God of war III Hands-On

September 22nd, 2009 by

The E3 God of War III demo was available on the PAX floor, and it looks like it covers about 75% of the game’s first level (and five times your RDA of brutal gore). For those just tuning in, current God of War and deific whipping-boy Kratos has allied himself with Titans to storm Olympus for revenge. The demo picks up in the thick of battle where Kratos must avoid the Titans’ indiscriminate destruction and the Gods’ more precisely focused resistance. Along the way, the conflict showcases God of War III‘s features, old and new.

Progressive Design
If you’ve ever played the first and second God of War games back-to-back, you may have noticed their unique approach to the incremental feature advancement you expect from sequels. Most sequels take the first game as a core and tack on new weapons, rail grinding, or a level editor, increasing the first game’s complexity without necessarily adding depth. God of War II, by contrast, actually modified some of its predecessor’s mechanics to increase the density and variety of action. This philosophy endures in God of War III.

Edging across narrow ledges is no longer an exercise in sandwich gaming. Kratos can now grab and smash enemies as he creeps along window ledges, and he can quickstep to hasten his movement. The controls feel similar to fighting on walls in previous games, which is to say simple and responsive, and it should help with some of the pacing lulls during platforming puzzles.

There are new uses for old foes. Harpies, for example, are a valid means of transportation in God of War III. Kratos can plunge his knives into the flying nuisances and savage them to control their movement. It’s like whipping a horse to spur it forward, but there’s an explosion of bloody feathers when you finally dismount. At its heart, harpy riding is no different than platforming as usual, but it again finds a way to wedge some violence into an otherwise ordinary mechanic.

The Cyclops is also ripe for riding, though it’s more of a siege weapon than a conveyance. Series veterans will recall (hating) enemies from the second game who mounted and controlled the beasts, but Kratos has evidently reverse-engineered the technique. Only a quick time event stands between the god of war and vicarious control of a giant femur club and total ownership of battleground.

Magic now regenerates. Previous games in the God of War series used a traditional spend-and-replenish magic system. Unfortunately, that made magic a resource to be jealously hoarded, because you never knew when you’d get your next fix, or how dire the fights would become before it arrived. Careful resource management was definitely out of place in a game about godhood, and so God of War III will be rejecting the old system in favor of a regenerating magic meter. This means that some of the magic has been rebalanced, but should make for a more fluid combat experience.

The two magic types on display in the demo were the bow and a new twist on Medusa’s head: the head of Helios. The bow seems largely unchanged from God of War II, but the head of Helios represents a substantial change. Obviously, the sun god isn’t terribly handy for turning enemies to stone, but his divine radiance will briefly stuns enemies, illuminate darkness, and reveal secrets in the game world. It lacks the instant kill stopping power afforded by Medusa’s head, but makes a handy way to expose secrets.

New Tricks

Not everything in the demo was a new riff on an old idea, however. Perhaps the most obvious novelty in the demo is the addition of a new weapon: the cestus. The traditional weapon is an ancient take on brass knuckles that happens to be a complete glove, but Kratos has gone a little overboard with the idea and wields a hulking stone cestus with extendable chains. It occupies much the same role as the hammer in God of War II; it’s slow and powerful and is well suited for fighting similar enemies. The extendable chains distinguish the cestus, however, and the last strike in a cestus combo is always an area attack that strikes multiple enemies. So the weapon’s best use is to apply extensive point damage to a single large enemy while applying intermittent crowd control to his entourage.

Kratos has also extended his repertoire of standard attacks. The god of war can now grab enemies and use them to charge through groups of other foes. Much like stringing a foe on the Blades of Chaos and throwing him into another target, this trick lets you wield your enemies against each other. Of course, the shoulder charge is handier against groups. The charge is also a finishing move, and you can run your unwilling shield into a wall for a little corrective phrenology. The charge is a little unwieldy to control, but bowling through your enemies makes it all worthwhile.

There’s one last novelty in the demo, though it’s actually a returning trick that was abandoned after the first game. Kratos can again murder innocents for health during the chaos of battle. Whether or not you happen to think that’s reprehensible, the free health you earn through murder smoothes the game’s learning curve, and God of War II suffered for its absence.

Some Extra Polish
One last feature in the PAX demo is the continuing polish of the quick time events that virtually define God of War. Although a pointless and irritating mechanic in other games, quick time events weren’t thoughtlessly grafted onto God of War, and the developers are polishing them further in this new installment. The markers that warn you to “press X not to die” appear at a location on the screen that’s congruous with the button’s location on the controller. So if you’re supposed to press triangle, the triangle indicator appears at the top of the screen, but if you’re supposed to press square, it’ll be at the left. Spatially mapping the cues so that they correspond to the buttons actually cuts down on the time you need to respond, and makes the quick time events feel smoother. There is one cue that violates the rule to the game’s detriment—the “mash circle” cue appears in the bottom-right corner of the screen—but on the whole the quick time events have been vastly improved.

Final Notes
The Sony representative at the booth claimed that the features in the God of War III demo reflect features expected to make the final build of the game. So although there may be some slight tweaks, you can reasonably expect to see these features in March of 2010. Dust off your PS3, because it’ll be March before you think.


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  • 1 Full Factorial Sep 22, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Nice preview! It’s getting increasingly harder to resist the siren song of the PS3. I might have to get one in the spring. Uncharted 2, LittleBigPlanet, MGS:4, Last Guardian (a.k.a. Trico), GoW3…too much to resist.

    My question is…will this be the first generation where Pixelsocks owns all 3 consoles?