Since it was first introduced in 2005, God of War has been a staple of the PlayStation platform. From the PlayStation 2 onwards, the series has followed Kratos on his vengeful quest against the Greek pantheon of Gods, providing players with hours of blockbuster action. Now, Kratos is back on the PlayStation 4 with his most mature and—arguably—best story to date.
The story of God of War 2018, takes place many years after the events of God of War III. Kratos is clearly wearing his age, as he cuts down trees for his recently deceased wife’s funeral pyre. It is at this point we are also introduced to Atreus, Kratos’ son and companion for the experience. Though a series of trials and quests, Kratos grows to accept his place in the world, and eventually learn to be the father Atreus needs. It is a much smaller story for the Ghost of Sparta than we have seen before, but one that resonates in the modern climate—especially in the way the story unfolds.
It’s apparent that the writing team has grown with the series. The events that occur show a real growth in the relationship between Kratos and Atreus, and that could only come from the experience of the writers being parents themselves and is an experience that many parents will see mirrored within their own parent-child relationship as it grows through the years.
God of War manages that balancing act of being a much more personal story then we have seen in past instalments while maintaining that “epic” feel the God of War series is famous for. It also managed what I never thought possible: it made me care about Kratos and his choices, beyond just cheering for the eventual bloodbath he will bring.
The setting also plays a large part in capturing the new feel of the series. Where past games took place in deserts, lightly wooded areas, or even Hell, this title pushes what is possible visually. The new Scandinavian location gives the option for a new overall setting. From rich woods covered with a layer of snow to the Nordic godly temples, the colour palette has moved far beyond the greys and reds of past games. It is a rich and lush landscape, made all the more stunning due to the visual fidelity allowed by modern technology. It is a setting never before seen in a God of War game, and one that ensures that even though it is a fantasy setting, things feel grounded, giving the game a sense of presence never before seen in the series.
Visually God of War manages to be one of the most striking games in the PlayStation 4 library. From the way the snowcovered forest looks, all the way to the detail and facial movement on Jörmungandr, the World Serpent, God of War is a striking experience throughout. Playing on a 4K TV with the PlayStation 4 Pro, the game continues to astound me, even after hours of play. There are some truly magnificent segments of the game that need to be seen to be believed.
If you are new to God of War, this is the perfect place to jump in. While there the ever-present backstory, Sony Santa Monica has done a good job giving just enough information for new players. They managed to show that Kratos has a past, that haunts him, while still making a fresh experience that new and old players can jump into and enjoy.
Veteran players will find plenty of Easter eggs and callbacks that reward the fan for their knowledge of the franchise. Kratos is a man haunted by the sins of his past, the people he has killed, and the chaos he brought to the lands in the process. These transgressions weigh on him, especially as he tries to be a father to Atreus. It is a great way to reintroduce Kratos and makes him a more relatable, less cartoonish character that helps to draw, the player into the story as it unfolds.
While past titles in the God of War franchise stuck closly with the standard formula, this one mixes things up. No longer does the game rely on the fixed camera, over-head view that past games utilized; rather, it but instead, opts for an over the shoulder view, more akin to The Last of Us, or Gears of War. These changes alter the dynamic of how the way the combat plays out, and while it is just as violent, it manages to feel fresh and exciting.
Your weapon of choice this time around is the Leviathan Axe, a mighty, close range weapon. While it can be thrown at enemies akin to Thor’s hammer, it is not the crowd control style weapon we are all used to from God of War. It allows for a much more visceral level of combat, relying on combos that mix ranged and up close encounters to ensure you do not get overwhelmed.
As with past games, Kratos’ weapons are the key to many in-game puzzles and secrets. you will use the Leviathan Axe to clear pathways, freeze gears, and even open doors. Despite the close range feel of the weapons, it manages to be just as versatile as past weapons players are used to, even if it does mix things up enough to make them feel fresh and new.
This time around God of War is also far less a button masher and clearly geared towards advanced players. Each button on the controller has a use, and in combat, players will need to rely on every tool at their disposal, especially in the higher difficulties.
While it may be a challenge to master, once you have the hang of the controls and things fall into place, combat quickly becomes rewarding and even a highlight of the experience. The ability to string together combos resembles games such as Devil May Cry. The use of a heavy attack to throw an enemy in the air, as you call on Atreus to fire an arrow, all while trying to fight off a slew of lower enemies, is some of the most stressful and rewarding action I have seen outside of a Souls-like in years.
Where most games would have Atreus as simply a companion throughout the experience, God of War ensures he is an integral part of combat. His arrows are needed should you want to take on any of the later game bosses, and even the abilities he learns as the story progresses are required for select puzzles and to unlock sections of the game. This father and son combat functions to cement their bond and is integral to the narrative.
God of War is also a master class in pacing. The down moments act as the time to not only get to know the characters and get a deeper insight in their relationship but also get to fully understand the world they now find themselves in, and why things are unfolding as they are. As I mentioned before, Kratos has never felt more human, or more relatable, and that is partially thanks to this mix of low-key moments.
The series is known for some of the biggest boss fights in gaming, and even with this being a more personal story, the epic scale of battles is alive and well in God of War. From dragons and trolls all the way to gods, God of War manages to keep things interesting from start to finish. Even considering few games can live up to the opening moments of God of War III, this instalment manages to match if not exceed that in many segments. The power of the PlayStation 4 is on full display throughout the experience and that is just as true with the fights.
Sony Santa Monica clearly has listened to fans, and the dreaded Quick-Time events (QTE) do not rear their ugly head at any time in the experience. Where there would normally be a QTE, the game leaves control of the action squarely in the hands of the player. This means you are welcome to keep brutally attacking the boss, or dodge and work your way to the inevitable climax. It is a welcome change and makes the struggles of Kratos seem more tangible. He is no longer the invincible god we have seen in past games; he has to work for each victory, making them all the more satisfying.
Beyond the improvements in combat, and story, the team has managed to craft one of the deepest and most feature-rich God of War games to date. While the main story will take most players around 20-25 hours on normal to complete, should they wish to go beyond the main path, and explore the slew of sidequests, and even side worlds, there will be countless hours of gameplay to experience.
Throughout my experience with God of War, I tested out many of the side segments and worked through a number of the side quests, and while they do not have the urgency of the main quest, they manage to be just as rewarding, with some fantastic locations, quests and even some of the hardest battles of the game.
As with past God of War games, there is plenty to grind and build up throughout your playthrough. You have a range of upgrades for each weapon, along with armour, charms, enhancements and upgrades all to make you, and your son the most powerful fighting force possible. If you want to get the most out of the game, some grinding is required, especially if you want to take on some of more difficult side quests in the game.
The music accompanying your quest to take on the Norse Gods is some of the best in the series. The use of Nordic instrumentation and an Icelandic choir make for some beautifully haunting music, that fits the setting wonderfully. Like much of what makes this instalment great, it is not that it breaks from what was done in the past, but that it builds on it to make something special and excitingly new.
If I had to lay any comments about the reinvention of God of War with this instalment, it would be that anyone that was hoping for just another God of War game will be disappointed. This instalment pushes what makes the series to the limits. for those looking for Kratos to be the angry God killer with no remorse, this iteration is no longer that character, and I would argue for the better.
God of War has evolved and brings players a new and rewarding experience. While the setting and pantheon have changed, the core of what makes a God of War game remains ever present in all aspects of the experience. This is without a doubt the best God of War game yet, and arguably one of the best games currently on the PlayStation 4. Whether you are a newcomer to the franchise or a veteran player, you would do yourself a disservice by not playing this game. God of War is back, and better than ever!