CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From its beginnings on the PlayStation 2 almost a decade ago, Sony's "God of War" franchise has remained every bit as brutal and unforgiving as Kratos, himself. And if the latest offering in the series, "God of War: Ascension," is any indication, the development team at Sony's Santa Monica studio has no intentions of letting up as the brand transitions to the PlayStation 4.
And while the story at the heart of "Ascension" doesn't deliver the same punch as those in the original trilogy, the action has never been better, bloodier or more challenging.
Set prior to the events of the first "God of War," "Ascension" follows Kratos as he attempts to escape imprisonment by the Furies and gain revenge on Ares, the God of War who tricked Kratos into killing his family. As a longtime fan who knows how Kratos' story ultimately unfolds, seeing this early chapter was certainly interesting. But I couldn't help but miss the angry, cynical Kratos I had grown to love in the latter games.
While Kratos' attitude has changed in "Ascension," his fondness for viciously destroying mythical creatures has most certainly not. Armed almost exclusively with his trusty Blades of Chaos -- weapons such as swords and giant hammers can be picked up and used for a short period of time, too -- Kratos methodically strings together combos using powerful and light attacks, stopping only to pull off a timely QTE that ends with a gruesome execution. None of this should surprise anyone who has ever played a "God of War" title -- the combat has changed little since the series began. One noteworthy difference is now the Blades of Chaos can be charged with elemental powers, allowing Kratos to unleash brutal fire- and ice-based attacks, among others.
Knowing when to use each power is crucial because Kratos needs all the help he can get against the hordes of monsters the Furies send his way. Indeed, I found "Ascension" to be the most diffcult "God of War" since the original, and far more challenging than "God of War 3." That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but don't expect to run through waves of enemies unopposed. Becoming surrounded often proved to be a recipe for death, and I exhausted my magic in nearly every battle as I (sometimes fruitlessly) attempted to keep attackers at bay.
Despite its difficulty, the combat still provided plenty of awe-inspiring moments, including an early battle against the living prison that you call home after your capture by the Furies. Even the puzzles presented a challenge. From beginning to end, "Ascension" felt like a "God of War" game is supposed to feel -- and as fans of the action genre know, few franchises deliver the goods quite like "God of War."
In addition to the robust campaign, "Ascension" introduces multiplayer to "God of War" for the first time. The results are mixed -- I found my enjoyment of multiplayer often hinged on those I was playing with -- but I applaud the creative way in which competitive play has been incorporated into the "God of War" universe.
At the end of the day, "God of War: Ascension" delivers exactly what you would expect a "God of War" title to deliver -- brutal, visceral (and difficult) combat, a solid story featuring a great character and the occasional OMG moment. Gamers expecting something different from Kratos will be disappointed, but fans of the series should rejoice in getting more of the same great action they've been enjoying for the past eight years.
"God of War: Ascension"