God of War review
God of War, originally released in 2018 on the PlayStation 4, was a fantastic reboot of Kratos’ character from the original trilogy. God of War went down as one of the best games on the PS4, plus it was many people’s Game of the Year in 2018, and today I’m going to revisit the game a few years since it came out.
Kratos has mellowed in the eight years since we last saw him on PlayStation. Back then he was into murdering Greek Gods, his life was filled with sex and violence, and that way of life clearly took its toll on the man, as the Kratos we encounter in God Of War is much more thoughful, sensitive, plus he’s a father. Kratos now lives in the woods, in Midgard, where the Norse Gods rule. He has a small shack with his son, Atreus, and they appear to be living a quiet life hunting, not wanting for much.
We start out the game with Kratos teaching Atreus to hunt, although there seems to be many more monsters around these days. Normally they don’t come this far down the mountain or close to their home Atreus notes. Unfrotunately, Kratos’ wife and Atreus’ mother has recently died, and they cremate her, put her ashes into a pouch and want to start off on their adventure to the top of the mountain, as part of her dying wish. Only there’s a knock at the door. Kratos directs Atreus to hide in a makeshift hidey-hole they have created below the house in cae of emergencies and Kratos opens the door. Baldur is there, and he’s looking for a fight.
Our objective has been laid out very clearly, its our wife’s dying wish for us to go on an adventure together to the top of the mountain, and deliver her ashes. There are some great mysteries along the way; Atreus seems to be a sickly, thin, small child. Kratos is worried he won’t be able to make it to the top of the mountain.
In terms of the gameplay it’s a third person action game with the player controlling Kratos, however, you are supported by Atreus who can shoot arrows to support his father. As Kratos, you can attack enemies with your Axe, Shield and fists, and the combat does feel very good. The Axe in particular is one of the best feeling weapons in games period. You throw it and it can stick into enemies, but at the push of a button it comes flying back into your hands, with a very satisfying thud when the handle hits your palm. You can run into opponents, fists flying, or you can hang back and pepper them with your Axe. If you smash your enemies into a pulp you can get a finisher animation, meaning you can finish off enemies with a flourish animation, which means tearing them in half or ripping their head off. As with the other forms of combat, it’s very satisfying, if slightly gruesome.
In the first few hours of God of War the game is fairly linear, but after a short while things open up. Kratos and Atreus start out on Midgard, but things soon open up and you find yourself going all across the realms. The game isn’t all action, so there are quiet moments of reflection where Kratos and Atreus get to talk and the former gets to be a father and give advice. Somewhere in the middle of the game you meet the severed head of one character, and there’s a great series of moments on board a little boat where you hear the head tell stories from the past. These are some of the best moments in the game; it’s quiet and gentle, and builds the world in grand fashion. The fights in this game are spectacular, but the quieter moments of character development between Kratos and Atreus are the moments I remember after playing.
Kratos is directed through the main quest in an obvious fashion, there’s a marker on screen to indicate where to go next if you want to just speed through the main quest. God of War is filled with side quests and smaller stories, that are good fun in their own right. There are secret rooms, hidden caves, and loot chests all over the place to help you get lost and distract from the main story. They feel like time well spent too, at the end of a side quest you feel rewarded, not only in the loot you can acquire for the upgrades to Kratos and Atreus, but in the lore you learned along the way.
The environmental storytelling in the game is excellent. It’s not only the severed head who likes to speak to you throughout the game. There are a couple of blacksmith dwarves who help you out on your journey, and they love to talk. Many of the NPCs in the game love to speak to you and tell you tales while you are around, so it’s worth hanging out and talking things slow when other characters are talking as you might learn a few interesting things about the world you inhabit.
God of War looks fantastic, it’s vast and grand in scale, and the character designs are decent too. There are big set piece fights against Elves, Rock Monsters, Trolls and Ogres. Some of the supporting charcters are larger than life too, some literally with the World Serpent being the primary candidate. This is a large snake-like creature, as large as Midgard itself, and watching Kratos and Atreus first meet the World Serpent is a great moment in the game. The game does a great job blending story and action sequences. God of War doesn’t cut away from the action to load into a cutscene, everything is presented in a single, long shot with fairly seamless transitions. This gives the game a cinematic feel and quality. It also helps you see the world from Kratos’ perspective and helped me get into the characters and overall narrative of the game. Its something we hadn’t seen on that scale before, and was considered a huge technical achievement at the time.
You could compare God of War to Dark Souls, given the fairly linear nature of the game in a world that seems large and open, while you are being directed down a paritcular path. Combat too can feels Dark Souls like at time, not so much in the initial playthrough, but in the post-game when you can take on the rock solid Valkyries, including the infamous Sigrun.
To support the combat gameplay mechanics, there are quite a lot of RPG elements thrown into the mix. Kratos can upgrade his axe, the handle and pommel, plus Atreus can upgrade his bow. Then you have their individual clothes which can be upgraded, plus the runic attacks, which you have a light and heavy variant. There’s no complicated button combo press required for the runic attacks, it’s a simple button press to unleash a special attack which is going to inflict more damage, or stun your opponents in place. Runic attacks can be swapped out and different runes have different effects on bosses, so some of the bosses have a puzzle element to them. God of War doesn’t hold your hand in this regard, you have to try different combinations out to find the best one.
God of War doesn’t hold your hand in the fighting tutorials, it also is fairly relaxed about the storytelling too. The narrative is expertly woven throughout with Kratos and Atreus constantly talking to one another, so it’s definitely worth paying attention, this isn’t a podcast game. The payoffs are huge as smaller off the cuff comments from earlier on in the game get paid off later, it’s a masterclass of blending the narrative and action together into a relatively seamless experience.
God of War is both sequel and reboot at the same time. Kratos has left the debauched days of sex and violence behind him, and he now prefers the quiet life. Unfrotunately, trouble seems to find him and he’s forced to pick up the weapons once again. Sony Santa Monica Studios have put together such a complete package, which would proudly sit at the top of many best games list. The pacing of the game is excellent, the story telling is woven into the action unlike any other game, and there are impactful moments throughout the game you won’t be able to forget. God of War Ragnorok is coming out in only a few months time, so if you missed God of War 2018, now is the perfect time to pick it up again.
Developer: Sony Santa Monica Studios
Platforms: Playstation, PC
Release Date: 20th April 2018