Video Game Review: God of War
Given what the God of War franchise meant to Sony during the PS2 and, to a lesser extent thanks to the rise of Uncharted, PS3 eras, it’s remarkable that the PlayStation 4 has gone four-plus years without an original entry in one of its signature series. That all changes this week when Sony Santa Monica finally continues Kratos‘ tale, some eight years after the launch of God of War III.
While the spirit of the earlier games flows through the new God of War, it has seen wholesale changes in some areas and at least tweaks in most others. Rather that wielding his iconic Blades of Chaos, Kratos now favours a magical axe known as Leviathan, which can be used for both melee and ranged attacks — he can recall the blade after throwing it like Thor does with Mjolnir.
It was a bold move to part Kratos from his blades, but Leviathan is masterfully designed and able to dish out all manner of pain to your enemies. You’ll use it alongside a deployable shield, both of which are upgradable with new combos that eventually create a deep well of options to use. A pair of runes can be faceted into the blade as well, granting powerful strikes that operate on a cooldown timer and feel similar to magic in the older games.
An ever bigger change, however, is that Kratos no longer fights alone. His son, Atreus, is by his side, primarily using his bow to pepper enemies with shafts. As you upgrade his equipment and abilities he becomes a worthy complement, distracting foes while dealing stun and elemental damage. In addition, his rune summons can be a valuable asset in the heat of battle.
Also gone is the static camera that’d been one of the series’ trademarks, giving way to a fully controllable view. What’s impressive about the switch is that it changes everything yet combat retains the God of War feel via smart enemy positioning and mixing, creating the same hectic vibe of facing off against multiple dangerous foes that the older games did so well. Spinning can be a little disorienting, particularly when using the quick 180-degree turn, but you’ll learn to adapt.
Freed from the restrictions of fixed views and also moving from Greek to Norse mythology, Sony Santa Monica has created a diverse and beautiful world. It isn’t fully open, but it’s still night and day compared to the highly regimented nature of past GoW titles where “hidden” chests meant finding a small path that triggered a different camera angle.
There’s something addicting about the realms of Midgar, and we were compelled to explore every possible pathway for chests and collectibles. Enemy design and diversity is excellent, and once again the change in mythologies allows for an entirely new group of gods and monsters. Running on the PS4 Pro, God of War comfortably slots in as one of the best-looking console games to date.
While the previous GoW games had solid vocal performances, this God of War is light years beyond its predecessors when it comes to emotional weight and three-dimensional character development.
SSM’s decision to move Kratos from the remorseless Ghost of Sparta to conflicted father could’ve backfired, but it’s deftly handled. Atreus delivers as well and is an effective Ellie to Kratos’ Joel. An epic soundtrack is the cherry on top of a dynamic presentation.
God of War starts with Kratos gathering wood to build a funeral pyre for his wife, who wanted him and their son Atreus to gather her ashes and scatter them from the highest mountain in the realm. It’s unclear how much time has passed since Kratos laid waste to Mount Olympus, but he has a strained relationship with his son.
Despite feeling that Atreus is not yet ready to take on the quest, Kratos has his hand forced when an unknown intruder shows up at their door with knowledge of the Spartan’s past — something he has hidden from his son. With his home no longer safe the erstwhile God of War strikes out with Atreus to fulfill his wife’s dying wish.
In an abundance of caution we won’t discuss the storyline further, but suffice to say it’s by far the most emotionally mature and nuanced the series has ever been. It’s also considerably meatier, offering a campaign that may be longer than the original trilogy combined, depending on how many of the side quests and other activities you partake in.
To that end Sony Santa Monica has really upped its game, allowing you to find, craft and upgrade numerous armour pieces, talismans and more graded on varying degrees of rareness. Each one has unique properties across six attributes so that you can mold Kratos’ strengths based on your style. Said pieces can also be augmented with enchantments, and you’ll need to collect rare items along with in-game currency to beef up the better sets.
While legendary armour is a great incentive to complete secondary activities, it’s by no means the only one. The game is constantly tracking what you’ve done — types of enemies killed, specific attacks, lore found, etc. — and rewarding you with experience, which is then used to learn new combos and unlock more powerful versions of runic attacks.
All of that does lead to one potential drawback: Kratos can feel overpowered on the normal difficulty setting if you invest the time to really build him up. There are still challenging fights to be sure, but the toughest ones tend to take place away from the main storyline with rewards that make you even more powerful. As such, series veterans might want to try the third setting from the get go.
In an industry that often plays it safe, Sony Santa Monica took a successful franchise back to the drawing board and wound up improving it in almost every way imaginable. God of War is simply a brilliant game that everyone should experience.