There’s plenty about the new God of War that will divide fans of the series, but no one can deny just how much of a risk Sony Santa Monica has taken with this latest instalment. While there are some obvious similarities, these are dwarfed by a wealth of experimental new ideas and design choices. God of War is a clean break from the high octane hyper-violence of the original Kratos saga. Though it looks to continue his legacy, it finally adds some depth to the most murderous of PlayStation mascots.
Up until now he’s been a one-dimensional wrecking ball, completely annihilating everything in his path. For some fans that’s all they’ve ever wanted from Kratos – to control this ultimate avatar of rage on an unending quest for vengeance. However, nowadays, with complex and evocative game narratives in high demand, the character has matured. Looking to escape his past, Kratos travelled to the frozen wilds of the north where he assumed the life of a mortal man, believing himself far away from the treacherous machinations of the gods. However, as anyone with even the faintest knowledge of Norse mythology will tell you, he’s come to the wrong neighbourhood.
This life of seclusion comes to an end as his son, Atreus, starts to come of age and his mother passes away. Promising to honour her final wish, Kratos and the boy must scatter her ashes over the highest peaks of Midgard. It’s a task that quickly becomes a journey fraught with hardship and peril, not to mention a revelation or two.
Their relationship is complicated to say the least. It’s pretty clear that Kratos has been absent for most of his son’s life, and with good reason. He’s hardly a family man and no doubt fears what Atreus might become as his own godly powers begin to manifest. This distance between them is a recurring plot device, their father-son dynamic gradually developing as the story unfolds.
Atreus is a character that will divide players. Those fearing that this game has suddenly become one long escort mission can put them to rest, as he actually compliments Kratos’ abilities in combat. He has a small number of recharging arrows that he can shoot to distract enemies at your command, and he can learn a number of new abilities to interrupt enemy attacks, for example. How you view him will largely depend on how invested you become in the plot, the mysteries surrounding his progeny and the growing relationship between him and his father.
God of War opens a new chapter for the series, serving both existing fans and newcomers alike. You don’t need to have played any of the past games and it’s actually surprising how much of an effort Sony Santa Monica has made to cut off the events of the previous saga, keeping callbacks to a minimum. On one hand this makes perfect sense, allowing the team to focus on God of War’s deep dive into Norse mythology instead of dredging up the past. However, there are questions surrounding Kratos and certain events leading into the game that simply go unanswered.
Linearity is another thing God of War manages to shrug off with this latest instalment. While definitely not an open world game in the traditional sense, there are plenty of opportunities to explore and engage with some interesting side content. It can be closely compared to Rise of the Tomb Raider, giving players a big central space that branches into a number of smaller, more linear areas. If you’re poised purely on finishing the story, God of War should last around fifteen hours, though could easily stretch beyond thirty if you explore every nook and cranny.
Instead of being reworked, the old combat system has been uprooted in favour of something completely new. This has a lot to do with how the camera works in God of War, trading in the fixed angles of old for an over-the-shoulder view of the action as it unfolds, similar to most third person shooters. It’s actually presented as one single continuous camera shot, never cutting even during the most action packed cutscene. It’s an interesting approach and one that gives the player more control over Kratos, allowing them to feel much closer to the action than ever before.
On the whole, combat is far more varied and dynamic than it has been in previous games with even more room to experiment. Aside from being able to unleash devastating combos with the Leviathan Axe, you can also throw it, and then use your fists to pummel a nearby target before recalling the axe, dealing damage to any enemies in its path.
Outside of combat, you’ll spend your time exploring and solving puzzles. With no dedicated jump button or advanced movement mechanic, navigation is relegated to streamlined button presses, whether scaling a wall or leaping from ledge to ledge. Thankfully, Kratos can now sprint and even use fast travel, both of which are extremely useful when revisiting certain areas.
Like the aforementioned Rise of the Tomb Raider, God of War’s landscape is peppered with bonuses and collectibles, many of which are inaccessible when you first spot them. You’ll notice pathways blocked off by glowing tree sap and other strange obstacles that can only be cleared once you return with new powers. Alongside side quests, these give players a reason to loop back, often showering them with rare treasures.
God of War’s progression system also gets a total overhaul in 2018. Instead of red orbs, you’ll be spending experience points to unlock new attacks and abilities, with plenty of loot scattered throughout the game too. Kratos can be equipped with various pieces of armour, talismans, and runes which can also be crafted, each with their own stat bonuses and perks. It’s an RPG-like level of customisation God of War fans won’t be expecting, though one they’ll come to appreciate as they develop their play-style. The weapon runes are a particularly nice touch, adding powerful special attacks to your moveset that can be swapped out whenever you like.
The thing that shocked us most about God of War? The lack of a photo mode feature at launch, though it is promised for the future. There are plenty of contenders for best-looking game on the PlayStation 4 and, unsurprisingly, God of War is right up there at the top. Kratos’ character model is extremely well detailed, as are the places he and Atreus explore on their journey. Midgard is breathtakingly beautiful, mixing snowy whites and greys with luscious greens and deep blues. Beyond the mortal realm, there are places even more enchanting, the art team having really flexed their creativity.
It sounds just as brilliant too, mainly thanks to Bear McCreary’s phenomenal soundtrack. As for the voice acting, it’s decent but occasionally let down by poor writing. There’s a slightly more comical, playful tone to God of War than in previous games that takes some getting used to, as will hearing the voice of Christopher Judge as Kratos. There’s a notable difference between him and Terrence C. Carson, though he’s able to bring more dimensions to the character instead of the two usual presets: shouting and snarling.
A lot of what goes into God of War feels as though it was cherry-picked from the modern gaming zeitgeist. The semi-open world structure, loot system, and a much deeper narrative focus work well, but are all trends being pushed by most other big games. As a result, God of War can feel slightly homogenised in a way that some fans may find unappealing. Thankfully, a strong sense of setting and brutally satisfying combat help maintain that God of War identity. If it wasn’t made abundantly clear already, this is the first in what will most likely be a new trilogy for the God of War franchise, and this first instalment serves as a pretty great foundation.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro