God of War: Ascension is the latest title in the franchise brought to us by Playstation’s acclaimed Santa Monica Studio. Despite being the sixth game in the series to reach our consoles, Ascension comes packing a lot of ‘firsts’. Releasing March 12th of this year in North America, exclusively for the Playstation 3, Ascension’s single player story features a new story, new bosses, and lots of tweaks to the tried-and-true gameplay. But the biggest first for the game is the addition of a multiplayer component. The multiplayer was playable at E3 2012, but now has landed in the homes of Playstation Plus owners in the form of a Beta distributed through the Playstation Store. So how is that brand new mode shaping up, just a mere two months from launch?
God of War: Ascension, or rather Santa Monica Studio’s focus on the multiplayer aspect, has had fans a bit concerned. Being that the franchise has not ever had more beyond the single player experience; a considerable amount of time had to have been sunk into crafting multiplayer from nothing. Santa Monica did their best to quell these fears with their single player demo at E3, but this still left fans and critics alike questioning whether God of War really needed multiplayer, or if it would even work. The good news is that the multiplayer definitely works, and it does not feel forced or tacked on. But it working and it being a worthy endeavor are two different things. Personally, I really enjoyed one of the two available modes, and absolutely hated the other.
The team-based objective mode, “Team Favor of the Gods” was the first mode that we dove into. Two teams of four face off against each other in a multi-level arena, attempting to capture and hold three points across the stage to earn points for the team. Points can also be earned through combat, opening chests, and fighting the giant cyclops that overlooks the stage when the opportunity presents itself. The first team to reach the score limit wins. This definitely works when all of the stars align. Unfortunately, the players prevent this from happening, and made nearly every match that I played unfair and not fun.
This mode is extremely dependent on the teams being an even four versus four. If one person drops, the team that is down to three becomes unbearably disadvantaged. One player will almost always be double-teamed- which is a perfectly legitimate strategy towards landing capture points in a 4v4 match, but completely unfair in a 4v3. Most players realize this, and will end up dropping the match. And let me tell you, being constantly triple-teamed is not fun at all. Even with all the skill in the world, it is extremely difficult to parry and take on two or three opponents simultaneously. Even if you can, you will not make it to the capture points before someone respawns and confronts you. Whenever this kind of thing happens, the matches are always lopsided slaughters. It is not any fun for the losers, because on top of losing, they fight hopelessly against opponents that are nearly impossible to beat. At least in other, faster paced games, you have a chance to scrape back points and kills here and there.
My distaste for this mode does not stop there, unfortunately. In an effort to counteract the “Call of Duty Syndrome” where players will ignore the objective and go for kills to raise their k/d at the expense of the match, Santa Monica has made combat net the player significantly fewer points than playing the objective. So significant, in fact, that players will avoid confrontation and race to each objective, leaving their teammates hanging out to dry in order to farm experience quickly. I cannot tell you how many times I was being double teamed, both enemies being low on health and easy targets, and a teammate would run by and completely ignore us. It would have been two easy kills and a capture, but it instead ended up being my demise, then his demise, and a lost capture point. At least he got his +100 for the capture. The mode itself is great in premise, but is currently suffering from being very exploitable.
Fear not, though; it is not all bad news. I can happily say that I loved the free-for-all mode, called just “Favor of the Gods”. This mode is completely skill based, and there are no teammates or objectives to screw the player over. Four players simply face off in a small arena in a fight to the death until one player reaches the score limit. The fun comes from the fact that the four usually face off in pairs, but when someone starts to get low on health, the other two players will flock to that player in attempt to land the finishing blow. It is a lot like Smash Bros. in that regard. Because of this, it becomes a fun game of not only over-powering your opponent, but making sure that you lock them in a tight combo and keep an eye on your other enemies so that you can keep the finishing blow to yourself. Or, for the more devious, you can also hang back and try to swoop in and steal kills from other players. Neither strategy is a surefire win, so it eventually comes down to who is the most skilled player. I had an absolute blast with this mode, and genuinely look forward to playing it again in March.
God of War: Ascension’s multiplayer component was the source of much frustration for me until I dove into the free-for-all mode. This caught me by surprise, because I usually greatly prefer the team-based games, as do many online multiplayer fiends. It was certainly refreshing to be on my own in an online game that isn’t Street Fighter, and truly enjoy playing it. I was initially not completely sold on the idea of multiplayer in God of War, but had faith that Santa Monica Studios would do what they do best and get it right. There are still many tweaks that need to come to the team game to even the playing field, but as it stands, the addition of multiplayer is completely worth it for “Favor of the Gods”. And remember, there are still two more modes on the way- “Capture the Flag” and a yet-to-be-announced fourth mode. Here is to hoping for a co-op horde or boss rush mode! Don’t miss God of War: Ascension, releasing in just two months on March 12th!