God of War: Ascension, Power Stone, and paying allegiance to the gods

God of War Ascension
When asked about how he and the team at Sony Santa Monica are bringing multiplayer into the God of War series with God of War: Ascension, game director Todd Papy digs deep for inspiration. The single-player side of the game is obviously an influence, he says, as multiplayer side of the game attempts to enhance the always cinematic world of Kratos with a new character called the Avatar.

But then things get a little nuts. "You can look at Allegiance levels," says Papy, referring to the mode's customization choices defined by the four gods Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, and Ares, "and you can look at Diablo and Call of Duty and other games that have skill trees that you basically level up.

"And then you can look at Power Stone," says Papy, "as far as that old school melee feel to it." Yes. That's the one. Playing God of War: Ascension's renamed "Favor of the Gods" mode, and running around with up to eight other players flipping switches, executing combos, and earning favor points does feel a whole lot like the Dreamcast classic. In a strange way, to be honest. But a good one nevertheless.
%Gallery-172713% The fleshed-out Allegiances are probably the newest headline feature in this latest build of the game, shown off at Sony Santa Monica's studios earlier this week. The team knew they'd have four different allegiance choices back when we saw the game in April, but it wasn't quite clear how exactly they'd work. As Papy tells us now, the whole system is much more fleshed out.

"We've got our four allegiances, Zeus, Aries, Poseidon, and Hades," says Papy, "and each one of them has its own unique playstyle. So think of it almost like tuning your car, where do you want to go top speed, do you want to go acceleration, do you want to go handling, and that's kind of the way that those four gods play out." Zeus and Ares were the only available choices during our demo, but those two are clearly very different, with Zeus (the "battlemage" allegiance) offering up more spells and longer ranged attacks, with a weakness to physical attacks. Ares is the opposite: the "warrior" allegiance gives a player more physical power, with more of a weakness to magical attacks.

The choice of allegiance not only defines a player's strengths and weaknesses in terms of stats (which include health, magic and physical power and resistances, and a "cooldown" stat, to apparently define how often abilities can be used), but it also influences gear choices. Certain armors (which have now been implemented with full graphical representation) are available only to certain allegiances, so a helm with a lot of magic resist may only be for those who follow Zeus. "It's that yin and yang balance of how I want to tune my playstyle to the experience," says Papy.

In addition to the allegiance choice, there are number of other customizations available. Each player gets an item to use, a special long cooldown ability that can heal a player or escape out of an attacking combo. There are also relics to equip, that can provide passive bonuses like a bonus to attack speed, or a boost in health during a kill streak.

How all of these things will balance against each other is what Sony Santa Monica hopes to figure out in the game's upcoming beta. "People want to win," says Papy, "so they're usually going to gravitate towards something that helps them do that. So [in the beta] we'll figure out people are gravitating towards X, Y, and Z, and we'll do some adjustments and then put it back into the wild."

God of War Ascension
In the actual matches, the action feels solid. Papy says there will be a few different game modes to play, but the two on display were Favor of the Gods and a team variant, in both the Polyphemus-threatened map seen earlier this year, and a free-for-all area based on the Forum of Hercules arena from God of War 3.

The most surprising thing about the gameplay is that it actually has a bit of depth to it. Yes, like Power Stone, it's possible to just jump in swinging. But just like God of War singleplayer, you soon discover that precision pays off; if you time a parry right, or grapple a sprinting enemy during the split second he's vulnerable, or nail down just the right combo, fights will go your way that much more often.

"For us, gameplay is paramount," says Papy. "It took us a very long time figuring out, here's roughly the lag that we expect. When I go and swing that sword, it's actually got pre-hit detection to know OK, I hit you, and then you play that animation and it feels good. That's been one of our biggest challenges to try and get that across." God of War's camera has always been used to show the action clearly, but in multiplayer, it's also used to signal when to fight and when to move out of the way. "When Polyphemus is about to slam you," says Papy, "we do camera tweaks so we can show that action."

Aside from the muscle memory players will earn by playing through the single-player game, Papy shared that there is other tie between the two modes. "We do have a crossover moment in singleplayer, where you play through and you see from Kratos' point of view," teases Papy. "And then when you start the multiplayer campaign, you see it from the Avatar's point of view, in the same room." Other than that, there's no other shared XP or any connection, save for the practice. "If you play through the single-player campaign it will only serve your multiplayer skills."

And finally, Papy says that while the team is currently very focused on "executing our game plan and finishing off the game," DLC is guaranteed. "Some of the stuff will be free, and some might be charged for," he says. New items, new maps, perhaps even some new allegiances for multiplayer post-launch? "That's all considered fair game for DLC," according to Papy. "We plan on supporting the product after its out."

In fact, that's not just the plan, he says. It's kind of the point. "That to me is the most important thing. We love this franchise and we've put our blood, sweat and tears into it, and that to me is kind of the issue that we've had in previous God of War games is that as soon as it's out, it's out, and there's nothing that really comes out afterwards or anything like that. People pick it up for a week, play it, some love it and keep it on the shelf, but we want to keep it in the tray and make sure that people actually play it."

In other words, Sony's working on making a chaotic and fun multiplayer melee game that's designed for a lot of longevity. You know, just like Power Stone.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.