The sun's rays make his complexion seem gold, and highlight the red painted markings. His heavy breathing proclaims he's ready for battle - and it ready for him.
An awful, one-eyed horror is revealed, saliva flying out of the monster's mouth. Even the bravest of men would have retreated. Our hero stands alone. Raises his sword, pulls down a helmet forged from the remains of other defeated creatures. Readies for battle.
But then something unexpected. Something never seen in previous tales. Another armed warrior enters, and together the two work as one to defeat their enemy. A few seconds later, stone tiles bleed red with gore.
This is still God of War. Still one of the rawest and most brutal interpretations of Greek mythology ever. But something is different. Neither of these heroes are the tormented warrior Kratos. These newcomers are anonymous; two avatars under control of members from Santa Monica Studio.
God of War has gone multiplayer.
My first thought is that co-op has finally come to God of War. But oh so wrong I was. The warriors two continue through gorges and dilapidated corridors and spill out onto a great battlefield, where they're joined by two more, also garbed in red. Across the way await four blue-painted warriors, equally as battle-ready. An epic struggle commences.
These brave souls are not alone in the arena. In the treacherous sandstorm watches a hulking monstrosity large enough to take on a titan.
It is none other than Polyphemus, the Cyclops. Luckily, this beast is chained by the gods, but there is nothing to stop him from attacking the soldiers who are stupid enough to approach him.
However, Polyphemus is also the goal, with the gods rewarding whichever army manages to slay him. To do so, the monster must first be tamed even further, by way of two points in the arena. One Red charges to one of these points and starts pulling a huge lever to tighten the chains of the cyclops further, weakening the one-eyed creature for the moment.
Elsewhere the bloody battle continues. Many wield swords, that can turn into two small daggers, than by way of attached chains can be swung much like the legendary blades of Kratos. Others are armed with huge hammers, the impact of which cause surroundings to shake . We watch some combine their attacks to cause maximum damage to their opponents. It's controlled chaos.
The blue-painted team fight hard into to give up first place, but it's already too late. The reds have hit the two points, and draw the attention of Zeus, who casts down a might thunderbolt for them to use.
One of the red men pick up the enchanted weapon and all four warriors approach the now weak Polyphemus. The man with the thunderbolt weapon jump up on the beast, while the others try to hold it still with their chains. Something that quite possibly could be a cooperative Quick Time Event begins, ending with the Cyclops face being torn, with blood spraying in all directions.
And so ends an ordinary round of the game mode Team Execution of God of War: Ascension. Two teams of four players each battling for control of two points on the map, only to assure profits by slaying the huge Cyclops in the middle of the stage. And this is just a small taste of a very ambitious multiplayer component named Champion of the Gods.
Just like Kratos did in the original trilogy, it charts a deadly foot soldier turning invincible god - but this time showing that journey through online deathmatches. After a brief introduction to get you submit to one of four gods (Zeus, Poseidon, Hades and Ares), your allegiance opens up unique armour, weapons, spells, perks and special attacks.
The war god Ares offers, for example, many powerful weapons and attacks, while Hades specializes in dark magic. More options become available as we get closer to a place on Mount Olympus, and by tailoring your hero, you'll gain something similar to an RPG class. Gain magic that gives nearby comrades more health, say, and you've suddenly got a God-Medic.
Multiplayer, and particularly a competitive one, seems like the logical progression for the series, explains lead designer Mark Simon. God of War III was the scale record with all the Titans, and the only way to make it even more impressive was to allow more players to experience these great moments together.
Polyphemus is an example of these moments. The stadium was designed with him in mind, and there will be other stages with entirely different hazards as well. Some of them vary even depending on the game mode in question.
But adapting the series' hallmark battles for multiplayer still required much work. The goal is to get all the players to feel as awesome as Kratos, but keep all abilities balanced.
Clearly, not all weapons are as capable as Blades of Chaos, instead they have specific uses. A sword does great damage against one enemy, while a hammer does weaker damage to more threats simultaneously. The system has the same depth as we have come to expect of the series, and it will have potential for talented players to enter overwhelming situations and win. Game director Todd Papy, who has been around since the series' inception, says that the most important thing is that Ascension still feels like God of War.
It is understandable that Sony only decided to talk about the multiplayer this time around. The company wanted to assure fans that the change wouldn't degrade the overall gaming experience. On the contrary. Santa Monica Studio has grown a lot since God of War III, and much of its labour force has concentrated the multiplayer mode. It simply lets all focus on where they do best, and it bodes well in advance.
But the game's not just multiplayer. There will still be a main campaign that'll have everything that made the previous games in the series (namely Kratos and a whole mythology's worth of creatures to be slaughtered in the name of vengeance). He's no longer a God, but that doesn't mean he can't kick ass.
This new God of War, according to Mark Simon, is just the beginning of what they have planned for the series' future. There is still much left to talk about with Kratos. Likewise, I feel that what we learned today is only the tip of the iceberg that is God of War: Ascension.
Potential could raise expectation up to the heights of Mount Olympus itself, but until we get to grips with the new Gods of War ourselves, we'll keep our own hopes chained to realistic levels.
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