However, the extra weapons don’t integrate well into combos and using them is just a case of mashing the circle button. They can be particularly effective against certain enemies but don’t really add anything meaningful to the flow of combat. The ability to hook enemies, on the other hand, is a valuable addition that can be used on the ground, in mid-air, or as part of a juggle combo. Better players than us will no doubt find ways of integrating it into bewilderingly lengthy combos, but even mere mortals like ourselves can appreciate the extra fluidity it brings to battles.
The D-pad switches between offensive elemental styles (fire, ice, lightning and err…Hades) that can be applied to Kratos’ main weapon, adding colourful flourishes to your attacks and dealing extra damage at the end of combos. They can also be upgraded to add special moves to an already expansive repertoire that includes a magic attack and items that do fancy things, such as briefly clone Kratos or slow enemies down to a crawl.
Overall, Ascension definitely has the best combat system in a God of War game yet. Though compared to the likes of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, it does still feel slightly sluggish, and despite there being piles of possibilities in terms of attack combinations, it’s rare that the game encourages you to do more than scratch the surface of what’s possible. It’s also not particularly difficult on normal mode so veterans of the series should consider jumping straight into hard mode for a real challenge.
Gnarled towers, damp caverns and crumbling statues are among the varied locations that provide the spectacular backdrops for Kratos’ adventure. But sadly, they’re just that: backdrops. The developers seem so intent on stewarding you through the world they’ve created and on to the next elaborate action scene, you never really get the chance to explore. There are some platforming and climbing sections, but there’s an occasional fiddliness in the way Kratos interacts with his surroundings that can be frustrating. At one point, we spent ages trying to find the way to go simply because Kratos wouldn’t transition into his shuffling through tight spaces animation, prompting us to seek a (non-existent) alternative route before eventually deciding he was up for it on our last-ditch attempt.
In a first for the series, multiplayer has also been included. Three modes offer slight variants on kicking the crap out of each other, with the ability to play in teams or in a free-for-all. There’s fun to be had when paired with players of a similar level as you block, parry and tempt opponents into dropping their guards, but there’s a massive balancing issue and if you’re unlucky enough to be matched with higher level players it’s pretty much impossible to get a kill. Plus, with environmental hazards and up to eight players in team mode, things can get overly hectic, leading to frustrating moments as cheeky opportunists poach hard-earned kills.
The fourth mode, Trial of the Gods, is the best of the bunch. A horde style co-operative survival mode without the issues that affect the other modes, it does a great job of instilling that elusive ‘one more go’ mentality. But despite what the developers may think, we can’t imagine many people will buy Ascension for its multiplayer anyway.
The God of War series is one of the best in the business at creating streamlined, glossy, blood-spattered adventures and Ascension is no exception. Yes, it’s simple and juvenile, but we have to admit, nothing quite matches the feeling of chopping a walking elephant’s head in two and stabbing it repeatedly in the brain (Ah, yes, that warm fuzzy feeling - Ed.).