Release Date: April 20th, 2018
Play It On: PS4
Developer: Santa Monica Studio
*Please note: this review will not contain spoilers. It will contain content and graphics that may not be suitable for children.*
Before anything else, I’d like to frame my review by stating that God of War is my pick for 2018 Game of the Year. I feel my entire review could comprise of that statement and the title to this post and those who went out and bought the game as a result would thank me immediately. Alas, Kratos deserves more than a small gift for prophecy and a loud title, so here I go.
Originally released in 2005, the first era God of War games followed Kratos as he systematically butchered his way through the Greek Pantheon on a mad quest to exact revenge for the death of his family. His Spartan Rage fueled his travel from the depths of the Underworld to the peak of Mount Olympus and brought the end of Titans and Gods alike. His fury knew no bounds.
This is not the same Kratos we see now though. With his vengeance achieved and his hunger for blood sated, the Ghost of Sparta moves a world away to escape his demons. Kratos marries a woman named Faye and they have a son named Atreus, who is brought up not knowing about his special heritage or anything about his father’s past. For a time, it seemed that Kratos had finally found happiness again but it was not meant to last. The second era God of War game begins with Kratos and Atreus burning Faye’s corpse and setting off on a journey to spread her ashes from the highest point in all of the nine realms. Little did either of them know, but their journey up the mountain sets events in motion that have been centuries in the making.
A well paced introduction to this 25 – 30 hour game sets the mood for a story full of growth, learning and no small amount of blood shed. We meet an older, grizzled and somewhat more patient Kratos who sets off with his son to fulfill his second wife’s dying wish. Thanks to the gruff dialogue and short interactions, we are able to tell that the father/son relationship is a bit strained: Atreus tries very hard to impress and connect with a father that he does not understand, but that effort is lost on Kratos. Instead, the God of War remains caught up in the task at hand and keeping his demons at bay. Despite the clipped interactions, father and son engage in bonding activities like hunting mystical deer and fighting forest ogres.
The relative peace doesn’t last long though. Members from the pantheon of Norse mythology are hell bent on disrupting the mission and introduce themselves early in the game.
This sets a grand stage for the titanic and explosive combat that players have come to expect from the series. Alongside feuding Gods, players will be introduced to a host of other characters including dwarven smiths, giants and draugar of all sizes that hunt Kratos and Atreus across the nine realms.
A shining example of a series that grew up exceptionally well, God of War brings back the best that the first generation of games had to offer. You begin the game wielding Leviathan, an axe that was “made to oppose the power of Mjolnir and inspired by the epic size of Jörmungandr.” As you progress through the story, new skills become available as well as different options for customizing the axe with special enchantments and upgrades. I’d like to say with full disclosure that Leviathan is a seriously cool axe. It offers a versatility that would have taken multiple weapons in the first generation of games to accomplish, as it can be wielded with one hand or two, offers runic ice damage, can be thrown at multiple enemies at a time and with just a click of a button, will come flying back into your hand like Thor’s legendary hammer.
The excitement of the new combat system does not stop there though. While Kratos dances a deadly dance of decapitation and dismemberment, Atreus provides ranged support with his bow. Like Leviathan, Atreus’ bow can be upgraded throughout the game, as can his abilities. One of my favorite details of the game surround what I can only describe as post combat debriefing between father and son. Atreus will ask about his performance in a recent fight and Kratos will gruffly answer that the boy needs to focus more or improve in some particular way. As the game progresses and the bond between father and son deepen, this post-combat breakdown is just one of the many conversations that also begins to evolve. It’s a small detail but one that did not go unnoticed and absolutely added to the general sense of immersion as I played through the story and side missions.
Speaking of side missions, God of War now offers a world that begs to be explored. This is a change from previous titles that felt much more linear and rail-roaded players from point to point in the game. While there is a definite sense of forwardness that compels players to forge ahead, the game is also just fine with you taking the time to explore every nook and cranny, unlock secret rooms, collect treasures and complete side missions. In fact, players begin the story in Midgard (the realm in which Earth is located) but as the story unfolds are invited and in some cases, forced, to explore a small number of the other eight realms. It is not an open world game in the way that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or The Witcher III: Wild Hunt are, but it is a massive expansion in available explorable content to it’s predecessors.
God of War is a visually stunning game. I did not play this game on a PS4 Pro or on a 4K TV, but instead played it on my first generation PS4 and 43′ LED 1080p Samsung TV. Even then, the level of detail still blew me away. More than once I found myself longingly looking into the distance, wishing I could hike out to a mountain peak or far off place, just for the sake of doing it.
The environment is decorated with era-relevant architecture and vibrant, wild terrain that made me feel like as if I was lost in an episode of Vikings. Norse symbols and glyphs adorned the walls of crumbling temples while statues of monsters and heroes, marred by time, stared down on father and son as they explored the remote, untamed parts of the world.
Of particular note in God of War was the voice acting. A good majority of the time, I did not see or need to see the faces of Kratos and Atreus as they conversed, thanks to the excellent voice acting. The right drop of sarcasm or exasperation from either of the characters could easily set the mood after a hard interaction or before an important dialogue. When I was able to pull my eyes away from everything else on the screen and watch them interact, I was pleased to see that every word was carefully matched to the lips of the speaker. This was true, not just of Kratos and Atreus, but of all the NPC’s as well.
I enjoyed my audio by way of a Bose Solo 5 TV sound system and loved every second of it. Please play through this game with the audio on, because the soundtrack, as well as the the various sounds of the environment and game play added an extra layer of immersion to the experience. This includes the crunch of boots on soft snow as you explore a new area and the clang of hammer on mighty anvil as you craft together materials to upgrade your gear and the wet thud and crunch of an axe cutting through rotting skin and tissue to embed itself into the thick skull of a draugr that just didn’t want to stay down.
What God of War could have done better: A New Game+ option would be fantastic.
What God of War did well: The game is incredibly well written and well designed. What begins as a heavy journey to say goodbye to a loved one evolves into a moving experience that has the potential to break the already weak bond between an estranged father and a son in pain, or to bring them closer than either of them ever thought possible. Kratos will be confronted with the bloody past he tries so hard to escape, while Atreus must uncover who he is and face what he may one day become. Both will be challenged though by a realm full of dangers, Gods who play at their own game and a combat experience that puts even the Ghost of Sparta to the test. In a beautifully designed world full of powerful magic and cunning deception, the truth is never what it seems and the lines between love and vengeance wear thin…
Now that you’ve read through my comprehensive and in no way, shape or form, biased review, please do yourself a favor: Go buy the damn game. 😉
Are you a long time fan of the series? Have you played the new God of War? What are your thoughts so far? Let me know in the comments below!