God Of War: Ascension – Multiplayer Impressions
Given how its inclusion was a pathway to easy cynicism, there’s nothing surprising about how multiplayer in God Of War: Ascension plays out.
Sony has just released the beta showing off the online side of Kratos’ series and it’s exactly as you’d expect – hulking bald men smashing each other until they explode in a bloody cloud of red.
The way the beta begins promises something different and interesting. You step into an arena where you have to pledge your loyalty to one of the four gods.
Pledge your alliance to Zeus or Ares (the other two gods are locked out in the beta) who provide you with boosts to your magic and defence or attacking power and fire magic, respectively. Then you get to customise your character, though at this stage it’s more scrolling through the armour and weapons you have yet to unlock, and then you jump into combat.
It’s here that you realise for all the presentation that the beta opens with, it’s the usual God Of War fare once the game itself begins. God Of War is a series built on solid combat fundamentals and these translate well to multiplayer. There are quick attacks, heavy attack, launchers, evasive rolls, blocks and throws.
Team Favor sees you capturing one of the three shrines dotted around the arena to score points. Points are also awarded for opening chests and killing one of the members of the opposite team. The level itself is a series of linear pathways connected within a tight arena, forcing you to jump across gaps to get around the level.
That’s because the pathways themselves are dangerous places to hang around. Not only are they were players from the other team are likely to roam – winning a 1-vs-2 battle is almost impossible – but there are traps such as spike floors and fiery pits. These are switched on by nearby levers, which prime the traps and are activated when a player passes over. And yes, you can hurt players on your own team too, as we found out when we impaled a team-mate by mistake. Whoops.
The map in the beta also had a chained Cyclops lurking near the top, his fists slamming down on players who try to capture either of the nearby shrines. It’s a nice God Of War trademark, touching on both the mythology and the over-sized bosses the series owes a debt to.
Even better, you have a chance to slay the boss. The Gods throw down a weapon during the match, which can be captured by either side (it has a protective shield around it for the first five seconds, deterring players from waiting near its spawn when they know it’s coming). This weapon not only dominates confrontations against other players but can also be used to slay the Cyclops.
Throw the spear at its eye and the Cyclops will collapse on a nearby platform, so you can scramble next to its hand and follow the QTE prompt to finish it off.
All of which is a long way of saying Ascension’s multiplayer is very much a God Of War experience. It has the same combat, the same bosses, the brutality. There are three things that disappointed us about the multiplayer in God Of War: Ascension.
The first is the constant crashes, which force you to hard reset your PlayStation 3. We don’t expect these technical issues to mar the final game – it is a beta, after all – but it’s still taking some of the shine off the experience.
The second is that beginners are constantly playing catch-up, which may put them off the multiplayer side of Ascension before they really understand it. You unlock further bits of armour, weaponry and relics (essentially perks) by completing in-game tasks. It’s a variation of the rank-up system seen in so many multiplayer games but there’s a real imbalance at work here, as all the unlocked items make the player more powerful.
Newcomers therefore have to deal with players who are statistically more powerful than they are, as well as having the benefit of experience. Throw in the initially confusing layout of traps, shrines and Cyclops fists and it’s a surprisingly hostile environment to overcome.
The final, and biggest problem, is that while it’s fun it’s not really different enough to stand out as something that will draw in those who weren’t previously interested in God Of War or those who drifted away from the series. Rather than Splinter Cell’s Spies vs Mercenaries, this is more like Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer – a cute riff on the gameplay but nothing spectacular or particularly unique.
It’ll be interesting to see the path God Of War: Ascension takes from here. Multiplayer has been billed as the big reason that Ascension exists and it’s not strong or unique enough to justify this sequel by itself. Will single player have its own unique draw besides exploring Kratos’ backstory and relying on us caring about the character enough to come back to the series for a fourth time.