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Preview: God of War: Ascension multiplayer

Sony have been pretty quiet on God of War: Ascension. Details on the single-player components are pretty scarce on the ground, although we know that it's a prequel - as we play through the campaign we'll be watching our old pal Kratos evolve, from a man with feelings and motivations other than rage, to the fabled Ghost of Sparta. The game is set six months after Kratos killed his family, and several years before the first game in the God of War series.

While we haven't had the chance to play the single-player yet, we were offered the opportunity to take part in the multiplayer beta, which PlayStation Plus subscribers were also in on. Ascension is the first God of War game to feature a multiplayer component; the series has always been about playing through single-player as the brutal, violent Kratos.

But in the multiplayer you're not Kratos, but rather your own, mortal character. You're limited to big, beefy men who look a lot like Kratos, but still. Technically not him. In the tutorial segment, you're required to choose a God who will guide you on your multiplayer journey, which mostly determines which weapons and abilities you'll be able to use. In the beta, only Zeus and Ares were available; I chose Zeus and had a giant hammer as my default weapon.

Ascension multiplayer is much like a fighting game or a classic brawler in that you learn different button combinations to complete combos and avoid attacks. Some of those attacks have cooldowns, and there are multiple ways to defend yourself - you can block, parry, evade or hit R2 to become invincible for a few seconds.

However, rather than side-scrolling, you're on a 3D map, clearly designed to force players together so they have to duke it out. As you fight, parts of the arena we played on - called Forum of Hercules - would get destroyed, which made it possible for players to kill others by knocking them off the edge of the arena.

The first two game types were 'Favour of the Gods' and 'Team Favour of the Gods'. The former is essentially a straight brawl between four people for the basic, free-for-all game type. In order to win, you have to either have the most points when your time runs out, or be the first player to get to 8000 points.

The goal of the game type is simply to kill the enemy, although you get points for assists as well. Getting kills and assists is your way of providing an offering to your chosen God, and in return, you'll gain levels and be granted armour unlocks, new weapons, relics, and other special abilities. You can also unlock some things by completing other tasks, like picking up chests when they appear.

There are two ways to get a kill in the multiplayer - first, you can simply wear down an enemy's health until they die. Alternatively, though, you can perform certain attacks to stun an enemy and perform what's called a 'brutal kill' - think classic God of War death animations - while they've got a red marker over their head.

Team Favour of the Gods is more interesting - eight people are divided into two teams for the team game type. In Team Favour of the Gods, teams have to complete additional objectives on top of getting kills. You're still after points, but you don't have to get kills, as there are also three altars around the level that you can capture to earn points.

Part way through the match, the gods will intervene by dropping down a very powerful weapon called the Spear of Olympus. You can use that weapon to kill the Titan Cyclops, Polyphemus, a massive creature who has been lurking at the edge of the map throughout the game. If you kill him - which, by the way, is very gruesome - you get extra points.

Sony's also showing off a third game type, Capture the Flag. This mode is pretty much what you'd expect it to be - your team has to go and take your enemy's flag from them while also defending your own against attacks. The unique mechanism here is that in addition to beating your enemies up, you can trigger traps to prevent them from taking your flag, or just to damage them at a distance. You might cause fire to shoot up through the floor, or spikes to pop out and damage an enemy.

Capture the Flag is played on larger maps than Favour of the Gods - we played on Desert of Lost Souls - which means that even with a full eight people playing, it's possible to make it all the way to the opposing team's flag without seeing an enemy. That means capturing the flag can be kind of easy - all you have to do on your way back is evade any incoming attacks. Of course, the opposing team has the same advantage.

In all game types we saw, weapons and other items would periodically pop up on the map. If you can get your hands on those items, you can get quite a big advantage over your opponents, particularly if you get the ability to call down a rain of arrows. There are also panels on the ground that you can run over, when they appear, to regain health and magic energy. As such, the biggest fights of the game tend to happen around those weapons and replenishing panels - everyone attempts to stop the opponent from getting a special weapon, for example, and people on full health will run over a health panel just to prevent others from using it.

As you play, you and your opponents will glow different colours, and each of the colours means a different thing. If you're glowing red, you're about to perform an unblockable attack (these attacks can, however, be evaded). If you're blue, you're about to get hurt, and if you're white, you're temporarily invincible.

God of War's multiplayer is fun - particularly the Favour of the Gods modes - and it already seems relatively bug-free and clean to play. It isn't, however, anything remarkably new or special - most gamers will have played something very similar before. It is a work in progress, though, so I'll reserve any real judgement for the game's official release.


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