After attempting (and failing) to keep it a secret for the longest time, Sony finally confirmed that God of War: Ascension was coming to the PlayStation 3.  Instead of being an epic sequel to God of War III, this time around it’s a prequel, telling the story of how Kratos got to be in his position.  Sony invited us out to an event to provide us a first look at the game, but rather than focusing on the new single player campaign,  we were treated to an innovative multiplayer experience that takes God of War in a whole new direction.

For the first time in the long-running action series, God of War will feature an online multiplayer mode where teams of four can compete in certain objectives across seven maps (five large and two small), taking on enemies and eventually winning the match with a well-landed blow to a rather large target.  Though this mode is still early and very much in the works for the game’s 2013 release, it does show a lot of promise – even if you’re not playing as Kratos.

In the opening of the video presentation, we start out in front of a temple, with a singular character showing a likeness to Kratos (though not confirmed to be him) faces off against a rather large Cyclops.  Within seconds of taking him on, a second warrior joins the fray carrying a gigantic war hammer and holding down the Cyclops while the first warrior finishes him off.  

The two characters then break through the temple only to be introduced to a huge map within the game, a multi-layered structure with warriors perched throughout (all controlled by rival players, along with a couple of allies).  Before them is a huge, drooling beast in the distance, chained down and growing more and more angry while in his confined state.  Pretty sick.

It’s here that Todd Papy, the game’s director, introduced the new competitive angle to God of War: Ascension.  As you fight through the map, you’ll be taking on opponents in fierce hand-to-hand combat, eventually winning the battle with a dramatic finishing move that leaves them gutted or bleeding to death.

You can easily lose this battle if you don’t concentrate or strike at the right time, so you’ll need to keep on your toes and take them out so you can move forward.  Eventually you’ll reach one of two pre-set objective points on the map which happen to be switches that you need to spin around so you can wind one of the chains from the confined beast to bring them closer to an upper ledge.

Doing this is a lot trickier than it seems thanks to the opposing team moving in on your position taking potshots at you.  Fortunately the game supports voice chat so you can call upon fellow players to defend you as you hit the gears.  Once you activate the different points on the map, there’s one thing left to do – climb up to the highest ledge and team together so that you can first strike the beast to weaken it, then move in for the final blow using a large weapon which appears once you complete a certain amount of objectives within the map.  (Other weapons also become available over the course of the match, depending on how you’re doing.)

Though this multiplayer may be a jarring change for those who expected a single-player bout as they’ve gotten in previous God of War games (relax, the game will include a campaign for you to romp through, and we're told it'll be at an impressive length), it is quite an impressive feat.  The fact that eight players can join in on the chaos is very cool, and no matter what your skill level you can easily turn the tide of a match.  Good news for veterans and rookies alike: the game supports ranking so it won’t automatically pit an expert against a newcomer. 

As for the quality of the map design, we can’t complain.  The game will focus on the perspective of each individual player as they go through the match and it’s pretty easy to get around the platforms and pick up items, or complete objectives, as necessary.  The player models are fascinating as Papy and his team opted for original warrior characters rather than multiple-colored Kratoses (blue Kratos?  Not this time).  You can also customize them however you see fit, and also level them up accordingly as you progress your way through multiple match-ups.

Kudos to the God of War team for trying something new with its series, even if it’s something not everyone was expecting.  Though players will still be anticipating what Kratos does next (or rather, first) in the series, the multiplayer really does add a new layer of depth to it, even if we only saw bits and pieces.  Expect more impressions once the game goes through a full reveal next month at E3!