When it comes to reinventing game franchises, 2018’s God of War is about as drastic as it gets. The original three God of War games were all critical and commercial successes, and were known to be linear experiences with fixed camera angles and a penchant for action-packed gameplay, with story taking a backseat. This isn’t the case here, and what Sony Santa Monica have crafted in this year’s God of War reinvention is an experience noticeably different to any other entry in the series.
Not too dissimilar to Sony’s recent flagship efforts, God of War is cinematic right from the get-go, seamlessly blending combat tutorials with cinematic cutscenes. The result is a game with very little camera cuts, allowing you to follow Kratos and his son Atreus from start to finish without missing a single interaction.Without going into too much detail (my intention is to keep this as spoiler-free as possible), the premise of God of War’s narrative is incredibly simple. Kratos and his son are venturing to the top of the highest mountain in the realm to carry out a task that’s important to them. And while on paper the premise sounds rather simple, it wouldn’t be a God of War game without a number of epic challenges standing in your way. This is a recurring theme throughout God of War, as you’ll always feel like the end is in sight before something else gets in your way, be it a new boss battle or an item to collect that will let you proceed. It all starts off rather cleverly, but ultimately throws a few too many curve balls at you, which holds up the story and in turn hurts the pacing of the game.
That said, the relationship and dynamic between Kratos and Atreus acts as the main driver that keeps things interesting throughout. The two couldn’t be more different, with Atreus clearly taking after his mother, with a much softer side to him. He’s also incredibly knowledgeable about Norse mythology – knowing everything about the old Norse language, which allows him to teach Kratos about the many characters and enemies he’ll encounter along the way. Obviously, he’s not as well versed in combat as Kratos is, so it’s fascinating to watch these two learn from each other, and it makes Kratos so much more likable as a character. It’s obvious he still has a tonne of rage within him, but he’s much more restrained in order to not let Atreus see his true self. It’s a genuine pleasure to watch their relationship blossom as the game progresses, and something that will stick with me for a long while. Thankfully, while the journey is by far the longest of any God of War game, the combat remains interesting throughout. I was quite worried, with the combat relying on a singular weapon, that it’d get stale quite quickly, but I walked away from God of War pleasantly surprised. With the game throwing a variety of enemies at you, an extensive skill tree as well as two elemental rune attacks and a secondary magic Talisman ability, the combat manages to stay varied and fresh throughout the 25-hour journey. I never thought I’d say this but I think I actually prefer Kratos’ axe to his signature chain blades after all was said and done.
From the moment I took control of him, I noticed that Kratos felt much more powerful and grounded than in previous games. Kratos as a whole, along with his attacks, feel much weightier this time around. The combat is a lot more involved too. Rather than haphazardly mashing buttons until I won, like I did in previous games, I felt a lot more in control as to whether I’d succeed or fail in battle. Basically, the combat feels a lot more skill-based than previous games and has a bit more depth to it than you’d expect from a God of War game. Something that I appreciated was the throwback to certain enemy specific finishers that have made their way from previous entries.When you’re not in battle you’ll be exploring a number of realms, some of which are optional. The open-world aspect of the game is handled in a way that I’ve honestly not seen before, drawing creative inspiration from Norse mythology. Midgard is the main hub where you’ll be spending most of your time, but there’s more than just the game’s main narrative to enjoy. Missions, hidden areas, side missions and treasure hunts are just some of the other things you’ll be able to do in each realm. They’re not massive additions, of course, but they’re all unique in their design and look. What constantly surprised me with God of War is just how much there is to do – some boss battles are phenomenal but you might not even discover them as they are optional. Truth be told, I’m confident that most players will find many reasons to go back to the game after completing the main story.
Another major component of the game is the upgrade system. With Kratos’ axe, he’ll be bestowed with elements that will allow you to upgrade it every so often at key points in the story, which in turn unlock more skills. However, it gets needlessly complicated when it comes to craftable and customisable armour. The big issue is that each piece of armour needs different resources to upgrade, which you’ll have to farm from certain enemies. It just feels out of place, and the micromanagement of resources doesn’t really feel all that necessary. I like the idea of crafted armour that can be upgraded, but there were times where I’d have 20-30 different resources with nothing to use them on. It just feels poorly balanced at the moment.You’d be hard pressed to find a game that looks better than God of War on any platform right now. Whilst a lot of what’s been shown publicly has been fairly dull and colourless, the game has some spectacular locales later on that really pop and give vibrancy to the world. There’s so many visual effects that dart around the screen during combat too, that the spectacle can sometimes have you literally stop and stare at times. For those on the Pro, there’s either a Performance or a Resolution mode available. The former has the game running at a near 60 frames per second with a dynamic resolution. Resolution mode is what you’d expect – a lower, more cinematic frame rate with a much higher resolution. Obviously, both have their pros and cons, but if you’re playing with a PlayStation 4 Pro and you’ve got a 4K TV, I’d personally opt for the resolution mode.
The score in this game is absolutely fantastic, with the low-register choir coming in to really emphasise the large-scale drama that’s taking place on-screen. Similarly, more grounded moments between Kratos and Atreus are met with perfectly timed changes to the audio to really drive home those tenders moments.I was consistently surprised and wowed at the level of detail and polish in almost every aspect of God of War. Everything from the locations, to the authentic portrayal of Norse mythology, to the well crafted optional content dovetails beautifully with Sony Santa Monica nailing the unexpected – an emotionally charged story in a God of War game.
God Of War is a cinematic masterpiece that manages to reinvent and push an already fantastic series to new heights. Barring some pacing issues in its narrative, Sony Santa Monica have breathed new life into Kratos and the God of War series, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.