The Gods demanded multiplayer, and Sony Computer Entertainment’s Santa Monica Studios delivered. Prior to its launch yesterday, March 12, there was a heavy air of speculation surrounding the multiplayer experience that was to be tacked on to “God of War: Ascension”. While the latest installment in the adventures of the ill-fated Spartan warrior would step into the past, SCE Santa Monica was able to push the series forward with this multiplayer addition. Some series may suffer from tacked-on multiplayer, but “God of War’s” developers were able to create an experience that may make gamers look back at the previous installments and question whether or not they were missing something.
“Ascension’s” multiplayer experience starts off with a choice. Players are faced with four intimidating statues of some of the series’ most recognizable gods (Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, and Ares) that tower over the Rotunda of Olympus. All four gods beckon an alliance, enticing the player with specific perks and weapons which, in turn, change combat styles. Aligning with Poseidon imbues the character with water-based magic attacks and a spear, perfect for long range and fast attacks while Ares is sure to deliver with a devastating hammer, perfect for heavier attacks, and brute physical strengths. On top of magic and weapons, each god also provides items and relics, which contribute both passive stat boosts and active aid in battle.
After choosing a god to align with and a brief tutorial of the basic controls, the player is thrown into the main screen. Here is where the meat of “Ascension’s” multiplayer lies. Before even jumping into a match, gamers will want to take a look at the character customization to outfit their character with armor that can both hinder and boost specific stats, including health, physical damage resistance, and magic power. The character customization screen is also where magic, items, and relics can be toyed around with. At first, the options are limited to the most basic sets; but as experience is collected and the character levels up, more attacks and boosters can be unlocked. A level one character aligned with Poseidon will have access to a ranged water magic and an item that provides increased defense. As players compete in matches, they garner experience points that help to upgrade their character and unlock more powerful armor, weapons, magic, items, and relics.
For a game that has a central focus in fast-paced action, the character customization is quite in depth and helps to slow things down a little and add a little role playing element to “God of War”. As gamers level up their beefy character, they’ll find themselves spending more and more time perfecting the right combination of weaponry, armor, and secondary attacks and boosts. If unsatisfied with the choices that their current god allows them, characters can be realigned at the cost of having to start at level 1 with their new god.
“Ascension” features the basic set of game modes, such as team deathmatch, deathmatch, capture the flag, and a co-operative horde mode named “Trial of the Gods”. Team deathmatch comes in a rudimentary two versus two set-up, which pits two teams of two squaring off against one another in an arena-like setting. A four versus four mode increases the amount of players on each team by two and takes place in larger, more dynamic levels. Rather than being a simple deathmatch where the strongest is guaranteed to win, four versus four allows players to score favor by capturing rally points and utilizing environmental hazards to take down their foe. One level, the Walls of Troy, present players with mortar-like launchers that can greatly turn the tides of battle.
Offsetting all of this competition is “Trial of the Gods”, which pits two players co-operatively in a battle arena. Wave after wave of unrelenting foe are thrown into the battleground and the two players must team up to survive all five, increasingly difficult waves. While it may be the weakest of the online components, “Trial of the Gods” is still strong in its own right and offers a good means to hone skills and find the best combination of attacks.
At its core, “God of War’s” competitive multiplayer is all about coming out with the highest favor, be it through performing the best in combat or by finding the little niche’s of each level that provide favor bonuses. It is best to be fluent in the game’s combat mechanics, which differ only slightly from the single player experience. Characters change color when certain conditions are met, signifying that they’re either ripe for the picking or invulnerable to a flurry of attacks. An opponent that flashes white, typically after a dodge, is open to grab attacks while one that is burning red is prepping a block resistant strong attack. SCE Santa Monica was surprisingly able to transfer “God of War’s” frantic combat into what needs to be a more structured environment. Random button presses may bring luck every once in a while, but complete success hinges on a gamer’s ability to read their opponents. The game can throw the occasional curveball in the form of unresponsive button presses, but the instances were rare and far from game changing.
Where the multiplayer unexpectedly shines is in its levels, which are rendered beautifully and offer dynamic touches. Each arena, no matter how big or how small, is alive in its own sense. In the Walls of Troy, the backdrop is a flurry of flying arrows and flaming catapult rocks. One arena, which features a wall of spikes that can be a detriment to any warrior, also features an observer that, at random points, likes to pound the ground with his attached Nemean Cestus to create a shockwave. SCE Santa Monica pulled no punches for “Ascension’s” multiplayer, so everything shines just as it would during the singe player experience.
“God of War” may have been birthed as a single player experience, but just like anything, it must grow to survive. SCE Santa Monica knew the importance of multiplayer in modern gaming and fine tuned its focus to build a new experience from the ground up. Coming off akin to a gory brawler, complete with limb severing, “God of War: Ascension’s” multiplayer component is worthy of tribute, suffering from only minor frustrations along the way.