God Of War Hands-on Preview – A Risk That Looks Like It’s Paying Off

God Of War has always been one of my favourite franchises. Whilst I was feeling a little burnt out by the time Ascension had been and gone, I would have totally been ready for a brand new game that followed in the footsteps of the previous mainline trilogy.

Alas, it was not meant to be, with Santa Monica Studios revealing they’d be completely revamping the series. Despite this, getting my hands on with the game in the past week, I felt strangely at home. Whilst it was clear immediately that this wasn’t the God of War I’d fallen in love with so many years ago, there was enough there to connect the series with the former games. I was first introduced to the new setting with a lengthy cutscene, which set the scene for Kratos. Kratos is a changed man, both geographically and philosophically distant from when we last saw him, and has a brand new dynamic with his son Atreus.The story seems a bit basic, but I don’t doubt that there will be a few twists and turns along the way. The premise of the new game is, basically, for Kratos to accompany Atreus to spread his mother’s ashes atop a sacred mountain. The big question here is just who Atreus’ mother is, but I feel like that’s been kept under wraps on purpose for now.

Combat is without a doubt the core of the God of War experience and it’s what’s changed the most with this game. You’ll now be using an impressively sized axe to mow down enemies; but instead of aimlessly swinging away you’ll have to put a bit more thought into how you carry out combat.While I walked away enjoying the new combat, I’m honestly not sure if it’ll be able to keep my interest the whole way through – though this might be me being slightly less amenable to change given how much I loved the previous games.

Whilst the axe felt really solid to use, I was already beginning to grow tired of throwing it endlessly, and can only hope that the game introduces some more techniques later on. There’s an in-depth skill tree for Kratos’ axe and shield, as well as one for Atresu’ bow, which should hopefully keep things fresh along your journey.The other major change is the new camera system, which feels like a thoughtful amalgamation of Uncharted and The Last of Us in some ways. It’s very clear that this cinematic style is what most major Sony first party titles are heading for, and this new camera angle felt very familiar as it’s basically appeared in so many games I’ve played before. It’s not a bad thing, but the intimacy this new system provides is bound to surprise people when they boot the game up for the first time.

The actual tone of the game is a little bit more subdued and grounded than in the previous ones, with a huge focus on Kratos’ own relationship with his son. Through the course of the two hours I played, this dynamic was just that – dynamic – and shifted around so much. It’s something I can’t wait to see developed further in the rst of the game. Similar to the way Aloy eventually found her own sense of confidence and self in Horizon: Zero Dawn, Atreus grows into a confident hunter as time goes by. This translates to better competency in combat – he’s quite helpful, and can use his bow and arrow to stun enemies.

The most intriguing section of the demo I played was a battle with a stranger who showed up at Kratos’ house before he set off on his big voyage. The stranger clearly had some kind of relation to a god of some sort, but in terms of appearances looked no different than a normal human. The battle was one of the most challenging that I’ve experienced in a God of War game, though having to deplete his health bar 6-7 times did become a bit of an exercise in tedium. After defeating the stranger, I still had no idea who he was, but the intrigue left me wanting more.

It was after this encounter, however, that the game’s open world was really brought to the forefront. As eluded to earlier, God of War’s open world feels like a bit of Horizon mixed with a bit of Uncharted. The result is some areas that feel incredibly open while others feel linear but are filled with awesome moments. You’ll be encouraged to explore from time to time, but you’re generally kept on a path that keeps the story moving at a brisk pace. There’s a full map that shows collectibles in each region, which is sure to give players more to do as they open up more of the area.

In terms of presentation, this is one of the best looking Playstation exclusives we’ve ever had. I was constantly amazed with just how much was happening during combat on-screen, and I pray to the gods that this game has a photo mode because it’s just so damn beautiful.

Some aspects from the older games have made it into this game too. Spartan Rage still exists and feels more badass than ever, and you’ll still find yourself opening treasure chests to increase stats like your maximum health. As far as I can tell, however, quick-time events have been replaced with much simple on-screen button prompts which is much less frustrating.

I’m much more excited for God of War now after going hands-on with the game. Whilst I still have some reservations around whether the combat changes can last the distance of the game, the new grounded story and more cinematic style of gameplay definitely have me sucked in. I’m very confident that this is going to be another home run for PlayStation’s first party studios.