To some jaded eyes, the new God of War revealed this past spring looked too much like the old God of Wars. Oh, they added multiplayer this time, but what was so fresh in the game's solo campaign?
Earlier this week, David Hewitt, design manager at Sony Santa Monica, showed me what was new. He played through the game's single-player E3 demo for me. The last time I'd seen it, running as part of a stage demo at E3, there had been no commentary. Only my eyes and ears could tell me what was new about this game. They weren't good enough to spot the differences between this new God of War: Ascension and the other five God of War games I've played and enjoyed. Hewitt was needed. He filled me in. Here's what is new.
The demo begins deep enough into the game that Kratos has lots of moves available to him. He's angry, of course. Always angry. This time, he's just recently been tricked into murdering his wife and kids. He's seeking vengeance, but, Hewitt told me, he'll seem a little more human than he seemed in the other games, all of which take place after this one.
I must note that what I'm showing you are screencaps of the game's E3 demo, captured back when Ascension game director Todd Papy played the game on stage. The game doesn't look this blurry in real life!
This is what an official screenshot looks like. But that's not the quality of image we're working with today. Bear with me.
The game is still a brawler. Kratos has an expanded move set, with new sub-weapons that he can use in combination with his signature chain blades. The sub-weapons are mapped to the circle button, which is one of the reasons you won't see circle-button prompts floating above the heads of weakened enemies. Instead, you'll see arcs of light that signify that the enemy is ready to be executed, or…
…sometimes you can use the enemy as a weapon…
…by swinging them around…
This is a little tricky to see, but Kratos can punch and kick in this game. As noted, he's got an expanded move list.
He can pick up an enemy's weapon and use it.
He's also got this power to re-create damaged structures. In the E3 playthrough, we see Kratos use this green magic to smoothly half-rebuild this wrecked scaffolding so then he can climb up it. Hewitt played this part differently. Kratos' rebuild power can go in forward and reverse, so Hewitt was able to have Kratos completely rebuild this structure, but to a point that it was so smoothly recomposed that there was nothing for Kratos to climb over. Hewitt then undid the rebuilding about halfway, causing the mid-collapse/mid-rebuilding structure to have its components float in the air just right, so that Kratos could climb on them. This, Hewitt pointed out, will be a useful and interesting power to use in the game's puzzles. I agree. It's much more interesting than it initially seemed.
Hewitt told me I'd see Kratos do something surprising. As enemies threw spears at some regular people, Kratos…
… saved a man's life. See? He's more like us in this one. We'd probably have done that.
Kratos can pick up the spear and use it as a weapon. He also can erupt into a rage mode. The concept of a super-charged Kratos rage mode is not new to Ascension, but it works differently in this prequel. Kratos' rage meter is filled during battle, but once filled is triggered automatically, not manually. It imbues Kratos with the power of whichever element he has armed. He's armed with fire, in this shot. That then enables him to do a ferocious new set of fire attacks. There are other elements. I didn't see them.
And then Kratos fought an elephant-monster of some sort. That I knew was new. And that's where our brief walkthrough of Ascension's demo pretty much ends. Kratos kills the elephant-monster and the demo's done.
Is this God of War a radical departure from the earlier games? No way. I had told Hewitt that I had been surprised at how similar it seemed from the earlier games-how I was surprised they didn't try to go to a radically new era or try a new pantheon. This era still works, he told me, before reminding me that multiplayer is all-new. And with multiplayer, he said, the team has tried to get the PS3 to show graphics that are as impressive as the single-player games ever had. That, in turn, has caused them to develop an improved graphics engine that allows for grander spectacle in single-player.
God of War games are not subtle games, but the changes with this new one were easy to miss. This prequel is more interesting once its small changes are brought to light. God of War: Ascension will be released for the PlayStation 3 on March 12 2013.