Ascension’s isn’t. You alternate between light and heavy attacks, swishing your Blades Of Chaos in the vague direction of the harpies, polycephalic beasts and topless demon-things that surround you. You do this until they explode in a shower of orbs, or prompt you to grab them for either a rush of QTEs, a new Infinity Blade-style duel, or, if you’re lucky, a canned animation and an instant kill. The studio’s apparent distaste for hitstun remains – you can only interrupt the attack animations of smaller enemies and even that is frustratingly inconsistent. You’re left with little sense that any attack is causing more damage than the others. While a Capcom-style hit pause is used on some combo finishers, it triggers before the attack has even connected, and thus applies even if the blow misses.
All of which would seem rather ominous for the series-first multiplayer mode. The online multiplayer brawler was explored last year with mixed results by Platinum Games’ Anarchy Reigns, but Ascension is the first evolutionary step on from that precursor and there are some fine ideas here that will form part of this genre’s future template. Instead of a fighting game roster, there are just four classes: the melee-focused Warrior, stealthy Assassin, ranged Battle Mage and a Support class. Each is customisable, with weapons and armour unlocked as you level and complete challenges (dubbed Labors), and each player takes one magic attack, support item and perk-like Relic into battle.
It’s chaotic at first, with the large multi-tiered maps just packed with things to capture, smash open, pick up and pull. You can yank a lever to activate a set of floor spikes, push a crank to spew flames from a nearby patch of ground, and even take control of a handily placed god and shoot enormous balls of fire at nearby enemies. The options are overwhelming, but start to make sense as you learn the levels, and the fixed camera you’ll spend much of the singleplayer game cursing is an asset here: you can always see exactly what’s going on and fight your opponents instead of the viewpoint.
Ascension’s biggest success is a colour-coding system that effectively lets you know when you have an opening and when to run. Unblockable attacks are signalled by a player glowing red, white denotes invincibility, and blue signals a player in recovery. It’s a simple, smart system further improved by rock-paper-scissors combat (heavy beats parry beats light beats heavy), cooldown-controlled special moves and a logical, consistent approach to hitstun. Consider our expectations defied: this is the star of the show. While this series’ singleplayer template is showing its age, there’s plenty in Ascension’s multiplayer that deserves to survive the transition to PS4.
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