sunnuntai 17. maaliskuuta 2013

God of War: Countdown to Ascension

This year is packed to the brim with what I consider big releases, but most of them are games I'm not rushing to pre-order. God of War: Ascension is not one of those latter types of games; I always knew I was going to experience this game fresh out of the oven one way or the other. I've followed God of War from the very beginning, back when the arrival of the very first classic-to-be for the PlayStation 2 was announced in 2004. The game saw release on March 22nd, 2005, and since that day, I've been a God of War fan to my very core. Hard to believe it's been that damn long.

My final conclusion to how the game is, is still a bit off, since I still haven't finished it, although I reclaimed my copy of the Special Edition on Wednesday - a day or two has usually been quite enough time for me to finish the game, sometimes even twice, when it comes to my favourite non-RPG franchises such as this one. I can tell you what I felt heading into the game, though. Some of these feelings and expectations have stuck with me ever since the game was announced to the day it was released - I'm not yet ready to tell you how the truth turned out, but I guess I could go over some of my more obvious expectations on that initial level.

God of War: Ascension is another prequel, actually a prequel to the whole series. A prequel to a series which began with an impossible task - and by the end of which our anti-hero Kratos had done absolutely EVERYTHING you could ever imagine him doing to shake the foundations of Greek mythology. God of War: Ghost of Sparta - the prequel to God of War II - was consciously a more personal story, somewhat of an origin story for Kratos, and it used up all that was left over from the major trilogy as well as the first prequel in the bunch, God of War: Chains of Olympus. What could they possibly do to outshine the previous games with God of War: Ascension? A game set in a time Kratos was years away from even dreaming of becoming a god slayer, moreover a god himself? All the previous games were packed with mythological cameos who got themselves killed in the hands of this lunatic, so who's left? WHAT'S left? Let's look at God of War's track record. The major trilogy is one of the finest trilogies ever made. Chains of Olympus is one of the greatest handheld games ever made. Ghost of Sparta, now that one was a little tired on the usual scale. A good game, for sure, but storywise, it lacked focus, and there really wasn't that much to go on anymore. It was a fun slasher game, but of the exact standard quality we've come to expect from God of War - not that special. As a game, God of War: Ascension differs a bit from all of its predecessors, from all angles. But, can the story work? Is there anything truly special about the game? How can they possibly call this the most ambitious and epic God of War game ever, when there are no gods and just one titan faintly involved? I'll tell you all I can once I get to the review. Now, let's take a look at Kratos' disgusting deeds from yesteryear. I think I'm going to enjoy this.


Kratos is a former general of the Spartan army. In the heat of an epic battle in the past, Kratos swore a blood oath to Ares, the god of war. In return for utterly destroying the barbarian army opposing Kratos' Spartans, Kratos offered his leadership and combat skills, as well as his very soul, for Ares to manipulate and exploit. In Ares' mind, there were two things that prevented Kratos from becoming the perfect mortal warrior: his wife Lysandra, and daughter Calliope. Ares ordered Kratos to burn a village inhabited by worshippers of Ares' rivals on Olympus, and kill any who survived the fire. In blind rage and his simple joy of killing, Kratos slaughtered everyone in the village. When the smoke cleared, he realized that his wife and child were among the brutally murdered. His family's ashes were etched to his skin as a harsh reminder of the great sin he had just committed, and from that day forth, Kratos was known as the Ghost of Sparta.

Persephone is - hands down - the
hottest main antagonist in the God
of War
series. Perhaps any series.
God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008) was chronologically the first chapter in Kratos' saga up until the release of God of War: Ascension. Kratos has served the gods of Olympus to rid himself of the nightmares that have haunted him ever since his family's blood fell on his hands. He successfully defends the city of Attica from a Persian invasion, and witnesses as the sun falls from the sky, plunging the world into the darkness of the dream god Morpheus. The fall of the sun can only mean something has happened to Helios, and Kratos proceeds to investigate while even the rest of the gods are falling to Morpheus' spell one by one. He eventually discovers that Helios has been abducted by the titan Atlas.

Atlas, however, turns out to be part of a conspiracy plotted against Olympus and the world by Persephone, Hades' estranged wife and reluctant Queen of the Underworld. After Kratos bests Charon the ferryman to make it to the source of what he believes to be his daughter Calliope's voice, he comes face to face with Persephone. She offers Kratos the chance to be with Calliope, but Kratos soon figures out that if he doesn't stop Persephone, all of the world would be utterly destroyed, including the underworld, which would make his unexpected reunion with his late daughter just the tip of the iceberg of vanity. Kratos abandons his daughter to save the world - and her afterlife - chains Atlas to the Pillar of the World, forcing him to bear the world on his shoulders, and kills Persephone. As Kratos returns to the land of the living in Helios' chariot and the sun suddenly re-emerges, Kratos loses consciousness and is about to crash when he is rescued by Athena at the nick of time.

God of War (2005) began with one of the most shocking cutscenes seen at that time. Kratos, standing on the edge of a cliff, declares that the gods of Olympus have abandoned him, and there is no hope left. Then he plunges into the raging ocean in a very epic suicide attempt.

Three weeks earlier...

The man himself, just as we love to hate him.
Ten years after his servitude began, Athena informs Kratos that not only will he be given a chance at his long-desired redemption, but revenge as well. Ares is systematically destroying the capital city of Athens. Gods cannot wage war against each other - if Kratos would be willing to sacrifice whatever life he has left to challenge Ares to an epic deathmatch of the ages, he would be forgiven for his sins. When it comes to his own wellbeing and the chance to stir up at least some amount of chaos, Kratos is ready for absolutely anything.

After single-handedly taking care of a "little" pest problem on Poseidon's behalf, Kratos sets sail to Athens, where his former master and arch nemesis has already leveled well over a half of the heart of the city. With the help of the city's oracle, Kratos makes his way to the Temple of Pandora planted on the titan Cronos' back, where the only weapon powerful enough to kill a god is housed - which is, the mythical Pandora's Box. After conquering grueling trials set by the gods in collaboration with the temple's late architect, Kratos locates the Box and begins to push it all the way back to Athens, when Ares suddenly catches up to his and the gods' plot, and brutally kills Kratos.

Even death can't keep Kratos down when he's determined enough. He manages to avoid the streams of River Styx, and climbs back up from Hades with Zeus' help. He manages to regain the Box from Ares, and upon opening it, he temporarily grows in size to match that of Ares. Kratos manages to conquer Ares' brute strength and impressive mind games, and finally stabs the god of war through the neck with a sword-shaped bridge.

Eagerly waiting for his prize, Kratos is stunned when Athena tells him that all the gods promised was to forgive his sins, not relieve him of his nightmares. We then cut back to the opening cutscene. As Kratos hits the waves, he is pulled back to the cliff by a godly power. The gates to Olympus open before his eyes as Athena tells him that due to the death of her brother, there is a vacant throne for a new god of war. Although he wishes not to associate with the gods who tricked and betrayed him, Kratos finds himself unable to resist unlimited power and immortality.

God of War: Ghost of Sparta (2010) sees Kratos suffering from new nightmares, which relate to his youth and his younger brother, Deimos, who disappeared as a child. In an effort to unlock his past, Kratos travels to the Temple of Poseidon in the heart of Atlantis. Caring little for Athena's warnings of finding only sorrow on his latest adventure, Kratos seeks out his mother Callisto, who tells him Deimos is still alive and doomed to torture in death's domain. Kratos must travel to death's domain through his home turf of Sparta. Kratos' only path to Sparta is blocked by the city of Atlantis itself and its guardian, Scylla. After an encounter with the titan Thera, Kratos is able to sink Atlantis out of his way. Zeus himself appears - in the guise of a grave digger - and warns Kratos not to mess with the gods in such manner.

Once in Sparta, Kratos' memories re-emerge. During combat training between him and Deimos, Ares and Athena arrived in Sparta to search for a "marked warrior", who was foretold by the oracle to bring the destruction of Olympus. Deimos' strange birthmark across his left eye made the gods believe he was the marked warrior, and so they abducted him and took him to Thanatos. Athena told Ares to spare Kratos, who then went on to get a red tattoo over his left eye in honour of his brother. Enraged with the gods more than ever, Kratos continues his journey, eventually making it back through the sunken Atlantis to Death's Gate.

Deimos professes his hate for the brother who abandoned him and almost kills Kratos before he is recaptured by Thanatos. The god of death drags Deimos to the very same cliff which is Kratos' favourite spot for suicide and drops him off. Kratos saves his brother to earn his respect and gratitude, and the brothers fight Thanatos side by side. Deimos meets his ultimate end rather quick, but Kratos goes on to kill Thanatos, prompting Zeus to remark - perhaps in fear - that he has become death, the destroyer of worlds. Athena begs for Kratos' forgiveness and offers him more godly treats to make up for not telling the truth about Deimos. Kratos returns to his throne on Olympus, promising Athena that the gods would pay for what they've done.

As long as we're speaking of main
antagonists, Zeus is probably the
most epic one ever.
By the opening of God of War II (2007), Kratos has become much worse at his line of work than Ares ever was. He enjoys godhood a little too much, and abuses power the way he sees fit for himself and the "valour" of his beloved Spartan army. Kratos is systematically destroying all of Greece with the exception of Sparta, and before long, his fellow gods have had enough. But, as it was with Ares, there's very little the gods can directly do about this bastard son of theirs. Zeus figures out that Kratos has to be destroyed by his greatest enemy - Kratos himself. He believes that Kratos' greed, violent nature and thirst for more power can quite easily be turned against him... and he's absolutely right.

While Kratos and his army are tearing down the isle of Rhodes, Zeus - disguised as an eagle - drains him of most of his powers and leaves him for dead at the hands of an animated colossus, then telepathically contacts Kratos and tells him that to slay the colossus, he must reach the Blade of Olympus and let the rest of his powers flow into the divine sword. The now mortal Kratos manages to defeat the colossus, but then comes face to face with Zeus, who - the Blade of Olympus in hand - offers Kratos one last chance to pledge his loyalty to the gods. Kratos refuses; Zeus stabs him to death with the sword, and utterly destroys his army.

As Kratos is dragged to the underworld, he is saved by the titan Gaia. Gaia tells Kratos that she raised Zeus, who eventually turned against the titans due to the cruelty of his father Cronos. The titans need Kratos to take Olympus by force, and to do that, Kratos must escape the underworld and seek out the Sisters of Fate, the only beings who can alter time and thus, prevent Kratos' death in the hands of Zeus. Epic encounter after another - with Perseus and Icarus among others - Kratos almost makes it to the Palace of the Fates, but needs Atlas' help to make it over the final threshold. The titan resents him for what he did to him, but after learning of Gaia's mission to reclaim Greece, he helps Kratos to get back on the right track and explains that the Blade of Olympus is the key to defeating Zeus.

Once at the final threshold, Kratos is further angered when he hears that Zeus has went on to destroy Sparta in his absence. Kratos frees a phoenix to make it to the Palace of the Fates. To his dismay, Lahkesis and Atropos do not want anything to do with the fallen god of war, who they believe deserved his fate. Kratos challenges the two sisters to a fight to the death, during which they go as far as to try to alter the outcome of his battle against Ares. Kratos finally manages to kill the sisters and continues on to the third one, Clotho, who controls the Loom of Fate. He uses the gigantic Clotho's very own traps to kill her, and uses the Loom to return to the moment of Zeus' ultimate betrayal.

Kratos takes Zeus by surprise and fights him with the Blade of Olympus. Athena finally intervenes and tells Kratos to stop, for Zeus' death would mean the destruction of Olympus, and ultimately, the end of the world. Kratos cares little for the world in contrast to his personal vendetta, and prepares for the final blow, which he ultimately delivers to Athena, who sacrifices herself for the greater good and to allow the wounded Zeus to escape. In her dying moment, Athena tells Kratos that he is actually Zeus' son, which also makes him a brother to Athena and Ares. By killing Ares, Kratos aroused previously unseen fear in Zeus, fear that Kratos would betray him, just as he betrayed his father Cronos.

With no hope of reaching Zeus from where he is now, Kratos returns to the Loom Chamber and travels back in time to the Great War of gods and titans, fetching the still able titans to his aid to conquer and tear down Olympus. Massive trembling interrupts a meeting between Zeus, his children and brethren in Olympus' great hall. Hitching a ride on Gaia's massive back, Kratos leads the titans up the mountain wall, and tells his father that he brings forth the destruction of Olympus.

There is no doubt that the boss fight against Cronos the
titan is one of my favourite boss fights ever...
God of War III (2010) begins from where the previous game ended. Poseidon, the god of the ocean, who holds a personal grudge against Kratos for sinking Atlantis, volunteers for pest control and attacks Kratos and Gaia. Kratos makes his way across Gaia to reach and reveal Poseidon's true form, and kills him by first beating him to well over half-death, and plucking his eyes out. Poseidon's death causes the oceans to flood. Kratos and Gaia continue their seemingly victorious climb, until they are forced to fall back. Gaia removes some dead weight by betraying Kratos, saying that the "revenge" he has been after for so long was never his, but the revenge of the titans, and that Kratos had never been more than a pawn in the war of gods and titans. As Kratos falls to his death, he reminisces on all he has done, and how his soul would never rest until he gets his revenge.

After taking a dip in the River Styx, the weakened Kratos encounters the spirit of Athena, who surprisingly offers her aid to Kratos, to once again make it back to the land of the living, and tells him of the Flame of Olympus, quelling which would weaken Zeus enough for Kratos to be able to finally kill him. The first step on Kratos' long path to Olympus is to kill Hades, the god of death who now owns his soul. With some reluctant help from the smith god Hephaestus, Kratos is able to make his way to Hades' chamber. Hades recounts Kratos' sins of killing his niece, nephew and finally, his "beloved" wife, before attacking him. Ultimately besting him in the seemingly impossible battle, Kratos releases the souls of the underworld, further capitalizing on the chaos in Greece. Finally back on Olympus, Kratos finds the suffering Gaia and confronts her for her actions against him. Gaia pleads Kratos for forgiveness and tries to convince him to help her once again; in response, Kratos severs her arm, allowing HER to fall to HER death for a change.

Kratos next witnesses an encounter between the titan Perses and Helios, the god of the sun. After taking care of the titan, Kratos crashes Helios' chariot. The dying Helios pleads Kratos to show him mercy, claiming he hasn't forgotten how he somewhat unselfishly saved him from Atlas back in the day, before attempting to blind Kratos with the power of the sun. Kratos rips Helios' head straight off his shoulders, killing the sun god and bringing darkness upon the world. He then uses the power of the sun still within Helios' severed head to make progress.

Kratos finds the Flame of Olympus, but to his surprise, he learns that the Flame is actually only a barrier - a barrier devised to contain Pandora's Box, the very same weapon he used against Ares. Athena appears and tells Kratos that the only key to quelling the flame is Pandora herself, the entity in form of a little girl Kratos has already encountered during his journey a few times, but ignored her, out of his guilt of killing and abandoning his daughter. Hermes, the messenger of the gods, turns up to mock Kratos. After a long chase, Kratos catches up to Hermes and cuts off his legs, gaining the shoes which graced him with his speed. Hermes' death causes plague to fall all over Greece.

...if you don't consider this encounter a boss fight, that is.
Kratos seeks an audience with his "stepmother", the goddess Hera, who has nothing but drunken hatred to offer to Kratos, and for her own entertainment, she arranges a duel between him and her son - Kratos' half-brother Hercules. After a long fight, Kratos is able to trap Hercules under the corrupt floor of the Forum, and repeatedly - literally - punches Hercules in the face until he has no face left. Kratos then encounters Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who reveals to somewhat align herself with Kratos due to his "wonderful assets", and advises him through the Hyperion Gate, back to the underworld, if he wants to find Pandora. Hephaestus is obviously bothered by Kratos appearing out of the Gate that leads to his wife's bedroom, but plays along and offers to build Kratos a new weapon. Out of jealousy and Kratos' pursuit of Hephaestus' beloved daughter Pandora, the smith god attacks Kratos, only to be easily - and brutally - murdered by him. Kratos also does battle with the titan Cronos in Tartarus, gutting him from the inside, before travelling to Hera's puzzling garden to find a way back to the Labyrinth which holds the inventor Daedalus and apparently, Pandora.

Kratos tries his best to just ignore the even more drunken Hera and her insults, but finally comes to a boiling point and puts an end to her, as well as all plant life. He uses Hera's dead body to make it through the gardens and back to the Labyrinth. Upon finding Pandora, Kratos learns that he needs to break the Chain of Balance between the underworld and Olympus, to raise the Labyrinth and help her reach her destiny, the Flame of Olympus. Zeus intervenes and Kratos realizes that Pandora must sacrifice her life to quell the flame, and protests against it for not wanting to see someone he cares for die once again. Kratos is distracted by a brief engagement with Zeus, which gives Pandora the chance to work against Kratos' wishes.

Kratos finds Pandora's Box empty, and attacks the taunting Zeus. Suddenly Gaia appears with intent to kill them both. Kratos and Zeus continue their battle inside Gaia, and Kratos finally manages to stab Zeus against Gaia's heart, apparently killing them both. The spirit of Zeus attacks Kratos and interrupts his great escape, after which Kratos loses consciousness. During a journey through his own disturbed psyche, Kratos comes to with the help of the spirits of his wife and Pandora, and realizes all he ever needed to do was to forgive himself. He beats Zeus to death, plunging the world into complete chaos.

Athena appears, revealing her true intentions when she helped Kratos escape the underworld. With all the gods dead, she could rebuild the world and become its elder goddess. All she needs is whatever it is Kratos found inside Pandora's Box. When Kratos says the Box was empty, Athena realizes that when he opened the Box to fight Ares, he released the evils of the world on the gods, making Zeus insane, and the power of hope - stored in the box by Athena - on himself. Athena then demands Kratos to return that power. Kratos responds by saying his revenge is all that matters, and stabs himself with the Blade of Olympus, releasing hope to the surviving mankind instead of the hands of a god. Angry and disappointed, Athena leaves Kratos for dead and declares that mankind wouldn't know what to do with such a power.

A while later, a trail of blood is shown leading from the abandoned Blade of Olympus to the edge of the suicide bluffs, making a statement that the story ends where it began.

God of War: Ascension tells the story of how Kratos fought the three Furies to break free of his blood oath to Ares, before he became the champion of the gods.


Like I previously stated, getting God of War: Ascension was a no-brainer, just as much of a no-brainer as the thought that it would probably not be the greatest God of War game ever, but there's a standard to it, a standard met even by my least favourite God of War game 'til now - Ghost of Sparta. I pre-ordered the game back in November when I finally got around to buying God of War III which I had already finished ages ago, and this time I was actually aiming to get the expensive Collector's Edition, but since it was already sold out, I had to settle with "just" the Special Edition of the game, which comes in a stylish metal box with a see-through slipcase that might be even more stylish, the game's epic soundtrack (in a dumb format, though), a few avatars and multiplayer DLC.


I agree with almost everything I've seen written down about God of War: Ascension thus far - if you've read any of the online reviews, I hope I can tell you something new about the game once I get started with the review. Also, I feel a little torn about the conclusive ratings given to the game - they're not exactly what I've had in mind for the last four or five in-game hours. I'm definitely going to see the game to the very end before passing my final judgment, although it seems I'm at the very final threshold of the single-player campaign and have seen just about everything there is to see - a lot of good stuff, a lot of random stuff, but nothing sincerely bad, I can tell you that right now.


The only thing I can promise you is that the next review will be of God of War: Ascension. I have a few reviews written already, and one HUGE marathon coming up after them, in the vein of Disney and Star Wars. This was the perfect moment for me to announce it, and I strongly advise all you "true nerds" stay tuned, this is going to be something sincerely awesome and I actually find it disturbing that I haven't thought of it before. With pizza and beer in hand, I sat down to watch a random classic movie from Netflix yesterday when the thought hit me, and it was fucking grand.

First things first, though - back to Ascension. I believe the review could be up as early as tomorrow morning, but depending on today's work schedule and the nature of my tasks, I could be extremely tired by the time I get home, so I can't really promise anything else besides that the review will be up within three, four days. I have one unrelated review that is completely done, and I will publish it simultaneously with the review of Ascension, so don't miss either one of them - this other review is also quite epic, something I've been asked to do for a while. Two or three more games after these, and I'm ready to begin with the marathon I told you about, and once again, sincerely, it might be my favourite marathon of all time - I've done a lot of them, epic ones, so if your curiosity is not piqued, I'm sorry to admit I don't know how to pique it then. :)

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