Let us, for a moment, take time out of our busy days - full of the rat race and blogs-a-day and what-not - to discuss God of War: Ascension. On one hand, I am a huge God of War fan, but on the other, I'm getting some weird vibes from the newest chapter in the tormented life of Kratos - perhaps the most tormented chapter yet! YEAH VENGEANCE!
I get it - God of War is no longer hip. It's one of those games that it now all "QTEs suck" and "Kratos is just all shouts and grunts!" It's the video game version of JJ Abrams and Len Flare cracks. Weehoo. Anyways, what I'm not a fan of is the seemingly endless drilling into Kratos' backstory - with what I assume is any chance possible to justify a guy who is so pissed off that he kills gods.
Let us not forget that to make prequel to the first God of War, you automatically have to match the feats of the first game, if not the other games in the series - and that makes a dangerous feedback loop that really doesn't jive with what unfolds when Kratos sets off to kill Ares. For one, killing a god in the original game is a nearly impossible feat - an act that requires an epic quest to find and use Pandora's Box.
Yet, in Chains of Olympus, which happens before the first game, Kratos kills Persephone - and, depending on your level of dedication to Greek lore, Kratos at worst kills a demi-god, and at best kills a full-on god prior to going on the impossible mission to take down Ares... Oh, and he also bests the Titan, Atlas before tackling the Hydra. Are there special rules regarding killing Gods that we are not privy to? If you're not Zeus' sibling, are you way easier to kill? How many other mortals (or, as we now know Kratos as, demi-gods) can run around this world slaying gods - so long as they're D-listers in Olympus? Suddenly, Kratos' backstory is way more badass than the original game would have you believe. He walks into God of War with the blood of Olympus on his hands long before Athena sends him after Pandora's Box.
Okay... So he's a bit of a dick.
Even God of War 2 (which is my personal fave in the series) keeps the diecide to a strong minimum, with Kratos really only spilling the blood of other characters in Greek mythology. It isn't until he accidently runs Athena through with the Blade of Olympus that the game scores Kratos' second professional God kill - but is it really second anymore? Otherwise, he just beats the shit out of Zeus. Unless, of course, you take into account Ghost of Sparta, which take place between GoW1 and GoW2. Ghost of Sparta is an excellent game, and possibly second in ranking for favorite GoW games. It's like the perfect mix of GoW2 and the gameplay elements added in GoW3. But I digress. In Ghost of Sparta, Kratos kills Thantos, the God of Death. The God of Death. That's some serious shit - but it's before he takes out Athena. The prequels, at this point, are starting to make the takedown of Ares seem like another day at the office for Kratos - and that's the problem.
If it took Pandora' Box to take out Ares, then how did Kratos muster the power to kill a god prior to acquiring the Box and then do it again as he casted his God status aside to earn a measure of revenge against Thantos? It either does or does not require The Box and it's power within (Spoiler: Hope is in the Box, and Spoiler: that's fucking lame). You can't have it both ways.
God of War 3 is a fun game - a great game - full of striking visuals and some satisfying, visceral combat. However, it's also off-the-rails in it's destuction of Olympus. What was once an act that would be classified as "futile", Kratos tears gods assunder with almost effortless ease. His God status is full revoked by the time GoW3 rolls around, so how does he do it? How does he kill so many fucking gods in GoW3 when it was so unthinkable in GoW1!? God of War 3 did what it was supposed to do, what everyone expected it to do, and it did it well. It's hard not to enjoy the way Kratos handles his endless wellspring of angst and torment in the confines of the game, but then came that ending. Kratos sacrifies himself, he forgives himself, and we as a species are gifted with hope...ugh. But yeah.
Ripping a head off. You never knew it was this easy.
If anything, I'd like to see what comes next, after Kratos drags his bleeding body into the sea. Specifically, I'd like to see if God of War can tap into the more Christian leanings it's hinted at. Since God of War 2, I've been very curious about the ways the game hints at Kratos' actions leading into events tied to Christianity. There's the murals towards the end of GoW 2 that show the fall of Olympus, and lead to a final panel that shows what is clearly the Wise Men following the Star of Bethlehem. There's also all the ways the death of each god in GoW 3 mirrors a plague descibed in the Bible - darkness, great flood, pestilence, famine, etc. I do not believe this is coincidence. Instead, we get Ascension - not just another prequel, but now THE prequel, taking place before any of the other God of War games. Now we get to see an even more raw nerve in Kratos. I suspect the angle is make him more human - more relatable. But that's ridiculous. Kratos is, as Zeus (as the gravedigger) descibes him in Ghost of Sparta - Death...the destroyer of worlds. The guy singlehandedly tears down an entire infrastructure of Belief. I can't relate with him - I can only enjoy using him as a means to enjoy some fun gaming.
Also, God of War 3 features a very different Athena. One that has, herself, ascended. She appears as a ghost to Kratos, but it's clear that either 1) she's gone bad or 2) she's not really Athena at all. Her actions at the end of the game are outright bizarre. I feel like there's more to what unfolded than her fading away after Kratos gives us all that greatest of gifts...sigh...Hope. I'd like to know what Athena's deal was...
As a matter of full disclosure, I am buying this game, likely Day One. That being said, I'm more than concerned about how the game's story is going to unfold. What more do I need to know about Kratos prior to the events of the first game? How much more do I have to know about the death of his wife and daughter. More importantly, how much more is there to know? How much more can we expand on how Kratos started out on his path of endless vengeance? Why not go somewhere new, somewhere beyond where we've been before. The first game did an excellent job of explaining why Kratos is out to kill Ares, and what happened to his family. I don't know how much more can be told.
Also, as I mentioned, since a new game requires it to deliver bigger and more extreme situations and combat than the last, how does whatever happens in Ascension gel with everything else in the series? Taking out the Hydra in God of War 1 is a classic moment - as is killing Chronos in God of War 3. Just bigger and more crazy things to fight and murder. So what about Ascension? If Kratos wipes out some skyscraper-sized beast or similar foe in the game, or *sigh* kills another God prior to Ares, that kind of mutes that clash with the Hydra, or the equally impressive battle against the animated Colossus of Rhodes. "Oh, well I already killed something about 10 times bigger a few years ago, so whatevs."
Also, as a quick aside, can we stop with the alternate weapons? The Blades of Chaos are all that have ever mattered. Ascension has a mechanic where you can use the weapons from foes - but why? Historically, the only good non-Blades weapons in the God of War games are the Nemean Cestus and the Arms of Sparta. Everything else? Pointless.