E3 2012: God of War: Ascension Hands-On Multiplayer Preview – Meet the Spartans... And Trojans
Written Tuesday, June 19, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Kratos is a one-man army. An unstoppable, mythological force able to slay any creature that stands in his way with a savage brutality and raging fervour that no other video game character can muster. During Sony's E3 press conference he killed a big elephant man (strangely, we don't remember him from Greek mythology), some bleating goat fellas and a couple of hammer wielding living statues, before taking the fight to the Kraken on the high seas. Kratos can even use 'Life Cycle' magic to fix things now and slam the ground to create an earth-shattering shockwave. Kratos is awesome. Kratos is legendary. Kratos is nowhere to be found in God of War: Ascension's multiplayer.
This is of course a good thing. Kratos belongs in his single-player story, pulling the heads off of mythical beasts like the solitary force of nature that he is. But his spirit and violent methods of killing are all very much in evidence in Ascension's multiplayer. Sony Santa Monica lifted the lid on God of War: Ascension's multiplayer back in late-April, and since then a mix of derisive cries (“God of War doesn't need multiplayer!) and cautiously optimistic acceptance has circled the game. We found ourselves caught somewhere in the middle, but having gone hands-on with the game...we're still caught somewhere in the middle.
On the one hand, yes, God of War really doesn't need multiplayer. But then on the other, it's here to stay whether you like it or not. We might as well all just accept it. And despite our misgivings, it's not actually that bad, although we did encounter more than a few instances of sweary frustration, as did a few others who turned Sony's glowing blue E3 stand even bluer. A two round game of Spartans versus Trojans, our hands-on began with us choosing our alignment to either Zeus or Ares, which in turn defines the kind of character you'll have, the armour they'll wear and the weapons they'll wield.
Your alignment to a god also determines what powers you'll wield, although we found them fairly useless against multiple foes and nowhere near as effective as a sword in the face. Picking the coolest looking armour – ignoring the stats attached to it – and a huge sword over the huge hammer, we march into battle for Execution Mode and set about grabbing as many neutral zones as we can before the fighting kicks off, standing on the designated area to change it to our team's colours. The more territory you hold, the more points you score and the sooner you can have a crack at the towering cyclops titan Polyphemus, pulling at its huge chain bonds in the background.
Consisting of two teams of four, you begin by ziplining into the arena, where you can set fire or spike traps by pulling levers, smash chests for red orbs or just go on a killing spree. Every one of these actions – as well as snatching territory, of course – grants points that count towards your overall score, and the first to 5000 points wins. That is unless the timer elapses first, in which case the highest-scoring team claims victory. Slaughtering Polyphemus when the Spear of Destiny drops doesn't necessarily win the battle for your team either, regardless of how spectacularly gory and visceral the messy business is.
When the Spear of Destiny does eventually fall from the heavens during the multiplayer match, it's a mad dash to see who can grab it first and you'll need to hammer buttons to prise it from out of the ground, before plunging it into the creature's enormous eyeball. You then cut Polyphemus's jaw open, leaving the bottom half of his mouth dangling before laboriously pulling his eye out and puncturing it to leave a raw and empty void where his eyeball used to be. Poor sod. We're happy to report that we managed to achieve this moment on our own steam, revelling in the gratification of slaying the beast, but alas it simply wasn't enough. We lost miserably.
“Two of your team weren't really doing anything,” the Sony assistant tells us. Right. Go team and stuff... Thanks. Anyway, having tasted bitter defeat we can at least say that it's in no way down to God of War: Ascension's gameplay mechanics, because for all intents and purposes, it controls just like God of War single-player always has. In fact, the character archetypes are all based around Kratos' muscular frame (there's no ladies here, sorry), so they control the same and are a similar size to the angry Spartan. You can hit L2 to execute a health boosting evasive move too, and your attacks are suitably weighty and satisfying, while executions are characteristically brutal.
So where's the frustration then? We found that most battles usually descended into mindless button-bashing with the kill rewarded to whichever player can mash the most frantically. Success feels arbitrary rather than being based on your skill, and your god-given powers feel ineffectual and weedy, when they should really feel, well, powerful. All in all, God of War: Ascension's multiplayer currently feels like something of a mixed bag, lacking that all important 'x-factor' to lend it some weight as an essential addition to the game. In its current state, we can't see us playing Ascension's multiplayer all that much. We really want to like it - and there are aspects that we really do like – but we remain unconvinced. For now.
There's a long way to go before God of War: Ascension launches, and while the basic framework and multiplayer mechanics are in the bag, there's clearly some work that needs to be done in the time leading up to release day. We can at least rest assured that the single-player portion of Ascension is looking good and its success will ultimately hinge on the game's prequel story. For multiplayer however, we'll stay cautiously optimistic, but there's titan-sized room for improvement.
God of War: Ascension will be launching on March 12th, 2013.