Fast, fun, and absolutely fantastic – God of War is back!
Before I delve deep into my review for this, I thought I should clarify my position on the series and some of the feelings I had about this title prior to playing. From the early PlayStation 2 releases, to the late PlayStation 3 sequels, I have been a big fan of the God of War series.
From its over-the-top fast-paced and button mashing combat, to the gory and brutal quick-time executions, I have adored these games growing up. While graphically, some of these titles could use a HD remaster (God of War and God of War II especially), in my opinion, the core gameplay still holds up to this day.
Upon my initial reflections of looking at the first trailers for this iteration, I was a little surprised at the direction that Santa Monica had decided to shift to. At first, I felt a little concerned that they were heading down the Naughty Dog path – in that they were shifting the focus on heavy story/cinematic sequences and compromising core gameplay.
Thankfully, I am happy to report that when it comes to all the positive press that this game has received, believe the hype folks – God of War is not only one of the best games I’ve played all year, but one of the best games I’ve played on the PlayStation 4.
Family ties – from Olympus, to Asgard
In God of War, you once again play as everyone’s favorite antihero, Kratos. After several years since the destruction of Olympus, we find our protagonist situated within the realm of Midgard and hiding underneath the noses of the Norse gods. Now living with his son (Atreus), the game opens up with the death of his second wife, Faye. Tasked with spreading her ashes on the highest peak of all the realms, Kratos and Atreus embark on an adventure to grant her this final wish.
As far as the plot goes, this is all that I’m willing to give away. Considering the amount of time and effort gone into this game, and just how well-crafted this adventure is, this is a game that needs to be experienced first-hand.
I will say though, in this new God of War, the portrayal and performance for this new Kratos is absolutely fantastic. Instead of the hot-headed, angry warrior that we’ve come to know and love him for, this time Kratos is seen as a more serious, cold and distant character. Still haunted by the events of his Greek past, there is a lot going on within this man’s head, and we can see that this in both his performance and what little dialogue he exchanges.
As such, this leads to lot of interesting moments within God of War, as we watch Kratos come face-to-face with his past, and acknowledge the distance that this has had with his son.
While the tone may be vastly different in comparison to God of War III‘s melodramatic, Greek theatre performances – Santa Monica not only managed to somehow make this canon to the series, but also do it in a way that highlights the results of Kratos’ tragic past. Special shout-out to Christopher Judge, who was able to deliver this fantastic portrayal in both the voice and motion capture for the new Kratos.
But as much as I loved the new direction for Kratos, I can’t go without mentioning Atreus. In regards to writing, Atreus is a very well established character, with clear motivations and goals set before him. As a lonely child who is striving to prove himself to his father, there are a lot of interesting moments in which Atreus questions his father’s past, only to be stonewalled with dismissive answers.
It may sound very weird saying considering how in the last game, I ripped the head of Helios and used it as a lamp – but throughout this game, I was kinda rooting for this kid, and hoping that his relationship with Kratos somehow developed.
If at first you don’t succeed, hit them with an axe!
Ditching the classic hack-n-slash gameplay, players will this time experience God of War through a third-person perspective. While the good old days of mashing square and triangle may be long gone, the brutality and ferocity of God of Wars combat still remains.
This time round, players will utilise the R1 and R2 buttons for combat sequences, as well as their fists and one other weapon that gets unlocked later in the game (I won’t say the weapon as this is a spoiler). Using the all new Leviathan Axe, players can hack away at foes, launch them in the air and throwing their weapon at enemies at a distance.
Comparing this to a title such as God of War III, it may seem like the combat system is a lot slower this time round. However, after playing this game for a number of hours, I can safely say that this isn’t case. Much like any other title in the series, God of War’s combat is both fast and satisfying, and can lead to some difficult battles throughout the game.
Given removal of the fixed camera angle, in God of War it can get very easy to have enemies swarm all around you. As such, players should learn quickly how to turn around, and keep their ears out for when Atreus calls out “look behind you!” during battle.
Now while Kratos is at the forefront in all of these fights, Atreus does takes part in a fair bit of action. Throughout combat, players can call upon Atreus to fire arrows at the enemy – which can serve as a helpful way to interrupt their attacks, and pick off weaker foes in the distance.
In addition to his bow, Atreus can also leap onto enemies, which will allow players a moment to charge right at them and hack them to pieces.
As well as a captivating story for players to experience, God of War has an open-world filled with activities, side missions, hidden boss fights and realms to discover. For instance, throughout the game, players can hunt down corrupted Valkyrie sisters, rescue captive dragons, fight off ancient stone giants and uncover hidden loot.
In addition, players can also uncover more hidden lore within the world, and learn more about the gods and history of these realms.
With so many activities to do within God of War, it can be very easy to get lost. When I look back at how these missions have been structured, I think the best thing about these optional quests is that you can tell the developers took a lot of time planning these missions out. At no point did I feel like I was needlessly grinding on these quests, nor feel like these were implemented as an after thought. Most the side quests usually have some sort of story backed with it, or at least some very well written dialogue that helps these areas stay unique.
While hesitant at the new direction Santa Monica chose, I can safely God of War is a huge contender for my game of the year. Not only do I welcome these changes, but I encourage developers to take note of God of War. If you’re an old fan or new to the series, I would highly encourage giving this a shot.