God of War Review – Reaching Higher Heights

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Santa Monica studio
release:

April 20, 2018 (game console 5,
Playstation 4), January 14, 2022 (personal computer)

score: Mature
Comment on: Playstation 4
Also about:
PlayStation 5, personal computer

Under fatherly rude guidance, Kratos repeats the phrase “get better” to his son Atreus. This happens in different situations, but the lesson is always the same: your decisions are not bound by precedent, and other people’s choices are not examples to follow – they just set standards that you can strive to exceed. When developing the latest God of War, Sony’s Santa Monica studio apparently took that message to heart. While the previous games in the series established a winning formula of stylish action and epic scenarios, the team used the opportunity to do better; every front was dramatically transformed, God of War forging a new identity, and even surpasses its most acclaimed predecessor.

As a longtime fan of the series, this article appealed to me for a completely different reason. The story is one of them, although its premise is simple: Kratos and Atreus need to reach the highest mountain in the Nordic region. They encounter detours and surprises along the way, but the exact beat of the story is less important than how it is conveyed. “God of War” wonderfully presents the desolate journey of the gorgeous world through the relationship between a distant father and an enthusiastic son.

Kratos and Atreus’ interactions range from hostile to compassionate, and these exchanges have plenty of room to breathe and engage players. Atreus wondered what he would say to his late mother if given the chance – Kratos thought the exercise was pointless. When Kratos rudely explains the parable of the tortoise and the hare, Atreus mocks his lack of storytelling. These quiet moments are entertaining, slowly but surely bringing the two characters closer together – a focus that stands in stark contrast to previous games. In a brief response and a long silence, Kratos expressed his curse on Mount Olympus more than ever.

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That’s not to say God of War sacrifices its ability to deliver incredible spectacle. The early encounters (against a mysterious enemy called the Stranger) set the bar very high, and the later cathartic sequence becomes my favorite moment in the series to date. Between these points and beyond, the adventure is interrupted by a steady stream of behemoths, ancient buildings and intense boss battles. The environments and characters look fantastic, and the new cinematic camera angles keep you close to the action and never cut out – a decision that proves to be very rewarding in the big moments by giving you an intimate perspective. Despite this more solid presentation, the scope and ambition of the action is stunning in cutscenes and combat.

The Greek world may be gone, but Kratos is still the god of war, a god with just the right amount of skill on the battlefield. He launches magical attacks and executes brutal executions in an attempt to defeat a variety of clever enemies in Norse mythology. The frost-infused Leviathan battle axe is a far cry from the iconic Chaos Blade Kratos once wielded, but it’s a balanced and fun tool of destruction. I like how it emphasizes a more elaborate fighting style; instead of shrinking, combo-driven encounters, Leviathan makes you a tactician. You can’t use it to cut through large swaths of enemies, so you need to think about how to manage your enemies. You can freeze one from a distance by throwing an axe, then stun and grab the other with your fist, then recall the Leviathan for an area-of-effect ice blast. This strategy gives many fights — especially one-on-one bosses — an engaging duel-like quality. Also, the “thump” where Leviathan magically flies back into Kratos’ hands is satisfying every time.

For the first few hours, I was skeptical of the emphasis on the axe and shield. In these opening clips, the crowded melee was difficult to navigate due to off-screen attacks, which encouraged me to keep my distance—at least until I became more familiar with key mechanics like parrying. After that, I came over quickly; the gradual unfolding of the combat system in God of War was a joy. While it might feel limiting at first, soon you’ll be quickly switching between all the tools and skills available, including Your Fist, Spartan Rage, Leviathan, and more. Cooldown-adjusted rune attacks offer a variety of unique special moves, like freezing beams or amazing explosions, and I had fun trying them out to see which ones I wanted to cycle into my regular cycle.

You spend experience to unlock cool new technologies, and they’re not just damage or range improvements; a few have a big impact on your choices, like Kratos taking a secondary stance, allowing for additional attacks. I also turned to Atreus for help, as his arrows were vital to incapacitating many creatures. Some of these concepts are introduced too slowly, but on the other hand, I love how God of War’s combat avoids stagnation by constantly evolving.

Underlying all of your combat endeavors is a surprisingly complex gear system that gives you the means to customize your arsenal, but also leaves your ambitious goals up in the air. Many of your deeds offer materials and equipment as rewards, and like an RPG, you’ll see numbers next to stats increase as you build and equip new items. You’ll also be able to see materials that the gear part you want to craft doesn’t have, which adds to the excitement when that item ends up dropping after completing a side quest or defeating a strong enemy. This level of upgrade may not be as exciting as learning a new move to kill monsters, but it still provides a strong incentive to explore.

While not strictly open world, the game has a large lake with different coasts and islands to explore for free. I like to systematically check out new locations and get crafting materials, enchantments, and other rewards. These excursions are largely optional, but they’re the best way to make sure you have everything you need for equipment maintenance. As a bonus, these pastimes flesh out the world with some interesting NPCs, in addition to providing some interesting (but not too challenging) puzzle scenarios. They can provide a nice break from the main story, but they’re always available, so you don’t need to invest in them at the expense of narrative pacing.

Ares’ momentum rarely falters, and when it does, the inconvenience is short-lived. For example, you’re free to explore, but maps aren’t particularly helpful for tracking your location relative to things you’re interested in, and the fast-travel system is cumbersome and turns on too late. It’s even more frustrating if you’re going to go through with collectibles and post-game goals (no new game+ this time), but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for climbing cliffs and delving into ruins long after finishing 30 hours of the main story.

Years ago, Kratos killed the gods of Mount Olympus in a bloody rampage. Now, in the Nordic realm, he transformed himself into another god. He is quieter, more thoughtful, influenced but not bound by his history. Kratos’ reinvention is a narrative hook, but it also parallels the evolution of the entire series; God of War once relied on bombast and bloodlust, and now it leaves room for strategy and nuance. It still has great action and plenty of jaw-dropping moments, but it backs them up with a new level of depth and maturity. God of War learns from the past while charting an exciting path for the future and becoming one of the best games of this generation.

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Score: 9.75

To summarize: God of War forged a new identity that surpassed even its most acclaimed predecessor.

concept: A sublime revamp of the God of War series that adds new depth to gameplay and storytelling without sacrificing epic moments

Graphics: Fantastic design and gorgeous visuals bring the world and characters to life.A more intimate camera boosts the intensity of moments big and small

sound: From quiet tracks to thunderous climaxes, Bear McCreary’s soundtrack supports the action and sets a fun tone

Playability: While there are many different attack styles, these controls make it easy to strategize and use your full abilities in battle

entertainment: A captivating experience from start to finish, blending great narrative moments with engrossing encounters. God of War is a well-paced adventure game that knows when to slow down the action and when to boil it

Replay: Middle and high

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