Earlier this week we were invited to Sony’s Media Day for God of War III and were treated to a new trailer as well as a live demo of gameplay.
For those that don’t know, God of War III will wrap-up the God of War franchise and Stig Asmussen, the game’s director, assures us that it will have an epic conclusion. He promises that the game will “start with a bang and end with a bang.”
Also, be sure to watch Adam Sessler's excellent interview with Stig Asmussen.
Speaking of the game’s story, Stig wasn’t ready to reveal specific details. He did, however, lay out the groundwork for the game’s plot. God of War III will pick up directly after II with Kratos riding on the Titan Gaia. Kratos, out for revenge against the Gods and his father Zeus, will climb Mount Olympus on the backs of the Titans to claim his vengeance. In doing so, our hero has reignited the “Great War” between the Gods and Titans.
This “Great War” is the “fabric of God of War III.” It will be ever-present in the background and was certainly present in the demo we saw. It was painted like this: take D-Day, combine it with the movie Cloverfield, and throw Kratos into the middle. In the demo level, a Titan fights with Helios -- one of the gods fighting with Zeus against the Titans -- while Kratos battles through hordes of enemies and mini-bosses. The Titan’s battle results in some environmental changes (read: destruction) and keeps the game moving forward. I’ll talk more about combat shortly.
Also, be sure to tune into X-Play tonight at 8PM ET for Adam Sessler's first preview of God of War III. You won't want to miss this one!
For those of you who haven’t played the first three games in the series, Stig and his team are exploring some unique ways to catch those new players up without slowing down the pacing of God of War III. Whether this is through the re-release of God of War I & II or through some in-game feature remains to be seen. One of the primary objectives of the game is the “bridge the series.”
Another objective of the game’s story is to “get inside the mind of Kratos.” While Kratos has always had an incredible internal struggle in the series, Stig suggests that God of War III will include “emotional violence” as well as physical violence. The emotion has always been there, but maybe this time Kratos will open up about his feelings. With the series’ mystical story and time travel, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kratos will be reuniting with his murdered wife.
The gameplay itself revolves around “Titan Gameplay” with huge environments set on the backs of the very Titans climbing Mount Olympics toward Kratos’ revenge. To give us an idea of the scale of God of War III, Stig told us that the entire Medusa level from God of War II would fit into the hand of one of the Titans in III. Awesome. Furthermore, setting levels atop giant, moving Titans offers up new gameplay possibilities. Kratos’ entire world could be turned on its side as a Titan shifts its position. While Sony wouldn’t go into too many details about this aspect, they promised that the team is exploring this new type of gameplay.
The demo level contained an amazing amount of variety in a very short period of time. It was probably the reason that it was shown to the press. While the Titan and Helios fight in the background, Kratos fights undead soldiers. After dispatching the first few, an enemy centaur appears, which acts as a commander to the undead foes. Their AI increases and they take commands from the centaur. After dispatching this group with a lot of brutality, Kratos moves closer to the Titan, finding a ballista. As Kratos lines up a shot a chimera, a new enemy for God of War III, ambushes him from behind.
The chimera is a three-stage mini-boss, as is to be expected from a creature that is snake, lion, and goat. Each stage fights differently and will require different strategies to defeat. Beginning with the serpentine tail, Kratos will need to dodge quick strikes and venom that the creature spits onto the ground. After severing the tail, the lion form takes over. Standing on two legs, the creature will spit fire and swipe at Kratos. Defeating this form requires a lot of damage to be dished out and the player has to switch to the new Cestus weapons.
The Cestus -- twin gauntlets with the heads of lions -- dish out a lot of damage and comes with an all new set of moves. Unlike the series’ previous “brawling” weapons, Kratos retains a lot of mobility while using the Cestus. In fact, Kratos will even utilize his chains to swing the gauntlets. We saw Kratos shoot the gauntlets out to either side and swing them together in front him him, clapping enemies between them. Additionally, while airborne, Kratos can shoot the gauntlets into the ground and perform a ground pound on top of them, sending enemies flying in every direction.
After offing the lion, the goat comes out and the chimera starts to charge and moves erratically -- once again changing the required strategy. The chimera is one of the more difficult enemies in the game.
After the chimera is dispatched, Kratos fires the ballista into Helios, knocking his flying, flaming chariot off course. This allows the Titan to snatch Helios out of the air and crush him, tossing his nearly lifeless body aside. Kratos’ next task is to find Helios and finish him off.
In order to navigate further, Kratos must cross a chasm by utilizing one of the game’s new features: rideable enemies. Kratos can jump between flying harpies to avoid a deadly fall. While riding a harpy, the others will swarm and attack Kratos in mid-air. As in the trailer, Kratos can also ride a Cyclops, stabbing the creature causing it to move and attack. This is very cool as the player is granted full control of the enemy, but it is done in a way that makes it seem like Kratos’ actions are causing the monster’s actions. The animation on this is incredibly impressive.
After crossing the chasm and killing more undead enemies, we come upon a wall climbing section. The camera during this sequence is improved, but it is not very different from the first two games. After reaching the dying Helios, Kratos must fend off a group of “shield skellies," undead soldiers with magical shields that block Kratos’ attacks. Conveniently, a Cyclops arrives and Kratos can ride the creature, using the Cyclops’ large club to destroy the skeletons.
With only the helpless god left, Kratos tears Helios’ head off in an amazingly brutal sequence. The decapitated dome can now be used to find secrets. For example, the controller vibrates near a hidden door which is revealed by the magical light emitted by the dead head. Once inside the cave and behind the doorway, the head can be used as a gruesome flashlight. Unfortunately, much like Doom III, Kratos cannot light his way while fighting at the same time. Fortunately, enemies are stunned and illuminated (for a limited time) by the light. This leads to some tense gameplay as you rush to destroy enemies before they stop glowing.
At the end of the cave, Kratos finds vertical tunnel traveling up Mount Olympus. Leaping into the tunnel, he extends the feathered wings that he stole from Icarus in God of War II, propelling himself up the windy tunnel. While shooting up these “highways” of Mt. Olympus, the player retains control of Kratos. They are tasked with avoid obstacles and debris as they ascend the mountain. At the top of the tunnel, Kratos runs into the Titan again and the demo (sadly comes to an end).
As for the combat system itself, there are several major improvements to the game’s mechanics. Weapon switching is now instant and can be performed in the heat of battle, although it does come with an animation, there is a slight delay between attacks. As for the weapons themselves, Stig believes that the weapons in God of War III will be useful -- not used just for specific situations. The developers have noticed that players tend to use the Blades almost exclusively. He described III’s additional weapons as “stance changes,” each with full move-sets and gameplay changes. In addition to Kratos’ Blades, we saw the previously mentioned Cestus weapon and a bow & arrow -- different from the magical weapon from God of War II.
This new bow shoots flaming arrows and Kratos can let these fly in rapid succession. Enemies that are struck are set ablaze. As they thrash around, they can set other enemies on fire. This is very useful for dishing out damage to large groups of enemies while giving Kratos some long-distance damage.
In addition to new weapons, Kratos’ grappling has gotten a much-needed upgrade. Hitting the circle button will grapple an enemy and mashing that button with make Kratos repeatedly punch them. X will throw the enemy, knocking down additional foes. Triangle will attempt to tear enemies asunder. Finally, Square will make Kratos use the enemy as a shield. He can run while doing this, barreling through enemies. Finally, if Kratos runs an enemy into a wall using that ability, there are several brutal wall attacks to use. This is a great set of attacks that adds even more depth to the combat system.
Technically, the game was extremely impressive. Everything shown including the trailer was 100% in-game and extremely high-resolution. In fact, the new Kratos model wouldn’t even fit on the PlayStation 2 as the last-gen system cannot even hold his polygons in memory. God of War III’s cutscenes will also be rendered entirely in-game. There were a few minor slowdowns during some of the combat, but we expect those to be hammered out by launch (especially if we’re talking about a 2010 game). The game didn’t appear to be running at 60fps, but the sheer scale of the game’s scenes makes you quickly forget this fact. A lot of the audio seemed to be placeholder, which worries us about the chances of a 2009 release.
I know you want to know when the game is coming out. I do, too. The team is not ready to reveal that but has assured us that Sony will announce God of War III’s release date at this year’s E3 which kicks off on June 2..
If Sony manages to get God of War III on shelves in 2009, they could be looking at an incredible stable of exclusives for the year. This game, along with Uncharted 2, Heavy Rain, and inFamous, could prove to be a good year for Sony on the software side of things. Additionally, I expect God of War III to sell a good amount of PS3 hardware.
Regardless of when the game finally releases, all of us walked out of the event extremely impressed. It lived up to the hype and will be a must-buy for the PlayStation 3. It makes the PlayStation 3 a must-buy… It’s looking that good. Thankfully, Sony will be announcing the release date at E3!
In case you missed any of our God of War III coverage, here's a list of everything: