Developer: Santa Monica Studios
Release Date: 04/20/2018
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When you think PlayStation you usually think God of War or Kratos. God of War was a game-changer back in 2005 with cinematic fluid combat, memorable characters, and intricate level design, as well as the birth of quick-time events. 13 years later the entire game is reinvented not just to change the way we play as Kratos, but to reinvent the action-adventure genre itself.
I really want to go into detail about the story, but it would contain so many spoilers I have to refrain. For starters, you do play as Kratos but as an aged man, a father, now living in an entirely new world set in Norse mythology. Yes, the Greek mythos of God of War is now done and we get a whole new set of Gods and enemies and a beautiful new world. Kratos is living humbly as a woodsman with his family until his wife dies and he and his son, Atreus, must venture to the highest mountain of Midgard to spread her ashes. It feels like the most humble story and a stark contrast from past games with Kratos’ rage and anger tearing down Gods and endless Olympians.
I can’t stress enough just how well evolved his character and personality are. Being revoiced by Christopher Judge who is best known as Teal’c (Tee-ULK) from Stargate SG-1 TV series, he has a more calming, aged, and tired look to him. He is extremely wise, quiet, reserved, and has learned all these years to control himself, however, he still struggles. Santa Monica Studios did an astounding job of developing his character and Atreus’. I was fully immersed throughout the entire game and loved hearing Judge’s voice on screen and soaked in every cutscene and spoken line of dialog. It’s one of the most well-written characters and scripts in gaming history and goes from a simple story to blow up into the expected epic mess that Kratos usually gets in. The story does end on a cliffhanger and there are a lot of unanswered questions but fans will know that means more is coming, and more is better.
The next thing you think of when you hear God of War is the amazing and well-made combat. It is one of the top five best action-adventure combat systems ever created and just improved over time. Santa Monica Studio not only reinvented God of War’s combat but action-adventure combat itself. Instead of using a cut camera like in previous games, we are now behind Kratos in an over-the-shoulder perspective with similar combat mechanics to past games. Some would say this seems impossible, but they pulled it off. Light and heavy attacks are now mapped to the R1 and R2 buttons with your Leviathan Axe being used to solve puzzles as well. This is another amazing twist to the weapons in God of War, they aren’t just for chopping off heads. The Leviathan Axe is an amazing tool that is powerful, used as a ranged weapon, and for various other reasons. The main attraction for the axe is that it can be thrown and returned to the player anywhere in the world. The Triangle button is permanently mapped to just returning the axe which is an interesting game mechanic never seen before.
I can’t go into further detail about weapons as it’s actually a huge story spoiler, but the combat feels very familiar to past games while also feeling fresh and new. I can’t think of the combat being done any other way. On top of chopping off heads, the magic system was reinvented with new enchantments and rune stones that you can collect in the world. These can be socketed to armor and weapons and add various moves to certain button combinations for each weapon. These are key to surviving in battle and without them, you just plain wouldn’t be able to finish the game. I always changed them up and upgraded them as there’s a huge variety of magic moves in this game.
Epic cinematic kills are also back, but less quick-time event heavy. While I did miss them I understand why they were excluded. It does get repetitive and you constantly relied on seeing that circle button pop up to gain health, magic, or experience orbs, but the animations went from awe-inspiring to shrug-inducing very quickly. The game does harken back to the first God of War in the sense that the game isn’t heavy on epic giant bosses. There are a few, and they are scripted and beautifully animated, and jaw-droppingly epic to see. You still feel like you are taking down these giant creatures but in a different way. There are larger smaller enemies like trolls and elemental golems that can be defeated similarly to past games but it’s changed just enough to feel new and different. The combat is still cinematic, epic, and enjoyable with awesome slow-down and gore everywhere.
Atreus himself is also a great combat tool as he’s a companion that actually works and never gets in the way. He’s mapped to the square button and you can use him no matter what Kratos is doing and that includes death kills, being knocked down, etc. He shoots various types of arrows that can stun enemies and bring their stun meter up. Unlike past games, you can’t just deal so much damage and then the kill button appears exactly the same for every enemy. You need to use various attacks to bring that meter up and it’s difficult on tougher bosses. It keeps you from relying on quick-time events like in past games. The well invented and amazing enemies also help as each one stands out and is unique and you will learn what moves work with what enemy.
If the combat wasn’t enough to hook you then the world will. The third major part of God of War is exploration and puzzle-solving which makes up over half of the gameplay. They took the secret chests of past games and blew them up tenfold with various types of chests from simple small treasure chests full of Hacksilver (currency) to actual puzzle boxes where you have to hit various bells with runes to match the box. These can get tricky and require using all of your skills to solve. God of War is also an open world, yes, open world. Midgard contains several realms you can explore, two of which are only for trials and challenges, but Midgard itself is a giant lake with various islands full of puzzle goodness and amazing challenges that will keep you hooked for dozens of hours. There are so many tasks in God of War that it really feels like an awesome open-world RPG thanks to a leveling system and a brand new upgrade and crafting system.
The last part of God of War is going from using red orbs to upgrade things to finding various items in the game like any RPG and using it to craft and upgrade armor, weapons, enchantments, and even Atreus bow and his armor. There are certain armor sets that require various items from certain realms and this can be a challenge, but it’s possible I actually finished the story before reaching the max level and acquiring the best armor. That’s all reserved for bigger challenges seen elsewhere in Midgard.
Overall, God of War is the single best game to be released this entire console generation cycle. This is what we needed more of from every console maker. It took Sony too long as it was, but here we have it. The game is literally perfect and I can’t think of any flaws in God of War that are detrimental to the overall game. I could say the game is too hard in spots, but that’s because I ventured too far too early and needed to come back later. I could say there are a lot of hidden items and they are hard to find, but I need to explore more and look more carefully. I could say that the story is too short and the lower amount of epic bosses is what made God of War and hurts the game, but it just doesn’t. God of War is the best game I have played in the past 10 years and many other developers need to take note.
Note: The game plays best on the PS4 Pro. It looks really awful on the standard PS4, but the Pro is running in 4K checkerboard and the textures and added effects are well worth a purchase just for this game.