God of War Review
Sony PlayStation 4
It’s 7PM on a Saturday evening, twelve hours have passed like five minutes, I’ve forgotten to eat, just about managed to get dressed, and drained three DualShocks of their battery. This was my first experience of God of War, and one I seldom experience anymore. From the opening scenes, I was hooked, in awe of the masterpiece that Santa Monica Studio have created! God of War is not only a masterful reboot of one of Sony’s best-loved series, it’s one of those games that comes around once a generation and completely changes the landscape!
If you’ve been following God of War since its announcement at E3 2016, you’ll know that this instalment shifts the setting from its traditional Greek mythology to Norse mythology, and is a complete reboot for the series, built from the ground up, although the soul of the God of War series has been retained throughout.
The series’ uncompromising lead Kratos returns, and this time he’s accompanied by his son, Atreus. Following the tragic death of his wife, Kratos and Atreus set out to complete her final wish of spreading her ashes atop the tallest mountain in Midgard. Despite being father and son, Atreus was much closer to his mother and, as such, Kratos and Atreus feel more like acquaintances rather than blood relatives for most of the initial act. Naturally, as you progress along your path, things don’t go as planned, and despite being able to see the mountain for long portions of the game, Kratos and Atreus are prevented from completing their task due to a number of unexpected turns; these unexpected turns help push the riveting story past twenty thrilling hours.
Kratos has seen his fair share of turmoil as he brutally murdered his way through the Greek gods, and while this turmoil is evident from the start, the Kratos we see here is different. While he carries memories from his bloody past everywhere he goes, he’s a changed man; Kratos has found love, grown a beard and fathered a son, a son who he must rely on during their journey to Midgard’s highest peak in order to decipher the Nord writing and lore found across the various realms. The relationship between father and son is impeccably presented and beautifully written, and feels so real. Kratos initially distances himself from Atreus, often referring to him as “Boy” during dialogue, and while his love for his son is obvious, it’s delivered in a cold, mentor-like manner as he trains his son to be self-sufficient. As Atreus’ skills improve, Kratos’ cold manner towards him softens, leading to a number of poignant, emotionally-charged scenes we’ve never scene in the series to date. Other games have tackled the parent-child relationship before, but none manage to reach the same heights found here!
Special praise should be noted for the script writers, who manage to transform Kratos from an angry, vengeful monster into a protective, emotionally drained, and yet humorous father figure; I absolutely loved the sarcastic one-liners delivered throughout. Actor Christopher Judge takes over the voice of Kratos and puts in an absolutely epic performance, supported by spectacular performances by Sunny Suljic (Atreus), Roger Craighead and Adam Harrington (Huldra Brothers Brok and Sindri), and my favourite, Alastair Duncan as the humorous Mímir. The game is backed by a hauntingly-beautiful Nordic soundtrack, composed by Bear McCreary, that effortlessly adds a touch of sadness, beauty, fear and happiness to every scene.
In a dramatic departure from the previous instalments, God of War uses an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective and is presented in a continuous camera shot, with no camera cutting, meaning the beautifully-interactive set pieces effortlessly bled with the gameplay, ensuring that the ever-growing relationship between Kratos and Atreus is firmly in view throughout. Other games have implemented this continuous camera shooting before, but none have managed to produce what Santa Monica Studio have achieved here, it’s simply staggering. The continuous camera shooting is most noticeable during the tremendous set pieces, of which there are many. Whilst Kratos doesn’t find himself fighting anything on the same scale as the Titans in God of War III, the bosses here are equally as impressive, made more so by the fact that one minute you’re on the ground hacking away, and the next, you’re scaling a dragon’s back some 10,000 feet in the air, all within the same camera shot! I can happily report that while the game feels a little ‘tamer’ when compared to previous God of War titles, there’s still enough gore to keep any ardent fan happy.
Gameplay and combat have also been heavily updated when compared to the previous titles. Kratos has ditched his trusted Blades of Chaos in favour of the Leviathan Axe, which acts like Thor’s hammer, in that you can throw it at enemies and recall it using magical power; the axe is simply one of the best melee weapons ever created, while throwing and recalling the axe never, ever gets old! In addition to throwing the axe, you can create breathtaking combos by utilising heavy and light attacks on the R1 and R2 buttons simultaneously. The axe can also be updated with runes you find throughout the game that allow you to perform exceptionally powerful special moves, although, these moves require a cooldown period before being able to use again. Without the axe, Kratos can also utilise hand-to-hand combat, and block with a magically-retractable shield. It’s not all about Kratos either, Atreus is an exceptional sharpshooter who will fire a mixture of elemental arrows on your command. Kratos and Atreus make a phenomenal team, while Atreus can more than hold his weight in battle, and never feels like dead weight. That being said, the combat system isn’t without a few faults; due to its initial complexity, for the opening couple of hours I found myself pressing the wrong combination of R1 or R2, and too often forgot to recall the axe after throwing it, which resulted in numerous deaths. God of War isn’t a particularly challenging title on normal difficulty, but isn’t a cake walk either. Enemies now have a health and level bar above them, and if your overall level isn’t high enough, expect Kratos to receive a significant ass-kicking!
In previous God of War titles, you progressed through the story in a very rigid structure of kill enemies, solve puzzles, reach boss and repeat. Here however, the developers have created a more open world structure - it’s not an open world like Skyrim or Horizon: Zero Dawn, but throughout your journey you can pick up side missions and explore the Nordic realms for the vast number of collectables and lore on offer. Most of the side missions are nothing more than just kill, fetch and return quests, but they’re worth completing for the rewards on offer. The loot found throughout the game is available in a range of colour-coded levels from basic to epic, like Horizon and Borderlands, and this can include everything from new armour for Kratos, to new axe pommels or rune upgrades. The axe and armour can be customised to suit your unique fighting style, with some upgrades giving Kratos a boost to his strength, while others boost his defence. The loot system is extremely comprehensive, but feels a little too complex; there were times when I struggled on the upgrade menu to keep on top of what I’d already updated or what new loot I’d acquired, especially for the first couple of hours.
The world that Santa Monica Studio have created here is simply gorgeous. Midgard is the main focal realm, but Alfheim is the stand out here; its starry, night-like sky is breathtakingly beautiful and I was happy to just wander, in awe of what the developers have crafted. The game looks stunning on a base PS4, but looks jaw-dropping on a PS4 Pro with HDR enabled. On the Pro, you can select from a resolution or performance mode, and while we noticed a few frame rate issues in the full 4K checkerboard rendering mode, it played almost faultlessly. God of War is easily the best-looking game on the PS4 to date, even surpassing the heights Horizon: Zero Dawn achieved last year.
The more open-world approach also means there’s always something to discover, be that a new cave or temple, and you’re encouraged to explore in order to locate and complete chest puzzles needed to unlock new runes and armour, and upgrade your health and rage meters, in much the same way as previous games in the series. However, rather than just discovering hidden health and rage chests, you’re required to also complete puzzles to loot them, and while the puzzles aren’t particularly challenging, they’re well thought out and make full use of Kratos and Atreus’ unique skill sets. The game also throws a range of additional tasks your way, including finding and completing treasure maps, overcoming set challenges in an optional realm, traversing fog-covered labyrinths, and hunting down exceptionally powerful enemies - if you’re after 100% completion, you’ll be looking at closer to 40-50 hours of gameplay. Even after the story was finished, I found myself returning to the different realms, eager to discover the secrets they still held for me!
With an exceptional story, brilliant acting, superb controls and gorgeous level design, God of War is a masterpiece and an essential purchase for any PS4 owner. Every separate part of the game feels polished and refined, and it’s clear that years of love and hard work have gone into its development. God of War is a true masterpiece and is easily the best title on the platform to date, and possibly of the generation.