Earlier in January, the God of War: Ascension Multiplayer Beta was made available to all PlayStation Plus members. It’s been going on for a few weeks now, and although the beta isn’t anywhere near complete, it has given gamers a good idea of what to expect from the finished product. But more than simply giving us a preview of the game’s features, the multiplayer beta is a great way to tell what online multiplayer will feel like once the game finally hits store shelves.
The basic gameplay formula is essentially just a violent variation on rock-paper-scissors. Quick attacks are weak but interrupt slower heavier attacks. Heavy attacks can’t be parried but are easily interrupted by weak attacks. Parries deflect weak attacks, leaving your opponents open, but are crushed by heavy attacks.
Everything else is just a subtle variation on this same formula. Your launcher, for example, is basically just an even slower heavy attack that allows you to follow up with an air combo. Your “delayed quick attack” is a powerful quick attack with slower start up that lets you cover a lot of ground. You can block instead of parry, which is safer but provides less advantage to attack back. Then there are special moves that work on a cooldown, items, magic, and tons of other stuff that give you cool unique abilities such as AOE damage. Still, all of these extra abilities simply augment the simple rock-paper-scissors gameplay.
You might think that this makes the game too easy, but you would be sorely mistaken. Ascension’s multiplayer is as unforgiving as Kratos himself. Veterans (and yes, by “veterans,” I simply mean “people who have been playing this game for a couple weeks”) know the safest strings and the parry timing on every attack. If you come into the multiplayer beta raw and just start mashing, you’ll get parried and killed before you can say “ragequit.”
Once you’ve honed your skills a bit, you start to get used to the flow of gameplay, which involves an interesting dance of parries and dodges interspersed with safe pokes. It almost makes the game feel somewhat like a fighting game, until a third player comes along and wrecks your 1v1 fun. As is always the case in big multiplayer brawlers, opportunism reigns supreme. There is no end to the waves and waves of people who are waiting to steal your hard-earned kill, and when enough clump together in one space, the game can get far more chaotic than it wants to be. It’s far more fun when players are deftly dodging each other’s strikes rather than jumping into a dog pile of backstabbing.
The three modes available were Capture the Flag, Team Favor of the Gods, and Favor of the Gods. Capture the Flag is exactly what it sounds like—no frills here. Favor of the Gods, though, is a strange combination of deathmatch and objective-based modes. Your goal is to score the most points, and you can either do this through simply pummeling your opponents to a bloody paste or by completing various stage objectives. For example, Team Favor of the Gods lets you kill a gigantic Cyclops rather than your opponents. The addition of these extra objectives means that the game doesn’t always devolve into a giant moshpit of slaughter, which is crucial to the game’s pacing.
However, Ascension’s multiplayer suffers from a few flaws that can quickly make it become unbalanced. If one of your teammates drops, for example, you are at a horrendous disadvantage. Having an extra player just makes it too easy for a team to score points. If the match becomes 4 to 3, for example, three team members can easily keep all of the opposing team busy while the fourth simply completes stage objectives to push your team ahead.
The second somewhat unbalanced gameplay element in GOWA Multiplayer is the loadout system. Every character has some simple basic stats like health, magic, elemental power and resist, and physical power and resist. You can change these stats by equipping new weapons, items, armor, and abilities. All can be unlocked in one of three ways. You earn them by leveling up, finding them in stages, or completing some sort of achievement.
The issue is that some weapons, armor, and abilities are just plain better than others. They increase your stats and include no drawback whatsoever. This makes tweaking your loadout in Ascension far different than it is in, say, Call of Duty. Sure, veteran COD players are more powerful than newbies, but they still have to deal with lots of give and take when it comes to assigning weapons and perks. Ascension players, on the other hand, simply equip their strongest weapon of choice and go at it.
That’s not to say there isn’t malleability in the game’s loadout system. You can assign your allegiance to one of four different gods, and this changes your starting stats, weapons, and abilities. You can also equip yourself with different weapon types in order to change your playstyle. You start with a sword which handles a lot like the Sword of Olympus from God of War titles past, but can replace that sword with a slower and stronger warhammer if you wish. Unfortunately, Kratos’ chain blades are disappointingly absent. Here’s hoping they will be added to the final version.
Ascension’s multiplayer, as it stands now, is certainly fun. However, one could argue that its balance strays into goofy territory at times. Luckily, all of the stats and abilities will likely be tweaked by the time the final product comes out. The game also has frequent problems with lag, dropped connections, and seemingly endless wait times when searching for a match. But, once again, this will likely be fixed when the final product releases. At its core, this is a solid multiplayer mode that I can see being incredibly addictive. It still needs work, but it’s certainly on the right track. Here’s hoping that the developers take this feedback to heart and deliver a truly great experience come March.
Angelo M. D’Argenio
Date: January 31, 2013