Sequels, sequels, sequels. E3 2012 has been full of sequels. Although, I suppose that’s normal. To their credit, Sony’s press conference also had a healthy slate on new IPs (unlike Microsoft’s) but plenty of time was still found to celebrate the returning cast.
Chief among the PS3’s returning players was Kratos, getting ready to run the gauntlet of the Gods once again in God of War: Ascension. Ascension is a prequel, set before Kratos has morphed into the fully-fledged demigod (is there such a thing as a full demigod?) we’re used to and just after his murder of his wife and child. This is a man in transition, a man on a mission to set things right.
The story revolves around Kratos’ attempts to undo the hellish deal he made when he sold his soul to the devil. Presumably, that’s not something all that easy to back out from so we’re expecting a fairly tough journey. But this is Kratos, tough journeys are expected.
While Kratos may be in transition, developers Sony Santa Monica claim that – in technical terms – this is the pinnacle of the series’ journey so far. The engine being used here is the finished edition of what, we’re told, was still a work in progress when it was used to build God of War 3. While the E3 demo only lasts about 10 minutes, it’s difficult to argue against the idea that the visuals are better this time around.
Animations feel smoother, textures are crisper, draw distances longer and particle effects more abundant and vibrant. God of War has long thrived on its visual fidelity to carry what can often be a repetitive experience, and it looks as though Ascension is going to raise that bar a little higher. Perhaps Uncharted 3 isn’t the best the PS3 can managed after all.
This demo is set some 60 per cent of the way through the campaign and sees Kratos visiting the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo by ship. His reason for being here is to find a sacred relic that will somehow help him on his quest; the exact details of what the item is are being kept under wraps. It’s top secret, government-type stuff.
Being God of War, it doesn’t take long for the fighting to begin – less than 20 seconds after disembarking the ship is no exaggeration. In this instance the enemy is comprised on steroid-buffed goatmen who, like other God of War games, present little threat on their own but are dangerous in groups.
Combat is a familiar formula of swinging blades, dodge-rolling out of harm’s way and occasionally pulling out a heavy weapon to deal with stronger, slower foes. Oh, and there are plenty of quick-time events sprinkled throughout. What’s a GOW without a QTE?
It’s as bloody and as cinematic as expected. Dark red sprays erupt with every slash and slice, the noise is akin to an abattoir at peak season and Kratos moves like a blur between targets. All the while, the camera is zooming and panning across the screen to give you the best angle with which to witness the slaughter.
Personally I like God of War, and that visceral, unrelenting nature of the combat, and the way it’s framed, is a big part of what I like about it. Happy then, am I, that that particular element is being retained full force.
Ascension promises to break up the action with more puzzles than previous games in the series have featured. One such example we were shown involves Kratos’ new ability to rewind time in very localised areas. After the fight with the goatmen, a crane/scaffolding construction is smashed down by some sort of leviathan that refuses to leave its home in the sea. To reach the top of a small cliff, Kratos needs to fix the scaffolding and use it to scale to the top.
By deploying the green glow of the rewind powers, each wooden beam and support pillar can be placed back in its original position. However, when fixed, the initial jump is too high. The trick is to rewind time to a point when the scaffolding is still falling to the ground, the various pieces of splintered wood that hang in midair creating an easily scalable path to the top.
We’re told that the ability to rewind time is given to Kratos as a reward for beating an earlier boss in the game, and that the skill will be heavily used from that point on. Whether or not it can be used on enemies, or outside of specific puzzles at all, is not yet known.
The rest of the demo is typical God of War fare, featuring fights against big bosses and other fights against bigger bosses. Thanks to the quality of the aesthetics, it’s all very epic and exciting stuff – if a little familiar.
While Sony Santa Monica are clearly still very passionate about this franchise and are desperate to add enough new elements to give players a reason to come back, it’ll be very interesting to see just how hungry the audience is for another Kratos adventure. Given the hype surrounding the game at this year’s E3, Ascension need not worry about getting the right kind of coverage. Whether or not that can be translated into the kind of sales Sony will be expecting is another question altogether.