God of War: Ascension Multiplayer Beta Impressions
The God of War series has its formula down to a science, taking the seeds of Greek mythology to create a visceral action experience with platforming and puzzle sequences topped off with big bosses and the most satisfying quick-time events in gaming. It’s a formula that works, but for the sixth entry in the series, Ascension brings something new to the table: online multiplayer. Surprisingly, the competitive experience of online gaming can translate to Kratos’ universe.
Players start off leading their hulking avatar through Mount Olympus, surrounded on all sides by the founding brothers—Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades—along with the treacherous Ares. Only Zeus and Ares can be followed in the beta, and each one grants certain bonuses over the other, though you can always switch between the two throughout.
Once you’ve pledged allegiance to your god of choice, a tutorial begins explaining the basics of combat. As before, attacks are divided into heavy and light while the circle button knock back enemies with a kick. Attacks can be charged and special moves can pulled off when the L1 is held along with one of the attack buttons. To keep these from being spammed, there’s a delay between them that gradually recharges. Parries can be performed and are critical for taking enemies off guard and then dishing out some punishment.
Attacks can be followed up in the air and there’s also a grab button that works similar to when Kratos spears an enemy with his blades. Magic attacks are also available, and an item button produces different effects depending on what’s equipped, typically something to interrupt the flow of enemy combos. There’s quite a few options for combat, and one of the central tricks is to keep a combo going for as long as possible before your opponent can get back on their feet with varied attacks.
After the tutorial is completed, players are dropped into the multiplayer suite where they can outfit their warrior with armor, magic, items, weapons, and relics that give boosts in certain areas. A persistent ranking system unlocks additional items and whatever is equipped will gradually become stronger with use. Since every item has different properties—including the weapons and their movesets—there’s enough incentive to experiment with different combinations although you can always stick to one set of items and max them out first.
There are two modes available in the beta: Favor of the Gods and Team Favor of the Gods. The first is a four-player free-for-all that drops everyone into a forum to fight for the amusement of Hercules. He’ll periodically cause a shockwave throughout the arena that’ll catch unwary fighters and if you’re not too careful you may get knocked off. The goal of this mode is to rack up kills over your fellow warriors and open any chests that may appear in order to collect points. The player with the highest score wins.
Health and magic will appear sporadically as will items that can shift who the battle favors. Environmental weapons include a magical spear, a sword, and a club, all of which are great for taking enemies down quickly. Keep an eye out for Kratos’ own Blades of Chaos, making the warrior wielding them unstoppable. Cunning warriors can knock their enemies into spiked walls or set off a volley of arrows that engulf the arena, should they need to rely more on their wits than their brawn.
Team Favor of the Gods takes place in the Desert of Lost Souls with a cyclopic titan chained in the background. Players are divided into teams of four—one Spartans, the other Trojans—and fight for control points around the map. More traps litter the landscape like spikes and fire and can be set up to automatically spring whenever an enemy steps over them. Once a team is close to the score limit, the gods will hurl a spear that can be used to fell the titan. A brief quick-time event will show up as the player splits open the titan’s jaw while their teammates work together to kill it.
All the gore of the main game carries over. Every warrior is stunned once they’re near death and can have a brutal kill performed on them. Depending on what weapon is equipped, players can be gutted, sliced in half, or have their faces bludgeoned in. It feels exactly how a multiplayer version of God of War should feel: quick, brutal, and gory. More importantly, the beta captures the essence of the series. You really do feel like you’re fighting for the bemusement of several deities as you slice and dice other muscle-bound warriors clad in gladiator armor.
If the beta is any indication, the multiplayer portion of Ascension is shaping up to be an impressive addition to Kratos’ storyline campaign. It teases a Capture the Flag mode, which needs no further explanation, although the thought of hardened warriors killing each other to nab a flag seems rather silly compared to the other modes. Everything works surprisingly well from the combat, the responsiveness to the controls, and the variety of methods to play both modes. Ascension‘s multiplayer might not be its main selling point, but it’s also not some tacked-on feature that can be easily dismissed.