Building A More Human Kratos
When you think of Kratos, you probably don’t immediately think of his humanity. I mean, the qualities we think of as the most human—compassion, empathy, weakness, etc.—have been purged from this big ashy fellow as the God of War series progressed across two home consoles and a handheld one.
Nonetheless, Kratos’ humanity is something the developers wanted to touch on a bit in God of War Ascension, or at least we can assume so based on the live action trailer they showed us at a recent Sony event in Hollywood. The trailer, which you may have seen by now, shows Kratos embracing his daughter before she turns to ash, which clings to his skin.
As a prequel, Ascension takes place about six months to a year after the death of Kratos’ wife and daughter. The game begins with Kratos in chains, a prisoner of the Furies because of an oath he had apparently broken.
I got to pick up the game at this point and play through about the first half hour of it. From what I played, Kratos doesn’t seem any less rage-filled than in previous games, but, as a younger warrior, his fighting style is definitely more fluid.
If you’ve grown comfortable with the God of War series by this point, Ascension still has that classic feel to it. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t tweaks to the gameplay. For example, remember how in the old games, there were always those circle button prompts over enemies’ heads to allow you to do finishing moves? Well, that’s been overhauled, allowing circle to now be another attack button. The light and heavy attacks of God of Wars past are still present, but the circle button now allows Kratos to perform a “physical attack,” which is basically a weaponless attack—usually a kick.
However, Kratos can now disarm his foes and pick up their weapons, which can be used in conjunction with his Blades via the “physical attack” button. This means he can seamlessly move between the Blades and, say, a sword he’d picked up without breaking a combo. It also means he can grapple an enemy with his Blades and then bash them with another weapon without having to release his hold on them, which again is helpful when it comes to keeping combos flowing seamlessly.
And not breaking combos is a lot more important than it may sound, because it builds Kratos’ Rage meter, and, as we all know, Rage is basically what makes Kratos tick. I talked to Mark Simon, Lead Designer on the game, and he explained it to me like this: “The cool thing about Rage is that the challenge in this game in combat scenarios will be [for] you to keep your combo going. If you get interrupted, you will get frustrated, because… the enemies just stop you from getting to your Rage. And that’s essentially what he’s working towards the entire time you’re in combat scenarios. That’s good. That will make you getting the higher combos harder, and that was conscious to us by our combat designers.”
And aside from the awesome gameplay that comes from the circle button’s new tricks, this also means that the user interface looks cleaner, allowing players to retain a stronger focus on the game’s incredible visual design. In Simon’s words: “Well, we wanted to get rid of the thing that happened right in the middle of the screen, because it just robbed from what was the awesome animation or action that was happening right in front of you.”
And, from the bit I played, the action is intense and the set pieces are gigantic. For example, one scenario I encountered had me inside of a building that had been picked up by a Titan. As I fought slews of enemies inside this building, the Titan kept moving it, rotating the room and throwing off my balance.
Additionally, there are scenes where Kratos will slide down steep slopes at remarkable speeds, and the player will be in control the entire time.
Oh, and the player being in control is something the developers have thought very hard about. Simon was excited to tell me: “People are like, ‘Is this gameplay? Should I be hitting buttons?” And then they hit square and they’re like, “Holy s***, I’m attacking that guy right now! I thought I was in a movie!’” He later remarked, “We want the player to kind of always be engaged, so that even when they think they might be in a movie, they’re actually doing stuff.”
To top it all off, there are once again wall and ceiling sections where Kratos will get to climb, and those are looking smoother than ever. Simon told me, “Kratos, the way he climbed around before, worked for the time, but it was very Heart of Darkness. It was flat. Flat ceiling, flat wall. And that limited the environments we built.” This time around, though, the climbing sections feel a lot more natural, and even almost Uncharted-ish. Now, for anyone getting ready to lynch me for comparing God of War to Uncharted, I actually did bring the comparison up, and Simon seemed perfectly happy with it.
He also glowed with pride as he explained how important the work of God of War’s “unbelievably anal, smega-talented animation group” (yes, he actually said “smega”) was to the project. Essentially, there job was to “make it look like it’s not just natural, but like it would be an action that Kratos would make.”
Clearly a lot of work has been put into making this feel like a God of War game at its heart, but still feel like an upgrade at the same time. While I only got to play it for a half hour, what I’ve seen points to a game that accomplishes this. I guess we’ll find out for sure next month when we get to pop the game into our PS3s.