Sony had plenty to show off at their booth at this year’s New York Comic Con, and one of the most highly-anticipated demos there has to be God of War: Ascension. Sony had plenty of demo stations set up, complete with a Spartan-inspired decor and a Kratos statue just outside. Ascension’s multiplayer demo was on full display, and Glacier928 and I took our place among six players who could participate in a single match together.
The demo starts with each player choosing their hero’s loadout, complete with armor and weapon type, and their choice of magic. Lighter armor grants better magical resistance, while heavy armor protects against physical blows. The two weapon choices, the Blade of Ares and the Hammer of Ares, both had their strengths but mainly determined the character’s style of combat. While the Blade favors vicious slashing attacks, the Hammer allows players to literally maul and stun their enemies.
Once everyone was locked in, the game showed a quick fly-by of our battlefield: the giant Titan Polyphemus has been chained down, and the Spartans and Romans are fighting to be the force to take it down and earn the favor of the Gods. The map consisted of a multi-level system of platforms, complete with teleporters, capture points, and special weapons and items. Once the intro ended, we hopped a zipline into the main arena and began fighting for the map’s capture points. The camera is fixed at a low isometric perspective that Diablo fans will no doubt be familiar with, but others may have a hard time adjusting; it’s easy to see allies and enemies in the distance behind you, but you can be easily ambushed by enemies in front of you, just out of the camera’s sight.
Combat plays out very similarly to the rest of the God of War series, allowing you to run, jump, throw grappling chains at your foes, and bash them into submission with your weapon of choice. However, several items are scattered around the map, such as a giant club that can be used to maul and stun your opponents, or the Boots of Hermes, which allow you to run faster for a limited time and even perform a sliding charge attack against your foes.
The main draw of the multiplayer mode, however, is the combat – and anyone who’s played God of War will pick up on the combat system quickly. Square allows you to do a series of quick attacks, triangle performs a charge-up attack, and square unleashes a brutal strike that leaves you open. You can also hold L1 to block as well as open up another set of attacks (when combined with the face buttons), R1 allows you to grapple an enemy to bring them into the fray or prevent them from fleeing, the right analog stick allows you to dodge, and L2 performs an interesting function – it allows you to evade attacks while recovering health, though this ability comes with a cooldown, so it’s best saved for those times when an opponent is preparing to finish you off.
For my part, the controls took some getting used to, as the demo throws a lot of instructions in your face at once. However, upon death, the game also shows helpful hints and instructions on the bottom of the screen, giving you a recap. After just a few minutes of trial and error, I was throwing down with the most elite God of War veteran.
If there’s one thing the demo does well, it’s that it really sucks you in. The combat is fast-paced, visceral, and has a lot of depth, and rewards careful attack uses and strategic movements. If you defeat an opponent here, it usually won’t be because of dumb luck. Knowing when to dodge and block and when your opponent leaves himself open will give you a huge advantage.
This is especially true when locked in combat with another opponent – at times, the fight will descend into a button-mashing mini-game not unlike the Lancer duels from Gear of War. The victor will stun their opponent and unleash a series of heavy strikes against him. While the attacker is completely invulnerable during this sequence, they also can’t perform any actions until it finishes. This turned into a huge liability in our game, as one of our teammates was being pummeled by an enemy, only to be surrounded by the rest of our team, ready to wreck our opponent when he finished with our teammate. He didn’t stand a chance, and his nervous laughter showed he knew it.
The game continues in this fashion for a time, until the Spear of Olympus descends from the sky. A crucial element of the match, the Spear is the victory condition that allows either team to secure the win. A player needs to run to retrieve it while fending off the opposing team, then rapidly press the Circle button to take Polyphemus down. During this time, he’s completely vulnerable, so teamwork is essential.
All in all, the demo felt extremely solid – in fact, the only bug we noticed is that the victory screens at the end of the match were inconsistent. While my screen told me the opposing Romans won, Glacier928’s stated that the Spartans secured the win. We were on the same team, so it wasn’t a context issue. However, I’m sure Sony will easily squash this bug in no time, and for a demo so far ahead of the game’s release, it’s rock-solid.
God of War: Ascension is being developed by Sony Computer Entertainment’s Santa Monica Studio, and is slated for release in North America on March 12, 2013.
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