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Joystiq impressions: God of War 3

Kevin Kelly

click to Titan-size!

Hold on to your loincloths, because we spent two hours with God of War III earlier this week and now – with the embargo's arms ripped clean off – we're finally allowed to tell you about it. Maybe we should be more specific: we spent two hours watching someone else play the game while we took notes, geeked out, and did our best to not shout out gameplay suggestions. Instead, game director Stig Asmussen took us through the major goals they've hit so far in the development process, while design director Todd Papy took the controls for the demo.

Something to note: they did make a big point of telling us they would not be discussing a release date. They said they'd be announcing that at E3, which leads us to assume that they still have hurdles to overcome and aren't clear how those will affect their schedule. So will this game be out by the end of 2009? We doubt it. There were plenty of holes in what we were shown, including some fundamental gameplay/story ideas that weren't hammered down yet.

However, what we were able to see looks like it could be worth the wait for PS3 owners. It's basically God of War II on steroids which, considering the popularity – and quality! – of the first two titles, isn't necessarily a bad thing. Read on for our impressions, chock full of tidbits and new info about everyone's favorite angry bald Greek guy.

Gallery: God of War 3 | 21 Photos

So, who is this Stig Asmussen and what are his creds? Mr. Asmussen was the lead environment artist on God of War and the art director on God of War II before working his way up to game director on God of War III, and he took us through the vision for God of War, which is basically the same saber-rattling we've heard from most next-gen developers: "We want to define this generation, and our goal is a commitment to delivering a title that helps defines the industry by combining compelling gameplay and story with top-notch graphics and production values." We can only assume that most companies go into the game development with something close to that in mind.

"Kratos 3.0 wouldn't even be possible on PS2."

Asmussen went on to tell us that the scale in this game is unprecedented or, as he put it, "The Medusa level in God of War II could fit in the Titan Gaia's hand in this game." Later in the day, while the demo booted up, Asmussen let us know that the model they're using for Kratos – dubbed, conveniently, "Kratos 3.0" – wouldn't even be possible on the PlayStation 2. Which does indeed sound pretty big. According to the developers the "Titan Gameplay" featured in God of War III is meant to be, "a level of size and scale yet to be seen. These Titans are living, breathing spectacles, and some of them are taller than the Sears tower." If you ever played God of War II, and there are spoilers coming, you know that at the end of the game, Gaia is scaling Mount Olympus with Kratos on her back, so you'd expect this game to be a lot bigger, and Sony keeps telling us that it will be. We just didn't see it yet.

They told us they weren't going to be talking about story but – spoiler alert! – they did say that this game is all about Kratos and his relentless desire to have revenge against Zeus. In this game he'll be "setting the mysteries of Olympus ablaze," though we're not quite sure what that means yet. They also went on to explain that the war between the Gods and the Titans will be reignited in this game, that it's meant to bridge the series, and will feature an epic finale that is meant to close the door on Kratos' storyline. They'll also be getting inside the mind of Kratos in order to show exactly why he's so pissed off and driven.

To that end, they've added some new elements while retaining all of the familiar gameplay. Combos and "follow the button mashing" bosses are still the crux of the gameplay, but they've put in things like rideable enemy characters, so if you've ever shared our lifelong dream of hopping on the back of a cyclops and piloting it around with full control and combat abilities, this game will finally give us that chance. There's a new combat system that allows you to change weapons on the fly and those weapons are now stance-based, although they didn't go into too much detail on that. They did say that Kratos' moves will change depending on whether he's facing 5 enemies or 50 enemies, and each weapon set is now streamlined to feature combos that create similar attacks no matter what you're wielding.

Afterwards, they showed us a new trailer for the game that was created entirely using the in-game engine, although it was created months ago and is much longer version of the same footage that was shown in the VGA trailer. While it's very impressive looking (see above!) we were eager for them to move on to the demo which – sensing our anticipation – they did.

The God of War III demo level we were shown takes place in "The Fortified City," but don't get too comfortable with that name, it may have a different one at launch. Kratos is fighting through a level while an unnamed Titan battles Helios, the sun god, in the background. He's there searching for a hidden back door to Olympus called the "Door of Eos," although it can only be revealed by magic (we were gonna say!). Kratos starts this level off facing several skeletons, which are fairly easily dispatched. They use this time to show us one of Kratos' new moves: seize an enemy by hitting the square button, hold them in front like a shield, and run pell-mell into other foes and knock 'em to the ground.

"Seize an enemy, hold them in front like a shield, and run pell-mell into other foes and knock 'em to the ground."

We also see what we're now calling his "dogpile repel" move, which is similar to what Neo did in The Matrix: Reloaded (and can be seen in the trailer). Occasionally Kratos will get swarmed by enemies, and this move repels all the enemies off of him, giving him a little room to work in. They show off his new Cestus Gauntlets as well, which were also in the trailer (think: huge lion-headed boxing gloves). After Kratos takes out the skeletal warriors, a massive centaur (again, see the trailer for an example) comes out, and he serves as a commander. New skeletal warriors appear, and as long as the commander is alive, the skeletons fight smarter. To take him down, you're going to have to go through his minions.

They demonstrate his new fire bow also which – perhaps unsurprisingly – lights enemies on fire. Pretty soon, Kratos is meleeing several flaming skeletons along with their half-horsey boss. When Kratos has had enough, he finishes off the centaur by yanking his blades through its belly and spilling innards all over the floor (we immediately recall Han Solo and the Tauntaun in The Empire Strikes Back). This is pretty vivid, and is thanks to a technology the team is calling "ZipperTech." Gruesome. Moving on, Kratos spots a ballista off in the distance, which looks like a possible aid in the Titan's fight against Helios. However, as he approaches it, a massive Chimera (another mythological exquisite corpse: body of a lion, head of a goat, and a living snake for a tail) hops out, and you have to engage in a pretty hard fight to pass, eventually killing it with one of its own horns.

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