Ever since the announcement of God of War 4 and the subsequent trailers and gameplay footage released on social media and video game message boards there where people disliking the new direction the God of War franchise was taking. The big question is was that hate and dislike justified? After spending more than 60 hours with the new God of War game I can easily say the dislike for the games new direction is totally unjustified. Santa Monica Studios’s managed to do the impossible and breathe fresh air into an iconic franchise which gained popularity primarily for it’s over the top story and hack and slash button mashing mechanics.
After the events of God of War 3 in which Kratos killed his own father Zeus and seemingly died of his wounds. We find out like with most video game antihero’s Kratos did not really die he just moved on from the events of the 3rd game. Now finding himself in the frozen Nordic lands where he has seemingly put his rage-fuelled past behind him learning from his past mistakes and maturing as a person. Even more surprising re-marring after his first wife’s death, fathering a child with his new wife who they named Atreus, the game kicks off on a rather somber note with the death of Krato’s wife and both Kratos and Atreus preparing for a journey to scatter her ashes on the highest peak.
The heart and soul of the entire game and the most amazing part of this God of War experience is the relationship between Kratos and Atreus. It takes center stage during the entirety of the game. At first, it might seem like a clichéd approach to take, you know the stern father awkward around his rebellious child trope is pretty overdone in all forms of media these days. But Santa Monica Studio’s pulls it off remarkably well, here we have Kratos. I man who was raised from birth to be a warrior, to care little for the feelings of others or the people around him because those feelings made him less effective as a warrior on the battlefield placed in a role as a father figure.
So you can only imagine that Spartan warriors weren’t very big on caring or talking about their emotions and feelings to others. Not to mention that he was raised without a father figure in his life, and when he discovered the truth about who his father was they ended up trying to kill each other in the last game. So to say that he did not have a healthy father-son relationship would be an understatement of the century. The central theme and question in the game is: How is Kratos meant to be a father figure to Atreus when he’s been taught to suppress his emotions and has never had a father himself? All while having a history of making mistakes and not learning from them.
During the first opening hour of the game Kratos teaches Atreus to hunt properly and during a scene where he rushes in spooking the deer they were hunting and missing the shot completely Kratos tells Atreus rather sternly “Don’t be sorry. Be better.” And a few hours later while having a discussion about killing other human beings Kratos tells Atreus to “Close your heart to it.” Kratos clearly is trying his best in only the way he knows how, that of a Spartan warrior. There are small glimpses of him during the start of the game trying to comfort Atreus during emotional scenes only to pull away at the last second. You can see he is trying, he just has no idea what how to approach the situation.
But that soon changes as the story progresses, and the character development shifts into high gear. There are some genuinely warm and touching moments which I cannot really reveal here without spoiling the game’s story. But suffice to say there are moments when Kratos genuinely worries about Atreus or tries to impart some form of wisdom on him, in his quest to make sure Atreus becomes a better person than he ever was. “Don’t be sorry. Be better.” Turns into: “you still have much to learn about being a man”, and the relationship between the two progresses to such an extent that Kratos eventually says things to Atreus that can even be considered as compliments.
The development in their relationship can also be seen in their combat, during the start of the game Kratos takes center stage while Atreus is the support. But as the relationship develops and grows Atreus takes on a more pivotal role, culminating in one of the best tag team boss fight battles in the entire game. And at the end of their adventure and game, you can clearly see both the father-son relationship in full bloom. It has to be said that focusing an entire game on such an emotional narrative in a franchise which is predominantly known for killing and banging stuff takes a lot of balls. But Santa Monica Studio’s pulled it off brilliantly, and to great effect.
At its heart, God of War isn’t an open world game, but it is a wide linear structure which still provides you with plenty of extra exploration. Which can easily give you between 40-50 hours of gameplay if you are one of those people who want to see and do everything the games has to offer. And there is plenty to do and see in the game from completing side quests to collecting items and mini-boss fights. When it comes to gameplay and mechanics, God of War does not try and re-invent the wheel and does not bring anything new to the table, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have to mention the fact that God of War’s gameplay is perfectly integrated into cutscenes.
There were times during cutscenes where I caught myself trying to press buttons due to the seamless integration between the cutscenes and the gameplay. The gameplay mechanics of God of War is absolutely fantastic and will leave you addicted from the moment you start playing. Kratos’ new weapon of choice, the Leviathan Axe, is super satisfying to use even more so than the chaos blades and calling it back after an attack leaves you extremely satisfied. God of War’s combat system is now a much deeper and richer experience than the original games, you can now level up the Leviathan Axe using pommels and other materials you find during your adventure.
In addition to the ability to upgrade Kratos and Atreus weapons, you can also craft and upgrade their armor also with the material you find during the game. And as you upgrade your armor you gain the ability to increase the number of slots in them, which allows you to add runic enchantments that give you both passive and active abilities during combat. Atreus also gains the ability to use runic summons, which allows him to summon Nordic spirit animals during fights and the ability to use a different kind of arrow attacks. Atreus does not have the same level of customization and upgrades to that of Kratos, but still just enough to improve his effectiveness in combat.
Depending on your play style, you can either choose armor that focuses on offense, defense, enhancing your runic abilities or balancing it out between all of them. Each armor set you craft or collect also has its own distinctive look with no one set looking exactly the same. Which brings me to the boss fights in the game, they have to be the most satisfying and difficult fights I have had in recent memory. I highly recommend you play the game on a higher difficulty than the standard difficulty, as it forces you to come up with different strategies to defeat your enemies instead of going in guns or in this case ax blazing. Having said that still found myself dying when surrounded by mobs or going up against a tough enemy when playing on the normal difficulty.
And like most games these days you gain experience from fighting enemies, completing side quests and main missions. Using the experience you have gained you can upgrade various abilities unlocking new moves and combo’s and increasing the damage of those attacks. This is pretty crucial as just like with the Witcher 3 you cannot enter certain areas till you are the same level as the enemies. While nothing stops you from entering these areas nothing also stops you from getting killed almost immediately when entering said area. So it requires good old gamer elbow grease to get those upgrades for your weapons, armor, and abilities.
Add to that a silky smooth combat system and you have yourself a game that makes every combat encounter feel fresh and challenging. The beauty of God of War’s combat system I simply cannot properly express in this review. You have to experience it for yourself to truly understand it. But if I had to summarize it in a single sentence: It is its simplicity but also how it easily adapts to your play style and the given situation you find yourself in, that makes it such a great part of the game. Currently, God of War is one of the best looking PlayStation 4 titles out there right up there with Horizon: Zero Dawn as one of the best looking titles I have played on the next generation of consoles.
I highly recommend playing this on a 4K TV with a PlayStation 4 Pro to see the games full graphical potential come to life. And this is no exaggeration. Santa Monica Studio’s paid attention to every little detail, from character models and enemies the amazing architecture and landscapes, right down to the very way the water moves when you paddle through it with your canoe. There is no shortage of eye candy in this game, and I found myself just randomly stopping during a side quest to take in the games beautiful vistas and views. From the massive lakes that surround the Shores of Nine to the dead and desolate realm of Muspelheim and the lush colorful realm of Alfheim, the environments are brought to life in an amazingly detailed ways.
The original soundtrack in God of War should get a mention as it is both emotional and beautiful when it needs to be and epic when entering combat situations. It is strange these days to have a game that includes heavy orchestral music as part of its soundtrack instead of the usual metal or dubstep styled soundtracks that accompanies most games these days. Another special mention should go to Christopher Judge, yes you heard right the voice of Kratos is also the actor who played Teal’c in Stargate for bringing the voice of Kratos to life. Credits should really go to Cory Barlog & the team at Santa Monica Studio’s for bravely taking all the risks needed to take this series into a new and different direction.
God of War is an epic reboot of an epic franchise and shows you how a reboot of a franchise should be handled. And in rebooting the franchise Santa Monica Studio’s possibly created one of the best games the PlayStation 4 has to offer in this console generation. The plot, combat, graphics, and sound all come together perfectly to create one of the best gaming experiences of 2018. And it proves that the single-player experience is still alive and well in the year of battle royal and multiplayer only games. There were so many aspects of the game and story I had to leave out due to spoilers and not wanting to make the review too lengthy, so hopefully, this review didn’t come out too disjointed.