THE ARRIVAL OF MATURED LEGEND
The whirling sound of my axe fills the sound as Kratos runs in and delivers the final blow to the first major enemy of his adventure, a Fire Troll. As he lands down and finishes his kill he exhales a deep hearty breath reinstating his cool. But his son Atreus looses it and runs into attack the already dead beast. He hacks at the flesh and screams he is not afraid echoing the battle cries of his rage filled fathers past. Kratos grabs him and with one sentence let’s us the players know how much he has grown. “You are not ready.”
It’s a small moment but this scene helps set the tone of the entire game. For nearly a decade Kratos has been the rage filled, roided out, destroyer of Gods that we all know and love. While he still has a love for the violence and killing he now shows restraint and wisdom from his experiences. Not only showing the games willingness to reflect on its on past and make changes for the better but also showing Kratos’ maturity from “God Destroyer” to “Defender of his Family”. Seeing Kratos grow into a sensitive father who only wants the best for his son is a journey on it’s own but the added weight of the story adds so much more meaning to everything. While this game acts as reboot of sorts the best parts are only impactful if you’ve been there since the the first entry.
The God of War franchise, for the most part, had began to stale a little around the release of Ascension. Relying too much on their predecessors to be a step above. So its only natural that Sony given the time would want to reinvigorate the franchise with a fresh entry. The changes are sweeping in terms of story, combat, gameplay, and cinematics, while the core DNA of the franchise rests within its heart, creating something new but safely familiar.
Plain and simple, God of War is amazing, from it’s beautiful scenery to its more impactful and fullfiling story every inch of this game is stunning. The level of love taken with each and every aspect is astounding. Years after he left Sparta, Kratos met and married a beautiful warrior in and had a child, a young boy, Atreus. Despite finding some semblance of a normal life he still struggles within. His past, his rage, his desire to give his son a better life, so he dares not tell him the truth about his Godhood or of his dismantling of the pantheon. Now that his wife has passed on, Kratos follows her final wishes and must journey with Atreus to the highest peak in the realms to spread her ashes. This is where the adventure begins.
Essential to the God of War series the combat had to be visceral, it has to have that ‘omph’ when you hit a hideous creature. This game does that to the nth degree. Having someone like Eric Jacobus to help with choreography so the movements of the attacks feel real and fluid was the right choice. The games combat shines in particular because of this and it’s other key star, the Leviathan axe. Using R1 and R2 this beautiful weapon makes short work of enemies in a variety of ways. Mixing up the combat is the ability to throw and recall your weapon at will. This gives the range options the likes of which this franchise has never known. If there is one thing I never grew tired of in my 40+ hours of gameplay, it was the feeling of recalling that axe to deliver even more devastating blows. To add more mixups in the fray Dad can equip ruins to his axe giving him massive attacks to unleash, these come tether to a cooldown but offer great ways to take on multiple enemies and deal massive damage to bosses.
Of course the Old Man isn’t alone on his travels, along with him is Atreus his son. Atreus is young, naive but intelligent. He spend most of the game seeking his father’s approval and learning pretty much every thing the hard way. But the lad isn’t defenseless, his mother provided him with hunting skills, the ability to understand and read many different languages, magics, and texts, and some solid skills with a bow. I had worried going into the game that having the Boy in tow would be troublesome like an extended escort mission but thats not the case here. You actually have a dedicated “Son action” button on square, which allows Atreus to provide ranged support and stuns. What really blew me away about this mechanic was as you played through the game Atreus became more confident in his fighting jumping in to choke enemies or providing extra damage on rune attacks. He quickly becomes an asset to his father in combat and that alone shows not just narrative growth but an AI partner who only gets better as the game goes.
For most of their journey, the Family Duo tread the realm of Midgard. A central hub lies at it’s center within a wide lake that you can explore by canoe. Explore you should too, the coasts and rocky mountainous areas are littered with side quests, secrets, formidable opponents and dozens upon dozens of treasure laden riddles. Amid the center of the lake rests your doorway to the world around you, with entrances to many of the games main locals. Your mission will carry you through to most of these places, if you’re observant you’ll spot entrances blocked with various spells or doors with mirrors and secrets behind them teasing you. The story will keep you engaged but theres always time to explore the world around you and the promises of post game content only incentivize you to return to these areas later.
New to the franchise is the ability to mix and match an rpg like assortment of armors for both Kratos and Atreus. These provide a wide array of affinities for the pair to strengthen their abilities, such as elemental damage boosts or resistances, or a increasing the strength of Kratos’ attacks while slightly lowering his defense. Ultimately this plays out like any other rpg armor system but it’s a good fit for the combat and adds even more options for both cosmetic and sensible customization. These armors and their subsequent upgrades are “loving” work two dwarven brothers you meet along your journey. Brok the foul mouthed blue skinned blacksmith, and Sindri the germaphobe mild mannered enchanter. Each has a claim to making the Leviathan Axe but since they no longer work together they spend most the time upgrading the Axe for Kratos while bad mouthing each others work. These characters are charming and fun but their gag of hating each other does eventually overstay it’s welcome, albeit temporarily.
God of War has no shortage of fascinating characters, so much so that I actually can’t think of any of them I directly hated or didn’t enjoy seeing on screen. No but the best of the best is Mimir, the “smartest man alive”, whose head dangles from the hip of Kratos throughout the second half of the story. His witty comebacks and world building stories are some of the most enjoyable bits of dialogue in the game. Plus he actually answers Atreus’ genuine quandaries when Kratos would/could not. Every character has a distinct personality and presence in the game. God of War’s cast is stellar providing believable and well acted performances to every second of the games time. Which is both a testament to the actors and the writers. What elevates this game more than most will probably notice is the games killer soundtrack. Bear McCreary’s haunting chants and beautiful nordic strings provide perfectly times musical cues, Kratos’ theme along is one of my all time favorites gaming music pieces, pretty much ever now.
Speaking of writing, Sony Santa Monica pulled off some incredible story telling, a lot of which is due to the direction and writing of the game. The constant one-shot camera angle makes the world and events feel immersive while the dialogue creates an emotional story full of nuanced instances that made me go “HOLD ON JUST A GODDAMNED SECOND, HOW’D I MISS THAT”. I’m actually on a second play through specifically to find these secret nods to surprises and how the double meanings of certain phrases are delivered. This may just be me, but I love finding a reason to revisit games just to hear how much more detail I get now that I’ve seen the ending.
Truth be told between the enthralling storyline, the addictive gameplay, and the stuffed semi-open area world, you’ll have plenty to do in the post game. Most games that choose this type of world lack the vision to pull it off, they grow boring and tiresome by the games end, but God of War never lets that happen. I find myself taking my time with side quests because even though there is still plenty to do, I’m dreading being done with it all knowing I want more.
Risen from the ashes of the old games, God of War reinvents itself in every way imaginable providing the best experience of it’s storied releases and in my humble opinion the best experience on the PlayStation to date. Kratos’ adventure still retains it’s big budge sensibilities and over the top action but the matured story telling coupled with brilliant performances give it a new feeling. This is man with a troubled past he must come to terms with, ultimately he must let go of what he was, to become the God he needs to be for his son. No longer a bulky one dimensional warrior, now a man with restraint and charisma. Cory Barlog and his team have not only shown the world how much the industry has matured but how reviving a franchise means more than just a fresh coat of paint. Truly a badass game.
- Visuals: Cinematic and astonishing. Hands down the best looking game I’ve ever played.
- Gameplay: Fun and engaging with a variety of upgrades and match ups to keep it interesting for a long time. The leviathan axe feels incredible.
- Sound: The voice acting and soundtrack are phenomenal and do nothing but elevate the overall experience.
- Replay: For the hidden context and to explore more absolutely replay.