Preview: God of War Ascension

As we inch closer to the next installment of the God of War series, developer Sony Santa Monica continues to pull back the curtain on the franchise's first foray into multiplayer. During the developer's first open house to media members, the development team revealed a new multiplayer game type and provided some hands-on time and a one-on-one opportunity with some of the people who are crafting God of War Ascension.

Bruno Velazquez, lead animator for God of War Ascension, gave me a glimpse on how multiplayer is shaping up. During my hands-on time, I was able to pledge my allegiance to one of two gods -- Zeus or Ares (Poseidon and Hades will also be available as the game nears release.) This decision controls which main weapon type you will wield (Zeus provides a hammer while Ares gives a sword) and specific magical powers. As you rack up kills and complete objectives, you will gain experience points that you can use to unlock more weapons, armor and magic that are specific to that god.

Velazquez showed off the deep level of customization and how that affects your character. You can deck out your nameless warrior with light or heavy pieces of armor, each of which will provide advantages and disadvantages. Heavy armor sets will afford more protection but will limit movement while lighter armor will do the opposite. Weapons and magic are also customizable, allowing you to tailor your character to your play style. Though Velazquez said the options will be more robust once the game releases, it gave a glimpse into what Sony Santa Monica has up its sleeve for the multiplayer.

Once your character is suited to your liking, it's on to the field of battle. Our first multiplayer match took place during a Team Favor of the Gods level. This map, which has been the only one Sony Santa Monica has unveiled up to this point, is predicated on objectives. Teams of two face off to take over strategic positions on the map, which eventually culminates in a battle over which team will kill an enormous cyclops. Though the action was as frenetic as it has ever been in a God of War title, the mode felt disjointed. There's so much going on during the battle (multiple objectives, ability to set traps, power-ups scattered throughout the map) that a brief look at the mode is not enough. Multiple playthroughs will give me a better feel for the mode.

Then Velazquez loaded up the new mode -- Favor of the Gods. This free-for-all mode took place in the Forum of Hercules map, which was pulled from a section of God of War 3. This play type is pure God of War. Four players are dropped into this condensed map, and there's only one objective: destroy your foes. The battles, though sometimes chaotic, occasionally result in one-on-one confrontations, where the combat really shines. During these instances, the parrying technique, which stuns your foe but takes timing to pull off, comes into play because there's less chaos and more nuance. I wouldn't be surprised if Sony Santa Monica included a one-on-one mode to really emphasize the skill and timing of the gameplay.

Health and magic boosts along with weapons from the gods randomly appear and can turn the tide. For veterans to the series, this is the mode that will feel most familiar and will likely be the most popular once the game releases.

The latest look at God of War Ascension's multiplayer left me feeling more excited than the first time I got to see it in the spring. The new free-for-all mode takes all that's great in the God of War gameplay -- brutal executions, timing and skill -- and thrusts it into the multiplayer world. The objective-based mode has potential, but I need more time to wrap my head around all that's going on. Though Sony Santa Monica is still being mum on the campaign, they said they will reveal more early in 2013. The public will have a shot at getting their hands on God of War's multiplayer before the retail release. The developers said a beta will be available but did not give a timetable. God of War Ascension is slated to hit shelves March 12, 2013 exclusively for the PlayStation 3.

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