While the upcoming God of War: Ascension for the Sony PlayStation 3 will include the traditional single-player campaign in which protagonist Kratos slaughters everyone, the game will also sport an online multiplayer mode for the first time in the franchise's history. Players will be cast as Spartan grunts that team up to eviscerate beasts and other monsters. Game Informer provides the details and explains why Kratos is not part of the multiplayer mode.
Considering the tease at the beginning of the demo, many questions were presented to [Game director Todd] Papy. While the demo began with the image of Kratos, the future God of War will not be included in multiplayer. Papy explained that he didn’t want online play to consist of a team of green Kratos’ going up against a team of yellow Kratos’, and he also didn’t want to give a single player the benefit of having control of him. “Nobody wants to be Robin, and we would have had a bunch of Robins,” said Papy.
And this, to me, is the problem with shoehorning multiplayer into a series like God of War. Knowing the financial realities of producing a major video game in today's market, adding multiplayer to Ascension feels like a very obvious maneuver to discourage players from selling their used copies of the game to GameStop or another retailer once the story mode is complete. I enjoy the God of War games, but they're all remarkably short compared to other third-person action titles. They make excellent rentals because I can see everything that the story has to offer in about six to eight hours worth of playing time. I finished God of War III over a long weekend, for instance. Due to the linear nature of the games, there's really no incentive to take another run through the story (sure, there are some variable tweaks that change Kratos's strength or combat options, but that's not enough to justify playing again). It really feels like a waste to drop $60 on a game that I can complete in less than a day.
Now we see Ascension following the Assassin's Creed model of multiplayer. Just as I play the recent Assassin's Creed titles to become Ezio Auditore (who, by the way, will be missed in Assassin's Creed III), I want to control Kratos in God of War. The Assassin's Creed multiplayer modes take Ezio off the table and put all players in roles of generic classes of characters just as Ascension features a team of generic Spartan soldiers. Papy even admits that nobody wants to play as the non-Kratos characters (the "Robins"). It's always a warning sign for me when a multiplayer mode removes the key protagonist(s) from the equation. Games like Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One get it right: Ratchet, Clank, Captain Qwark, and Dr. Nefarious are all fantastic characters, and I'm happy to play as any of them. Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords games sidestep the problem altogether by splitting Link into four copies so that everyone gets to be Link (an option that Papy outright rejected for Kratos).
I'm not actively judging God of War: Ascension's multiplayer here, but I am feeling a bit cynical about why the game includes multiplayer options at the moment. This really feels like an excuse to implement an online pass scheme, and the franchise doesn't have enough recognizable characters to hold up the weight of a proper multiplayer component. Even if Kratos were part of the action in a non-playable, CPU-controlled role (imagine if he could be summoned by teams at key moments to leap into battle, slash a few times, and jump back out), I think I could get on board with this right now, but as it stands, I need to be swayed a little more before I'm ready to play Ascension's multiplayer. For now, I'm thinking that I may just rent the game, play the single-player mode, skip the multiplayer entirely, and return it. Good luck to Sony on accounting for that.