Published on April 15th, 2018 | by James Coles
God of War Review
Summary: Overall, I feel as though God of War breathes new life into the franchise and while I don't view it as a defining masterpiece in the action-adventure genre; it provides a memorable experience and strengthens the series as a whole.
Beardier n' Badder
With a wild swing of his axe and angry grunt in his voice; Kratos begins life on the PlayStation 4 in a somewhat different fashion to past God of War games. Appearing older and perhaps wiser now, another significant difference is that with this latest incarnation of God of War; Kratos isn’t alone.
In a setting that substitutes Greek gods with Norse mythology, joining the Ghost of Sparta on his venture to the peak of a sacred mountain is his young son, Atreus. And while the thought of seeing Kratos play a father figure in a God of War title seems a little outlandish at first, the connection between the two keeps the story intriguing with the youngster’s inclusion not lessening the relentless violence and overall savagery synonymous with past entries in the series.
Furthermore, although the over the shoulder third-person camera angle sways away from past God of War games – a brief exchange at the start of the story between Arteus and Kratos sees the former ambiguously mention that something “feels different” – their journey together feels as though it can only work from this new perspective. As a result, God of War delivers enough action and emotion to breathe new life into the franchise and although it isn’t a unique entry in the action-adventure genre; it should delight both old and newcomers alike.
God of War sees Kratos and Atreus living a tranquil life hidden away in the woods of Scandinavia. Playing the role of teacher and protector, Kratos is doing his best to raise and mentor his son, while also trying to shake away the demons from his past. While the log cabin buried amongst the forest trees seems like a safe place for the pair; it doesn’t take long for a curious tattooed stranger to soon disrupt their solitude.
As this visitor presents a notable threat to their safety, Kratos decides that although Atreus “isn’t ready”, the best recourse is to abandon their home and take his young son on a trip to fulfil the last wish of his recently deceased wife by scattering her ashes at the top of the highest peak in all the realm.
And so, their journey begins a journey which sees Kratos act the reluctant father, while Atreus struggles to cope with the resentment he harbours towards his dad. During their adventure together, Atreus quickly grows to learn that life is unfair and often unforgiving. Predictably, the two become closer as the story moves forward. And similar to another PlayStation exclusive, The Last of Us, Atreus’ inclusion is an attempt to have something meaningful for the protagonist to care about when everything in their life seems to have lost all purpose. As Ellie slowly helped Joel to move on from the loss of his daughter in The Last of Us; in God of War, Atreus is almost fighting a losing battle. Kratos is a walking one-word answer, seemingly incapable of bestowing love upon his son. Thus, watching their story unfold only evokes sympathy towards the child which helps you to quickly warm to a character who perhaps, on paper at least, doesn’t belong in a God of War title.
But it isn’t just Atreus who provides all the company in this adventure. A magical Witch of the Woods who lives in the most visually striking area of the realm helps the pair on their journey, as do two Dwarven brothers who serve as blacksmiths. But out of all the allies you meet on your travels, and without mentioning spoilers, it’s the World Serpent who for me, leaves a lasting impression.
As for Kratos himself; he’s still the same ruthless, blunt, matter of fact badass we know him as, although he now sports an epic beard and most significantly, the Leviathan Axe which replaces his trademark Blades of Chaos. Like the blades before it; the axe is a powerful weapon and a delight to use. Although it can feel a little repetitive at times, slicing an army of monsters and evil entities to pieces provides enough of a challenge to keep you entertained as combat is frantic and immensely satisfying. The action never lets up, which in part is thanks to how each scene flawlessly merges to the next with no fades to black or loading screens slowing things down.
Like the Uncharted series, cutscenes marry into the gameplay effortlessly, none more so than when you’re in battle slaying giant beasts or when triggering Spartan Rage and pounding enemies to a bloody pulp with your fists. While the best looking moments in combat occur when you are up against a boss, aside for a few quick time events; in these instances, you have very little say over what’s happening. However, true to form, God of War has plenty of smaller adversaries to best which puts full control back in your hands. And since the action is relentless, pleasingly the combat mechanics are consistent and responsive. Although they are a little confusing to get to grips with at first, once you familiarise yourself with the controls they don’t take too long to master. Indeed, when you throw the axe towards an enemy and recall it successfully; it looks bloody brilliant as it carves up anything in its flight path back to your hand.
However, not all of the blood spilt in God of War is by the hands of the Spartan warrior, as once the story starts to push forward, enemies become more abundant making Atreus much more than just a tag-along. Pressing square commands him to fire arrows at hostiles which can serve as a distraction or deal a great deal of damage especially once you start to level up both his and Kratos’ weapons. Furthermore, not only is Atreus helpful in battle, but he also assists when solving riddles that open doors and he can read signs written in languages Kratos doesn’t understand. As for levelling up; a simple skill tree unlocks various combos, and you can also enhance both the axe and bow by installing unique runic gems that allow special boosts such as damage or resistance to attacks. These stones are found scattered throughout each of the realms you visit by unlocking treasure chests or uncovering hidden areas.
As for these hidden areas, while God of War isn’t open-world, it is sizable and offers plenty of distractions from the main storyline. None of these side quests or ‘favours’ are particularly engrossing, as the majority feel like filler than worthy diversions. This can be forgiven, though, since as already mentioned, God of War isn’t open, so your actions do not affect the story whatsoever.
Graphics / Audio
Whether it’s the sun piercing through the trees scattering light in all directions or crows cawing high up in the branches as critters rustle in the foliage below; God of War is aesthetically gorgeous. The Norse setting feels alive from the very first moment you begin to traverse through the forest as twigs snap underneath your feet until you reach the rocky peaks where the crunching sound of snow greets you beside breathtaking landscapes.
Additionally, it’s not only the environment that is visually remarkable as each troll or monster, no matter how big or small is expertly crafted. There were a few times I was awestruck as some gigantic beasts made their introductions, not too dissimilar to how I felt playing the original God of War on the PlayStation 2 over twelve years’ ago.
As for the star of the show, Kratos himself looks better than ever, and Christopher Judge does a good job replacing T.C Carson as the voice of the antihero. Similarly, Sunny Suljic who plays Atreus does a sterling job as the more passionate character of the two. And special mention must also go to Bear McCreary who’s soundtrack consisting of Nordic string instruments, and folk percussion perfectly complements the visuals.
After spending over twenty hours with the game, it’s clear that God of War is an impressive action-adventure title that should appease a variety of different gamers. However, once all the dust settles, whether or not this will land Sony Santa Monica the prestigious ‘Game of the Year’ honour remains to be seen.
When I compare it to other action-adventure titles exclusive to the PS4 such as Uncharted 4, or The Last of Us; God of War isn’t necessarily better than either of them. Sure, it looks and sounds fantastic, plays exceptionally well and has plenty of content to keep the most compulsive of completionists busy, but as the credits rolled, I wasn’t blown away by my experience like I was with those two. As such, if both Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us are the ten out of ten benchmarks for the action-adventure genre, then God of War sits just below them.
Truthfully I wanted to see a little more of those “holy shit” moments similar to prior games in the series. However, that’s not to say God of War is entirely void of any awe-inspiring setpieces. Slaying massive brutes is what Kratos does best, and in this reboot, he certainly has his hands full.
Overall, I feel as though God of War breathes new life into the franchise and while I don’t view it as a defining masterpiece in the action-adventure genre; it provides a memorable experience and strengthens the series as a whole.
Primary Format: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Game Genre: Action – adventure
Rating: MA 15+
Game Developer: SIE Sony Santa Monica
Game Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Reviewer: James Coles