When Sony announced another game in the God of War franchise, gamers responded with a collective “Duh.” However, after hearing that the game would include multiplayer for the first time, you could almost hear the collective eyebrow raising. With the release of a press only (and eventually PlayStation Plus exclusive) beta, gamers got their first look into the franchise first foray into online competitive gaming. The idea certainly sounds interesting: lead a Greek mortal to glory by mutilating human players instead of demons in arenas inspired by the upcoming prequel, God of War: Ascension.
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The beta begins with the player choosing a particular allegiance to a Greek god. Out of four possible alliances only two, Zeus and Ares, are available with Hades and Poseidon locked out for the time being (there’s also a placeholder for an unknown character that is likely to be occupied by the game’s release). Each god comes with its own set of inherited weapon types and skills to use in combat including damage over time magic and special combo moves. After a brief tutorial to reintroduce God of War’s style of play, the player is whisked to the game lobby where they customize their character before the start of a match. Your character’s appearance and combat efficiency can change by equipping new weapons and armor earned through the completion of Labors (playing a specific match type X number of times, kill Y number of players, etc), seeking out treasures hidden in arenas and by leveling up.
Combat plays exactly what you’d expect from a God of War title. Light and heavy attacks can be strung together through various combinations while throwing in a button specific magical ability is enough to keep the enemy on their toes. Beat down a player enough and they will become stunned, giving you the opening needed to conduct a violent killing move. Blocking and parrying is far more crucial in the multiplayer environment as you’re dealing with human players not governed by AI and program routines, resulting in a rich, dynamic experience. They won’t hang back or set themselves up to trigger a deadly combo. Should they see an opening, you’d best believe they will go for it. As strategic as the game suggests you play, each match quickly descended into a button mashing experience for me, especially when engaged with two or more enemy team members at once.
Multiplayer matches fall within familiar modes such as deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag. Spartans and Trojans are thrown together in a grand melee designed to curry favor with the gods either by slaughtering as many folks possible or capturing enemy zones. The map offered in the beta was more than just a bloody stage as it offered a number of interactive elements. By flipping a switch, you can roast enemy combatants that wander too close to your capture point or impale them using a bed of spikes. There’s also a captured Titan that will take potshots at all nearby players. At one point during a match, a magical spear landed on the battlefield causing all of the players to race toward the weapon and fight over who would grab it and slay the beast (resulting in a large point boost).
Despite the familiarity of the experience, Santa Monica Studios has engineered a well grounded multiplayer experience that emphasizes everything that made God of War a memorable experience: sheer, wanton brutality. There’s a raw, animal-like spirit that manifests itself at the start of each match as players, hungry for violence, come crashing together in a violent storm of blood and steel. That being said, I can’t say I had an enjoyable experience. I’m able to (mostly) hold my own in most multiplayer games but it seemed like I was consistently paired against players who were more powerful or adept at their character’s moveset than I was. It didn’t help that the special effects make actions difficult to see and interpret when surrounded by a group of players. The multiplayer is still in beta so there’s still time for improvements and tweaking however I am left feeling underwhelmed by it all.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.