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God of War: Ascension's campaign gutted & exposed

God of War: Ascension's campaign is loud, epic and every bit as violent as you'd expect. Phil Owen goes hands-on and interviews Sony Santa Monica director Todd Papy on this brash new outing.

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If you've played God of War 3, you will know what to expect from the opening of God of War: Ascension. It's big, it's very loud, it's quite epic and it features layers upon layers of action. Within is a boss battle between Kratos and a many-armed giant – a prisoner of the furies, like Kratos at the start of the game - who has a city built on him, and it is exactly as bombastic and ambitious as that  sounds.

As a skeptic of the hack-and-slash genre, even I was impressed by the scope of this opening level as I played through it. Sony Santa Monica have crafted something truly spectacular here, and it is every bit the match of God of War 3's beginning.

But God of War 3 peaked at the start, and the rest of the game could never quite live up to that standard. I was concerned, then, that we might face a similar situation here. I spoke with game director Todd Papy about that very subject.

"It took two designers probably a year-plus working on that, to get that right," Papy told me, to emphasize what kind of work it takes to put together a level as large and as complicated as Ascension's opening. He was then quick to note another section in the game that he believe also hits that mark.

"We have another level in the game that is just as complicated, and the guy's been on it for two-plus years. We're talking about 45 minutes of gameplay that he's just going through and massaging, because it is a technical nightmare. It's over the top. It is huge moments. It's a different way of doing Titan tech than we've done."

But you can't, of course, just fill your game to the brim with wild, maniacal set pieces, and not just because of budget and time limitations, Papy pointed out.

"There's a point where that stops feeling huge and epic, and basically you need to take it back down and build it back up - be able to have those crescendo moments," he remarked. "Otherwise, everything just becomes noise after a while."

Papy also said that the way the story unfolds in Ascension might alleviate my previously stated concerns.

"We're trying to make sure this one feels more like an adventure," he told me. "In [God of War] I and II, you always felt like you were going on this long quest, versus III, where you were going up and down the mountain, and it didn't have that same kind of adventure feel."

In any case, the only thing I am able to judge at this point in time is what I played, and, as I said, what I played was quite excellent and fun, and the scale was as large as what you could hope for in a God of War game. It also managed to give me a chance to try out some of the new battle mechanics.

Key among the new features is how you can tether foes, which allows you to do all sorts of things with them, who should be, after all, your playthings. Early on I grabbed a hold of a bug and threw it at its compatriots, which resulted in a surprising but delightful explosion. In another instance, I jumped into the air, tethered a human-bug hybrid, and then slammed him down on other foes. This is what the developers refer to as “weaponizing” your enemies. It's an enthralling new wrinkle to combat.

I also got to play around a bit with what the team referred to as "world weapons," which you can steal from your enemies and use against them. These add a nice new layer to combat and provide players with new combos to try out, and they are easily accessible from the circle button.

Then there is the revamped rage meter, which fills up a lot faster now. I know everybody is probably excited about that one.

I discussed these additions with Papy, and he shed some light on one other change I did not experience, which is how Ascension focuses on Kratos's blades rather than giving you the option of using other weapons that you unlock.

"We wanted to focus everything around the blades in this game, and so we have these elements that are infused in the blades and actually switch the way that you play," he commented. "So, for example, the fire blades that you saw at E3, those will stun enemies faster. So you can get that and pop that grenade into them with L3 and R3, stun 'em and then from there you can weaponize them.

Papy also mentioned ice and electric elements, and he said the point of including these is to give players more freedom in their approach to combat. “We wanted to change the way that you enter into a level or into a fight. Basically think about 'How do I want to dismantle this? How do I want to take it down?'”

Another thing I did not see in the demo was the less dickish side of Kratos that we have been told about. In this opening level, in fact, Kratos did not speak aside from letting out an unintelligible roar. So I asked Papy what it really means for Kratos to be more humane.

"He's still angry," Papy noted. "We wanted to show a little bit more of the family side to him, and then also show him when he's a little bit younger. For example at E3 we showed where these three guys are running toward you. He actually pushes a guy out of the way... Versus him taking the guy and saying, 'OK, I'm going to take you and I'm gonna bash your head in against the wall.' That's what I mean by 'more humane.' You'll see him reach out and console somebody who's dying. It's those types of moments."

There it is. Kratos actually will show both restraint and a bit of a sensitive side. That might be the most substantial change of all in this edition of God of War.

You can follow Phil's rather lovely Twitter chatter over at his feed @philrowen.

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