This review contains very minor spoilers and was completed on Normal difficulty in just around 9 hours.
God of War: Ascension takes place before all other God of War games. The game starts off with a video explaining the story of the three furies whose main task is to punish those who break an oath to the gods of olympus.
Let me start by focusing on the positive aspects of this game.
Ascensions intro is fantastic. One could argue that the highs of the intro matches or even surpasses that of God of War III. If that isn't remarkable enough: The final fight is without doubt one of the most amazing moments in the God of War series to date.
The game has a very beautiful art direction and a powerful adventure feel. There are moments where you as a player just have to stop and breathe in the atmosphere that is surrounding you. One could compare this to the adventure of God of War 2 which is widely praised by many fans.
Out of top class is also the graphics. Now this isn't really anything new. God of War has always been one of those games that very much like the Uncharted series, has set the bar for the PS3 and even the PS2. But at times: you really cannot fathom what wizardry Santa Monica Studios is performing on the PS3. It is absolutely breathtaking and exhilarating. You simply want to continue for the sole purpose of seeing what else they can do in order to drop your jaw. Where I personally felt Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 were the best looking games on the PS3, Ascension takes the crown. Not only is the scale ridicilous but the details to Kratos is amazing and the framerate is surprisingly smooth (keeping 40-45 fps) despite throwing a shocking amount of enemies on you, at times.
The sound has gotten a massive improvement. The feeling of the blades in particular sends shivers down your spine as you smash them into the ground and send foes flying. I would argue that the feeling of the blades are far more improved by the sound alone. It is something that makes going back to previous God of War games really difficult. I would recommend that you put the settings of the sound to 'Headphones' from 'Stereo' (even despite the fact that you are not playing on headphones). Lower the voice to 80 and keep the rest as it is. For some reason the Stereo does not give the same impact feeling as the Headphone option does right now. This is also being looked into according to Santa Monica Studios.
What also really brings up the feeling of the game is the music. While it is lacking some of the tracks that you associate with God of War, it is still nothing short of great.
One other aspect that is by far the best in the series is its puzzles. The game really has some amazing puzzles that are very difficult and that require creative solutions. With the addition of the items that you gain: Some of the puzzles are just remarkable and they change up the pace of the game nicely.
Lastly, we have the actual combat. The combat has been given a so called 'rage meter'. The meter fills as you perform hits and decreases as you get hit. The idea is that when you fill out the meter: Kratos is able to perform more hits/combos that are in the of the previous God of War games. This renders Kratos much weaker during the start of an encounter but ultimately more powerful at the end of it once you have built that meter up.
What this does that I personally found to be clever is that it really encourages the use of the dodge and block. You have to avoid getting hit and you have to play smart in order to build that meter up. Previously I only really did this once I did my Titan run on God of War 3 but Ascension actually requires it despite difficulty. Once the meter is full: you can then go back to the mashing that the series is somewhat known for. However if you are hit, you need to build it up again so essientally the combat feels much more difficult which is a very welcomed change in my opinion.
Enemies also tend to be much more aggressive then previous games as well as interrupt you more frequently. The combat as a whole is the most challenging God of War game ever. You also have four elements that change the special attacks and magic of the blades. You get access to all four fairly early on in the game and it is your own decision on which to prioritize and level up (or all if you have the patience to get that many orbs). These elements add a nice dimension to the game which in some ways save the game from feeling completely repetetive during combat.
There is one area called the Trials of Archimedes which has caused certain players to feel is a "unfair spike" in difficulty. I completely disagree. There is even a note before that claims that the trials is supposed to be brutal. It is the "final trial" after all. It is a difficult moment because the game throws three waves at you without any checkpoint in between. But this REALLY forces you to understand the use of your items and magic you have. I cannot stress how important your items are in this game during that section in particular. It was a good challenge and I passed it on my second attempt.
Over to the negative points:
The game is sadly held back due to one rather big flaw:
The story and the narrative.
The amount of conversations/cutscenes and overall interactions between Kratos and other characters is miniscule compared to other entries in the series.
The first half of the game has a remarkable adventure feel and you are generally positive as you feel the story might pick up, but it never truly does.
Into the second half you start feeling that the game is becoming tedious. I played it in one sitting going 9 hours straight. The combat itself was surprisingly fun considering I have played the previous five games to death but that is not my issue behind why the game felt tedious, no. The issue is that the story and motivation to proceed was lacking. This is also why I would argue that the intro of the game cannot touch God of War 3s intro. The context is not the same. The build up isn't nearly that of GoW3 nor is the story itself even there. From a spectacle standpoint it delivers, but from a memorable story perspective: It does not.
"Why am I doing this again?" Is a question I see myself asking several times.
Kratos as a character is never truly fleshed out nor is he given any kind of emotional scene that makes me feel anything aside from perhaps one scene. Considering this game was all about Kratos being 'more' human: I found this to be very disappointing.
A minor issue was that sometimes the sound and music tend to glitch. You suddenly kill a creature and no sound is made or the music might stop only to resume a few seconds later. However: Santa Monica Studios have said that they are currently working on a patch for it. This did not however sour the experience but it is worth mentioning.
Ultimately Ascensions campaign is a campaign that I will never truly look back on and remember from a story perspective. I will only remember several fragments of moments that shows what the game could have been. Having said that: Ascension still is fun to play and had the story and narrative been given more love then this game could very well have been the best God of War, ever.
Multiplayer is also a first in God of War Ascension. The multiplayer offers four modes: Team favour of the gods, Favour of the gods, Capture the flag and Trials of the gods. The first three are competetive modes where you can go up to 8 players playing in teams of 2 and the last one is a 2 player co-op arena. As you start the multiplayer, you are given a choice to choose what god to align to. The four gods you can choose between are Zeus, Ares, Poseidon and Hades. They offer different sets of magic attacks and items which emphasizes on different playstyles. You can customize your warrior by choosing a vast amount of armor sets and weapons. The multiplayer is a very, very welcomed addition to the series and completely adds a whole new level of enjoyment to God of War.
Despite the story lacking in comparison to previous titles: there is still an adventure that is enjoyable with some of the best gameplay, graphics, sound, puzzles and more. That is in of itself, rather spectacular. The campaign may be an 8/10 at best but the multiplayer saves this game from falling short compared to the standards that has been set by the rest of the series.
God of War: Ascension does not ascend the story of Kratos in any way but it does offer an uplifting singleplayer campaign with some memorable moments and a very refreshing multiplayer which ultimately adds a lot to the game.
Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Overall: 9/10 - "Incredible"