Video games are an entertainment medium unlike any other. Games give the player choices that movies or books cannot. You can choose to go do a side mission and stray away from the main path. You can choose what weapon to use. You can choose how to enjoy these experiences in any way you like. While choices make for some interesting gameplay or scenarios, those choices you make do sometimes take away from a game’s realism most of the time. Now, yes, video games aren’t real. You aren’t actually saving a princess or beating up bad guys. But games are artistic mediums that have the power to transport you into fascinating worlds. So why not try to make this world as real as possible? And the most common problem I have seen that hinders the realism of a game is side missions.
Side missions are mostly prevalent in open world games. Games that allow you to go anywhere and do anything at your own free will. While side missions do give some interesting experiences or stories sometimes, they do expose a hole in the game’s narrative. Why would you be doing these mostly tedious missions if there is a world to save? In Breath of the Wild, all of Hyrule needs to be saved because Calamity Ganon has blasted his wrath onto all of Hyrule and imprisoned Princess Zelda. But Link is too busy collecting 50 rushrooms to care. Most open world games fall to this because most in some way involve saving the world or someone. There has been no justification from developers on why these side missions or even collectibles are even in the game besides adding more content for the player. Well, until the recently released God of War.
God of War has ingeniously created a narrative that fits with everything Kratos does in the game. The main narrative for God of War is that Kratos and his son, Atreus, must pour out Kratos’s wife’s ashes from the highest peak in all the realms. And that’s it. Now, yes, there are other plot points thrown into the mix, but this is the main mission for Kratos and his son to achieve. So while this is important to both of them, nobody is trying to take over the world. Nobody is in dire need of rescuing. Their goal isn’t time sensitive. They are just trying to get it done. So there is no justification needed on why Kratos is exploring the Lake of Nine or why they might be trying to help Brok or Sindri retrieve a certain item. But Sony Santa Monica gave us one anyway, and it’s the first game I have ever played that really does this. Many times while exploring the world, Atreus will make a mention to Kratos that they should go explore around for a bit and they are not in a rush. One time Atreus even asked Kratos why they bother doing all of these side missions in the first place. Kratos responds by saying that every fight they endure is better training for Atreus. Every item they collect is used to upgrade their weapons and armor sets. Every story is a lesson for Atreus.
This little conversation absolutely blew me away. To some casual players, it might not be much. But to me, it showed that Sony Santa Monica thought about everything in God of War. It showed me that everything in this game has meaning attached to it. And after that conversation, Kratos was right. For example, in one side mission the father and son run across a spirit that asks for a favor. They must gather together the bones of the spirit’s dead wife, and in return, the spirit promises that his wife would allow them to speak to Atreus’s mother once again. With that said, Atreus jumped right on it and was very excited about the opportunity to speak to his mom once more. But Kratos, knowing better, did not get his hopes up. So the two search for the bones and bring them back to the spirit. And what do you know, it was a trap to kill both of them. After the battle, Atreus tells Kratos that he can say he told him so. Kratos then says that this is just another lesson for Atreus to learn from and grow up on. This left me staring at an imaginary camera like I was Jim from The Office and saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Instead of just a random collectathon and receiving money or loot, this side mission actually achieves something others don’t, and once again, that is meaning.
In a world full of random collectathons and forgettable side quests, God of War has set a new bar when it comes to executing mission structure. The main narrative of the game gives justification on why Kratos and Atreus can go exploring for a little bit if they so please. Helping spirits or the dwarf brothers actually helps you grow not only your inventory and arsenal, but Atreus grows as a character and learns life lessons along the way. And the best part about all of this is that the game knows all this and makes sure to tell the player. After just completing God of War and having a night to reflect upon it, God of War just might be a perfect game. I am having trouble finding at least one flaw in my experience. The pacing of the game is excellent. The combat is some of the best I have played in years. The story sucks the player in, even if they are not a veteran of the series. The game is absolutely beautiful. The soundtrack and audio are incredible and left me with goosebumps countless times. And finally, everything you do in the game has meaning to it. If you have a PS4, this is a must play because it just might be one of the greatest games ever made.