Today, at around eight in the morning or so, I raved to a friend of mine about the new God of War. I spent minutes on end trying to explain how it was the best game ever, without spoiling the story. I went on and on, explaining how the music is great, the story was fantastic and the visuals are breathtaking. Then, after a nice relaxing twelve-hour break, I noticed that when tasked with explaining the gameplay I tended to move on a bit quickly. Oh well, half a day and watching other people’s reviews will do that to you, so let’s hop on the bandwagon, shall we?
First and foremost, this game is beautiful. I mean like Crysis beautiful. I was absolutely gobsmacked by how pretty everything was, from the snow to the armor, from the elf world to the fire world, everything is on display. It’s nice to have an action game out that isn’t afraid to put some color on its pallet. I especially enjoyed the subtle changes given to your equipment when upgraded, something I always love in video games, and how stunning your ornate weaponry becomes. The character designs are all appealing and interesting, except for Baldur who looked like a punk singer that lost a bet with his tattoo artist, and all the monsters were appealing to see for the brief moments before I eviscerated them.
The sound design was also noteworthy, so much so that it gets its own paragraph. Ambient noises are wonderful, giving the world depth as you go along, and the music is the usual God of War orchestral brilliance. I would really like to commend the voice actors on bringing their A-game in this experience, delivering every line with conviction and emotion. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t a hiccup or two along the way. I love the wailing orchestral soundtrack this game has, really I do, but I take issue with it when it begins to drown out what the characters are saying.
A little history is needed before we delve into the story. God of War is pretty much the most successful video game power fantasy that bases itself on mythology in existence at the moment and is probably making more money every second than I could ever hope to win in the lottery. It has currently spanned three generations of PlayStations, multiple handheld ports, and Kratos was even featured in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royal, so this series is not to be trifled with. However, I would like to make the point early on that God of War is perfect as a power fantasy. It managed to make you feel incredible while challenging you throughout with fun combat and a ridiculously angry atheist to control. God of War the new one, on the other hand, tends to take a slightly slower approach.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, and I did quite like how Kratos has grown as a character. Call me crazy, but the genocidal human chainsaw that Kratos used to be wasn’t all that endearing. It was refreshing to see tangible growth in the character, going from a hot-headed murderer into a cool-headed and experienced murderer. The best part was that it made sense for him to become a slightly more tempered brute. By the end of the last game he had destroyed his home country, gained a family in a new country, and he probably hasn’t has to rip out any minotaur guts recently. These are the perfect ingredients for a jaded version of Kratos, and he didn’t even have to tell me this in exposition! It was all in the background, communicated to me by means of subtle gestures, the way Kratos sounds when he shouts and the way he treats his son throughout.
It was even more refreshing to see that growth continue throughout the game. With some small gesture that Kratos or his son would make, a seemingly thrown away piece of dialog or even just the tone used when someone says something, the characters grow together in a completely believable way. They go from being distant and not really trusting each other, to being an unstoppable team, gradually enough for me to not even notice until the end. It was all natural, meant to be in fact. The dialog was fun without having to crowbar jokes in like most serious games nowadays, which deserves some kind of medal. I honestly enjoyed every single character in God of War, which is something that does not happen often in video games, so you should definitely buy it for the story if nothing else.
The story itself is a journey that an older Kratos and his son, Atreus, are taking to spread the ashes of Kratos’s dead wife. His newest dead wife, not the one currently attached to his skin from his last family’s unfortunate household accident. The setting has changed from Greek mythology to Norse mythology, a favorite of mine, and does a really good job of keeping everything clear and interesting. This journey will take them from their smallish home to the top of a mountain, through five of the nine realms of existence, deep into Norse myth and even deeper into their own emotions. I really like the story, have I mentioned that? Now onto the bad parts. I mean, what would a review be without a list of flaws as well right?
Let’s start with the combat. The combat is not terrible, per say, but it doesn’t really match up to God of War’s usual standard. The combat in God of War, usually, is to tap buttons to create combos and destroy your enemies. Don’t get me wrong, God of War 2018 edition still has that, and it can be pretty fun when you keep it simple. The issue comes in when it starts messing around with combos. There were the slightly more complex combos out there in the original games, of course, but they never really interfered with the good old fashion button mashing that characterized them. They also did not force you to stop attacking for a second, so that you could go into a different “stance” for some new attacks. This was a difficult thing for my controller to register after I’d mashed it into a fine powder. This is the case for so many combat upgrades, requiring button entry that you simply cannot do in the heat of battle or that are just less useful than the basic attack. I don’t think I used some of the upgrades on purpose, and the only reason I bought them was that I had a billion experience points to spare.
This brings me to my second point, the upgrading. I can understand upgrading skills with experience points, and I can even understand buying different armor for stat bonuses. What I cannot understand though, is why my armor rating dictates my level. You only level up in this game by upgrading your gear, which you can only do with ridiculous sums of money and random stuff from around the world. In God of War 3, for instance, you would upgrade your weapon using the points acquired from hitting people with it. That is a system that rewards skill, rather than this sandbox upgrade system that rewards my ability to waste time digging around the map for gold. This is a minor gripe, as it never really affected my progress through the main story too much, but I really started to notice it when the game ended. They pulled that open world, “screw around in the overworld till you get bored”, a tactic that every sandbox does now when they finish the plot. In God of War, however, that means hunting down and fighting the last mythical creatures around. Well, it did, before every enemy group in the game suddenly gained a member at least two levels higher than me. This shouldn’t mean much to Kratos, the god of hitting things hard, but I got killed in two hits by random minions more times than I could count. That makes me start to wonder if the game was taking it easy on me in the plot, or if everyone else decided to take up cardio while I was away.
The progression also feels underwhelming, purely because this is a sandbox. Since the world is open to you at all times, going anywhere starts to feel like a chore. Like I’m crossing items off a checklist before I get to do anything fun. “Go to the island to look for money” or “fight eight more of the same monsters for some money and experience” and so on. I, and I’m sure many people, do not play God of War to farm enough cash for the newest and swankiest skirt. We play it to punch ogres in the face. We play this game for challenging combat, that’s fun and captivating in a disgusting sort of way. We play God of War for the challenge, for the story, but also for the spectacle. Making it an explore-action with no sense of closure in our actions is NOT the way to do this. Beating a level should fill me with a sense of achievement, not a sense of “I’m going to have to come back and loot this place silly to keep up” dread. That should be saved for MMORPGs.
Other than that, the puzzle solving is alright and the movement is fine. Bit of a hassle to have to take the trans-dimensional highway every time I want to buy new armor, but it was never a deal breaker. The boss fights got a bit boring near to the end, but they fit into the story so well that I didn’t really mind that much. All in all, I wanted a good story and I got an excellent one. There is a lot to be said about a game I can spend six hours playing, forget to eat that day, and yet still want to keep going to find out what happens next. The combat isn’t perfect, the game suffers from its sandbox format and upgrade system, and the boss fights were disappointing when it really mattered, but at the end of the day I had fun. You should play this, and maybe you’ll have fun too!