God of War: Ascension Multiplayer Hands-on (PS3)

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The introduction of multiplayer into God of War has long been a great source debate among fans of the series. Since the game’s debut in 2005, God of War has been heralded as one the absolute best singleplayer experiences available. As more and more games drifted towards including multiplayer aspects, Sony stayed the course and continued to churn out one epic singleplayer adventure after another featuring our pale-skinned, blood-thirsty anti-hero Kratos. Until now that is.

God of War: Ascension Screenshot 5

Eight years and five titles later, Santa Monica Studios has decided to give the fans something new to play with, in addition to what we can be assured is another solid singleplayer campaign. The multiplayer demo starts out with a bare-chested warrior marching up to a temple of the gods. As you slowly make your way up the steps, four huge statues come into view. From left to right are Ares, Hades, Zeus, and Poseidon, with a spot for a fifth statue on the far right, but it’s suspiciously absent in the demo. At this point I was asked to pledge my allegiance to one of the four gods, though I could only choose from Ares and Zeus at the time.

Each god will grant you certain abilities depending on who you choose. Zeus, for example, will give you lightning based magic attacks while Ares’ are fire based. I chose Zeus and was then given a brief tutorial of the controls and combat, but if you’ve ever played any God of War game then you should feel right at home here.

There are only a few minor differences that I noticed, one being that you can’t do a double jump. This isn’t really a big deal, but there’s just some sort of simple joy that comes with being able to do a second jump in mid-air and I was a little sad at its absence. I guess that since these warriors are mere mortals and not demi-gods like Kratos that a double jump is too much to ask.

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The other new twist is the ability to use world weapons. These are weapons that periodically appear on the battlefield and come in the form of spears, hammers, and maces. You can grab one of these by pressing ‘R1’ and then ‘Circle’ to wield it. The world weapons are extremely powerful, but they have a limited lifespan so they should be used with some forethought. The rest of the controls are fairly straightforward: Use ‘Triangle’ for heavy attacks and ‘Square’ for quick attacks, while ‘L1’ is used to block but also serves as a modifier to unleash special attacks. ‘L2’ is used for items, which are equipped before you head into battle and ‘R2’ for magic.

There were three games modes available in the multiplayer beta – Favour of the Gods (four players), Team Favour of the Gods (eight players), and Capture the Flag (eight players). You can select one of these and wait for the online lobby to fill up, or choose ‘Quick Play’ and jump into a session a little faster. Thankfully, I never had to wait more than a few of minutes for a match to start which was a big relief because so many games fail at this point and it can really suck the joy out of the experience.

God of War: Ascension Screenshot 1

My first foray into combat was in the arena that appeared in God of War III. Hercules can be seen in the background, getting equipped with his gauntlets by the aid of some Satyr-like creatures. You don’t face him directly in the demo, but he will occasionally jump down and send a shockwave through the play field that should be avoided.

Upon the start of the battle, I was pitted against three other players who were clearly more experienced than I was, while the action seemed a bit chaotic at first and much more fast-paced than I recalled the singleplayer experience being. The arena is a very small setting with nowhere to hide so you have to be on guard at all times. Health, magic, and weapons will appear throughout the course of battle and it’s a mad dash to grab it whenever it drops.

Victory is achieved by one of two ways in Favour of the God mode: Scoring the most points when the ten minute timer expires, or by reaching an 8 000 point goal. Points are scored mostly by kills and opening red orb chests and bonus points are awarded for brutal kills which can be executed by pressing ‘R1’ when an enemy is stunned (critically low health), which are a nice reward for your hard-fought skirmishes. Opponents are viciously finished off in graphic displays of violence that range from slicing through their torso or disembowelling them with a sword, to smashing their heads into the ground with an oversized hammer. Blood and guts are aplenty.

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After a few rounds of that I decided to try out the eight player capture the flag mode which was much more enjoyable to me because there was an objective rather than just melee combat. The goal here is to capture five of your opponents’ flags before times expires, which is again ten minutes. The setting has now changed to the much larger Desert of Lost Souls where the large cycloptic titan Polyphemus can be seen in chains in the background. The concept here is simple: Find the other teams’ flag and return it to your base. Of course, the other team will be trying to kill you during the process and vice versa.

Flag locations can vary during play, so you’ll need to pay attention to the on-screen indicators that point you where to go. There are also traps than can be sprung on unsuspecting opponents. Fire pits can be activating by pulling levers to increase the flames’ height to engulf enemies and in another area spikes shoot up from the ground for impaling. These can produce instant deaths so tread carefully.

After the battle, win or lose, you are awarded with experience points. These can be acquired in a number of ways such as kill streaks, opening several red orb chests, capturing multiple flags and completing the match. Experience is not awarded for players who drop out, so it behooves you do play it through to the end. New weapons, armour and abilities can be purchased after each session and more become available as your level increases. Each of these provides a unique set of attributes that boost your stats in areas that include health, magic, elemental power/resist, physical power/resist, and cooldown (the amount of time before a particular item or magic can be reused).

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As a God of War fan since the beginning I can honestly say that I was just as sceptical as any fan regarding multiplayer. I’m happy to report that during my time with the demo I didn’t encounter any bugs or glitches. The framerate was smooth and consistent, there weren’t any lag issues and the graphics maintained the same standard of quality that the series is known for. My time spent with the beta has alleviated many concerns I had and I found that the action was, although slightly more frenzied, very enjoyable.

After a few hours of gameplay I was able to hold my own and contribute increasingly to the team missions. A major complaint against the God of War series has been the brevity in which the titles could be completed. If nothing else, the multiplayer campaign should keep gamers plugged in for far longer than they had in the past. It was time for the series to move forward and this seems like a solid step in the right direction.

This hands-on preview was written based on experiences with the God of War: Ascension Multiplayer Beta – have you played the beta and what do you think of the multiplayer so far?