To say that God of War is an achievement would be an egregious understatement. God of War is a remarkable feat that sets the bar for EVERY game that will follow it. This game has it all. From a moving story to unforgettable locations, overly pleasing combat to a solid progression system, and one hell of a soundtrack. This game offers the player so much and at no time does it stumble in its execution.
Long time fans of the series will remember Kratos as a single-minded, angry dude that has a serious grudge against the Gods. This new instalment in the franchise pushes players to not forget the old Kratos, but instead to view Kratos in a new light. The way Santa Monica humanizes a raging brute, and makes him relatable, is an accomplishment in itself. That’s not to say that Kratos doesn’t still have anger issues. This angry dad simulator showcases Kratos’ rage absolutely, however, it also shows that there is more to him than just blind fury.
The most important person responsible for that change of heart is his son, Atreus. Both of them lost a very important person in their lives. Kratos a wife, and Atreus a loving mother. The story picks up right after her death. Her final wish was for her ashes to be carried and spread at the top of the highest mountain in all the realms. While the entire story focuses on this task, a simple trip up a mountain wouldn’t make for much of a game. The plot thickens, but the story never loses its momentum. Kratos and Atreus are bound together by this common goal, and through it, both characters grow and develop over the course of the journey. I don’t think I’ve ever cared for two characters this much since the Last of Us, and even that doesn’t come close to the achievement that is God of War.
What pulls you even closer to these characters is the fact that, aside from player death, the entirety of the game is one continuous camera shot. From beginning to end, the player is with Kratos and Atreus every single step of the way. The camera never breaks from these two, and in doing so, pulls you in as you watch this incredible story unfold. Not that it’s hard to not look away from this game…
Because it’s fucking GORGEOUS. God of War is by far the greatest looking game on console to date. Not that we have a graphics comparison seeing as how it’s a Sony exclusive. Sorry not sorry. Even on my release day PS4, the game ran at a smooth 30 FPS. Bump that up to the 4K on a PS4 Pro and the game looks and runs even smoother.
The transition to Nordic culture was a brilliant move for Kratos as well. The stunning Norse background feels like it naturally belongs in a universe where the gods just beat the shit out of each other. Santa Monica does a brilliant job of weaving God of War into Norse mythology and that shines through brilliantly across every aspect of this game. The environments are flawless, the characters are perfectly selected for the roles they play within the story, and there is no shortage of monsters to draw inspiration from.
Circling back to the secondary characters for a moment; spoiler alert: they’re brilliant as well! The Dwarven brothers Brok and Sindri offer rewarding quests as well as some comic relief. The Witch, who shall not be named for sake of spoilers, ends up being an integral part of the plot and more than what she might initially appear to be. Even the main villain is perfectly executed, though he shall remain nameless as well, because you know… spoilers. Each and every person you encounter in this game, whether they have one line of dialogue or multiple cutscenes, grips you in a way that makes it hard to not care about them. Even the spirits you encounter that offer side quests (known as “favors”) have an interesting story to tell. All of these parts come together in a way that makes the player WANT to know more about them, or see more of them.
One major change is the combat. Gone are the days of changing camera angles and fixed placements. Now the camera is firmly behind Kratos’ shoulder, which like the one continuous shot, makes you feel closer to him. It is a welcome change to the formula regardless. Kratos has also turned in his Blades of Chaos for a new weapon, one more befitting of the Norse realms, a Dwarven Axe, gifted to him by his wife. Combat starts off simple enough; R1 for light attacks, R2 for heavy attacks. However, earning experience allows you to unlock new moves and abilities and within hours the way you can approach combat changes dramatically. Aside from his axe, Kratos has a few other things available to him on this blood soaked adventure. A shield and his fists. What’s nice is that Santa Monica made these just as formidable as his axe, complete with their own skill trees.
Before long, your move set becomes larger but keeps a simple enough button layout. Holding R1 or R2 makes Kratos perform a different move than just tapping it, while combining the two make for some brutal combos. This simplistic approach, spread over a few weapons keeps the combat fresh and makes you feel like the God you’re portraying.
One final addition to combat is Atreus himself. This kid is by far the greatest AI companion I have ever had. He stays out of your way, he stun locks enemies, and he can hold his own while Kratos beats down on the harder foes. Seriously, Atreus makes combat even more enjoyable than when it was just Kratos by himself. By pressing square you can control when and whom Atreus shoots at. Upgrading his bow makes him deal increased damage or fire arrows faster. On top of that, he has a magically endless supply of arrows, so another upgrade effects their cooldown and quiver count. Add affects like stun or shock and I found myself upgrading Atreus long before I even worried about Kratos. Atreus is THAT important to combat. All of these make gameplay an incredible experience that never stops being enjoyable or rewarding.
Speaking of rewards, every inch of the world in God of War is rife with collectibles. The world building in this game is commendable. Everything wraps around and folds in on itself, while never getting entirely confusing. You might stumble upon a chest and find that the enemies are way to hard for your present stats. Or you might end up in the middle of a puzzle that will unlock a legendary chest if you solve it correctly. Around every corner is something new and exciting waiting to be discovered. God of War isn’t a completely open world to begin with, but it gives players enough choices and freedom to do and go where ever they please, almost, whenever they want.
Progression is a rather unique feature in this game. It combines the best parts of other game’s progression systems and bundles them into one cohesive mechanism. To start, players earn experience points for completing favours or story quests. Those points are then used to unlock new abilities, however, this doesn’t level up Kratos and Atreus. Instead, GEAR and runes are what increase your stats. Think of the Light Level gear from Destiny. Equipping new, better gear fills a meter that dictates your overall level while simultaneously affecting your individual stats. This is how the game decides what monsters you can fight or how challenging they will be, which is conveyed through their colour coded health bars. Green is no threat, then yellow, orange is on the harder side, but still manageable, up to purple which is a clear indication you could very easily be one shot at any given second.
Equipping runes to your gear increases different aspects of that gear. So a rune might grant +3 strength and +5 Runic while also adding -4 cooldown. Runes also grant certain passive abilities as well. So while it might hurt your cooldown, that very same rune could make it so Kratos’ attacks can’t be interrupted by an enemy hit. This game rewards players with a near endless supply of different runes, and I found myself spending more time than I care to admit playing around to get that perfect combination. Runes that raise your base stats also affect your overall level, so taking the time to play with them could have more benefits than you might think.
Enemy types are a big part of combat as well, and there is no shortage of variety here either. Each and every encounter is like a puzzle. You have to quickly scan the battlefield and figure out which targets need to be taken out first in order to ensure success. Some enemies hang back and fire elemental projectiles at you, while other, more tank specific enemies rush you and try to catch you off guard. Atreus is integral to this part of combat. Having him focus, and stun a farther off enemy can give you a few seconds to take care of your close quarters encounters. That’s not to say that Kratos is defenceless when it comes to distance. He can launch his axe across the field if need be and freeze enemies in place, which frees him up to lay the hurt on someone closer to him. The axe will stay placed in said enemy until you call it back, which opens up its own tactical advantages. Recalling your axe will hit anything standing in its way. These layers to combat make every encounter feel unique and challenging in ways few other games have managed to accomplish. There are a ton that have tried it, but only a few that have actually executed it well.
All of the aforementioned stuff is great on its own, but what makes it better is the superb soundtrack that plays in the background. Those three notes, from the very beginning of the game create a sense of gravitas and help convey the severity of certain situations. Subtle instrumental cues help an already emotional cutscene deliver an even more emotional performance, but it never feels overpowering or like it’s drowning out what is happening.
All of this would mean nothing if it wasn’t for the incredible relationship that grows between Kratos and his son. At the end of the day this game wouldn’t be nearly as good if it wasn’t for the chemistry created between these two on their journey across Midgard and the other realms. These characters are relatable and extremely organic. Kratos is an estranged father that has been thrust into the role of caring for his son that he has become very distant with. Atreus is a young boy that has just lost his one and only support system. They are both mourning in their own ways, and that creates tension throughout the story. Atreus thinks Kratos doesn’t care about the death of his mother at all but fails to realise that everyone mourns in their own way. Kratos tries to connect with Atreus but has never had to look out for anyone but himself, so it’s difficult for him to do so.
As the story progresses we start to see this bond grow stronger, be it through upgraded attacks, that have Atreus running up and off of Kratos’ back as he launches an arrow into the back of an enemy, or through their subtle dialogue after a fight. Atreus will say something like “That wasn’t bad right?” to which Kratos will respond with “No boy, you show promise.” This might not mean much, but this minor conversation comes from the same two people, who at the start of their journey had a hard time saying anything to each other at all. Kratos would snap at Atreus and tell him he needs to focus, or that he isn’t ready. All of these small, subtle happenings add and build onto the bigger moments and we genuinely watch an incredible father and son relationship grow right in front of our eyes. When something happens to Atreus, you feel your gut tighten. When Kratos snaps and then tries to breath and reign in his emotions so he doesn’t project on Atreus, you feel that control…
I can go on and on about how incredible this game is, but honestly you all just need to get out there and play it for yourselves. God of War is a can’t miss, must play experience that not only delivers unforgettable gameplay, but a story with remarkable characters we won’t soon forget either. From its sights and sounds, to its down to earth story telling, God of War is the entire package, one that I will be coming back to for a long time to come.