For nearly ten years the God of War franchise has been a staple of the PlayStation brand. First arriving on the PS2 in an almost unassuming fashion given it’s arrival in the lifecycle of the console and it’s somewhat humbled origins, God of War has since gone on to become the face of the PlayStation brand as well as being one of the premier titles in the action genre.
The saga of Kratos may have seemed like it came to a close based on the ending featured in God of War 3, yet here we are on the cusp of Kratos’ latest journey in God of War: Ascension. Opting to take the prequel route first established in God of War: Chains of Olympus, the team at Sony Santa Monica aren't resting on their laurels as they're continuing their strive for excellence - both in respect to setting the standard for graphics on the PlayStation 3 as well as pushing the envelope in the action department.
We’ve only seen a small taste of the single-player adventure Sony Santa Monica is crafting for God of War: Ascension, but I was lucky enough to chat with Jason de Heras (Combat Designer at SSM) last Summer to discuss what we can expect from the single-player campaign. While the interview itself may have been conducted some months ago, I thought now would be a good time to share it with y’all since we’re a month and a half away from Kratos once again showing us that mere mortals should not be meddled with - even if they’re up against powerful Gods.
Ian Fisher: Longtime God of War fans obviously adore Kratos since he’s a fun character and because actor T.C. Carson has done a tremendous job portraying him for the last few years. However, there has been a feeling amongst fans and gamers that Kratos is simply a one-dimensional angry dude. So what has the team at Sony Santa Monica done to add more depth to Kratos and show that he is indeed a man with true emotions?
Jason de Heras: Since it is a prequel and he’s still trying to figure out the horrible deed he did of killing his wife there’s still a humanity in him obviously. So a lot of the story and the events in the game are going to be tailored made to show that. He is going to get angry and raged out, but that’s only going to be against the enemies that are trying to kill him and not against civilians.
You can see in the demo that he actually shoves a guy away so he’s not just about wanton killing; he has a soul in this game. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get angry since we actually have a full Rage Mode system in this game but that’s only against the monsters that want to kill him.
Ian: One new element of the combat is that a yellow or red arrow like icon appears over enemies once they’re in a stun state. Can you talk a bit about that system and how it works within the game?
Jason: In past God of War games there was the giant circle icon and we’re going to remove that icon and present two different Halo's is what we’re calling it. The gold one is tied with our stun system so any enemy in the game you can stun them into the gold halo and weaponize them. So the little goats you see in the demo, you can pick them up and use them as a battering ram. And the giant goat, the one commanding them, if he gets a gold Halo you can pick him up, spin him around and toss him. So that’s what the sub-weapons are kind of for in this game, to promote those gold Halo's and do more enemy interactions with the weapons as opposed to just blade attacks.
A sampling of the new combat within God of War: Ascension
Ian: Another prominent element in the game is that Kratos can pick up items within the world. In the demo we saw Kratos pick up a sword and a spear within the environment and then use both of those weapons in the stage. Will situations like those be throughout the game or will they appear at very specific moments?
Jason: When you saw him pick up the sword at the beginning of the demo that’s the big emphasis we want to show with this game: the world weapon system. He can pick up weapons in the environment and take weapons from the enemies if they have them and use them directly in combat with the Circle button. So we moved the throw button from Circle to R1. So the throw system is with R1 and the sub-weapon system is on the Circle button so it’s right there with the blades and you can go back and forth and mix and match combos for the first time.
Ian: On the topic of weapons, is the total number of weapons in the game be double what we saw in God of War 3 or will it be a small amount that simply doubles the awesome factor in their visual design and combat possibilities?
Jason: There’ll be six sub-weapons and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take those and use them against enemies along with his blades.
Ian: A major surprise that has been revealed is that Kratos will be able to manipulate the environment with a new ability. Is that something Kratos will acquire early on in the game or will it appear later on after a few levels have been completed?
Jason: The Life Cycle ability allows him to manipulate objects in the environment, make them go forward or reverse in terms of the time of their status. You can make them go from pristine or make them go back to destruction. You can also do that to enemies, kind of slow them down a little bit and have them in this suspended state of animation.
An example of the Life Cycle ability in action.
Ian: Will it be possible to use the Life Cycle ability against bosses or will it be exclusively used on standard enemies?
Jason: You can do it to bosses but they may not get into this current reaction and be completely immobilized but there will still be an affect on them.
Ian: Can you talk a bit about the finer points of the Rage system and how that works? I assume it’s a charged based system but do specific attacks need to be done in order to use it?
Jason: In previous God of War games we had the God and Titan Modes where you had a meter and stored that until you activate it. In this game we’re still going to have a Rage Meter, but the better you perform and the more people you hit it’s going to fill up automatically and once it gets to the top it’ll automatically enhance your blade attacks.
Whatever element you have (there’ll be four in the game: fire, ice, and so on), there’ll modify your blade attacks with special properties. So if you get hit for instance and your Rage Meter is all the way up it’ll go down a little bit but it’ll allow you to get your momentum back. So you’re not going to lose everything like the combo counter where if you get hit that’s it. In this game you’ll have a chance to get back into the fight.
Ian: When God of War: Ascension was first announced I think a lot of the fans and gamers in general were excited for it since it’s always good to hear the franchise is coming back. But one thing that worried people, at least initially, were the comments that the single-player adventure in Ascension would be somewhat shorter compared to the adventure provided in God of War 3. So what sort of mindset is the development team taking as far as laying the foundations of the single-player campaign and pushing the over-the-top tone the God of War series is known for?
Jason: The goal for the over-the-topness of the combat is to be more cinematic in all aspects. You can see in the demo Kratos does some new magic moves where the camera gets real close and you see his new model and the more advanced facial animations. In the past, magic moves specifically haven’t been showcased with the presentation so usually you would see him from afar doing shield attacks or shooting a giant fireball. But now we’re purposely trying to get close because it’s a pretty amazing model.
Ian: Yeah the skin shader on his model is just superb. The last game looked amazing but Ascension is just looking simply ridiculous so far in how good it looks.
Jason: All this detail has gone into the textures, the lighting, his muscles, the veins in his arm. We have to at least keep the standard of always trying to push it.
Ian: This single-player stage is rather cool looking since it has an old-school God of War vibe but exactly when does it appear in Ascension? Is this one of the earlier levels we’ll visit or does it appear later in the game?
Jason: This is kind of half way through the game. This is the city of Delos where Kratos pretty much figures out what he needs to do to break his oath to Ares. So he’s kind of halfway in the game. The tentacle boss is kind of a hint to one of the Furies’ that is the main antagonist of the game. There are three sisters and in Greek mythology the Furies punish people who do horrendous crimes and actions. Kratos obviously killed his wife and kid so the Furies are kind of the onslaught against him.
The Elephantaur in action against Kratos.
Ian: One of the new enemies that has been revealed so far, and is on display in the demo, is the new elephant creature which is a departure compared to traditional creatures such as the Cyclops and Gorgon. Since elephants are prominent in Hindu mythology, such as Ganesh, has the development team looked at mythological creatures from other cultures to draw inspiration from and put a unique God of War spin on them?
Jason: We’re always trying to put our own spin on Greek mythology even though the elephant isn’t necessary part of that. He’s kind of our new representation of the Minotaur so that’s why we call him the Elephantaur.
Ian: Since this is an earlier game in Kratos’ timeline he sports a slightly younger look. So besides that have there been any major design changes to the world and perhaps any Gods that appear to show that this takes place earlier in the God of War timeline?
Jason: There are some things we still can’t talk about in terms of the bosses and the Gods, but there will be whole new mini-games and items along with the sub-weapons and Rage Mode.
Ian: With this being the fourth entry in the God of War franchise that Sony Santa Monica has developed and with Todd Papy leading the charge having been a veteran on the team, is there a feeling of pressure due to knowing what the fans want yet still keeping it fresh to appease them at the same time?
Jason: We always listen to our fans and we would be stupid not to. Kratos is the heart and soul of the franchise and he’s kind of the face of Sony so we have to keep what’s fundamental to him. Our big thing is the multiplayer so we injected his fundamentals into playing against your friends so that’s kind of our titan moment for Ascension. But for single-player as well we’re trying to improve the combat, offer more flexibility, and introduce some fresh things like the Rage system and button-less mini-games. So hopefully with that and the core fundamentals of the combat fans will still see the familiar stuff but still have a freshness to it.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, however limited it may have been, it’s evident that the team at Sony Santa Monica are once again delivering another classic God of War experience. This may be fourth core entry in the franchise helmed by Sony Santa Monica, but the additions made to both the presentation and combat has indeed added a fresh feeling to the game without suddenly betraying the elements that gamers have loved for nearly a decade.
God of War: Ascension will be released on March 12.