(thumbnail photography by Nary Fam)
Disclaimer: This game was reviewed on the PS4 Pro. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher.
Initially, Sony was unsure whether or not they should continue the God of War saga so quickly. With a total of six previous games in the series — four of which were developed by Sony Santa Monica — it would have made complete sense to finally put the ghost of Sparta to rest. Luckily, Cory Barlog and Sony Santa Monica fought for this game to happen, and boy am I glad they did. As some might have expected, God of War for PlayStation 4 is easily among the best games available on the platform.
I feel like I say this every time a brand new AAA Sony-published title comes out, but here we go again; God of War is absolutely stunning. The amount of detail put into the world, character models, and fast-paced gameplay repeatedly made my jaw drop. This semi-reboot shakes things up for the series by bringing bright and vibrant areas that are bursting with an assortment of beautifully-crafted environments. I spent an abundant amount of time just walking around looking at all of the environments that are showered with Norse mythology. The surprisingly large linear-open world has plenty to see and do. Which leads me to my next topic, this game is jam-packed with content, especially for a game that is (mostly) linear.
While Santa Monica had been marketing the game as a linear experience, the game still allows a lot of player choice and often feels like a traditional open-world experience. There are side quests that you can choose to do. There are areas to travel to that don’t involve the main storyline (where you can earn rare items and supplies). For example, I walked off the beaten’ path to a cave where there was a crack in the wall. After I went through the crack, an hour-long side quest with a unique story and fantastic puzzles unfolded. It took me by surprise. It showed that the studio really pulled out all the stops for this God of War title. The further I got into the game the more I realized just how much love and passion went into Kratos’ PS4 debut. After I finished the main story, I still had plenty of quests to fulfill on my map, and I was eager to keep playing more.
A Story Worth Telling
One of the things that stood out to me the most during my time with God of War was the story. But before I get to that, I want it to be known that I do not talk in-depth or reveal any specific story elements in order to avoid spoilers. A story-driven game like this deserves to be experienced going in as a blank slate. The stories of previous games in the series always sort of felt like an afterthought to most people. While I enjoyed them, they didn’t get much reaction or recognition from gamers. I’m happy to say that God of War on PS4 once again goes above and beyond the ‘typical’ God of War status quo, and I’m certain it’s going to win over the mass majority. The game’s story set-up is heartfelt, the premise is engaging, and the branching plots with new characters are incredibly well done. Not only do the all characters have interesting backstories, but the dialog for each of them is so expertly written that I was constantly smiling and laughing throughout the game. Every character has a purpose and the way each of them intertwines with the main plot caught me by surprise. Not to mention all the actors involved knocked it out of the park. If you were to tell me a year ago that one of my favorite video game stories would come from a God of War game, I would have thought you were crazy. In short, expect epic moments that will put a huge grin on your face.
New But Familiar
For the first time in the God of War series, you have a fully controllable third-person camera, and you might be wondering how Kratos feels when playing. Short answer: pretty damn awesome. Immediately when jumping into the combat, it reminded me of some not-so-distant memories from two other titles; Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Horizon: Zero Dawn. The game’s camera is really close behind Kratos, much like how it is with Senua from Hellblade. Not only does the strafing movement of the combat feel similar, but Atreus (Kratos’ companion) acts the same way the voices in Senua’s head worked. He yells out when enemies are behind you or about to attack. It’s actually quite helpful and not annoying like some might have expected.
As for the combat mechanics and controls, it’s all very well done (although I did change my dodging from cross to circle in the settings). Light and heavy attacks are mapped to R1 and R2 just like Horizon: Zero Dawn. At first, all my brain kept wanting to do was use the face buttons for attacking. I guess because I’m just so used to associating those buttons with melee in God of War. But after some time I slowly got used to the controls. You then go on unlock to tons of different combat moves, and you’re slaying monsters in the most badass manner in no time. One of the most important parts of God of War’s combat is that it’s extremely satisfying. Whether you’re throwing the axe at enemies or tearing their faces apart with your bare hands, it all feels really fluid …until some unforgiving difficulty spikes occur. These difficulty spikes were pretty tedious. But I’ll admit, they did offer a sense accomplishment after triumphing with a victory. Lastly, the combat can start to feel ‘samey’ early on, but after you get new attack types and upgrades, there’s a lot more variety which makes for a better gameplay experience.
The platforming elements of previous games are completely scrapped. You still climb and jump often, but it’s impossible to fail at and it pretty much just serves as a means to traverse the world. I think this change is good, as platforming segments just wouldn’t match the game’s overall tone, and the same goes for sex minigames. As for the boss fights, they are extremely cinematic, with an incredible amount of detail put into these fights. However, I was hoping for a bit more of these moments throughout the game. But when they hit, they hit hard. Boss battles feel more intimate than ever, making every heart-racing swing of the axe feel personal.
God of War also heavily features puzzles that mostly involve using Kratos’ axe throwing skills. Most of them are clever and fun to figure out. There’s also treasure chest puzzles that have you scavenging around for three hidden letters to open them. None of it feels ‘collectithony’ though, instead, it’s rather satisfying. Slowly building up Kratos’ stats throughout the 30-40 game is entertaining — as it’s up to you to choose which armor and item perks better suit you during combat. Previous God of War titles let you upgrade Kratos with new and stronger attacks, but God of War for PS4 is a full-on RPG. I spent a lot of time buffing weapons, upgrading armor, and filling up my skill tree. I think it’s a great direction for the God of War franchise and I’m hoping there’s a sequel already greenlit by Sony.
God of War tells an epic tale of growth, love, and acceptance. It offers rock-solid gameplay and bursts with lush presentation truly showcasing what the PS4 hardware is capable of. It caters to new and longtime fans and paves the way for the future of the series.