Very rarely am I afforded the opportunity to play a new game so close to its release, especially a ‘triple-A’ game like the new God of War.
Have I played the other games in the franchise? Some of them; I played parts of the first and a few missions here and there in God of War 3 and God of War: Ascension, but I’ve never really had the chance to play the entirety of even the main entries in the series – to be perfectly honest, I was probably too busy reading or playing something like Zoo Tycoon or Unreal Tournament.
But I managed to find some YouTube Creators who played all the previous entries and I am even more proud to say that these playthroughs had absolutely no commentary on them whatsoever (don’t get me wrong; I love commentary depending on the person giving it, but I wanted the story, not someone screaming and reacting over it); so I marathoned all those and just a day after the game came out, a close friend of mine invited me over to his place to play the new God of War.
Said friend shant be named, but you know exactly who you are and I thank you very f#cking much.
Between watching a playthrough of this latest entry into the franchise, and playing several hours of it with a friend, I had one hell of a ride; between meeting the World Serpent Jörmungandr and trying out some of the most insane attack combos with Kratos’ new Leviathan Axe, with the occasional sprinkling of brutal Norse mythology from Mimir, this game may not be perfect, but it comes damn close.
I can easily see why it has received so many perfect scores from a wide variety of reviewers.
The combat flows perfectly, the single-shot camera delivers on those personal moments and seems to know exactly when to pan out slightly to give the player a better view of their majestic surroundings, the skill system feels more like something out of The Witcher and the ability to socket different gems into your weapon is a welcome addition from the Action-RPG genre (technically the rune system in Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and Shadow of Mordor is the same thing but actually seeing the gems in your weapon just has a different feel to it).
And you know what? I do not miss that jump button – at all. There were several instances where I wished I could just jump around simply for the sake of going in a different direction (Skyrim players will be familiar with the term ‘platforming’; for those who don’t know, this is how you end up with those memes of Skyrim‘s horses standing on near vertical surfaces). The devs said they felt that a jump mechanic would interfere with the flow of the gameplay, and I completely agree.
Once again we take control of Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta, Greek God of War (having well and truly replaced Aires at this point), but this time he is older, more grizzled, he has a son to keep an eye on… and if you have any grasp on genetics I’m sure you’ll realise exactly what his son is, Kratos would do well to keep a sharp eye on him.
Atreus is young, naïve and extremely weak by comparison to pretty much everything you come across for the first few hours of the game; but God of War is by no means a glorified escort mission (which it technically is but Atreus is on this journey with you, you aren’t being dragged along and neither is he – for the most part). Just like in Ellie in The Last of Us, Atreus proves his worth and usefulness quickly; he can read Nordic runes, Kratos cannot; he can crawl through tight spaces where Kratos cannot fit and he can distract enemies (thank goodness he doesn’t have a health bar you have to pay attention to). But his fighting abilities change once he becomes confident in his skill; he uses his bow to stun, deal damage (in fair amounts, late game he is even capable of taking on most draugr himself) and even strangle opponents for short periods – allowing you to slice them up with the icy Leviathan Axe.
Without spoiling too much of the plot: God of War sees Kratos and his son cremate the now deceased Faye (Atreus’ mother/Kratos’ wife) and carry her ashes to the highest peak in all the realms, as per her last wishes; but once they get to the peak of the tallest mountain they know of, they discover that the highest peak in all the realms is not in Midgard but in Jotunheim, the realm of the Giants; which, as it happens, is closed off to the other realms. The game sees them fighting and solving their way across the realms. As they go, Kratos is forced to deal with his past and Atreus struggles to connect with his disconnected father.
Possibly my favourite design aspect, my favourite part of the entire game, is Jörmungandr. Aside from the parts of the game where you talk to him, he just rests in the background, occasionally moving parts of his body to reveal new areas to explore. But the main reason I love this so much (aside from my love of gigantic reptiles) is that he is never static; it would have been so easy for the developers to just make him a static object in the background, but instead, he occasionally moves his head to survey the area, sometimes you can even catch him sleeping.
The developers paid attention to the tiny details, even the bigger tiny details; and it pays off.
My second favourite aspect (very minor spoilers in the ahead paragraph, but nothing story related) is that the very end of the game has no combat. The final boss and the actual end of the campaign are a good five minutes apart. The very end of the game is incredibly emotional, filled with revelations and epiphanies but no combat; the campaign in so many linear RPGs often simply ends with the death of the final boss, but God of War still has a little more in store.
To quote Cleanprincegaming in his video essay on the game “God of War is not a work of objective perfection, nothing is. Some people are going to sit down, play through the experience and walk away unimpressed; some players don’t enjoy action games, some players would rather bypass story and some are going to herald it as the second coming of whatever divine being they await.”
If I could further quote this same YouTuber, “What could not be said about God of War is that it doesn’t do anything interesting, or better yet, that it doesn’t have a message to send to the gaming industry; it most certainly does.”
For the longest time, the gaming industry has had to compromise: good gameplay and story or good graphics. And it isn’t really that the developers are compromising, but the gamers seem to believe that having all three of those is impossible, because no one can seem to reliably get it right.
Well, ladies and gents, however, such a thing is achieved, whatever secret formula Sony and their associated developers have stumbled upon: God of War is proof that we can have all three.
The new God of War isn’t really a sequel, hence no number or subtitle, but I don’t think this counts as a reboot either; God of War has taken a new direction, a new theme, a new gameplay style and a new world of gods and monsters. And if the ending is anything to go by, it might be a good idea to keep our eyes peeled for a sequel.
Oh, and by the way, heavy heavy heavy is still very much a thing if you know what I mean.