt too easy; instead of adding a new layer to the puzzle system, it just seemed to add an extra step. They could have designed a level that guided you to the answer, instead of telling you the answer.
However, most of the issues with gameplay fell under the mantle of being too formulaic. The game is 100% God of War, just with more gore, more boobs, and more colossal enemies. My friend, who is an avid fan of the series, actually told me what was going to happen each step of the way, about fifteen seconds before it happened: “now there’ll be a cut scene,” “Now you’ll have to fight a boss,” “Now you’ll have to rip its wing off.” He was never wrong.
But hey, why fix something if it isn’t broke? If you liked that formula in God of War 3, then the gameplay will be just as fun.
Another gameplay mechanic, which is not necessarily bad but kind of strange, is the extreme overuse of “skate” pieces, where Kratos would skate down a path, avoiding obstacles and grabbing grapple points. I mean, seriously, it was happening every few minutes!
And finally, the camera and finickiness of the controls that has plagued God of War since the first game are still in action. Double jumps sometimes fail, grapples sometimes don’t hook, etc. Even more hilarious, the camera sometimes zooms out so far that you can’t even see Kratos! It adds to the scale and impressive size of battles, but it is annoying as all get-out when you are trying not to let goat men and centaurs ride all over your corpse.
In between the intense battles are long periods of absolutely nothing but running and climbing, broken up by puzzles involving Kratos’s new powers.
Let me start by saying that these new enemies look fantastic. Besides the goatmen, elephantmen, gorgons, and harpies you have gigantic centaurs, awesome Amazons, and even a fighting city-cthulhu.
However, the enemies are often more interesting to look at than they are to fight, although that’s not to say most of them are easy. The boss fights are multi-tiered and often include a save between tiers, which you will praise Zeus for. The actual tiers are usually simple, with dodge and hit being the routine, and usually you must do the special QTE three times to defeat the mini-bosses.
There is an excellent fight scene where Spartans attack Kratos, and do so in formation as another enemy moves around the field. It was beautiful and creative. In general, the fights got better towards the end, while dodging, cloning, and time manipulation added a truly interesting layer to the well-known combos. I was particularly fond of the way they used the dodge mechanic, because it was not generally prompted, meaning you actually had to watch your enemy instead of the sides of your screen. I also had a soft spot for the ability to throw enemies at other enemies: watching them bounce off each other was entirely satisfactory.
The multiplayer supports up to eight players in an objective-based combat situation. Players can align themselves with Zeus, Ares, Poseidon, or Hades in a suspiciously RPG-style format involving special powers, customization, and stats for your gladiator.
My feelings about the multiplayer haven’t changed too much since I made a video about the beta. See my video below:
All in all, this multiplayer isn’t ground breaking, but it isn’t bad. If you have a group of friends to play with and like messing around with weapons and your magic stat, you’ll probably find this pretty enjoyable. It is a challenge, but not a defining feature of the game, in my opinion.
Women are just objects. AGAIN.
The God of War series has often been described as the frat boy’s fantasy. You are a huge, impossibly hulking warrior with no limits to what you can do and who you can hurt. Women are there as playthings (with the exception of Athena), gore is the word of the day, and everything is sticks and snails and puppy dog tails for the boys.
I get that this game was made for boys, not for girls.
That makes it even worse.
Is it really okay to indulge in that? To promote this sort of fantasy? To make women feel excluded and uncomfortable enough that they can’t play your game? I’m not saying that God of War has to be cleaned up or pristine, but I think it has gotten its point across that women are objects to murder or sex. We get it. Now, can you make a game where we move past that?
I had multiple issues, so instead of ranting, I shall just list them in bullet form:
- In the first two games, sex was an optional, almost Easter egg event. It could be avoided. In this game, I was almost immediately confronted with five topless women all begging me to sex them up. Their boobs got bigger and bigger as each new one approached. Yeah. There goes my pretending that Kratos is just a larger version of me…
- So watching bugs tumble out of a woman’s ample bosom was fun.
- Everywhere there could be a boob, there was a boob. Harpies I can understand, but lightning lady had her boobs out, bug lady (Empusa, I believe) had enormous, strange boobs. I mean for goodness sake, the snake lady had NO human flesh on her except for a mini breastplate (heh) of human boobs. Not snake boobs, human boobs with nipples, NIPPLES by God. She did not have a human face, her human arms were covered in scales; I mean, it was literally a little piece of flesh on her. I want to make a parody of God of War where I put boobs on everything. Dogs, elephants, ogres. EVERYTHING, I’M COMING FOR YA.
- Bros Before Hos trophy
I will stop here to briefly discuss this one. You get the “Bros Before Hos” trophy right after beating an unarmed woman to death and the subsequent cutscene. There are multiple issues with this.
The sequence before “Bros Before Hos” was just too realistic. You actually had to control Kratos as you smashed her face into the ground and watched the bruises blossom. Then you dragged her over to stand over her…this brought back some pretty bad memories for me. This wasn’t ripping out an elephant-creature’s brain or stabbing a manticore with its own tail, this wasn’t anything fantastical or fake looking. This was realistic. And it bothered me. A lot. Having that trophy appear at the end of it was just too much. It took the time to point out that what happened was an attack by a man on a woman, instead of by a protagonist on an antagonist. It made gender matter in an already charged scene.
For those arguing that the game is brutal so I have no right to be offended, I would like to remind you of the difference between gore and derogatory language (and that just as you have the right to NOT be offended, I have the right to be offended). The word “ho” is not a term used in polite conversation. It is a statement used to shame a woman, a suggestion that she has a bad reputation and sleeps around. It is gender-specific and specifically hurtful only to one gender. Were any male characters shamed in this way? Is there a trophy for “He had a little dick anyway?”
While one of the furies may fit the stereotype of a ho, the other two did not, and frankly it demeaned their characters to refer to them as hos and removes the need to take them seriously as antagonists. They’re not strong, frighteningly powerful women, they’re just some hos.
Another issue with this trophy is the invitation to share in the joke. Haha, I just beat a woman to death with my bare hands then escaped with my bro! Stupid ho. Haha. If this is part of the frat boy fantasy, then maybe we need to do something about our frat boys. Like Captain Picard is doing.
So, combine all of that with the fact that you can’t play as a female character in the multiplayer and you have a game that is basically screaming that I, as a woman, am good for nothing but my boobs. Cool. Let me just figure out how to use the controller with them and we’ll all be happy.
Am I just an outspoken feminist expressing a largely unpopular view? Maybe, but I don’t necessarily think so. I had three male friends tell me about it before I even got to that part of the game. Their responses to it were all strongly negative, with each of them expressing their discomfort with that part of the game and the name of the trophy. One of them summed it up best I think: “What. The. Shit. What the shit Sony.” You can call them white knights if you want (personally I think that’s as made up as fake geek girls, but do what you like), they don’t care.
Combine this with the fact that you can’t be a female character, the first females portrayed all have their boobs out, and that there are nipples on those snake boobs, and you have a game that basically lets you know exactly what they think about women.
Who finds the phrase “bros before hos” funny? It’s always been an offensive term…that’s like having a trophy that says “Kill That Fucker.” It’s just not an appropriate word to say, which I would also say if the term “chicks before dicks” was used. It’s just not funny or clever.
Not to mention the furies, like many aspects of the game, seemed a product of laziness, fulfilling three of the tropes associated with women in power: ineffectual warrior, sneaky temptress, and domineering mother figure. They just weren’t that interesting as villains or characters.
So, the Good News Is
Sony is releasing a patch to change the name to “Bros Before Foes,” which is actually a more clever name. I would have giggled seeing that trophy pop up.
Also, the one cool thing about all of this was the single BADASS woman warrior in blue who you fight. She appears to be a black woman, she uses a spear (not a traditional female weapon in games), and her breasts are not her defining feature. In fact, she may be missing one, as Amazons were rumored to have cut one off to be better archers (these claims were probably not true, but now you get what I was saying about Lara Croft). Her death is one of the least gory ones in the game too. She was also pretty difficult to beat. I would love to see more girls like her in the series.
Final Thoughts and Score
Beautiful scenery and creative enemy types warred with the formulaic gameplay and repetitive nature. In a nutshell, if you liked God of War 3, you will like God of War Ascension. If you liked God of War 2 but not God of War 3, this might not be the game for you.