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Up to this point, God of War has been a series about deceit, defiance, and anger. It’s been about one man’s quest for vengeance. That man is Kratos and even though his violent rampage through ancient Greece is over, his story is not. Developed by Santa Monica Studio and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, God of War was released for PlayStation 4 in April, 2018. While the previous entries were loosely based on Greek mythology, God of War shifts to Norse mythology.
It’s been years since Kratos defeated the Olympian Gods. He’s older now and lives in the realm of Midgard with his son, Atreus. The story begins some time after his wife died. After being attacked by a mysterious man, the two go on a quest to honor her last wish and scatter her ashes at the highest peak of the nine realms. That’s their main objective. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say God of War is a very story heavy game and a cinematic experience with a different style and tone than its predecessors. I think the shift to a different mythology was a bold move and it makes sense considering how things ended in Greece. However, I can’t say I found the plot very compelling and I found the ending a bit anti-climactic. But I did enjoy the character development, specifically that of Kratos and Atreus. Kratos is clearly still angry and still haunted by his past but he’s toned down his rage a bit. It’s obvious from the get-go that he and Atreus don’t have the best relationship and Atreus doesn’t know of his father’s true past, among other things. The voice acting across the board is excellent and I thought the dialogue and banter between Kratos and Atreus was a real highlight of the game. It’s obvious Kratos cares for his son but clearly doesn’t know how to express it properly and Atreus behaves like a typical kid. He’s curious, shows enthusiasm, likes to ask a lot of questions, and he sometimes gets “fresh” as my parents would say. Atreus is also a contrast to Kratos’ angry self-centered nature. Kratos only cares for Atreus and himself while Atreus seems to actually give a shit about others and enjoys helping them. Their different attitudes can make for some humorous banter.
God of War is not just a change in mythology but also a change in gameplay and mechanics. Compared to the previous games, it feels very different but fresh. It’s violent but not as gory. It’s action-packed but not as fast-paced. God of War is a third-person action game with an over-the-shoulder style camera that you can move freely. As you move around and engage enemies, you only have a good view of what’s in front of Kratos so it’s easy to get attacked from behind which can sometimes be annoying. You can perform a quick turn but you always need to be aware of your surroundings. When enemies are about to attack, indicators appear on your HUD which is helpful and quick time events have been toned down significantly.
The series has always aimed for a cinematic-style in a way and God of War is no exception. But it follows the trend of other modern cinematic-styled games complete with restricting your actions at certain points so you can focus on the plot developments. For example, sequences that force you to walk or slowly move so you can listen to the characters talk or understand the impact of what just transpired or is about to even though this could also be conveyed through a cut scene.
Kratos and Atreus will always stick together but you’ll only control Kratos. You can walk, run, sprint, block, parry, jump gaps, vault over obstacles, and evade or roll. When you execute enemies and perform certain attacks, you’ll build up your Spartan Rage meter. Once full, you can activate rage for a brief time where you move faster and inflict extra damage and each attack landed during rage replenishes some health. Atreus will assist Kratos in combat and you can command him to attack enemies and complete certain actions. He can’t die so you never have to worry about him during combat. Enemies can grab him but that’s the most danger he’ll every really be in. God of War conveys an excellent sense of weight. Kratos feels heavy, his weapons feel heavy, and as a result, the impacts of his attacks feel very powerful. You can punch and kick foes, whip out a shield which can block certain attacks, and you’ll get to use two weapons. The Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos. Atreus uses a bow and you will acquire different types of arrows as you progress through the story. You can perform light and heavy attacks and chain attacks together to form combos although the combat isn’t really combo focused. When Atreus attacks enemies, it can distract them which is helpful if you’re overwhelmed.
The combat does revolve around elements to a certain extent. The Leviathan Axe can inflict frost damage, the Blades of Chaos are imbued with fire, and Atreus can fire light and electric arrows. You can stun enemies and once an enemy is stunned you can then grab and execute them which usually looks awesome. However, God of War is not really a blood soaked adventure. Sure, the battles are violent but you won’t be spilling gallons of blood. Enemies more or less disintegrate when killed. I’m kind of torn on the lack of gore because it was a series staple. Plus, it was satisfying slicing up foes or eviscerating them. Regardless, I do think the combat in God of War is enjoyable. You’ll get to rip apart Draugrs, slam enemies to the ground before stomping on their heads, impale foes, and you’ll even get to mount Ogres and force them to attack other enemies.
As you defeat enemies, explore the world, and complete favors, you’ll receive experience. Experience can be used to improve runic attacks and summons and to activate skills. As you explore the world, you’ll find resources and hacksilver which is the in-game currency. You’ll meet up with dwarves that have shops around the world where you can buy and sell items. These shops are also where you can upgrade and craft equipment and upgrading your weapons will unlock new skills to activate. The skills range from increasing damage inflicted to new moves. Runic Attacks are items you can find and assign to your weapons. They come in light and heavy and only one of each can be assigned to a weapon at a time. They’re like special attacks and must cooldown after use. Runic Summons can be assigned to the bow and let you summon creatures to temporarily aid you in battle. Then there’s Talismans and Enchantments. Talismans let you activate special abilities for a brief time and enchantments offer bonus properties and can be inserted into armor sockets.
Many of the items and resources you find come in different rarities and what you have equipped will affect your stats. These include strength, runic, defense, vitality, luck and cooldown and each one can be altered by your equipment. You could say God of War is a loot-focused game to some extent. Exploring and taking on the side content will often lead you to better equipment or loot. God of War gives you plenty of choices when it comes to how you want Kratos to perform. You can unlock every skill before reaching the end of the story and the only way to make Kratos even more efficient is by making him more powerful through the use of equipment. Furthermore, all the different runic attacks, enchantments, talismans are just another layer of customization. Additional attacks and abilities that can be upgraded, have their own ups and downs, and can be swapped out at any time.
You’re going to engage many mythological creatures on your journey and the higher their level, the tougher they are. You’ll get to fight Draugrs, Ogres, Hel-Walkers, Wolves, Elves, Revenants, Reavers, and Trolls among some other foes. Your equipment is what really determines how powerful you are and how easy it is to take down certain foes but several encounters will require you to memorize attack patterns and know when to block and evade. This is especially true when fighting Valkyries. Enemies will utilize melee attacks and hurl projectiles and even unleash elemental attacks. With the right equipment, you can resist certain types of attacks and enemies can drop resources when killed. The tougher the foes, the better the resources. You will engage some bosses on your quest and without spoiling anything major, some of these encounters are a mix of actual fighting and scripted sequences and I can’t say I found any of the bosses too difficult. There are multiple difficulty modes and I played on the one called Give Me a Balanced Experience. That said, overall, I think the gameplay puts up a decent fight without feeling cheap or unfair.
I would consider God of War to be an open world action game. The story will take you to specific realms and others need to be unlocked. There are different regions to explore complete with their own set of areas and puzzles to solve. You will often come across areas you can’t access until you acquire the appropriate abilities. NPCs will ask you to complete favors which are like side quests and I would recommend completing these as soon as you can because they’re a great source of experience and resources. You’ll primarily travel around on-foot but will have to get to certain locations by boat and I would say the world really opens up towards the end of the game. The world is well crafted and no area feels like filler. Mystic Gateways are the game’s fast-travel system and more of the map is revealed as you discover new locations. Chests and containers can be found seemingly everywhere and will contain resources. There are special chests that need to be unlocked first by finding and destroying seals which are usually nearby. These chests normally house items that can permanently increase your maximum health and rage. The game does encourage exploration and there’s plenty to see and do. You can find scrolls, shrines, and treasure maps that lead you to resources. You want to be on the lookout for hidden chambers, Realm Tears which spawn tough enemies, and Ravens to kill hidden throughout the environments. Almost everything you come across is entered into a codex which you can access at any time.
God of War looks amazing and does support HDR. You do have the option to favor graphics or performance and I chose the latter. Other than some noticeable pop-in, everything looked great. The presentation is colorful and the environments and character and enemy models are well detailed. Each realm has its own look and feel. Some areas look more natural and familiar while others look more alien or magical if you will. The character and enemy animations are solid and the executions look brutal. The soundtrack is alright but I can’t say any songs stick out to me. There’s a lot of orchestral stuff that fits what’s happening on-screen but I don’t think the tunes reach the same highs as those in previous games. I did play through the game on a PS4 Pro and even though I decided to favor performance, the frame rate noticeably dipped frequently. Other than that, it seems to be well polished. I did not encounter any bugs or issues.
God of War feels very different than its predecessors. This entry not only shifts the series to a different mythology but also to a different style of gameplay. God of War is not considered a reboot but it is a “rebirth”. The series has been born again in a new body if you will. It’s like a new beginning. The story is a continuation but everything ranging from the gameplay to tone is different. I’ve always considered the series to be in the action adventure genre with it leaning more towards the action side but God of War feels more adventure-oriented. It’s still an action game but the world design allows for more exploration and discovery than prior offerings. It encourages you to take the time to look around and you’re usually rewarded for doing so. There’s a lot to see and do so it’s a game that can keep you occupied for a while. I had fun with it but I still prefer the old style of gameplay. I prefer the fast-paced action and awesome-looking action set pieces which have been toned down here. That’s not to say God of War is worse. It’s just different. And it’s obvious the developers wanted it to be different. But I think if you combined the gameplay and high energy of the previous games with the loot, customization, and upgrade systems of this game, it would make for a phenomenal experience.
I would recommend God of War to fans of the series and action games. The developers made a lot of bold moves here other than just shifting to a different mythology. And I think, overall, God of War is a success. It’s more than just a new coat of paint. It breathes new life into the series. It also feels like a completely different game with it’s own strengths and weaknesses that are unrelated to its past life. If you were burnt out or growing tired of the series up to this point, you’ll be happy to know God of War 2018 takes a different turn. It steers the series in a different direction and is a fun ride. Definitely check it out.