Kratos is the last person you want to invite to a party: he’s abrasive, moody, and has a history of dismembering anyone he disagrees with. However, with a rising tide of trade-ins of singleplayer-only games, and mounting internal pressure to push the PSN Pass program, God Of War: Ascension will make the Ghost of Sparta into a more social beast via its suite of multiplayer offerings.
Sony’s demonstration begins on a close-up of a man, not a god, dressed in ceremonial armour that pays tribute to his deity. The camera pans out and around as we watch a cyclops burst through a gate and charge at the player. Moments later, another well-equipped man comes into frame and starts hacking at the beast with his sword, performing combo moves that launch him skyward to slash at the monster’s face. As the first player recovers from the hit, he joins his companion for some co-op slaying, exploiting Ascension’s new tag-team attack system to create combos that feed off one another before yanking the creature’s solo eye from its socket and slashing its belly open, spilling guts onto the battlefield.
It’s rare for a studio without experience in multiplayer to take on a project of this size, but this opening demonstration perfectly showcases what Sony Santa Monica can bring to the online space that no other studio is delivering. The sort of over-the-top action that has characterised the God Of War franchise since its inception is laced through the multiplayer, with swift camera motions and the highest fidelity visuals. This feels like an extension of the traditional God Of War experience, rather than a tacked-on addition.
And that very familiar experience continues as players leave the spawn area, passing over the fallen corpse of the cyclops, into the main arena where the rest of the players are already engaged in mortal combat. Clad in red and blue war paint, each of the eight players attack each other with massive barbed swords and hammers the size of small cars, all under the watchful eye of a 50-foot chained ‘megalops’ that flails and slams his fists into the battlefield.
The objective here is to control two central areas with turbines that pull the chains of the megalops in order to drag him to your team’s side of the field. Once he’s pulled towards you, players must gang up and kill him. This becomes increasingly difficult, however, as his wild attacks become increasingly better aimed towards you and your teammates as you pull him towards your side of the field.
Perhaps the biggest evolution of the game’s core mechanics is in the design of its new combat system. The sprawling chains of attack strings from the singleplayer game have been offset by a complex game of checks and counters: a rock paper scissors system determines attack priority when two players meet, with swings timed to give you the opportunity to block, dodge or counter, creating a more duel-like combat system than the brawling of singleplayer modes. All of this is enhanced by the inclusion of special abilities granted to the player by the deity to which they pledge allegiance.
The startling thing about Ascension’s multiplayer is that, even with a host of Kratos-wannabes crowding the field, it feels like a God Of War game. Executions are just as bloody and violent as before, the camera still artfully tracks the player to provide the best view of the action, and the final animation sequence when players take down the megalops is on par with the Titan battles from God Of War 3.
Although it has not yet revealed much of the singleplayer campaign, Sony Santa Monica has been steadfast in its assertion that the God Of War: Ascension’s prequel storyline will deliver the richest narrative experience from the series to date. A mortal Kratos could be written with more vulnerability, perhaps providing room to expand on his previously one-note personality, so there’s a chance the promise could hold true. How much time there will be for introspection while he’s ripping the haunches from fantasy beasts isn’t clear, but it’s about time that man-turned-god saw some depth.