Review: God of War is a landmark return for the franchise
Its been a while since we last saw Kratos. After murdering Zeus and most of the Greek pantheon, it seemed as if he finally had the time for a much needed break. Which was exactly what he did.
God of War picks up decades afterwards, with the Ghost of Sparta now living in the frigid Norse lands. Undisturbed for years, Kratos had finally found some semblance of peace, living in isolation with his new wife and son.
However, tragedy soon strikes with yet another death in the Spartan’s family.
The game opens with you building a funeral pyre for Kratos’ new wife, Faye. It doesn’t take long before the Norse gods take notice, wrapping him up in another mythological saga. There’s more to the story but there’s no way to speak of it without spoilers. However, it’s definitely safe to say that there are tons of ‘oh snap’ moments throughout, as major revelations will have your jaw dropping. Out of all the previous games, God of War undoubtedly has the best plot in the series… and it’s just the beginning!
Our new Kratos isn’t the loner he used to be. Life as family man has mellowed him some, now that he’s joined by his son. Atreus’ naiveté is a stark contrast to Kratos’ harsh, pragmatic personality, and it serves as a great foil to the elder Spartan. Atreus’ desire to do good is tempered by Kratos’ no-nonsense approach of not taking sides, nor concerning themselves with the affairs of others.
It plays off brilliantly and leads to genuinely compelling moments as they struggle to know and accept each other, different as they may be. Their dialogue is one of the game’s high point, humanizing the duo and letting us see Kratos in a whole new light. We’ve seen his rage in past games, now we get to see his love.
There are, of course, moments of levity, especially when a certain somebody joins up with them. In fact, this person’s addition makes the story even better, as he provides useful background tidbits we wouldn’t have known otherwise. I’d love having him around for future instalments.
Having a son isn’t the only change for the series. The gameplay has seen a tremendous overhaul, with Kratos now wielding the Leviathan Axe. Imbued with frost, it can freeze enemies with certain attacks. You can also chuck it at foes and, like Thor’s Mjölnir, magically recall it back into Kratos’ hand, damaging any enemies on its flight back.
Kratos is still dangerous without his axe. Unarmed blows fill up a stun meter that, when filled, lets you trigger a gory finishing move. There’s another fighting style you’ll get about halfway through the game but, to avoid spoilers, I’m not going to discuss it. Just know that it’s as awesome and as useful as either axe or fists.
Combat is much more brutal with the camera’s lowered, third-person perspective, like in Resident Evil or Tomb Raider games. This view change really helps to make fights visceral, as you can get to see just how vicious Kratos’ attacks are.
All of the fighting styles have their own combos and moves, and you can seamlessly cycle between them with the D-pad. With enough proficiency you can effortlessly chain moves from all three styles, though that’s not required to master the game.
Kratos will go up against a wide variety of enemies: dark elves, draugr, trolls, dragons, and other monstrosities from Norse mythology. However, that raises a major peeve I have with the amount of combat finishers.
Kratos only has a handful of them for each enemy type, and with all the fighting in this game you’ll be seeing the same animations over and over again. I honestly wish there were more, perhaps four or five times more, than what’s in the game.
Luckily, God of War ‘s combat is fast, fluid and relentless, relying on timing and evasion more than straight button mashing. Kratos responds with no lag and it’s a breeze to engage and disengage foes. There can be massive amounts of enemies on-screen, so the responsive controls are all the more valuable.
Landing blows will also fill Kratos’ familiar Spartan Rage meter. Triggering it regenerates your health, and generally makes make you stronger, better, and faster. It’s incredibly useful when you need to take out tough enemies or when you’re on the ropes and need a quick breather.
Atreus will also lend a hand; the AI is intelligent enough to assist and cover your back. He’ll join the assault if he sees you rushing a foe, stepping in as soon as your own combo ends. He can also grab enemies for you to land some free hits and pull off a finisher. Atreus is completely worry-free, as he can be stunned but never dies.
Atreus can fire arrows that, later on, have different properties. They’re used for puzzle solving and in combat, letting you distract or incapacitate enemies long enough for Kratos to gain the upper hand. Not all enemies are affected, especially in the late-game, but aiming is something you need to master.
Combat isn’t just about hitting stuff and firing arrows, though. Countering is just as essential, opening up enemies for devastating combos. If you have a certain perk, it can even deflect projectiles back at ranged enemies.
Perks are special upgrades slotted in your armor, giving benefits like a longer window for counters. Your weapons also have slots, triggering abilities mapped to L1 and either R1, R2, or Circle. Finally, there’s the Talisman slot at the base of the Leviathan axe, adding even more skills.
Kratos’ armor comes in multiple rarities too. The higher, better quality gear not only looks cool, but also gives Kratos special abilities when equipped as a set (chest, wrists, and waist). Outfitted with high-quality gear, endgame Kratos ends up looking very different. If you’re somebody who loves to customize, God of War will be heaven.
If you’re not fighting, chances are you’ll be solving the numerous environmental puzzles in the game. Most of them are easily solvable, but there are a handful that requires some extra thinking. All are fun and a good fit for the game, though. You’ll also come across special areas and locked doors, so if you’re one to hunt for everything then prepare to backtrack quite a bit.
There’s an underlying RPG-lite mechanic system at work in God of War. Your gear and equips add to your overall power level, which in turn dictates how tough the enemies are. Since they don’t scale to your level, equipping and upgrading better gear is pretty much required for tougher enemies and optional bosses. Inversely, those wanting a challenge to ignore these upgrades altogether.
Speaking of RPGs, God of War also has a handful of side-quests you can do. All of them have their unique areas with pretty good gear rewards, so don’t think they were simply tacked on. Completing them all nets you two cool armor sets, which you’ll definitely need before starting on the endgame content.
Yup, we have endgame content now. These range from fighting the optional, hidden bosses, to finishing missed side-quests and finding translation runes to access hidden realms. There’s a ton of meat to the game and it’ll take you quite a while to see it all. I spent two whole days and nights to reach the end and I still haven’t fought any of the hidden bosses or farmed the endgame armor.
No matter what you do, one thing is for sure: your journey will be awesome. God of War has some of the best visuals ever seen on the PS4. Without spoiling the story, the last area Kratos visits, with its tapestries and wide open vistas, is incredibly stunning. But that’s hardly an anomaly. In fact, every area you visit has its own visual style,from jungle ruins to frozen caves, and they all look great. I’m still in love with the Lake of the Nine, with its huge open map and it’s constantly changing topography as you progress.
Even the enemies aren’t exempt from this. While I’d love more enemy types (you’re fighting draugr and trolls way too much for my liking), their impressive models are fluidly animated and are a joy to fight.
While there are some framerate hitches, even on a PS4 Pro on the “Favor Gameplay” setting, I have no doubts that these will be ironed out in future patches. These moments seem a bit too random in our early review copy.
The audio is no slouch either, its music suitably epic to fit the scene or action. On top of that, the voice acting in God of War is top-notch. Christopher Judge (who you might know as Teal’c from Stargate SG-1) may be new to voicing Kratos, but you could swear he was born for the role.
Judge’s deep baritone is perfect for the grizzled Kratos, and his deadpan delivery to some of Atreus’ lines made me chuckle more than once. There’s definitely a chemistry between him and Atreus’ Sunny Suljic, making their interactions even more believable. We might never have thought of Kratos as a dad before, but after playing God of War, that’s the image stuck with me the most.
Honestly speaking, I wasn’t much of a God of War fan. I played all the games but they weren’t that special to me. At least, not until this one. Santa Monica Studios and Sony have truly hit it out of the park with this, and it’s done what I thought was previously impossible: it’s turned me into a fan. One who can’t wait for the inevitable sequel, and there’s no higher praise I can give than that.
If you have a PS4 and are remotely interested in a good game, you need this in your collection.
God of War releases on 20 April for PlayStation 4.
Developed by SIE Santa Monica Studios. Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
A review copy was used for this article.
God of War (PS4)
was reviewed on the LG OLED C7 Television.