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God of War is one of my favorite action series. The first game took our beloved protagonist, Kratos, on a violent rampage through ancient Greece on a quest to kill a God. It’s a fun game with a nice mix of brutal action, exploration, and puzzle solving. The sequel would aim to deliver the same violent fun with expanded elements, more set pieces, and new challenges. Developed by Santa Monica Studio and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, God of War II was released for PlayStation 2 in March, 2007. A remastered version was released for PlayStation 3 as part of the God of War Collection which also includes the first game. For this review, I played the PS3 version.
Set in ancient Greece after the events of the first game, Kratos is the new God of War. He’s still haunted by the memories of his past and still pissed off. During an attack on Rhodes, Kratos is killed by Zeus and as he’s dragged to the Underworld, he’s saved by the Titan Gaia. She tells him to find the Sisters of Fate, who can alter time, so he can get his revenge on Zeus. Like it’s predecessor, God of War II is based on Greek mythology but tells its own story and Kratos doesn’t really develop as a character. Throughout the whole game, he’s more or less just an angry guy on a revenge mission. He will encounter various characters and creatures from the mythos and kills them if they get in his way. Some major characters are fleshed out as you progress and the voice acting is solid. I find Kratos’ constant intensity and furious deliveries to be humorous.
If you played the first game, God of War II should feel familiar. In fact, much of the gameplay is unchanged. To put it simply, it’s more of the same with some additional mechanics. Kratos can walk, run, jump, double jump, block, grab things, evade, and utilize magic abilities. You start out with Athena’s Blades which are similar to the Blades of Chaos from the previous game except you can use these to swing from certain objects. You’ll acquire additional weapons and abilities as you progress and can spend red orbs to power up them up to become more powerful. Red, green, blue, and gold orbs can be found in chests, by breaking items, and by killing enemies. Green orbs replenish health, blue orbs replenish magic, and gold orbs fill your Rage of the Titans meter. Rage of the Titans is a power similar to the Rage of the Gods power from the first game. As you slaughter enemies, a meter fills up but unlike Rage of the Gods, you can activate and deactivate Rage of the Titans at any time. Activating the power increases how much damage you inflict and reduces the amount of damage you take.
God of War II retains the camera system from the first game and for the most part it works really well. As you move around the environments, the camera positions itself in specific spots and you can’t move it manually. Some angles can make it difficult to judge depth perception but, overall, I found the camera less problematic than that of the first game. Although, that may just be because I’m used to it at this point. Quick time events also return. You’ll have to perform them during certain encounters and to execute enemies in specific ways. Like in the first game, they’re implemented fairly well but failing some can result in death which can be annoying. You know what else I find annoying? The different placements of certain prompts. During a quick time event, a standard button press prompt appears in the center of the screen. I like that. It’s big, it’s clear, you can’t miss it if you’re paying attention. But the button mashing prompts appear in the bottom corner of the screen. When you’re prompted with both types during an event it’s easy to fuck up because, as the term implies, you have to be quick.
I loved the combat in God of War and not much has changed in God of War II. It’s all about slaying enemies in violent ways and racking up big combos by chaining attacks together. You can perform a variety of moves with each weapon and when you power them up, more moves become available. Killing enemies normally rewards you with red orbs and the bigger the combo, the more orbs you earn. In addition to Athena’s Blades, you’ll also get to use a Barbarian Hammer and Spear of Destiny. Kratos can also wield the Blade of Olympus but only during certain encounters. When enemies take enough damage, you can perform executions on them and executing certain enemies can reward you with different types of orbs. The combat feels brutal which is one of the reasons it’s so much fun. You can grab and throw foes and stab, smash, and rip them to pieces in all kinds of glorious ways. You’ll get to rip off a Harpy’s wings, shove your blades into a Minotaur’s mouth, and rip the eye out of a Cyclops. Furthermore, there’s an immense sense of satisfaction in annihilating an entire group of foes and seeing Kratos absorb a giant mass of red orbs.
God of War II introduces some new magic abilities and relics. Typhon’s Bane is like a magic bow that lets you shoot distant enemies. Cronos’ Rage allows you to lay down orbs that can electrocute multiple enemies simultaneously. The Head of Euryale is similar to Medusa’s Gazes from the first game except it can turn other Gorgon’s into stone. And then there’s Atlas Quake which is my favorite new magic ability. Kratos will pound the ground repeatedly causing earthquakes and rocks to fly up into the air damaging enemies. Each ability is fun to use and none of them feel useless. I would use both Cronos’ Rage and Atlas Quake quite often. They’re great for when you get overwhelmed and are an easy way to drain through a tough enemy’s health.
The relics you acquire will grant you new abilities like Rage of the Titans for example. The Amulet of Fates lets you slow down time but only when you’re near a Fates Statue. It’s primarily used for puzzle solving which is kind of a bummer. I wish it was a magic ability because it would have been cool to be able to slow down time during encounters. Icarus Wings allow Kratos to glide short distances and my favorite new relic is the Golden Fleece. It’s used for puzzle solving but also to counter attacks and absorb enemy projectiles which Kratos will then throw back at his attackers. You can use it to deflect a Gorgon’s stone stare and if done successfully, all nearby enemies will be turned into stone. It’s awesome.
God of War II features multiple difficulty modes. I played on Spartan which I thought put up a good fight. You’re going to be outnumbered during most encounters and the battles get more challenging as you progress. You’ll engage numerous bosses and many of the same foes from the first game along with a bunch of new baddies like Griffin’s, Nymphs, Beast Lords, Juggernauts, and High Priests which can summon monsters. Each enemy and boss has its own behavior and attacks and the combat is challenging because the enemies can destroy you easily if you’re not careful. You need to know when to strike, block, and evade. You’ll also need to be mindful of your surroundings because some encounters take place in hazardous areas.
Most of the game takes place on the Island of Creation and features several cool set pieces like when Kratos is attacked by Griffins and Ravens while riding Pegasus. You’ll fight your way through caverns, temples, and ruins. You’ll have to solve puzzles, avoid hazards, and want to keep an eye out for secret or out-of-the-way areas which normally house goodies like chests. Hidden chests will often reward you with a ton of red orbs or items. Just like in the first game, acquiring enough Gorgon Eyes and Phoenix Feathers will permanently increase your health and magic respectively. New items include Cyclops Eyes and Urns of Power and collecting enough of these unlocks bonus content. The checkpoint system is forgiving and you can save the game manually at save points. I found the environments were well designed and most of the puzzles to be creative. You will have to actually pay attention and think to solve some of them otherwise you can easily get stuck.
God of War II comes with a healthy dose of extra content. The game comes with a making of featurette and you can unlock an additional difficulty, bonus costumes, and game modes. Challenge of the Titans is a mode where you need to complete a series of a challenges and completing them with a certain overall ranking unlocks the Arena of the Fates mode where you can select what enemies to fight, the arena, and difficulty.
When it comes to the presentation, God of War II for PlayStation 3 is on par with the first game in the collection including the blurry pre-rendered cut scenes. It’s more or less a PS2 game displaying at a higher resolution. That said, I do think God of War II is a good looking PS2 game. There’s a nice variety of detailed environments and the game does a good job at conveying a sense of scale. You may be traversing around a small area but your surroundings make you feel like there’s a large world around you. The character models look good and I love the enemy designs. Blood will spill when you land hits and the executions look and feel brutal. During combat Kratos will shout and enemies will growl, hiss, and make all kinds of noises. I really enjoyed the soundtrack in God of War II, more than that of the first game in fact. There’s some excellent dramatic and moody tunes that accompany the action. On the technical side, the frame rate did dip when there was a lot of action on-screen but I did not encounter any major bugs or issues.
I really enjoyed my time with God of War II. It’s a rewarding game. Finding hidden chests is rewarding and overcoming tough encounters provides a rewarding feeling. I do prefer the brand of storytelling in the first game. For example, you learned more about Kratos and his past as you progressed. In God of War II, he’s just an angry guy and most of the important plot points are revealed in the beginning. It doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the game and I think almost everything else is done better. The quick time events and camera can sometimes be a bitch but the combat is addictive, the weapons and abilities are fun to use, and I found the overall gameplay to be more enjoyable and less frustrating than that of the first game.
I would absolutely recommend God of War II to fans of the first game and the action genre. If you completed God of War and it left you wanting more, God of War II should fulfill your desire for more bloodshed and you’ll have a blast doing it. It takes you on another violent rampage but with more tools at your disposal and new challenges to overcome. God of War II is an excellent sequel and a great game. Definitely check it out.