While there's a cavernous niche carved out of the online market by first and third-person shooters, you can't really say the same for slashy action games. So it should come as no surprise that the news that God of War: Acension will feature online, competitive multiplayer turned more heads than when Bioware did the same for Mass Effect 3.

After all the hints and rumours leaking through the cracks up until mid-April, it's true enough that Santa Monica's project is, as game director Todd Papy put it:

'One of the worst-kept secrets in the industry.'
 

All the same, no-one could have expected this. The team have released a trailer showing one of several purported game modes, where a four player crew fend off AI opponenents before taking on a gargantuan cyclops. It's below, but seriously, this isn't for the weak-kneed:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=yUHtt9sUtw4

Papy stressed that Ascension will not support campaign co-op. The campaign is still dedicated to Kratos alone, in a prequel story leading up to the events of the first game. Sony are refusing to give any more details on the plot, but the trailer revealed some of the juicy inner workings of the game's multiplayer feature.

The trailer showed a PvP-based match, but the opposing team were AI-controlled. Sony are being pretty coy about other possible game types, in the region of six or seven at the moment, with four-vs-four deathmatch variants and almost certainly some kind of Horde mode in the works. Like most multiplayer suites these days, God of War: Ascension will allow players to build characters from scratch. Instead of the usual faction affiliations or classes, players will pledge an oath to one of four andres – Zeus, Poseidon, Hades or Ares. This will dictate your character's special attacks and stat archetypes. There's armour and weapons to customize and upgrade and an experience tree to bulk up your warrior.

The armour designs are looking especially interesting, one build featured in the trailer was sporting a spiny belt made from octopus tentacles, and the typical red vs blue differentiation in team matches is marked out in tribal body paint.


All of this customization is pretty generous. Santa Monica could have just offered a battle royale of the Greek pantheon or other stock characters from the franchise' past. Levelling up and tinkering with online avatars never ceases to be fun, but may lead to balancing issues. The developers have however, allowed for the most threatening issue – playing as a character that isn't Kratos would prevent the multiplayer from feeling like God of War. Without the Blades of Chaos/Athena for example, many of the core gameplay mechanics would be lost. The Blades are some of the most utilitarian weapons in gaming – Kratos used them to swing across gaps, traverse ceilings and manipulate his enemies in the finisher animations, dragging them in for punishment or ploughing them into walls or other environmental hazards. From the trailer, it looks like every online avatar will have access to some kind of harpoon on a chain, that the players used to hold the cyclops down for one player to finish off, typically grotesquely. This could add some interesting team dynamics, as well as give every player build the acrobatic tendencies that made stepping into Kratos' sandals so much gory fun so consistently over the years.

 

The map is conviniently reminiscent of the RPG-RTS hybrid Demigod.

The addition of multiplayer to a series so dedicated to single player mayhem is bound to inspire some doubt, but from what's available so far, mutilating your friends online is looking like a very attractive prospect.