Kratos steps aside to let the Trojans and Spartans battle in God of War: Ascension multiplayer.
Todd Papy, the first-time game director, stands in front of a crowded theater of press and publicists, to present God of War: Ascension. As the lights dim, he promises a surprise.
On screen, we see a meaty man who looks similar to Kratos. He's built like a linebacker and wears bright red garb speckled with emerald green. In the place of the franchise's signature Blades of Chaos, the figure holds a serrated broad sword. Around him, dusty stones.
A one-eyed beast, roughly twenty feet tall, grunts through a nearby doorway, and engages the nameless man. They tussle for a moment, before another soldier enters to provide our hero support. They chain the beast, our hero disembowels him, the guts spilling onto the floor, and it appears, for a moment, we are watching co-op God of War. But we aren't. Not quite.
The two soldiers, both dressed in red, dart through the door, and into an ongoing battle in a Mediterranean village constructed precariously onto the side of a cliff. The rock quakes, and from within the chasm appears a giant one-eyed monster, about the size of the Chrysler Building. Terrifying as it looks, the gargantuan cyclops is seemingly preoccupied with fighting helpless buildings.
A wave of blue soldiers surge into the battlefield, colliding with the red soldiers. We're later told these are the Spartans to our heroes' Trojans. That this is 4-versus-4 online multiplayer God of War.
The sides duel, alternating between melee, magic and chain attacks, batting one another up and down the mountainside. Opportunely placed wheels are spun to release traps, like spikes that pop from the ground, impaling the blue opponents. Occasionally, the red soldiers double up for advanced team maneuvers, one soldier using a chain to paralyze an enemy, another delivering a fatal blow.
When the blue side is bruised, the red team turns two Volkswagen-sized gears, which tighten colossal chains fitted to the giant one-eyed monstrosity. This makes it angry.
Evading the beast and suppressing the blue team, our heroes capture another two sets of gears, further aggravating the creature. For their skill, the gods reward the red team a divine spear and the opportunity to battle the beast, while the blue team waits.
Two red soldiers bat at the one-eyed monstrosity's charcoal-stained fingernails like E. Honda beating at a used car; the other two fend off some comparably smaller sized monsters. Finally, the giant leans in to nurse the equivalent of paper cuts on its colossal digits. Without pause, the gang latches chains to the giant's face, and one of them digs a blade into its lower jaw, slicing downwards, splitting it teeth and gums and jaw bone asunder. Blood and spittle go everywhere.
The red soldiers follow this maneuver by slinging chains into cyclops' eyeball, tugging the white glob close, the thin membrane stretching like a strained water balloon. Our nameless hero leaps triumphantly, plunging the heavenly spear at the delicate iris, only to be interrupted by a title card: God of War: Ascension.
The presentation is spectacular to watch, albeit confusing. Questions from the audience are slow, at first, then surge. Like, what mode is this? Or how are rounds decided? Or what was up with that single-player introduction?
Many questions from the audience are answered with no comment or flat out noes. Don't expect a lot of story – that's what single-player is for. Don't expect split-screen either. Jump in, jump out games won't be possible. You won't be able to play as Kratos.
"No one likes to be a Robin," says Papy, referring to Batman's less powerful sidekick, "and I didn't want a red Kratos, and a green Kratos and a blue Kratos." (Those who do should try PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, which features all three, plus a yellow Kratos.)
Playing as a female warrior also won't be possible. Papy laughs, and says they build each character on top of Kratos' rig, noting that a woman doesn't look so good on that bulky frame.
Papy and his team at Sony Santa Monica are mum on the particulars of the gameplay. They say things like point systems and modes are still a work in progress. Instead, they pivot, telling us about the broader details.
Here's what we know: There will be five large maps, and possibly two small maps. The class system will involve aligning with one of four gods, who provide their warriors with different abilities, specials, weapons and armor sets. A tutorial section will be available to try things out before committing to a god.
Upgrades will unlock when players achieve certain levels, presumably through some sort of experience system that will be revealed at a later date.
Other multiplayer modes will be included, though the team is unable to name any at this time. It's unclear whether Ascension will include a standalone co-operative mode. Some team members coyly hint at it, and Lead Game Designer Mark Simon says they could design it if they wanted to.
But the focus for this demo, we are told again and again, is on this particular mode, which would be fine if it were more clear what this mode will be.
If the red team were to have lost against the beast, the round would have started over, says Simon. But how the winner of each section is calculated, what the reward for kills is, or what other modes will entail, all these questions and plenty more are still to be determined. The developer's say they still have plenty to test out.
The team behind God of War: Ascension says they intended to wow the audience with a bold first impression, and they did. The giant monster rivaled PC-level graphics (though the environment and warriors lacked the same fidelity). And the tag-team moves are what a God of War fan hopes for in multiplayer.
Unfortunately, everything else about the mode is too vague and seemingly undecided on.
When asked why the demo began with a single-player portion, Papy smiles and says that part won't be in the finished product. "We were trying to trick you," he says.
Another confused audience member throws up his hands, and asks whether or not the game will feature a single-player campaign, too and we're assured Ascension will, it's simply not the focus of this meeting.
[Watch our video interview with Game Director Todd Papy. We discuss Kratos's smile, the end of God of War 3 and Ascension's prequel status.]