Raging Against Bad Design: God of War Ascension

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* This Article was originally featured on Pause Your Game, and while it was still written by me, it is an article from a different era, and thus, some things may be broken within the article but are kept that way for posterity.

God of War: Ascension — the final entry into the God of War series, but the first in terms of chronology — is quite the visually stunning game (much like the previous entries), but its game mechanics are bad enough for me to destroy all of those on Mt.Olympus who would trick me into thinking this is a God Of War game!

Lack of Weapons

The last thing you want to do in a franchise is take away one of the mainstays that makes that franchise what it is. For God of War and really all spectacle fighter games, having multiple weapons that you can swap out seamlessly in the middle of battle is practically a requirement to fit into the genre. In God of War: Ascension however, this is swapped out with the ability to change elements, which on the surface sounds good, the execution however leaves much to be desired. The problem with elements when it comes to Ascension is two fold:

The first is that elements act as different weapons in that they provide new move sets.  The problem with this is that the new moves they provide are few and far between. Only four moves are swapped out between elements and to add insult to injury you need to upgrade them to even unlock those new moves. This results in it being in your best interest to stick with fire (the first element) because it’s the first one you will have maxed out.

The problem continues with the fact that the elements are simply not different enough. In, God of War 3, you were given three additional weapons that were built up to and expanded enough so they were on par with the Blades of Chaos (default weapon).  This allowed the player to both interweave those weapons effectively and allowed different play styles while not punishing those players who prefer one or the other. With the element system you are stuck with the Blades of Chaos, and the new moves made available through different elements do very little to allow different play styles or tackle situations differently, so if you don’t care for the Blades of Chaos in all situations, well, too fucking bad.

Enemies are Hard in a Bad Way

Its hard to describe what makes good difficulty and bad difficulty. I normally say something to the effect of bad difficulty is just higher health and more damage and nothing else, just turning the dial to make something more difficult isn’t a good way to make something harder because it doesn’t (usually) consider what X at 110% does differently than when X is at 100%. Good difficulty is taking a situation and introducing another layer that must be taken care of.  This can be done through adding additional attacks, a second enemy to deal with, or really anything that doesn’t just turn the dial up.

God of War: Ascension falls on the wrong side of this, as many of the “standard” enemies present in the game are just meat shields on hard, especially when in large numbers. Attacks that hit multiple enemies no longer thin as much of the herd.  Now, on the surface, this sounds like perfectly fine way to increase difficulty, but, in reality, it works against many of the mechanics in the game and that is where it starts becoming bad. The problem with enemies on hard difficulty in God of War: Ascension is that they are on par with you, and by this I mean that they are designed in such a way that rather then taking your attacks and shrugging it off, they can simply be completely unaffected by your attacks. Nearly every single non-special enemy has this ability with some having more then others (those with shields). Standard satyrs comes with swords; this allows them to block every light attack and are only broken by heavy attack combos (not a single attack, but the final attack in a heavy combo). This is compounded by having multiple enemies with the same ability; no longer is it about fighting enemies, but rather trying to position yourself properly, lining up all the enemies and breaking their defenses in the process all at once, otherwise, you will easily become overwhelmed. Later on some enemies are given shields, this only further exacerbates the issue as you can only remove shields by getting yourself into a mini game of jamming the circle button that can be interrupted by a single attack.  The whole thing is beyond frustrating because it detracts from actually fighting enemies because most of your attacks will be worthless unless you have properly done the prep work.

Throwing Throwing Throwing

The worst offender when it comes to this game is easily the grappling and throwing of enemies. It. Is. The. Best. Move. Ever. Every hard situation outside of bosses can be dealt with by throwing.  Why is this the case? Because unless it’s a large enemy or one with a shield, the grapple move is unblockable, making it the most effective move in the entire game. Is it the fun way to play? Not at all. Safest and most effective? You bet!  And that’s exactly the problem with it. The most effective way to play God of War: Ascension is to not use your swords and create beautifully deadly combos that utterly massacre your enemies that stand before you; it’s to pick them up and put them down.

The Rage Meter makes me Rage

Now we are left with the most counter intuitive mechanic in the entire game: Rage! Rage is built up the more you attack.  Of course, not every attack counts; only ones that land (not blocked). Rage allows you to do special attacks as well as unlock certain combos and generally increase your attacks. Your normal attacks hit like wet noodles, but when you have rage, your attacks have some meat on their bones and can open up enemies making them unable to block your attacks. Here is where the counter intuitive part crops up: to build rage you need to hit enemies, enemies are designed to not  be easily hit, so you do sub-par damage without rage.  When you have rage, you can easily interrupt enemies to make them susceptible to damage, but to get to that point you need to position yourself properly so you can actually build your rage (or you can throw enemies which gives no rage) and while you’re doing this enemies can interrupt you constantly. To put it another way the game is difficult because it denies you the power that you should be able to use, but the second you actually gain those powers the game becomes quite easy. Essentially you are denied the powers of Kratos that makes Kratos… well, Kratos.

I truly hope the next God of War  rescinds these decisions (and changes the setting) and returns to its roots of intense combat and destruction! This entry, while enjoyable, was definitely hard to play coming from God of War 3 and all the previous entries.  Even God of War: Ghost of Sparta was far better despite its poor control scheme (due to it being on the PSP). God of War: Ascension is a perfect example of if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, and they really shouldn’t have.