Darren Franich
June 07, 2012 AT 09:16 PM EDT

The Game: A prequel to the gore-splattered Greek myth trilogy which follows a younger, thinner, less all-encompassingly destructive Kratos on a mission to un-sell his soul. In a first for the series, Ascension adds in a new multiplayer system.  (Available exclusively on the PlayStation 3 on March 12, 2013.)

What We Played/Saw: We saw a snippet of the single-player storyline, in which Kratos sets down on the island of Delos and fights various creatures, including an Elephantaur (think a Minotaur, but more elephanty) and the sea monster Charybdis. Quick, guess which one of those monsters doesn’t come from Homer’s The Odyssey!

The Good: As a huge fan of the God of War trilogy, I approached Ascension with overflowing skepticism. I don’t like prequels, especially prequels that seem specifically designed to extend the life of a franchise that had a perfectly fine conclusion. And I’m suspicious when classically single-player games suddenly feel the need to grab that sweet, sweet multiplayer cash. But from what I saw, Ascension looks like a worthy new game, and in the single-player version at least, the developers have made several smart decisions. First and foremost, they’ve removed the quick time events in favor of a more organic control system. (No longer does every execution come down to “Hit Square! Now X! Now circle, circle, circle!”) The combat system has plenty of intriguing new wrinkles, including the ability to switch between weapons mid-attack.

But the real revelation was the multiplayer. You take control of a follower of a specific god and attack other players in teams of four. You can customize your character: His weapons, his armor, which god he worships. We played “Capture the Flag” game on a map overlooked by a looming cyclops named Polyphemus — another Odyssey reference, boom! — and the game played out like a curiously addictive mix of strategy and button-masher. The developers are promising a host of different game modes. Ascension‘s multiplayer feels like more than just a cash grab — it almost seems like the whole reason for Ascension‘s existence.

The Not-So-Good: I happen to think that God of War III is one of the very, very genuinely great conclusions to a trilogy. (Not just for vidoeogames. For me, it’s up there with Return of the King and Toy Story 3.) And nothing I saw in the single-player campaign led me to really believe that prequelizing this franchise was a good idea. The original trilogy drew much of its power from the sheer lunatic momentum of the storyline — the sense that Kratos could (and occasionally did) die at any moment. It’s hard to see how a storyline set in Kratos’ early years will be able to live up to that marker.

Excitement Level: There’s a lot of chatter at this year’s E3 about the industry’s anxiety, and the uncertain path forward. But it’s worth pointing out that the end of a console generation can often be incredible fertile, as developers push the existing systems to their limit before the end. I walked away from Ascension thinking that the game won’t be the best entry in the franchise, but it just might be the most refined and experimental. On a scale of 1 to 10, GoW: A ranks as an 8.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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