The gigantic Kratos statue outside Sony's God of War: Ascension booth
Coming into this year's New York Comic Con, there were only a handful of games I was excited to see, one of which was God of War: Ascension. As a frothy-mouthed supporter of the original trilogy, I know single player will be another visceral, beautiful, face-melting affair, however the addition of multiplayer was a bit of a worry point. Thankfully multiplayer is exactly what Sony had on display on the Javits Center floor, so I was either leaving with soothed nerves or the rage of the Gods.
Disclaimer: like a good Christopher Nolan film, this article will leave a variety of open questions. The kind Sony folks protecting the giant Kratos statue were unwilling to offer answers when questions were posed. Whether or not this was due to my lack of press badge is up for discussion.
We started with some very underwhelming customization options, as I was only able to adjust my avatar in a few simple ways: choice of two very similar helmets, and choice of either mace or sword. My armor was reminiscent of Hercules' and I believe my name was something along the Herculean line, so I assume I was his champion. Can't say for sure because no one would answer my questions! SCEA: 1, OBG: 0.
After the cosmetic options, I was given the opportunity to choose a magical skill and was then forcibly ushered into the game by the Sony employees, who had no desire in fostering my snail-paced menu exploration. Due to this, I may have missed some options which would have been nice to mention here, but such is life. The match started with teams on opposing sides of the map, as is the norm for these games. The battle system felt very much like it did during the campaign of God of War 3, which is welcome. The player is blessed with light and strong attacks - both of which can be modified to special attacks while holding L1. My Spartan (from Sparta, not UNSC) could do everything else expected of Kratos, such as jump, block, evade, parry, throw, all the mundane necessities. There's also a Burst move (speaking in Guilty Gear terms) which knocks your nearest opponents back and recovers a bit of health. Yep, all the tools required to become a God of the arena.
The stage up to play was built as a selection of elevated platforms connected by bridges, ziplines, and hookpoints where 8 warriors fared combat as a gigantic cyclops thrashed the very near background. The game started much as a 4 on 4 deathmatch pit between Spartans and Trojans, but seemed to evolve into an objective piece once the teams realized what what happening. Different points on the map were contested to control the chained cyclops, and when either team held the points, they also held the Gods' favor.
Battle felt surprisingly tight and well polished, almost as if I were playing a single player affair. The action ran smooth in all respects whether 2 or 8 players on screen, with the titanic cyclops thrashing just behind all the while. During battle, prompts were given for various actions, similar to how Kratos dispatches non-player characters in campaign. There are gruesome quick time events during grapples as well as executions to rid yourself of an opponent. The heat of battle was so frantic I often found myself missing these commands, perhaps they are not prominent enough, or maybe I'm too impatient. Either way, I do think the commands could use a little more visibility.
Aside from properly thrashing everything on screen, there are other concerns to take note of. The battlefield is littered with respawning chests which contain magic, health, bonus points and other goodies. There are also powerups to grab for a temporary advantage, all in line with the mythos of course, such as Hermes' boots which give you a speed boost and are simply dashing. My favorite touch to the map are the selection of traps laying about, which are triggered by pulling a switch sitting just within spitting range of the hazard. A pit of spikes greeted me once too many during my session, and only afterwards did I begin paying attention to where I roam and when I engage combat. I'm not sure if the traps caused friendly fire, for obvious reasons. SCEA: 2, OBG: 0.
After each side had hacked, trapped, grappled, platformed, and magicked the Hades out of each other, a weapon of Zeus himself screeched down from Olympus and crashed onto a platform beside the weary cyclops' drowsy head. In the heat of battle and the flurry of 8 player fury, I may have missed what exactly occurred with said spear (SCEA: 3, OBG: 0), but our match was capped with a thrilling cut scene of one of my teammates wielding Zeus's spear and dispatching the cyclops with a clean pierce to the middle of the eye. Sick.
I will never question the integrity of the God of War: Ascension campaign, as my previous experiences have have prepared me for the enjoyment to come. At a time I was concerned about multiplayer, but after my time spent in the old world, my worries have been surprisingly released as red orbs of joy, and now I look forward to more of the multiplayer of the Gods.