I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest God of War fan. That’s not to say I dislike the franchise or think it’s bad because it’s pretty clear that the games are well made and are incredibly popular. I’ve played most of the games, though I was initially interested more by the promise of Ancient Greek mythology than the action and violence. Over time, however, I was drawn in by Kratos’ story of revenge.
After the ending of God of War 3, I figured that was the end for Kratos. I mean, where else could they realistically take this angry, vengeful character after he essentially wiped out all of Greek mythology?
So when Sony showed off this latest installment a few years ago at E3, I was shocked. The game presented itself in a much more slower and less in your face way. A now older and grizzled Kratos, who is still clearly the brooding man we all remember, is now a father to a young boy. Weirder yet, Kratos has a magic axe and is living somewhere in Scandinavia fighting creatures straight out of Norse mythology. I had to know how this all happened.
So did this new direction ultimately work? I have some thoughts…
Right away, you quickly realize that this is a fully evolved version of God of War. The gore, sexual elements, and frenetic action have all been turned down in favor of a more mature, thoughtful experience. I can already hear longtime fans faces scrunching in horror at this, but let me tell you that not only does this new direction work, it simply blows the previous games out of the water.
Arguably, the biggest technical change is the camera, which is now set over Kratos’ shoulder for the entire game. The game is also one continuous shot, never cutting away from Kratos, which is a stunning technical achievement. The world is also semi-open, letting players fast travel to different locations once unlocked, with a central hub zone called the Lake of the Nine which basically is the central location that players use to travel pretty much anywhere.
Clearly, the other big change is the setting, which is now set somewhere in the snow covered hills of Scandinavia. As a story-driven experience, I’m going to steer clear of spoilers, so I can’t tell you the hows or whys of what’s going on, only that the game does slowly reveal how all of this happened. It makes you wait for it, a fact that I was initially concerned about, fearing they weren’t going to get into it at all. But when it comes, it’s extremely satisfying, especially to longtime fans.
So yeah, gone are the harpies, minotaurs, and other Greek oddities, replaced by undead Draugr, Trolls, wulvers, tatzelwurms, and other odd Norse creatures. Yes, Norse Gods are present in this game as well and the boss fights that ensue are a thrilling spectacle. Again, I don’t want to say too much but the first boss fight really sets the stage for things to come.
Because of that fact, the violence feels a bit toned down. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its moments, there are certainly some violent acts being done in this game, but it lacks that gore element from the previous games. In prior games, Kratos went up against a lot of humaniod enemies, but in here, 90% of the time you’re fighting trolls, ice creatures, or other creatures.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the scene from God of War 3 where Kratos literally rips Helios’ head right off. It was stunningly, shockingly brutal as he pulled the head off of a person that was very wounded but still very much alive. That game features some other merciless moments, from first-person eye gouging to other mutilations and violent acts. Needless to say, I always kind of felt like it was almost too much.
This God of War dumps all of that for a much more balanced, yet still powerful combat. His bread and butter this time is the Leviathan Axe, a magical ice powered weapon that he can throw and recall anytime he wants. And let me tell you, throwing and recalling the weapon is unbelievably satisfying. The axe has a weight to it, making you feel powerful while fully in control as well. As in past games, Kratos gets both light and heavy attacks and can evolve them further by unlocking new abilities and combos. Spartan Rage also makes a return, empowering Kratos to deal more damage. Players also have access to a shield, as well as hand to hand combat attacks.
Does Kratos come across other weapons like in previous games? Without saying too much…yes. I’ll leave it there.
It’s also worth mentioning that Atreus, Kratos’ son, is an integral piece to the experience. I never once felt like I was babysitting him as you would in a normal escort mission. He is able to fend for himself, is extremely valuable in combat with his bow, and adds an interesting element with how he and Kratos interact. Players also have, what I like to call, an Atreus button, which commands him to fire his bow at whatever Kratos has targetted. Eventually, you’ll unlock combat magic and can imbue his attacks with runic magic that can summon specific animals like ravens or wolves.
God of War also surprised me with how much it delved into the RPG side of things as well. Honestly, a welcomed surprise as not only can you unlock new abilities and skills, but you can upgrade and craft things like weapons, armor, enchantments, and more. These items have rarities like you’d see in a game like Destiny or Diablo, plus they can change Kratos’s stats. The biggest element to this system is that it lets you kind of personalize Kratos a bit by changing how he looks.
In addition, the world is littered with things to do, collect, and upgrade. I constantly found myself getting distracted by shiny objects or wanting to discover what that mysterious cove or island held. Most of the nine realms are also available to explore like the fire realm of Muspelheim or the maze-like realm of Niflheim. Each one carries a distinct look and feel while also being just as fun to explore. There’s a lot that is off limits as well, likely tipping Sony Santa Monica’s hand that a sequel is likely on the way.
All in all, this game can (and will) easily take up over 30 hours of your time, especially if you want to pursue all of the side content and collectables.
I really wish I could talk more about God of War because the game is such a breath of fresh air from previous games in the franchise. I love this new direction and was mesmerized throughout the entire experience from start to finish. I really can’t recommend this game highly enough. If you’re a PlayStation 4 owner, this game is a must play. If you’re on the fence about picking up a system, I have no problems saying that this is a game that easily makes the console purchase worth it.
In my opinion, this is an evolution that needed to happen and I’m extremely happy that it did. Kudos to Cory Barlog and his team over at Sony Santa Monica because they knocked this one out of the park.