God of War: Ascension review

  • Absolutely beautiful visuals
  • Magnificent set-piece encounters and massive battles
  • Engaging, fast-paced combat
  • A lack of personality
  • Difficulty spikes and occasionally unsatisfying puzzles
  • Unmemorable multiplayer

A few hours into God of War: Ascension, you'll find yourself running atop a massive, mechanical snake battling waves of monstrous goat men. It's marvelous and immense, with gold and blue scales that glisten in the sun, as the serpent's metallic body twists and bends during its ascent through beautiful mountains, garnished with remarkable stone architecture. Slowly, the camera pulls back, revealing the absurd scale of the environment as Kratos becomes smaller and smaller, continuing to tear apart his enemies in a rock opera of blood. It's here, during this unforgettable, awe-inspiring set piece encounter, that you'll realize you have absolutely no idea what's going on.

And for a majority of the game, you won't mind. You'll be too busy slashing at enemies with the Blades of Chaos and taking part in some of the most breathtaking cinematic moments in gaming's history. You'll be sliding down ice-covered corridors at breakneck speeds and leaping between crumbling buildings. The action is unrelenting, keeping you distracted with constant movement instead of relatable motivation or, really, any motivation at all.

"The action is unrelenting..."

Kratos battles some of the most impressive foes he's ever fought during Ascension's eight-hour campaign. Though few actually pull from the Greek pantheon (since those mythical figures need to be alive for Kratos to kill in the sequels, after all), they're absolutely thrilling, punctuated by the series' signature quick-time events that conclude in grandiose displays of violence and brutality. Ascension also introduces a welcome new addition, sidelining QTEs in favor of action-based finishing moves, turning tearing an enemy apart into a mini-game. These scenes are amplified by Ascension's incredible visuals, which are not only the best the franchise has seen, but some of the most impressive on the PlayStation 3. Your attention will be pulled away from the substanceless story and uninteresting characters by big, shiny encounters.

You won't care about the story, and, usually, you won't care that you don't care about the story. But eventually, through attrition and repetition, you'll start to feel like something is off with Ascension's tone. Taking place mere months after Kratos was tricked into murdering his family by Ares, the game provides a glimpse at the Ghost of Sparta before he was consumed by rage. He's a more human protagonist, spending a lot less time bellowing at his enemies about how he's been betrayed and how he's going to get revenge and how much he's going to kill them.

"You won't care about the story, and, usually, you won't care that you don't care about the story." 

Kratos' anger has been removed, as promised, but it wasn't really replaced with anything. Ascension feels hollow and motiveless, and it's hard to get excited when the hero himself isn't capable of mustering up any enthusiasm. You'll be dragged from remarkable location to remarkable location, never knowing why you're there or what you're supposed to do. Ascension doesn't flesh out Kratos' life or give you better insight into why he becomes the ferocious avatar of anger. Instead, it just happens. Kratos isn't deeper for it, he's still just a blender--an excuse for you to spin around and act as a whirlwind of chains and blood and meat. 

God of War's combat hasn't changed all that much over the past decade because it didn't need to. Slicing apart foes is infinitely rewarding, fulfilling your deepest power fantasies. Ripping the wings off of harpies and snapping off minotaur horns is brutal, but the lack of new, interesting weapons is a disappointment. Kratos can empower his blades with different elemental types aligned to the different gods, but these are hardly a replacement for finding new toys to play with.

"Kratos' anger has been removed... but it wasn't really replaced with anything."

The only other actual weapons you can equip besides the Blades of Chaos are swords, hammers, and javelin scattered around the world, but the fact that they only last for a few attacks limits their use. It's well-paced, for the most part, save for a few difficulty spikes that'll test your patience, rather than your skills--including one that's easily the most difficult section in any God of War game to date, for all the wrong reasons. 

Kratos spends nearly as much time killing as he does pushing crates, pulling levers, and climbing through intricate and well-designed levels. Each location is a puzzle within itself, enhanced by the addition of the Amulet of Uroborus, a tool that allows you to either give life to or decay an object. Rebuilding destroyed bridges is visually enthralling, but you'll never feel all that challenged--or rewarded--by Ascension's puzzles. In the rare event that they're more complicated than climbing a ladder and pushing the button, the solution is spoiled by a go-this-way-you-idiot camera pan. Sometimes, puzzle solutions don't really make much sense, and you'll feel more annoyed than satisfied when you figure out how to open the locked door that's been preventing your progress for 30 minutes.

"Sometimes, puzzle solutions don't really make much sense..." 

Also somewhat disappointing are the newly added multiplayer features, which are held up by clever level design and strong game modes, but smacked down by uninteresting gameplay. It sounds great in theory, but in practice it turns out there's nothing less fun than being beat up by someone as powerful as Kratos. God of War's combat is at its best when you're battling many things smaller than you or few things bigger than you; fighting enemies that are just as strong as you isn't all that engaging. The exception is Trial of the Gods, a two-player cooperative mode that teams up warriors to take down waves of enemies, but even then it's not going to hold your attention for too long.

God of War: Ascension is confident, executing the franchise tropes flawlessly with an amount of self-awareness not often seen in gaming. It knows it's good--it knows it doesn't have to try hard to be good--but it struggles to be anything more than that. While it's worth experiencing for the massive battles, remarkable cinematic moments, and strong combat, it doesn't feel like a necessary chapter in the God of War franchise. As it would turn out, the God of War isn't worth much as a mere mortal.

More Info

Release date: Mar 12 2013 - PS3 (US)
Mar 15 2013 - PS3 (UK)
Available Platforms: PS3
Genre: Action
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Franchise: God of War
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Content

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  • saso77 - March 29, 2013 2:43 p.m.

    I read this review first and then i get the game. I can say only one word - Amazing.
  • ninjapotato123 - March 17, 2013 3:59 a.m.

    ●★●★● SWEET! I just got a free Microsoft points card pin at freemspointsforever{dot}com ●★●★●
  • digitalman29 - March 13, 2013 8:38 a.m.

    I played the demo. I can't wait to get started on it later today.
  • lewis-barclay - March 8, 2013 10:04 p.m.

    1. How does he have the blades of chaos if he hasn't met ares yet when ares was the one who GAVE THEM TO HIM!!!??? 2. How is he covered in the ashes of his wife and daughter when he's KISSING HIS DAUGHTER IN THAT SCENE!!??? Some continuity people.
  • Tjwoods18 - March 9, 2013 5:42 a.m.

    This game centers around Kratos trying to break his bond from Ares, so he has already met him.
  • PatHan-bHai - March 8, 2013 10:42 a.m.

    to me, GoW is the worst game from Sony. Hate it!
  • newgames128 - March 7, 2013 5:07 p.m.

    Geez. On one hand it sounds like the best GoW yet. On the other, it sounds like the worst. Maybe they took on too much going from just doing SP to brand new MP and 3D.
  • taokaka - March 7, 2013 3:41 p.m.

    So they got rid of his anger, so is he now a totally calm dude just casually murdering hundreds without a trace of restrain. Kratos' characterisation may have been shallow but it made sense and was damn well enjoyable. The review was what I was expecting, I thought the story would be just any old thing that could bring kratos back into action and I'm dissapointed that I was right. As a fan I will be picking this up but also as a fan I'm kind of annoyed they made this, it's time for god of war to retire.
  • AKALMoumen - November 11, 2013 4:33 p.m.

    Oh come on I bet you'd feel bad if the just stopped making them... People feel bad when good games get shelved... I think the MP hindered what could been a cool look at a more human Kratos... You are right thou I got a vibe of franchise fatuige from this Santa Monica should just take a break from the game make a new IP and then come back to GOW with something fresh like Naughty Dog...
  • taokaka - November 12, 2013 2:13 a.m.

    I truly do hate when a good thing comes to an end so yes I would be sad but it's inevitable, everything must end at some point. The way I see it is they can leave their fans wanting more and have their series be remembered fondly, or they can milk the series while doing their best to please the fans but ultimately disappointing them as the series becomes a shadow of what it once was. The problem is the grass is always greener on the other side, the first group want more games to be made for their beloved franchise and the second group wish that the games made hadn't tainted their love for the series. I believe that the first option is the one that will ultimately make us the happier but we don't realise it and instead we demand the second of the two options. What we want isn't more of the game as a product we want more of the experiences that made us fall in love in the first place, but that is harder to achieve than through just refining gameplay mechanics and stuffing in a story to justify the characters redoing the things they did last time. I don't want another spectacle orientated hack and slash, I want to experience the same giddy joy I had the first time I ripped into a swarm of enemies in the original god of war. However that can't be done by just giving me another swarm of enemies to rip into I need a new way to rip into new enemies and by restricting themselves to the predetermined rules of the god of war universe when they made this action game they severely hindered their ability to do exactly that.
  • AKALMoumen - November 15, 2013 8:52 p.m.

    Very true I agree if they can't improve and maintain the sprit of the franchise it becomes hollow... And its not as easy as publishers want us to believe it is... Few games can remind you why loved them but still not feel new but be completely new... And if they can't then sadly they should just stop... Now we both know realistlclly that won't happen if it keeps selling... So if they can't or won't end it maybe they should just put it aside for a while maybe a long while and then come back... Which on a more news related note they might just be doing that... They brought back the original Co-Creator the series... he also directed God of War 2 and the screen writer who headed Battle Star Galactica... The rumor is they might be making a new Sci-Fi IP... Oh and the guy who made this one quit or got laid off... So maybe your write maybe they'll hold it off... At least we get somebody who actually worked on the 1st 2 games so that good I guess... And I completely agree with you if they can't grow just stop...
  • pl4y4h - March 7, 2013 2:32 p.m.

    I really stopped paying attention to the series after 3
  • talleyXIV - March 7, 2013 6:01 p.m.

    I would imagine since there were no other games after 3...
  • pl4y4h - March 7, 2013 8:41 p.m.

    huh? This game is came out after 3, unless you're talking chronologically
  • wadesmit - March 7, 2013 12:59 p.m.

    Not sure why, but the only GoW game I've finished was Chains of Olympus on the PSP. Got GoW 3, never finished it. Same with Ghost of Sparta. Honestly, the lore to me was purely atmospheric, and did that well, but the story was weak. And that's what bored me about this franchise. Ascension doesn't appeal to me at all, with the exception of pretty visuals. But that's a draw for pretty much every person.
  • shawksta - March 7, 2013 11:59 a.m.

    What makes Kratos the badass we know is BECAUSE of his Anger. Either seems like a good installment but not steller, the unmemorable Multiplayer seems dissapointing considering they probably decided to make this game only to have Multiplayer, regardless, looks at least worth a play
  • garnsr - March 7, 2013 11:22 a.m.

    I liked the first two games, but didn't really get into 3, despite playing all the way through. Ascension looks teriffic, but when the camera pulls back in the demo, and you're a tiny little something trying to fight tiny little bug guys, and you can't see where you are or what you're doing, it felt even more button mashy than usual, and it really put me off.
  • TheDudeFromNowhere - March 7, 2013 11:01 a.m.

    They really emphasized the fact that you will be experiencing a different Kratos. Its a little disappointing that the game won't be plot driven. Oh well.