|Previews: God of War 3
Sony just showed a trailer at E3; here's everything we know.
By Matt Leone 07/15/2008
At Sony's E3 press conference today, we got our first glimpse at God of War 3 via a CG teaser trailer. It's been fun passing the time waiting with Chains of Olympus on PSP, PS3 ads that kind of look like God of War, and fan-created Lego trailers, but I'm ready for a new something new. So I rounded up everything we know about the new game so far. First Things First
While rumors had been flying about a third God of War ever since Sony announced God of War 2, the first public comments came at the God of War 2 launch party/press conference held by Sony in March 2007. At the end of a presentation, then-director Cory Barlog joked that "if" God of War would head to PS3, it would feature Sixaxis, rumble, and 1080p features. There has been some debate over how to interpret what he said, but given that his comments weren't in response to a question, it seems clear he wanted to get the word out on the franchise's future.
What never seemed to get much publicity at the time was Sony's official press release put out that day, which offered information about the game similar to what Barlog said on stage, suggesting that this was not an off-the-cuff remark but something that had been coordinated by Sony.
ART: We don't have any screens yet, so enjoy this art...which is from a previous game, but looks pretty.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean that we should assume those features are a confirmed part of the game. Shortly after that event, SCEA Santa Monica director of technology Tim Moss said in an interview, "Cory got a little carried away at the press conference/launch event...I imagine we could make a game that worked at 60fps and 1080p but we might have to make some decisions about the gameplay that we wouldn't really want to live with in order to achieve it."
Confirming the Name
Though there wasn't much doubt about the game's existence following the above comments, when Cory Barlog resigned from Sony in November, Sony's corporate comment made it official and named God of War PS3 as "God of War 3," squashing any (likely nonexistent) speculation that it would be a side story or something other than a traditional sequel.
The Development Team
You probably know the names David Jaffe and Cory Barlog, given their highly publicized careers at -- and then departures from -- SCEA Santa Monica, where they directed the first two games in the series. They both had varying degrees of involvement with God of War 3 early in its creation, but have since left the company. So who's left? We don't have a comprehensive list; we know certain staffers such as combat designers Eric Williams and Derek Daniels, level designer Mike Cheng, and artist Charlie Wen, have moved on. However, according to a post on Tim Moss' blog, as of late 2007, the complete programming team and 30-plus members of the overall team (who worked on God of War and God of War 2) remained intact.
It's difficult to draw any direct conclusions about what this means for the game itself. If anything, it suggests that the tech side of the game is in good shape, and that we might see a slightly different approach to what we've seen in the past with the story and overall design ideas.
ART: We don't have any screens yet, so enjoy this art...which is from a previous game, but looks pretty.
The Release Date
The first God of War spent about three years in development and shipped in March 2005. God of War 2 took two years and shipped in March 2007. Going by that timeline, it would make sense to see God of War 3 ship any time between March 2009 and March 2010. But of course, things aren't that simple. We know that the programming team was looking into the PS3 hardware as early as March 2006, when Tim Moss mentioned it in a Game Developers Conference speech, and that Cory Barlog was working on the story and overall design of the game before God of War 2 shipped, but as to how all this adds up to deliver a finished game, we don't have a clue.
Online Gameplay Speculation
In March 2008, Sony posted a series of job listings for the God of War 3 team: one for a graphics programmer, one for a tools programmer, and one for an "online gameplay programmer." Naturally, it was this last one that stood out as unusual, since to date we haven't seen any multiplayer or online features in a God of War game.
When you combine this listing with recent comments from Sony executives about the importance of online features in their games, it seems likely that online features will play a role in the game in some form. In a recent Develop magazine interview, Sony's new Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida said, "One focus that has been and will be key is how we use the online technology and PlaySation Network to involve more consumers in participating...that's the major common theme that we are trying to enforce with all our projects."
Notably, the idea of a multiplayer God of War game is nothing new. At the God of War 2 launch press event, when still employed by Sony, Cory Barlog told us he was looking at it as a possibility for a future God of War game. "Does co-op have a place in God of War? If we can do something unique with it, yeah, but it is really an early exploration of that in my head...I'm thinking 'how can we incorporate this without damaging what happens in the game -- without having it feel silly -- where it's just like we threw two Kratoses in there and now you can run around through the world.' It's gotta be something more than that."
Chains of Olympus director Ru Weerasuriya also mentioned looking into multiplayer features in a past interview with 1UP, but ultimately came to the conclusion that adding something along those lines would take away from what would make the game feel like a God of War title.
|God of War III First Look
The Ghost of Sparta is back to shake the pillars of Heaven.
February 13, 2009 - All good things must come to an end, presumably with a bang and not a whimper, but in the case of Kratos, the antihero of the God of War franchise, he plans on going out by taking the Greek gods with him. Ever since the 2008 E3 trailer was shown, there has been a sense that this could be the bloodiest and wildest action game on any of Sony's consoles, particularly with Kratos standing atop a crumbling temple glaring at the destruction below. Apart from one trailer, details related to the final installment of the series have been practically non-existent until now. At a recent press event, Sony unveiled the latest information regarding God of War III, Kratos and the war against the gods. As Kratos said at the end of the E3 trailer, "In the end, there will be only chaos."
Stig Asmussen, the director of God of War III, started his presentation by mentioning that the development team had three main points that they wanted to focus on with God of War III: First, they wanted to wrap up the series by creating a game that would help define action for this generation of consoles and for the industry in general. That stood out as a bold statement, particularly considering that many people would argue that the first God of War titles broke barriers for action on the PS2 as well as the PSP. However, Asmussen felt like his team was up to the task, primarily because the majority of the design team has come from the first two games. The second element was working on creating groundbreaking moments of play, while the third facet was redefining the sense of scale in games to levels that had never been seen before.
Watch or download the trailer here (HD available).
"We're going to be introducing groundbreaking gameplay this time around, and that all starts and ends with our Titan gameplay. It's all about scale," Asmussen stated, mentioning that this feature has redefined their level and combat design plans simply based on the size of the Titans themselves. As a quick refresher (or mild spoiler, for those of you who haven't finished God of War II yet), at the end of God of War II, Kratos was seen riding on the back of a Titan as he led the ancient deities to battle against the remaining gods atop Mount Olympus. For God of War III, Asmussen mentioned that these are much more than a simple backdrop to the action. Instead, they are "living titans, characters that are functioning, breathing parts of the world." These titans are actually moving levels that Kratos will fight across, climb onto and navigate as he tries to destroy Olympus. Trying to bring this sense of scale into perspective, Asmussen mentioned two facts that would drive the size of the Titans home. The first one was that many of the Titans would be larger in size than that of the Sears Tower in Chicago, which gives a real world perspective on these character/levels. The other was that the Titans were so large that the large Medusa Lair from God of War II would easily fit in the palm of Gaia's Hand.
Needless to say, this will obviously be the largest and possibly most daunting exploration of the God of War universe to date. While they pushed the PS2 to its limits with the previous games, including the large sets and the giant characters (like the Colossus), the design team decided that at the beginning of making God of War III, they wanted to actually make the Titans come to life. Thanks to the power of the PS3, Asmussen said, the team was able to figure out ways to make these characters much more than simple backdrops to the action. "They're truly living, breathing spectacles that I believe are going to change how people look at games," Asmussen stated.
Expect more brutality in God of War III.
This comment led him directly into speaking about the plot of God of War III and what it encompasses. Picking up directly where God of War II left off, Kratos will ride Gaia as she and her fellow titans scale Mount Olympus to bring the fight to the gods. The Ghost of Sparta's need for revenge will cause him to stop at nothing to seek the death of Zeus and the gods that have wronged him. In the process, Asmussen mentioned, Kratos' actions will re-ignite the old war between the Gods and the Titans, known in classic mythology as the Titanomachy. "Nothing is going to stand in his way – he's going to bring chaos and destruction, and if that means bringing down all of Olympus, so be it," Asmussen said.
The re-ignition of the war is the backdrop of God of War III and will constantly surround Kratos as he moves throughout the entire game. Asmussen pointed out that there would be moments when he might be fighting on the arms and shoulders of Gaia with other Titans next to him against hordes of soldiers. At other moments, he'd be handling a puzzle or exploring part of Olympus, while battles between gods and Titans would rage in the background. The effects from the battles of these divine beings will swirl and cross the land that Kratos will navigate, so the fog of war will be rocked with smoke, ash, fire, explosions and other debris from these conflicts. "The best way that I can describe it is take D-Day, the Battle at Normandy, combine it with the movie Cloverfield, and put Kratos smack dab in the middle of it," Asmussen said.
However, even with these images described to us, Asmussen specifically stated that these weren't the only elements of the story or the plot that players could expect. While he refused to go into any details on the plot, he did mention that he wanted to point out three elements related to the plot. First, he specifically wanted the story to bridge the entire series instead of being an isolated tale by itself. God of War III will be the final game in the series, and Asmussen pointed out that key moments from the first two games would have a major impact within the third game, turning the story into a title that's incredibly deep and complex. Obviously, this could cause problems for those players than never picked up the first two, but Asmussen stated that he wanted to make sure that the plot would be, "a refresher course for fans of the series, but a history lesson for any newcomers."
Secondly, the team wanted to get into the head of Kratos and fully show and depict what is making him tick at a particular moment. Apparently the team always wanted to show a violent physical struggle for Kratos but a violent emotional struggle, as well; these two elements will play out hand in hand within the fast-paced action of God of War III. Finally, the team wanted to have an epic finale to send the series out with a bang. Asmussen said that because the game will start very strong, it's going to end very strong, as well, and he feels that there will be a punch to the ending with a truth and relevance that will hit each person that picks up the controller and plays the game from start to finish.
You can't stop Kratos, and you can't hope to contain him.
From that point, Asmussen stepped back and prepared to show off the first trailer of the game. The trailer, he stated, was a piece of work that had been completed last Fall, but the team had been waiting to fully unveil the entire thing. Everything within the trailer itself was "100 percent real," according to Asmussen. While the action within the trailer was scripted to tell the story that he wanted to tell for the trailer, "everything that you see in here is using actual in-game engine, resolution, effects. Let me assure you, we can draw Kratos in these levels and we can do all this stuff that's happening in here right now."
The trailer started off focusing on a crow that swooped down from a mountain and landed on a forest floor. After a second or two of cawing, it leaned over and plucked out the eye of a corpse that was splayed across a tree trunk. However, it was quickly overshadowed by the fast movement of a camera from a first-person perspective, which changed to show Kratos sprinting through the forest. As he said to himself, "Death is in my blood," the warrior smashed an undead soldier and leapt out of the forest into an opening where a larger group of soldiers awaited. Kratos immediately grabbed the nearest soldier and rammed him into the soldier behind him, eventually piling up four or five of the unlucky troops in a mangled heap. However, snagging all of them gave the rest of the army a chance to leap onto the Spartan, and a quick dogpile formed where it seemed as though Kratos would succumb to unlikely odds.
Meet Kratos' newest weapon, the Cestus.
Suddenly, the pile flew apart with Kratos standing unscathed, his arms clad with the new weapon, the lion-headed Cestus. Kratos then turned his attention to a centaur that was charging towards him. Scaling a nearby wall, he avoided the centaur's charging staff attack and swung one of his blades around its waist. Kratos then used the chain of the blade to pull himself towards the centaur to plunge the other blade into its chest. Immediately returning his attention to the other troops, he used the Cestus to smash through the troops, before turning and attacking a Cyclops that suddenly appeared. Instead of leaping on top of the creature and shoving a blade through the monster's eye, Kratos started stabbing the beast in the neck, causing it to scream in pain and swing its club at the soldiers below, scattering them to the side. As he prepared to deliver the final blow, however, the ground began to shake and suddenly dropped below them, sending everything on the battlefield tumbling into space.
The Cyclops that Kratos rode quickly struggled to grab a handhold and eventually managed to desperately grab a tree. Sensing a moment of opportunity, Kratos quickly plunged his blade into the creature's eye, causing it to writhe in pain. As he turned, Kratos looked over his shoulder to see a flock of harpies flying out of the trees of the now tilted forest, and leapt to grab a hold of one unlucky creature. As it screamed thanks to the additional weight of Kratos, the camera zoomed out to show that Kratos was not actually fighting in a forest with a clearing, but on top of a titan that was slowly scaling the face of Mount Olympus. The camera then zoomed back in, and as Kratos ripped the harpy's wings off, sending it tumbling to earth, Kratos leapt towards the camera. The game logo promptly emerged to large applause in the theater.
Asmussen then took back over to mention some of the elements that had been shown in the trailer such as the Titan gameplay, which he pointed out highlighted the immense scale of the game. "Our whole engine is built around rendering this massive scale, and it truly is a moving level. We're kind of moving mountains now," Asmussen said. Not only did he point out that everything that can be done normally can be done atop the Titans, but they're trying to measure the gameplay in the sense of acres instead of general areas or locations. The team also wanted to focus on ride-able enemy characters, which gives Kratos a new kind of strategy and flexibility in combat. The same kind of technology that was shown for the Titans was used on a miniature scale to allow the Spartan the option to leap onto creatures like the Cyclops and use it to his advantage.
The third thing Asmussen pointed out was the weapon system, which the design team wanted to augment because many people focused solely on the Blades of Chaos and eschewed the other weapons. Instead, the team wanted the other weapons to be just as deep and flexible as the blades, so they decided to create a system where players could immediately swap between all of them at any point in time. Asmussen likened this to changing fighting stances between martial styles, so you could start a combo with one weapon, continue it with another and finish it by changing back to the first weapon. Finally, the team wanted to expand on the scale of the battles significantly from those on the PS2. Whereas you'd face off against ten or twelve enemies at the most on the PS2, you'll easily fight against 50 or more in God of War III. To help you with these odds, the designers added a new set of grab moves that will allow Kratos to handle these odds and grow in strength as more enemies show up on screen.
Centaurs and skeletons alike will feel Kratos' rage.
While the trailer was impressive, the demo that we were shown afterwards was just as strong. While Design Director Todd Papy controlled Kratos in a section tentatively called "The Fortified City," Asmussen narrated the action. The setting of the city was a stone keep on the side of Mount Olympus, and the war between the gods was fully engaged. Kratos' task in this city was to find the hidden door of Eos, which was rumored to unlock a secret passageway that would lead to the Palace of Olympus. Asmussen intentionally wanted everyone to pay attention to Kratos as Papy started the demo because he called him "Kratos 3.0." Essentially, what he was telling the audience was that this was a next-gen Kratos. Not only has the development team focused solely upon using the game engine to create cinematics in-game, they've spent a large amount of time trying to make sure that Kratos looked as high-res as possible. As a result, Asmussen mentioned that the amount of elements that had been added would possibly blur the lines between high-res shots and in-game footage. The new Kratos features blended normal maps for realistic muscle flexing, high-res shaders, rim shaders to stand out from the environment and other elements. In fact, Asmussen mentioned that his character model wouldn't even fit in the PS2's memory. Compared to the 5,000-polygon count on the PS2, Kratos is now running around 20,000 polygons on the PS3 alone.
Papy hit the Start Button, and the camera zoomed out from Kratos' face, which displayed realistic pores and textures on his teeth as the Spartan angrily flexed in a cave before he emerged to witness a Titan made of molten lava that scaled one of the walls of the city. As the deity crested the wall, Helios attacked the Titan from his chariot of the sun, waging a mighty battle with flashes of light bursting throughout the air. Kratos leapt from the cave into the courtyard of the city and landed in the middle of a battle with undead skeletons. Papy hit the Circle Button, and Kratos immediately grabbed the nearest soldier to use as a battering ram. According to Asmussen, if Papy hit the Circle Button once more, he would immediately start to beat the soldier, but if he hit the Triangle Button, he would rip him apart. Hitting X would throw him, while the Square Button would turn him into a battering ram. Papy proceeded to smash through some of the other enemies with the soldier before completing a combo to eject many of the collected troops. He then hit the Circle Button one last time and smashed the troops head against a wall.
Exploration and combat work hand in hand during this game.
While that cleared out the first set of enemies, a centaur lead a new group into battle, which made the enemy "grunts" work much harder and fight stronger than before, according to Asmussen. To weaken the group, Papy used a bit of mana to cast a fireball that set the skeletons on fire. Asmussen pointed out that setting one of the enemies on fire was useful because fire would spread from one monster to another, damaging more than one beast at a time. Once he'd eliminated enough soldiers, Papy spent his time working on the centaur, weakening it with a mix of blade and cestus strikes until the familiar button prompt popped up over its head. While we expected that this would lead to a kill animation, the crowd wasn't ready for what Kratos did: He scaled the creature and wrapped his blade around its neck, pulling it down to the ground. Immediately plunging his other blade deep into its chest, he quickly ran the blade across the belly, opening a large gash that quickly spilled its guts and intestines out onto the marble floor of the city. As the crowd reveled in this brutal kill, Asmussen mentioned that the exposure of the innards was attributed to what the team was calling Zippertech, which would allow them to create more realistic kills.
Papy then moved Kratos over to attempt to help the Titan by aiming and firing a ballista at Helios' chariot, but before he could take the shot, Kratos was ambushed by a large chimera, who leapt from the shadows to maul the warrior. Asmussen mentioned that Chimera were akin to a mini-bosses that Kratos would have to fight throughout the entire game and that these three-staged beasts would be a bit of a challenge regardless of what weapon you used. To show off some of the versatility of the weapon system, Papy switched to the Cestus, which Asmussen mentioned was designed for close-quarters combat. When Kratos had them equipped, he evaded attacks much faster. Asmussen likened the Cestus stance to that of a boxer who could bob and weave around incoming blows. As Papy moved back and forth between his blades and the Cestus, he eventually weakened the snake portion of the Chimera, which he promptly chopped off. After a series of blows, he also managed to defeat the fire-breathing lion head by snapping its neck and finally killing the beast by stepping on its goat head, snapping off a horn and impaling the creature with it.
Finally free to help the assailed titan, Kratos took aim and fired at Helios' chariot, which damaged the carriage enough to allow the Titan to grab and crush the god in the palm of his hand before flinging the injured deity and the wreckage of his vehicle across the stage. The titan then proceeded to climb the buildings of the city and proceed up the mountain. Seeking to finish the job that the Titan started, Papy took Kratos and reversed his steps, moving back to the courtyard and over to a precipice. Here, he fired a bolt at a harpy, who called in a flock of harpies to gather before attacking the warrior. Clearly, Kratos had other plans, as he leapt onto a Harpy, stabbed it a few times to move and then leapt to another before jumping onto the terrace on the other side. Asmussen mentioned that this was a different way that the ride-able characters could be used; that a player wouldn't always try to kill creatures off the bat because they might be necessary to gain access to new areas.
After fighting through more soldiers and scaling a set of walls and ledges, Kratos eventually emerged on the platform where the severely injured Helios lay crushed under the weight of his chariot. Before Kratos could leap onto him and destroy him, he found himself facing off against a new enemy: skeletal enemies with gigantic shields. Asmussen mentioned that these soldiers could protect against most attacks that Kratos could use and could even form phalanxes to defend each other. The lone weakness came with the arrival of a Cyclops, which Papy mounted and used to smash the shields and send the skeletons flying. Of course, the Cyclops could only take so much damage, and after the skeletons were eliminated, Papy hit the button prompt, and Kratos plunged his hands into the Cyclops' eye socket. Palming the beast's eyeball, he promptly ripped it clean out, with the connective tissue and nerve still attached. But the brutality wasn't done there. Kratos quickly walked over to Helios, and grabbed the god's head, squeezing and pulling with all of his strength as Helios screamed and fought back as best as he could in his weakened condition. In the end, Kratos was too powerful, and the Ghost of Sparta ripped his head from his shoulders. Asmussen dryly mentioned that Kratos had just acquired his latest power up.
Kiss your head goodbye.
Similar to the head of the Medusa from the original game, Helios' head had a couple of uses that Kratos would exploit as he continued to search for the secret entrance to Olympus. The first one was that the head would reveal hidden doors that were cloaked from view, thanks to the wide sunbeams that were projected from his mouth. As he said this, Papy raised the head to a cliff wall and revealed the secret door of Eos that Kratos had been searching for, and the Spartan entered the dark portal searching for the secret passage. The second use for the head was as a lantern, and Kratos palmed Helios' skull to illuminate his way through the darkness. However, the passageway of Eos wasn't unguarded, and as a group of skeletal warriors charged Kratos, he raised the head and used it to blind them with a burst of light. This, Asmussen mentioned, was a way to set up quick combos, because the enemies would recoil from the power of the head, giving you an opportunity to strike quickly.
Eventually clearing out the passageway, Kratos moved forward to a large cylindrical room where air rushed upwards at a quick pace. Kratos pulled out the Icarus Wings from the previous game and leapt into the column, racing skyward. This, Asmussen mentioned, was the Icarus Ascent, which was a new feature for God of War III. Similar to the Pegasus segments of God of War II, these vents will allow Kratos to quickly traverse areas of Olympus that would take much longer to clear on foot. However, this particular vent was unstable thanks to the attacks of the titans, and as Kratos dodged pillars and walkways that crossed the vent, he quickly discovered that he also had to dodge boulders, crumbling debris and other hazards that tumbled down the shaft. Papy nimbly dodged these items as best as he could, and eventually emerged out of the vent directly in front of the molten Titan from before, who took a swing at Kratos. Whether this was a mistake on the titan's part or he simply didn't like Kratos in his face was unclear, but it was quite obvious that the Spartan was going to have none of that, as he flapped the Icarus wings towards the Titan and leapt through the air at the god with his blades drawn. The screen faded, and the room once again burst into applause.
Kratos takes to the skies thanks to Icarus' wings.
Honestly, from a personal standpoint, even describing the elements of the gameplay and trailer doesn't do the gameplay justice, because the sense of scale and action really has to be seen to be fully grasped and understood. The vistas are huge, the characters and monsters that you face off against are significantly larger and more numerous than the previous games, and there's a lot of features that the team specifically has tried to keep secret from everyone, particularly because they want to roll additional details out at a later time. For example, there were no red experience orbs shown during the game demo to indicate how Kratos would level up his weapons, nor were the team willing to explain whether they would strip Kratos of power at the start and let him build up his skills. Nor were they willing to talk about the sex mini-games that many people have thought of with the game, but Asmussen reassured us, "we don't want to fix what ain't broke." They're also still working on a number of elements to ensure that the scale would work as well as they want it to, so they're still working on ensuring that the camera is clean and unobtrusive, because, as Asmussen put it, having the camera capture all of the gameplay and scenic elements for the onscreen and background action is extremely complicated.
While the game was one that was striking due to the scale of the adventure and the battle sequences, it obviously begged the question if the team would go the Killzone 2 route and refuse an install, or have some kind of install to help with the title. Talking to the lead programmer, I found out that there would probably be a small install when players initially started the game for the first time, but everything else from there would stream solely from the disc with a significant amount of SPU balancing to make sure that everything moves seamlessly without any load times or visual hitches. Although they weren't willing to talk about release dates or even if this level would be a possible demo that fans would be able to see and play (which they did seem willing to consider but weren't willing to commit to), the design team did state that there would be plenty of news coming about God of War III soon. Personally, I can't wait, because if it's even close to what we were shown during the screening, in the end, there might be only chaos, but it could also be one of the best games any system will ever have.
|The last time we saw Kratos, the bald and bladed antihero star of the God of War series, he was aggressively working out some family issues. God of War II ended on a cliffhanger, with Kratos climbing up Mount Olympus with a whole mess of titans, eager to beat the smack out of the gods. This set high expectations for the next chapter in the series. While Sony has teased the upcoming game in trailers and in print, there really is no substitute to seeing a game in action with your own eyes, which is what we were able to do this week at a press event officially unveiling the game. Besides getting a look at another trailer, we were able to see a live demo of the game and talk with some of the team working on it. Does it live up to our gory expectations? It's getting there.
Click image to enlarge!
The event kicked off with game director Stig Asmussen taking the stage and serving as emcee for the event. Asmussen has been a part of the team since the original game, serving as lead and environmental artist on GOW and GOWII, and has now been handed the hookblades for the latest adventure. The game's direction is obviously to kick gameplay, story, and technological ass on the PlayStation 3. The team is pushing to make the game big in scale, mayhem, and bloody eye-candy and rich with gameplay.
But, while talk is nice, the proof is always in the game, and Asmussen didn't waste too much time in cutting to a trailer of Kratos in motion. The surly warrior is shown racing through a forest and tearing through hordes of skeletal warriors. His brutal assault highlights one of the new moves in the game--grabbing enemies and using them as a battering ram. The assault looks effective and painful. When a cyclops joins the fray, Kratos improvises and hops onto the monster's back, using it as a not entirely willing mount. Kratos doesn't seem to be too concerned with how the cyclops feels as he forcibly guides it through mobs of foes by stabbing and hacking at it. As the trailer winds down, the landscape goes wobbly as Kratos struggles with the cyclops and leaps off of it onto a passing harpy. The camera pulls back to show that the "forest" he's been fighting on is actually the back of a titan that is climbing to Mount Olympus. The trailer doesn't leave much to the imagination when it comes to what to expect next: an epic and bloody battle.
Before diving into the demo, Asmussen hit on four elements in the game that will shape GOW III's gameplay. The first is the "titan" gameplay, which, as you'd expect, is being expanded on quite a bit thanks to the PS3 hardware's muscle. As hinted at in the trailer, some levels in the game will be set on moving titans, which means they'll likely change up depending on what the titan is doing. This seems like Shadow of the Colossus on steroids, with level orientation shifting from horizontal to vertical as you progress. When you consider that these levels are set to span acres of land, this bit of gameplay could be a mixed blessing for the angry bald demigod.
The second gameplay element, the ability to mount enemies, ought to be an interesting addition to Kratos' repertoire of moves. Besides the obvious benefits of using a cyclops to clear some space when dealing with mobs of foes, you'll be able to make use of harpies to fly to new areas or dive-bomb enemies. Unfortunately, your unwilling mounts don't have too long of a life span, because Kratos "directs" them where he needs them to go by assorted stabbings, throttlings, and painful contortions. On the plus side, it sounds like there should be plenty to choose from and each has unique attacks and abilities.
The third gameplay element is the new weapon system, which has evolved out of user feedback from the first two games. Given that most players favored Kratos' hookblades, despite some very cool alternate weapons, the team is working to ensure that the weapons you gain in GOWIII offer the same feel, albeit with different effects. The only one on display in the trailer was the cestus--the metal ringed lion gauntlets. The powerful weapon is a close-range melee weapon that changes up Kratos' moves a bit, offering faster but shorter dodges and some wicked area-of-effect attacks perfect for slamming mobs of enemies away. One interesting aspect of the new system is the ability to switch between weapons on the fly during combos, which should make for some unholy chains.
Finally, GOWIII's overall scale for battle has necessitated the addition of new grabs, attacks, and other actions designed to deal with mobs of enemies. One example was the battering ram move, which lets you use one enemy to deal with mobs. This bit of gameplay appears to have evolved out of a need to figure out a way to deal with the hordes of enemies you'll be facing, which is considerably more than what Kratos had to deal with in the last game.
Click image to enlarge!
As before, the gameplay talk segued into actual gameplay as Asmussen queued up a live demo of the game. The demo was set in a massive stone keep cut into the side of Mount Olympus. Kratos is seen emerging from a cave and taking in the view of a battle between Helios and a volcanic titan that disturbed a group of harpies hanging out. Asmussen explained that the goal of the level was to find a mystic door in the keep that led to a secret path into Olympus, but there were some things to be tended to before that could happen. With an agenda set, Kratos is shown jumping the gap between the cave exit using his Icarus wings. Once he lands, enemies start to crawl out of the woodwork to murder him. The mob is soon large enough to warrant some battering ram action with an unlucky foe. While the mob regroups, Kratos is seen using his fire bow to ignite enemies, who catch their neighbors on fire, which helps clear the area. Unfortunately, a set of doors on one end of the level opens and a new mob, led by a centaur, comes out.
Asmussen pointed out that enemies will behave differently when a commander is on the battlefield, as evidenced by the aggressive behavior of the new enemies. This portion of the battle required some multitasking, as Kratos had to contend with the centaur's attacks as well as the more frequent rushes by his soldiers. While the enemies could be dealt with by using Kratos' standard attacks, as well as the battering ram technique, the centaur's spear jabs had to be countered, minigame style. With proper timing, Kratos could counterblock the spear and get in a healthy amount of stabbing. Once the centaur had taken enough damage, the familiar circle-button prompt appeared over his head, signaling the opening to initiate a finishing move. The finishers seem to work about the same. A series of button prompts will pop up, and if they're hit in time, they'll reward you with some painful and horribly bloody killing animation. In the centaur's case, it meant gutting him like a tauntaun, which resulted in a spray of guts and a whole lot of intestines.
With that particular area cleared, Kratos' attention is focused on the titan battling Helios. Besides the fact that the massive behemoth's attempt to swat the god and his chariot away were causing it to smash chunks of the keep around Kratos, the angry hero needed to look out for his massive partner in crime. A conveniently placed ballista appeared to offer the perfect opportunity to do just that. However, as Kratos begins to aim it, a part of the screen, which just appeared to be a part of the foreground environment, shifts and walks toward our hero. As the shadow moves into the foreground, the GOWIII interpretation of a chimera, a snake-lion-goat hybrid, comes into view, kicking off a new fight.
For this confrontation, Kratos shifted to the cestus and proceeded to pound the hell out of the creature. The chimera's attacks were specific to which form was taking the lead. At the start of the fight, the creature's snake aspect was causing trouble and assaulting Kratos with venom. Once it had been damaged enough, the finisher prompt came up and resulted in a painful head slicing. However, rather than end the chimera there, the finisher let Kratos murder the creature's snake half. With the snake dead, the chimera shifted to its lion attacks, shooting fire. After some careful dodging and face pounding, Kratos performed a finish and killed off the lion part of the chimera, which caused it to shift to its goat form. While you'd think goat attacks would be a lot less of a problem than lion and snake attacks, this was not the case. The goat attacks were powerful and painful-looking rushes that did a whole lot of damage to Kratos. But a little dedication, a lot of rage, and some mystic weapons allowed the Kratos to stomp the chimera and perform a wicked finisher. (We'll now be adding "having your horns ripped off and stabbed into your eyes" to our list of ways we wouldn't like to die.) Kratos returns to the ballista and wings Helios just enough to let the titan catch him and pitch him like a baseball to another part of the level.
Click image to enlarge!
With Helios out of its hair, the titan continues its ascent, allowing the spooked harpies to come back and loiter. The featured creatures offer the perfect way to cross the massive gap between the area where Kratos stands and the path to where Helios fell. In order to line them up, Kratos uses the fire arrow to stir them up, then proceeds to jump from harpy to harpy to reach the other side, killing them as he's done with them. When he's finally close enough to drop, he uses a harpy to dive-bomb the mob of enemies waiting for him. The attack is very effective, since apparently harpies explode on impact with the ground. Once the new mob is dealt with, Kratos begins climbing up part of the ruins to reach the area where Helios is lying in a heap. The journey showed off a new, faster shimmy mechanic, which appeared to be handy for avoiding debris and jets of flame.
As Kratos reaches the top of the path and finds Helios, the wounded god summons some skeletal help. This time out, the mix of enemies is more than just run-of-the-mill skeleton warriors. The new enemies carry shields that block Kratos' attacks. Fortunately, a well-meaning cyclops bursts onto the scene offering Kratos something to ride, and, more importantly, offers the use of its club, which it flails as Kratos steers it. The creature's blind flailing smashes the troublesome shields held by the skeletons. Once all the shields are smashed, Kratos pops out the cyclops' eyeball and finishes off the skeletons, leaving Helios with no protection. You can pretty much guess what goes down. After a very brief exchange of words, and some prompted pressing of R1 and L1 on the Dual Shock controller, Kratos is the proud owner of a slightly battered, but magical, god head. As we noted earlier, Helios is a sun god, which means he's pretty glowy, even in death, which made his head the perfect tool for discovering the hidden door to Olympus. Asmussen noted that the head will reveal assorted secrets in the game when used in specific places that you're tipped off to by controller vibration. Kratos was shown using the head to uncover the mystic door and enter an underground cavern.
Once Kratos was inside the dark cavern, the head also served as a handy lantern, lighting Kratos' path and stunning enemies that it shined on, setting them up for brutal combos. The interesting twist was, like with the medusa head in the previous games, the head worked only when "used" and held out in front of Kratos. So, once enemies were stunned, the light would go away and darkness would fall as Kratos pummeled foes. The cavern opened up into an area that contained a launcher, which segued into a gameplay segment Asmussen dubbed "Icarus ascension." The action was basically a flight up through an increasingly complex series of gaps you have to steer toward as you hurtle up at high speed. At the end of the sequence, Kratos popped up into Olympus, dodging the fiery titan who was already there making trouble. The demo ended on a long look at Olympus, which you just know is going to get messed up bad by the time the game is over.
The demo left a good impression from a gameplay standpoint. The action was pretty much what you'd want out of a God of War game, only amped up and with a greater percentage of entrails. The camera seemed to be working out well and featured some extra motion to sell the general chaos of the action. The visuals were looking good but were obviously still a work-in-progress. The scale and speed were there for sure, but detail varied. Kratos looked impressive and had a ton of detail to him. Enemies and effects varied, with some looking impressive and others coming off a little flat. The environments were more consistent, thanks to the game's large sense of scale. We liked the smooth transition of the chimera from what looked like a background element into gameplay.
Click image to enlarge!
What we saw of God of War III covered all the bases we wanted to see. There were some nice, expansive set pieces to fight on, some stabbing of mythological creatures, punching, decapitation of mythological figures, stabbing, gore, angry ranting from Kratos, and stabbing, so much stabbing. The work-in-progress game didn't have the buckets of visual polish we expect the final version to have, but even so, it made a very good first impression in motion. As with all good demos, we were left wanting more. We're curious about how the story will play out, if the weapons and upgrade system will have any significant changes, and how titan gameplay is going to work. This is, of course, a good thing, since we'll be front and center at E3 to check out the demo and whatever else Sony has going on for the game. Even at this point, though, we feel pretty good about saying fans will be happy with what's coming. Look for more on God of War III in the coming months.