God of War: Ascension – Demo Impressions

Well, let me fix my face.

Ever since Ascension was announced, I’ve been beset with a sense of fatigue. I have zero interest in the multiplayer, and none of the slick trailers or footage showed much difference from the last 5 games on the one-player side. After the disappointments of God of War 3 and Ghost of Sparta, I haven’t been in the mood to kill any more Cyclopes with Kratos lately.

Today, the single-player demo was released to the general public after PSN+ members got a first crack at Kratos’ 3rd prequel. I decided to check it out, to see if it would change my mind.

It sure as hell did.

The game centers around the period just after Kratos breaking his oath to Ares, having been tricked into killing his wife and daughter. For turning his back on the God of War, Kratos is subject to torture at the hands of the Furies, self-appointed arbiters of justice from a time before Gods and even Titans. You start out with Kratos during one of these sessions; you break free and chase your captor while fighting various enemies, along with a stage-sized multi-tier boss a la Chronos from GOWIII. The demo ends just before you confront said boss outright.

The graphics are phenomenal, first and foremost. Foregoing the 1080p of the third game, Santa Monica Studios opted to stick with 720p and a lower frame rate in exchange for greater detail. The trade-off is worth it IMO; GOWIII saw several cases of cut corners visually to hit that 1080p benchmark. Plus the franchise has never been such a hardcore actioner that 60fps was mandatory. It wasn’t a problem in either of the PSP games, after all.

The result is a game that looks much better than GOWIII did. You get very rich detail in exchange for the lower res; Kratos in particular looks amazing, with every grain of the ash from his wife and child popping out and looking so real. But everything, from the other enemies to the environments, has a much more visceral quality than III.

The main accomplishment, however, is the combat.

My main problem with the series is how dissatisfying the actual hack-and-slash stuff feels compared to other action games. It’s not style heavy like Devil May Cry or a Platinum title, so the older games had a tendency to get repetitive and/or mashy (moreso the latter on higher difficulties). That made the combat feel like a chore after a while. They’ve tackled that problem in a big way.

The regular enemy weapons drops, coupled with the ability to grapple one opponent while attacking others, offers some much needed variety to the combat. It was really fun playing around with the grapple mechanics, working to find ways to create space and beat down your opponents in the most efficient way possible. They’ve also added more variety to the QTE’s, adding sequences with regular attacking and dodges to the “press a button to do cool stuff” deal right from the start.

The combat flows better and feels less arbitrary. Combined with the more satisfying feel of hitting and throwing opponents, the demo showcased the best fight mechanics in the entire series. I can’t wait to see how upgrades, new boss weapons and magic play into things.

I’m sold. I’ve got some stuff to trade-in to Amazon, so I’ll be pre-ordering this for sure.

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