[Disclaimer: The Friday Night Rant is just that, a rant. It contains extemporaneous remarks which are not to be confused with this site's journalism or editorial opinions. It is meant to be an entertaining take on the industry and may be divisive in nature.]
I picked up God of War: Ascension this week because I got it new for $20. That seemed like a fair enough price, though I’d have rather paid $15 I just don’t see it going down that far.
It’s an awesome game too, there are a few departures that feel a bit out of place but at least they tried to do some things different with the game. I had played the demo as soon as it came out and was immediately unimpressed, not because it was of lower quality than the previous installment but because the franchise had clearly run into a wall. It was clear to me that no matter how much you upgrade the visuals, no matter how much more brutal the slaughtering becomes, Kratos and his world are just outdated.
It was the same reason I ceased to be blown away by God of War III after the opening fight with Poseidon. God of War II was grander and more imaginative than its predecessor but God of War III was very dark and enclosed. Ascension tries to return to those grander set pieces but as fun as it is we are constantly reminded that Mr. Kratos and his neighborhood are a relic of a bygone era.
His rage and single-minded blood lust no longer add up to the quintessential anti-hero in gaming today. He fit perfectly into the new western action direction of the PS2 generation which was in direct opposition to Japanese anti-heroes like Devil May Cry‘s Dante. Kratos wasn’t slick, he wasn’t brimming with attitude, he was hell bent on brutal assault and ready to take on an impossible quest for revenge. Gamers need more than that now, they need someone that is a self-contained force of entertainment as well as action. They like to have supporting characters along for the ride as well. Kratos is a beloved piece of Playstation history and I’ve loved being a fan of his games lo these many years but it’s time to let him go. When Santa Monica said that Kratos still has some life left in him after they finished Ascension I thought to myself “No, no he doesn’t.”
The fixed camera thing just doesn’t work anymore in this day and age. You can achieve so much dramatically with it zooming in and out but ultimately you want to hit that right stick and be able to put the camera where you want during any kill or traversal instead of that old fashioned roll dodge. Hoaky quicktime events and giant bosses that stand in the back and swat at you round out a picture of a game that isn’t keeping up.
The level design is just as interesting as ever, but you hardly feel like you’re a part of it. You are still smashing jars to harvest orbs when in modern adventures the protagonists are collecting real items in stages that they can interact with. Poor old Kratos is still running up against invisible walls that separate him from his backdrops while Nathan Drake has realistic physics handling every wall, chair, and stone he encounters.
The script is still firmly rooted in PS2 era epic as well. While Greek mythology doesn’t necessarily need to be brought into the modern form of storytelling I think there are better, less cartoony ways to write the characters. “You shall never defeat meeeee!” just doesn’t pack the kind of punch it once did from a villain.
While all of those things could be updated and reimagined I don’t think it would serve the franchise at all to bring Kratos back into it. People would simply complain that it wasn’t close enough to the same old formula. We’ve had six great adventures with Kratos and taking the series into new gameplay territory is the perfect opportunity to craft an all new modern God of War. There are plenty of other myth cycles to work with and while Ascension was definitely a cash grab there’s still time to let Kratos pass into the ages of gaming history with some dignity.