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God of War III wrapped up Kratos' storyline, putting any future games in a tight spot. Like previous PSP outing God of War: Chains of Olympus, Ghost of Sparta tries to slip another narrative in the small gaps between the console GoW games. Surprisingly enough, Ghost actually finds fresh story material but the gameplay is all too familiar.
Kratos' mother Callisto and brother Deimos have important roles in the plot. Their only other appearances, if I'm not mistaken, were the bonus videos in the first GoW. It's too bad that it took so long for these two to show up in a game because they make him look normal. When he's with them, he's acting like a human being instead of a god-slaying, candy-striped goon who only speaks in capital letters. I'd probably give the developers more credit for introducing emotion into the story if I didn't think the plot was just an elaborate set-up for future games. I might be wrong on this but it feels like they're planning to make Deimos the new hero for God of War 4 and beyond. There's nothing wrong with that idea but it does cheapen the story of this game a bit.
There aren't many Greek mythological beings or creatures that Kratos hasn't killed at this point. Still, the few survivors offer up some very satisfying boss encounters. Chains of Olympus' bosses never had the massive scale typical of the PS2/PS3 encounters. Ghost, however, features multi-stage boss battles with enormous enemies. The boss might be a mere sorceress at first but then she turns into an huge bird that you have to chase across a mountain.
The reason the boss fights are better isn't just because of design. Ready at Dawn has figured out ways to get more out of the PSP. The game is able to handle larger environments and bigger enemies than its predecessor. It seems like the game's able to handle more enemies on-screen at a time, too. These improvements are able to widen the possibilities further than more superficial enhancements like improved texture quality or weather effects (which the game also has).
Kratos is offered several new spells, a new weapon, and a tackle ability but I imagine most people will stick with Blades of Athena for 90% of the time. They're still the most effective (and coolest) weapon. There's little reason to switch, especially after you get a new ability that lets you imbue the blades with fire. You'll use this ability not only for the damage boost but also because it's necessary to crack the armor of certain enemies. You never really need to use the spells. The new spear and shield will get some limited use - you'll need them to hit enemies from afar or block walls of fire - but you only get this weapon late in the game and there's not much point to use it in normal combat. Whenever I strayed from the Blades of Athena, it was usually for variety rather than necessity.
The upgrade system is unchanged from previous games. You earn red orbs by killing enemies and spend this currency on beefing up your weapons and spells. You get orbs faster by racking up long hit streaks. Obscene hit streaks are much easier to obtain with the spells so I suppose that's one way to encourage people to use them more. However, grinding up orbs is unnecessary. I ended up with more than enough to max out every weapon and ability by the end. The advancement system would be great if it enabled different playstyles but every player will end up with the same suite of abilities at the end. Why not automate the character advancement if we're just going to get maximum strength in all our abilities?
I suspect the developers are keenly aware of the ways GoW could be improved. These shortcomings have been around for several games. They’re probably keeping their powder dry for the series’ reinvention with a new protagonist. It feels a bit like they’re spinning their wheels. True, there are worse things than a new 7 hour GoW campaign and standalone challenges. Is it unreasonable to expect something new, though?
Developer: Ready At Dawn Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
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