+Character depth and growth is astoundingly well done
+Some of the best visuals made available on the PlayStation 4
+The sound design is superb and stands out among its peer titles
+Combat has been slowed down and given purpose for both Kratos and Atreus
+The semi-open world is rather well designed, allowing for players to explore it to its fullest
Within the opening minutes of God of War, you quickly come to realize several things and each of them is equally as important to the game than they were in previous titles in the series. Kratos has taken a step back from his former self. Long gone are the days of the Blades of Chaos whirling about, hissing in the air before they slash across a foe, quickly sending them spiraling to the ground in a bloody mess. This time, Kratos has changed. He’s not the demigod that we once knew. Now, he’s a man, a father, and the beloved to his now deceased Midgardian wife.
But now, you may notice something’s different about the world put before you. Kratos isn’t blood-crazed, he no longer wants to hold the title as the Olympian God of War. Now he’s settled down, he’s removed the Blades of Chaos so that they are no longer bound to his forearms and even has since changed his approach to life. He’s had a son, Atreus, who joins him on his journey as he seeks to fulfill her final wishes, to be returned to the nearby summit where she can finally rest.
Let alone has Kratos changed as a person, one that hides his past from his loved ones, he’s also come to try and correct the wrongs of his past. This time around, his ability to travel, to explore and see Midgard for what it is, Kratos and his Son have changed the status quo for the God of War franchise. While combat reminds almost entirely the same, frantic, chaotic, and blood-filled; it’s all still intact at its core. This time, it’s just not in Olympus as it was once before.
However, the new approach to the world about you is perhaps the best thing about the game. It allows for Kratos and Atreus’ story to matter, to have a purpose, and to show how it affects the world around them. Much as one would expect, the story doesn’t focus just on their travels, but even the troubles that interrupt their valiant endeavors including those of the Norse pantheon and mythology alike. Unlike what you would expect, the story doesn’t take the twists and turns that one would have expected from a typical God of War game, but instead actually takes time to explore its lore, to let people enjoy the newer cast members through character development.
For those of you concerned about this new approach and if it lacks the depth of past titles, don’t worry, there’s a tightly woven story that will take hours to complete. Unlike past titles, it’s beautiful, it’s rhythmic, and constantly ramps up at just the right times. Now, if you ever wondered if it has the same ebb and flow as games such as Horizon Zero Dawn, then I can tell you right now, you’d be completely right in your assumption. That’s where it works, however, that’s what makes it work. It’s a game that has its ultra-violent moments where Kratos and Atreus are forced into combat, fighting for their lives, pushing Kratos to the very edge of everything he hated about his past.
To soften things up, there are moments where Kratos and Atreus do spend time bonding, discussing both the past and the present, and sometimes telling stories while navigating the world by canoe. Now you may be wondering if this works out and if this changes any aspect of God of War, and I’ll tell you straight up – It works. Nothing has changed. While we are used to the more traditionally built rollercoaster rides of excitement where minotaurs and creatures of lore come to life, attacking Kratos with all their might, this newfound freedom is just as exciting as the rides we once knew before. Trust me, you do get your chance to enjoy Kratos and Atreus taking on building-sized monsters such as dragons, ogres, and even a god or two.
But the greatest achievement of this series isn’t just its semi-open world for you to explore. the greatest achievement is the fact Santa Monica made Kratos a character we want to know, we want to understand. He feels human, he doesn’t feel like an indestructible god who wants to tear down every pillar the gods of Olympus founded their way of life upon. Instead, he’s a man who has become conflicted by his past deeds, he’s a man that is ready to move on, to live in Midgard, a Norse realm he’s a stranger to. He has his beard, he’s a very, very changed man who silently mourns the loss of his wife and must now raise their son, Atreus, on his own.
Long gone are the days of his vicious edge and misogynistic deeds that often felt cartoonish, perhaps even out of character for any hero like himself. Since then, Kratos has become more responsible about what he does. While he was spiteful, cruel, and filled with range, he’s wiser now, aware of his unhappy past and is now working hard to keep his son from following in his steps. While he often does appear to have learned from his past, Atreus isn’t much better and is quickly following in his father’s steps. In order to do so, it’s noticeable that Santa Monica has had their work cut out for them. Crafting the story they have isn’t easy, and because of their careful approach to storytelling, it works.
There’s still subtle hints to Kratos’ past that vary from the tassels of his Spartan armor under his Norse-like belt, the wraps that cover his forearms where the Blades of Chaos were chained to him, and even the scar that hides carefully underneath his armor, only subtly showing itself on his back. A hint to his not-so-tragic attempt at taking his own life in God of War III. But even some of the game’s narrative points back at his past deeds, hinting that others are aware of his being out of place and wish to know why. But through all of this, Kratos never once denies or excuses his history, but rather, only works to prevent history from repeating itself once more.
But you might be wondering why I’ve not discussed or even mentioned God of War and its newly re-worked combat systems. That’s because there is a lot to talk about in the regards to the story, narrative, and gameplay design. The games focus is the relationship between father and son (should we just call this Dad of War?). It’s one that’s filled with a son growing into his shoes, fighting the rage that is slowly boiling over underneath his very soul and doesn’t hold back how Kratos will bond with his son. Just like The Last of Us, you grow to care about these two as people, not just characters in a video game.
Even when they are fighting against a troll, an ogre, or even Draugr swarms, you’ll be cheering them on as they discuss combat tactics, calling out to one another as enemies rush forth to attack them. Their chats, the games minor bits of dialogue, help develop the characters, giving them a chance to grow on you, but also to help the world around them feel alive, detailed, and existing in its own unique way. To be honest, the world itself feels like a character that is being heavily acknowledged in ways never before seen in gaming.
Every aspect of this games performance, as an interactive medium, is expertly constructed, written, and performed. To be honest, God of War has some of the best storytelling there has ever been in quite some time. That’s not to say that games such as Horizon Zero Dawn or The Last of Us didn’t do great, but somehow, God of War improved upon what both of them have done.
Even though the game coincidentally carries quite a bit of weight with its overall story, it’s one that actually breaks the surface tension with some rather funny moments, ones that are human, not tossed in for the sake of having a comedic break in the games rather serious moments. These funny moments are ‘real’. They do not just joke for the sake of joking. Even their one-liners and interplayed moments are organic as well, feeling as if they are during the chaotic moments where they are taking on ferocious enemies that want nothing but to see them both dead.
To really draw a line and make combat parallel to Kratos moving on from his days as the Olympian God of War, he’s taken off the blades of chaos, wrapping his arms in cloth where the chains once rest. Just like past titles, there are plenty of moments that are brutal, bloody, and can’t be unseen due to Kratos having curb stopped some poor Draugrs head on the ground. Combat is now spectacularly designed as it feels physical, flexible, and believable. There are moments where your jaw will tighten as Kratos takes a blade to the back, a fist to the face, or is simply sent hurling across a room due to an Ogre having smashed into him.
However, there are still subtle nods to the past Kratos wants to forget. He’s still violent, often residing to ripping enemies apart when stunned by Atreus’ attacks with his bow. The pacing has been slightly slowed down from our past experiences. Kratos is no longer using the Blades of Chaos, instead, he’s now using his deceased wife’s weapon she had crafted for herself, the Leviathan Axe. Because of this new weapon of choice, combat is more focused and drawn in, Kratos’ survival is based on player skill and their ability to prioritize light and heavy blows while managing the space between them and their threats. Dodges, parries, and quick attacks will become second nature as you venture forth through the game.
To help drive combat forward and emphasize upon it, the new upgrade system is huge, it’s massive, and it allows you to build out Kratos and Atreus’ abilities, gear and even armor to your play style. Since there are multiple skill trees, one that later focuses on the ability to have Atreus unleash stunning arrows or choking enemies so you can attack them, God of War offers a lot of room for unique gameplay elements. Since this new approach is so massive, it does seem as if it can come off as a daunting task to master what has been placed before you. When it comes to your armor’s stats, it can become even more of a task since later abilities do benefit from Kratos having high stats in a focused area.
At times you may find yourself questioning what’s more important, +3 strength, +6 defense, or should you take +10 runic power while managing a +2 cooldown? What about that -6 strength I just lost? I’ll be hitting weaker. All of this can seem minorly overwhelming at first, but it does give you the chance to mess around, finding a setup that fits your play style and how you wish to see Kratos function during combat. I didn’t even feel comfortable changing into higher quality armor at first, often times cringing as I look back at my green quality armor versus my late game armor, which boosted my stats three times as much.
However, you’ll grow used to it and before long, you’ll master this system and turn Kratos into a devastating force to be reckoned with. Every noise you’ll hear will be your actions as the crescendo of blade, arrow, and combat abilities ignite the air in a cacophony of bloodshed. Along with your excelled expertise in handling Kratos grows, you’ll also find that Atreus becomes useful. He’s not a pushover as you’d once think him to be. As you increase his power, leveling him up, you’ll be fighting as a two-man unit, coordinating his barrage of arrows while smashing an enemies face in with the Leviathan Axe, watching a once full arena of enemies quickly dissipate into nothingness.
But that doesn’t mean the events that led up to that very moment aren’t memorable. There were often times I would find myself wanting to clap for joy as Atreus lept from his father’s shoulders, barraging enemies with a rain of arrows as Kratos moves in for a heavy swing. There are even moments where he calls in friendly abilities to help in combat, sometimes tossing Kratos a health shard in order to heal up and get back into the fight. Atreus will have his moments where he’ll stun an enemy, locking them into place so Kratos can move in only to assault them with a lethal blow by pushing R3 in. Whether this sounds like a God of War game to you or not, I assure you, this is 100% a God of War game. It doesn’t hold back by any means necessary.
But because of this games overall approach, God of War is the first in the series that really gives us a sense of scale, an idea of just how big this game is, and just how deep the franchise runs. It’s a game, that in many ways, would make you blink in disbelief when comparing it to the titles that it is derived from. It’s massive, not just massive really, but titanic in every way possible. Every region you visit, every locale you will see, has remnants of the world that it’s inspired by. You’ll see statues made to commemorate the gods they were inspired by, even if it means you taking a second look as hulking enemies lumber forth, waiting for their chance to release Kratos from this world.
But let me emphasize something here, this world is alive, each region is massive and carefully crafted. There are moments where I found myself just staring at my screen in awe as waves rolled up onto the shores of Alfheim or lava flowed along the sides of a mountain in Muspelheim, the home of the fire giant Surtr. When visiting Midgard? There’s freaking frogs on the ground, hopping about while Kratos and Atreus casually stroll past them, acting as if they never existed. But that brings me to my final point.
God of War isn’t a game you should just pick up on your local retailer’s shelf before placing it back down and walking away. Even as someone who isn’t as fluent or as knowledgeable about the series and Kratos’ past, I’ve come to adore this game, love it really. To be honest, even after beating the game once, I’m already strolling back in, starting a new save file so I can start fresh as I hunt down my platinum trophy and absorbing even more of the game’s lore that I missed my first time through.
God of War – PlayStation 4
Developer: Sony Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: Now Available
Cost: $59.99 to $149.99
I’m still finding new areas, new puzzles, and even slow-clapping at myself at the small things I missed my first time around. Just like with Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I still have plenty to do, I still feel that I’m finding new stuff every time Kratos turns around. Realistically, I feel as if this is the first time I can’t overstate how good a game actually is, how hard the team has worked in order to bring a game to life that I enjoy, one where the characters and storytelling resonate with me due to how human they actually feel.
This game is on a level of game design that doesn’t happen very often. God of War is quite honestly a diamond in the rough, one that will leave us wanting more, craving more until the next game or a DLC is released. But even then, can they really satiate the desire for more? I’m sure they can and I’ll be right here waiting for them to do so once again.
Our review is based on a retail version that the reviewer purchased. Our review was completed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 10 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console game reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPGs, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.