In an age where multiplayer-focused video games with tacked on battle royale modes are a dime a dozen, those of us who still prefer to partake in single-player games that provide fun, addicting gameplay packed with engaging narratives still have a few good titles here and there to play through. But it’s been a while since we’ve gotten one that has felt as complete as God of War. This new God of War, while technically a sequel to God of War III on the PS3, is more of a new beginning for the franchise. This isn’t the same hack n’ slash gorefest with a decent story that focused a lot on grand spectacles like the previous games were (not that that was a bad thing). This new God of War basically combines the masterful storytelling and cinematic presentation of The Last of Us and combines it with the more focused combat and RPG-lite elements of other games like Darksiders II and Middle-earth: Shadow of War. That combination resulted in what is definitely a game of the year contender for 2018.
The game begins with Kratos, now having resided in Midgard (probably what we know as Scandinavia) for a number of years, preparing a pyre to cremate the body of his second recently deceased wife. He then gathers up his late wife’s ashes and goes on a journey with his son, Boy, I mean Atreus, to spread the ashes off the highest peak in all the 9 realms, which was his wife’s final wish. This is another case where a simple sounding premise hides beneath it a character-rich narrative that is very grounded and full of drama, yet it still manages to mix in a lot of the grandeur and epic encounters with mythological monsters and such that featured in the earlier God of War games. While the spirit of the God of War series is still very much alive in this new game, this is not “just another sequel”. This is a new God of War in both setting and gameplay, and the changes to the usual formula that this game included were necessary in order for another game in this long-running series to succeed without feeling like more of the same, which is kind of what happened with the most recent PS3 game God of War: Ascension.
The most noticeable changes are with the combat and camera. The earlier GOW games had fixed cameras and kept all the action around Kratos in clear view for the players, and there was plenty of jumping around and platforming as well, although it was easy at times for enemies to attack Kratos from off-screen. Now we have the over-the-shoulder camera so popular with games like the aforementioned The Last of Us and the Batman Arkham series, which does pull itself back somewhat when Kratos is fighting enemies. Still, unlike in the previous GOW games, in this game it’s very easy for enemies to blindside you and attack you from behind if you’re not vigilant given the more limited viewpoint players have with the new camera, which at least is fully controllable. This lends a sense of urgency to the combat that makes you feel rather vulnerable in a way that wasn’t present in the previous games. You have to be on your guard and aware of your surroundings when fighting enemies, and not just because of the more limited viewpoint of the camera. Kratos isn’t quite the powerhouse he was in the previous games, especially early on, and he can be killed pretty easily by even regular enemies if they gang up on him.
This leads me to what I consider to be the game’s biggest (and pretty much only) flaw, at least in my point of view. Kratos and the enemies he battles against have levels in this game, and it’s actually possible for enemies that are just a couple of levels above Kratos to kill him in just one or two hits. The strange thing is that you’re more likely to get one-shot by a random enemy than by one of the game’s bosses, and to me it feels strange to be able to kill a 50-foot dragon more easily than a small group of high-level draugr, especially after having killed other weaker draugr more easily in earlier encounters. Kind of a strange disconnect that took me out of the experience a bit. In some cases, I got rather pissed off at how easily Kratos would get killed by random enemies. And don’t get me started on those damn Valkyries.
Aside from the above-mentioned issue (which probably won’t bother the majority of other gamers in any case), I enjoyed the intense and engaging combat in God of War. As in any other game with worthwhile combat, God of War features a number of upgradeable combos and abilities for Kratos to make use of with both his fists and weapons, and even though he has a very limited number of weapons at his disposal, the combat always feels fresh and appropriately challenging. Furthermore, Kratos has many different light and heavy runic attacks at his disposal that he can unleash upon his enemies to help get him out of a bind, with two of them capable of being attached to each of his weapons at a time. And it wouldn’t be a God of War game if Kratos couldn’t make use of his legendary anger issues to beat down his opponents without mercy, which is why he can make use of the Spartan Rage ability that lets him pummel enemies with supercharged melee strikes, stomps, and even boulder tosses; this ability really comes in handy in certain encounters. Also, Atreus will help his papa out by striking enemies or shooting them with his bow, but you can also instruct him with the simple press of a button to shoot specialized elemental arrows and summon spectral animals to do some serious damage to enemies.
How about those RPG-lite elements I mentioned earlier? Yeah, there’s that too. Kratos can equip himself with different armor sets, enchantments, and talismans found in chests or occasionally dropped by enemies that all offer special benefits, whether they are increasing his stats (strength, defense, luck, runic, etc.) or offering certain perks or buffs like increasing his elemental attack power, buffing his defense against said elements, upping the distance he covers when dodging, or adding explosive or health-draining qualities to his weapons. Many of these armor sets, enchantments, and talismans, along with other resources, can be upgraded, purchased, or sold with one of two dwarven brothers who serve as blacksmiths and merchants and offer their services in many convenient locations on the map. Speaking of the map, God of War has gone open world for the first time. While not a sandbox-style of open world like in Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim, the map in God of War is made up of a number of small hub-like areas that can be revisited (eventually) so you can gain access to the many chests, collectibles, or other secrets that may not have been reachable during your first time passing through those areas; Atreus will normally be the one who will allow Kratos to access many of these secrets after gaining special abilities as the story progresses. The environments in the different realms you can visit all look incredible, whether you’re on a snowy mountain, rowing a boat over the waters of a huge lake, climbing up a volcano with lava spewing forth all around you, etc. The character and enemy designs are very detailed as well.
With regards to the story, it’s easily one of the game’s best features. Seeing how much Kratos has changed after his time slaying gods, monsters, and pretty much everyone else he encountered back in Greece was very refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, Kratos is still a grump who is rather lacking in social graces, but he’s no longer all that prone to ripping people’s heads off or bashing their faces into walls just for slightly inconveniencing him. Back in the earlier games, Kratos cared for almost no one and nothing, and he was a merciless and brutal bastard who took no accountability for any of the horrible things he did. Now, Kratos is a father again and doing his damndest not to f@$k things up like he did the last time he had a family, and you really feel for him as he struggles to balance being a mentor and a father to Atreus. His past still haunts him, and having finally learned his lesson from the horrible deeds he committed in the previous games, Kratos truly has become a better person…or rather demi-god. Then you have Atreus who is a very believable character that is still innocent and naïve given his young age, and his sensibilities often go against the wishes of his stern and strict father. The way Kratos and Atreus interact with one another makes for some truly engaging and entertaining moments of dialogue, whether it’s a more serious moment like Kratos momentarily abandoning his usual tough love approach to parenting in order to comfort Atreus after he is forced to kill another person for the first time, or a more lighthearted moment like Atreus asking Kratos if he hurt his back while pushing a crank to move a very large bridge (I find that their relationship strongly mirrors that between Worf and his son Alexander in Star Trek: The Next Generation in all the best ways). Their interactions with other interesting characters, like the dwarven brothers, Brok and Sindri, and their later companion named Mimir, make up many of the game’s best moments of dialogue with the witty and amusing banter that takes place. The excellent voice acting only serves to improve even further upon the already great dialogue.
So yeah, God of War is an exceptional game that has taken the series in a very different direction; a direction that needed to be taken. Much like the gamers who have been with the series since back in the days of the PS2, God of War (and Kratos as well) has matured and changed over the years, and in this case, it was a change for the better. While those who have never played the previous God of War games won’t be able to appreciate this game’s callbacks and references to its predecessors, they will still enjoy playing through this game since it’s pretty much a whole new beginning for the series. Through its excellent story, great combat, and beautiful open world full of quality content, God of War reaches a level that many other games, especially nowadays, promise but fail to achieve, and it does so without any tacked-on multiplayer, loot boxes, or boring fetch quests that are added in simply to lengthen play time. This is single-player gaming done right.
Developer: Santa Monica Studio
Release Date: 20th April 2018