We first met Kratos in the original God of War, the 2005 breakout PlayStation 2 hit. The innovative action game became responsible for thrusting things like quick-time event boss battles into the mainstream. Since then, each sequel has taken things to a another level, making Kratos feel more powerful, enemies seem more insurmountable, and environments appear even more epic in size and scope.
So where was Kratos to go from his epic PlayStation 3 debut in God of War III? Through a series of flashbacks in the previous trilogy, players have been able to piece together somewhat of an origin story for Kratos, but the team at Santa Monica Studio chose to make the fourth console God of War game a more definitive retelling of his shattered past.
While God of War: Ascension is a prequel to the three original God of War games, not a lot has changed. The game starts off with an over-the-top boss fight, following the familiar "start with your finale" mentality that's responsible for making such a powerful first impression.
Ascension is easily the best-looking God of War game yet, complete with a beautifully rendered Kratos and dynamic lighting throughout that is sure to impress. No other franchise is able to capture such a dizzying sense of scale and Ascension is no exception. Say what you will about next-gen graphics, but nothing about this latest God of War game looks dated.
Interestingly enough, however, the series' iconic on-rails camera does seem to hiccup every now and then. On numerous occasions I found it to be poorly placed or even distracting -- something I've never seen in any God of War game before. There's also a handful of times where the action is being played so far away on screen that it's almost impossible to tell which character is Kratos.
If you've ever played a God of War game before, the gameplay will come quite naturally, even though there seems to be less hand-holding this time around. Enemies have color-coded arcs over their heads when vulnerable for finishing, and this information can be used to hoard more red orbs where applicable.
The same upgrading system you've seen a dozen times before is back, replete with all the elemental subsets of Kratos' arsenal. Kratos can also pick up weapons jammed into the ground and even take away items used by enemies.
In the end, Ascension just fails to deliver the epicness that its predecessors so easily delivered. Perhaps this is the difficulty encountered when rolling the clock back on a character who has triumphed in the way Kratos has. It all just feels anticlimactic, as if God of War III should have been the one to close out Kratos' legacy on PlayStation 3.
God of War: Ascension is still a solid effort that helps lower the curtain on the PlayStation 3's lifecycle. Its inability to take the series an evolutionary step further is a bit concerning, so we'll just have to wait and see where Kratos is headed next generation.
God of War: Ascension also features a multiplayer mode, but it wasn't fully live at the time of this writing.
CNET verdict: It's worth a try
God of War: Ascension doesn't break any barriers, but it's still a top-of-the-line action game that will most likely please veteran fans of the series.
For those looking for something new and fresh outside of the God of War universe, the Devil May Cry reboot, DmC, may be something worth considering.