God of War Ascension released on March 12th, 2013 to a rather lukewarm response from critics and fans alike. Despite a new game director at the helm, Todd Papy, and the full force of the Santa Monica Studio behind it, Ascension could not overcome franchise fatigue. The PS4 would release 8 months later and God of War: Ascension was swiftly forgotten.
But did the game really deserve this fate?
One of the last big first-party exclusive titles released for the PS3, God of War: Ascension still looks good to this day. It is a striking game, one that really shows off the technical prowess of the PS3 when it is firing on all cylinders. The opening fight with Aegaeon is an unprecedented spectacle. The fight has you literally taking control of the boss and beating him with his own limbs. As far as opening fights go, this is one that gets lost in the myriad of classic God of War bosses. Everyone remembers the Colossus of Rhodes, Poseidon, and the Hydra, but how many people know about Aegaeon of the Hecatonchires? Not many and I’m not sure why.
One of the many complaints leveled at God of War: Ascension has to do with pacing issues. Some call it boring. A slog to get through. But the game does a pretty good job of doling out new, refreshing powers and weapons rather frequently. The Amulet of Ouroboros is a fun power to wield and although limited in its use, I liked the way it made you think about the environment you were in. Adding a novel time-travel twist to certain environmental puzzles. Enemies would also drop their weapons for you to use against them. This was new at the time and it really helped with the flow of battle as you can chain attacks between your trusty blades and freshly picked up weapons. Of course, the weapons could only be used so much, but they also did a ton of damage and could save your life in a pinch.
My least favorite boss fight in God of War: Ascension was the Manticore fight. Although not a full-fledged boss, the journey to it was more troublesome than fun. Santa Monica Studio got a little too camera happy with this level as the camera zooms out so much that it actually hinders the gameplay. The dramatic zoom-out worked in GOW3 but it outstayed its welcome in Ascension. While it was technically impressive to keep fighting while Kratos slowly turns into a tiny speck on the screen, it does nothing for the overall experience of the fights. The Manticore, like all of Santa Monica Studio’s creatures, animates beautifully and really feels like a living creature but it’s not a particularly fun fight and it drags a bit longer than it should.
But my favorite battle has Kratos facing off against the last of the Furies. An epic 2v1 fight with a harpie-like beast called Daimon thrown in for good measure. It’s a really well designed fight and is a visual feast to behold. The score is also excellent, composed by Tyler Bates and it’s a great addition to the franchise.
God of War: Ascension has an infamous level called Trials of Archimedes. God of War is no stranger to enemy waves but this was done in a tiny elevator space as enemies kept pouring in and weren’t dropping health orbs, which made every encounter feel like your last. It was seen as so blatantly unfair, fans and critics actually reached out to Santa Monica Studios about it. It was soon patched. Enemies dropped health orbs in addition to magic orbs. This made the fight a lot more manageable but those who wanted the “hardcore” version had to play the level unpatched. I beat the level before the patch dropped and I remember thinking, God of War should never be this hard and fortunately I was right. Long live Trials of Archimedes!
God of War: Ascension also ventured into the multiplayer space, a first for the long-running franchise. When it was first announced, fans were concerned that not enough attention was directed at the single-player portion.
Which may have been the case. It was a novel first effort, boasting some really interesting ideas. Some lifted from Capcom cult hit Power Stone. You pledge your allegiance to either Poseidon, Ares, Hades or Zeus, which determines what special powers you get. Players fight in multi-area arenas and earn 100 points for every enemy player killed, the first team to earn 800 points wins the first round. It was a weird multiplayer experience but one with limitless potential. One I would really be interested in Santa Monica Studio revisiting in the future. Unfortunately, the upcoming God of War does not feature any kind of multiplayer so it looks like we’re going to have to keep our PS3s plugged in for a little while longer.
God of War: Ascension does a lot of right, but was unremarkable. A situation of bad timing can be to blame. Had it come out in 2011 or 2012, maybe it would have been received better. Then again, God of War 3 released in 2010 and was considered a definitive end to the series.
God of War: Ascension really didn’t need to exist, but I’m glad it does. I had a good time with it and the multiplayer was a confusing ball of fun. Where does it rank in the pantheon of God of War games? Leave your thoughts down below!