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When we last saw Kratos delivering the final blow in God of War III nearly three years ago, most of us thought it would be the last time we saw the cursed man as the epic trilogy came to a close. Obviously, this is not the case as SCE Santa Monica Studio has announced God of War: Ascension. However, this game isn't a continuation from God of War III, whose ending left us with no inclination of the series' future (which is a rare thing for games to do these days), but rather a prequel showcasing Kratos before the events of God of War 1.

It’s safe to say that Kratos is a bit of an angry person. In fact, most gamers probably can’t think of anybody else who opted to exact his revenge on all of the world’s gods out of pure spite, all while fighting off a baker’s dozen of goat-men as they try to impale him with spears inside of a giant python’s stomach. In fact, there probably is no other video game character in this generation that has to deal with the same kind of situations that Kratos finds himself in, so it’s no wonder that he might be a little ticked off at this point.

With this in mind, the game is about exploring who Kratos is and why the anger is present. After all, he certainly wasn't this angry all the time, and the games have only marginally explored the events before the trilogy but after the infamous slaying of his family. In between cracking skulls and defiantly destroying any enemies in his path, Kratos expresses his humanity in an effort to place real meaning behind his bloodshed or to try and disprove theories that he’s just a psychotic man out of control.

Although SCE Santa Monica may have been trying to make Kratos seem more relatable, all this really does is create some confusion as the tale goes on. While we would not object to seeing the character act more human and have some kind of heart, it isn’t very believable at times when we see some of his most violent and graphic outbursts in the series to date throughout God of War: Ascension. In other words, while we appreciate the effort, we’re not really sure it was executed in the best manner.

Outside of this confusion, the story does actually play out nicely. We start off with Kratos totally chained up at the hands of one of the Furies, due to his decision to stop fighting for Ares and break free from his contract. We are told that for Kratos to completely free himself from Ares, the Furies must die. Of course, the only way he knows how to defeat these Furies is violence and mayhem with the Blades of Chaos , so series veterans can relish in this familiar gameplay. And hopefully you enjoy the Blades of Chaos, as this is the only weapon Kratos will wield for the majority of the game. While other weapons can be picked up and used briefly, similar to games like Street of Rage and Double Dragon, there are no additional weapons for Kratos to use in this journey: a first for the series. However, the Blades of Chaos can be imbued with different elements, effectively turning one weapons into many.

However, fans may notice that many fights in the game aren’t quite on the epic scale as in previous games. This has nothing to do with the quality of the mechanics or even the environment; the real problem rests with the fact that the enemies are simply smaller than before due to the story being of a lesser scale. Kratos isn't yet fighting gods and overtaking Mount Olympus, he's rather fighting against a set of lesser mythological beings for freedom. Whereas previous games required a truly dark mind to rip apart gods of grandeur, Kratos is simply fighting less impressive enemies and needs little effort to destroy them at his leisure.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the boss fights aren’t impressive in their own rights. Whether it’s the graphics, the booming sound or the innovation required to defeat the boss, there is a little something spectacular about every fight and the thoughts behind them. They blend so well together that the fights will entertain more than just the player; spectators could also have an excellent time just sitting on the sidelines and watching the show go on.

Despite the fact that Kratos only wields one set of weapons throughout the entire game, the gameplay is really where God of War: Ascension stands out. His athletic nature makes him a joy to control, and even simple button presses make it feel like the Blades of Chaos are truly in our own hands. This iteration of the God of War series also sees the Rage meter return that fills as players get larger and larger combos, which is a nice nod to God of War and makes the game work in continuity. This meter will stop filling once someone hits Kratos, however, so it is very important to dodge with the right analog stick.

Perhaps the best part of Kratos’ new set of abilities is the fact that he generally does not walk to his destinations anymore; now players can enjoy muscling over cliffs and hopping around in a way that even Lara Croft hasn’t yet mastered in all her years of work. The character can even slide down walls and across ice if he so chooses; with all of these new moves, it makes perfect sense why walking is the last thing any of us would want to try doing.

Kratos must also test his thought processes as he solves several puzzles throughout the game. Near the end, there is a string of puzzles that only make two things certain: They are sure to absolutely frustrate players who need to fight with the puzzle every step of the way, and they are sure to be very satisfying once the players figure out the trick behind the solutions. It’s a brilliantly executed set of challenges, which isn’t very common to see in a hack-and-slash game.

Speaking of challenges, these are very prominent at points where Kratos must fight off waves of enemies. At its core, the general premise is the same, but it seems like SCE Santa Monica really wanted to increase the challenge with this one; at times, players can get discouraged with the major difficulty increase. In particular, the Trials of Archimedes is one of the most rage-inducing segments in the entire series, and not for the right reasons.

The graphics should come as no surprise to anybody who has played God of War III; God of War: Ascension looks very top-notch graphically. Ascension uses the same engine that powered God of War III but with a major overhaul to increase its performance even further, giving it the new shine and polish that you'd expect from a sequel. Even better still is the fact that the environment is just as massive as ever. If nothing else, it is a true testament to how powerful the PlayStation 3 can be if a developer works hard to use its hardware correctly.

Unfortunately, the God of War series seems to have caught the multiplayer bug that has been going around in the industry as of late. For the first time in the series, there is a multiplayer mode in Ascension that ranges from modes like Capture the Flag and Favor of the Gods. Players must form teams of eight or enter a free-for-all mode, picking a god to play as before battling it out with one another.

While the aforementioned multiplayer modes are really just another less-than-perfect attempt at forcing new modes in the game, the Trial of the Gods mode is one that can actually be fun when it is played with friends. This is a horde-style mode in which players must work together to defend themselves against waves of enemies. Out of all the multiplayer options in the game, this is the only one that can really be considered a must-play instead of looking at it as another addition.

It’s true that God of War: Ascension is a game that is technically unnecessary. After all, Kratos certainly put an end to his saga when he destroyed all of the gods he was after in the last game, but we can’t argue with the fact that this prequel does stand out for all the right reasons. The gameplay is fun, the graphics are gorgeous and everything flows together nicely.

tags PS3god-of-war

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