God Of War

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA Santa Monica
Release Date: April 20, 2018


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PS4 Review - 'God of War'

by Redmond Carolipio on April 20, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

It is a new beginning for Kratos. Living as a man, outside the shadow of the gods, he seeks solitude in the unfamiliar lands of Norse mythology. With new purpose and his son at his side, Kratos must fight for survival as powerful forces threaten to disrupt the new life he has created...

Buy God of War

It's fitting that God of War opens with a Norse funeral pyre. Jaded fans could see it as a symbolic "death" of a character and gameplay style they love, altered forever by the inclusion of some kid they saw in the demos and trailers. Kratos has gone soft, they might say.

It might help to think about the Norse ethos surrounding the flames of death: The columns of smoke are supposed to be as large as possible, so they can lift the spirit into the afterlife, giving rise to a different plane of existence. When the credits rolled at the end of this chapter's main quest, that's how it felt.

To play God of War as someone who has followed the series is to experience a game, much like its lead character, that is trying to find balance between a world that was well-known and one that asks the player to bend in a variety of new, emotional directions. Every time Kratos displays the full breadth of his familiar, feral power that leaves the landscape seasoned with freshly kicked ass, he is also shown many times as a struggling man in full — weathered, weary and fully aware of the things he has done and all of the moments that led him to a secluded home in the middle of the Norse realm of Midgard with a son he barely knows.

One thing is clear: During almost every minute of the game, the player knows, or at least feels, that it is only by choice that Kratos is not what he was — and God (gods?) help anyone who brings out the other guy. He's Magneto working in a factory. He's John Wick, bald and covered in ash. Fear this dude.

Players get a taste of Kratos' latent power at the very start, when he chops down a tree with just a few blows from his ax, then hoists the tree up on his shoulder and starts walking around with it. It's wood meant for the aforementioned funeral pyre, and the person in that pyre is Kratos' second wife, Faye. It's during these preparations where we meet Atreus, Kratos' son.

After a short hunting mission where we learn some of the controls, we see that the funeral pyre has finished its work. Kratos gathers Faye's ashes and readies himself to honor his wife's dying wish — for her ashes to be scattered from the highest point in the Nine Realms. It's an endearingly simple-sounding quest, a stark contrast to wreaking vengeance on all of Olympus. Of course, this being God of War, a journey in a straight line does not exist. A heavily tatted-up Norse stranger interrupts Kratos' broodful mourning, and the ensuing battle not only lets us know that Kratos has plenty of gas left in his tank, but also kicks open the door to this mythological new world of Norse gods, goddesses and legends involving inter-realmic travel.

The first thing that stood out to me is the impact of the game's new camera angle. It's closer and provides a sense of intimacy within the gameplay that didn't really exist before in the series. In previous games, the camera zoomed out almost reverently so we could admire Kratos in all of his destructive glory. Now, the camera invites you in to get our hands dirty and asks if you still enjoy being part of the spectacle. It also lends itself better to Kratos' newfound sense of awareness and humanity; he's still grouchy as hell, but he's also tempered with unparalleled life experience. Nothing really surprises him anymore. He asks more questions and keeps a more even mind than the blade-swinging hellraiser of the past few games. His natural state of distrust and caution balances out the wonder and curiosity of Atreus.

There are so many ways things could have gone wrong with Atreus, who is not only Kratos' son, but also his traveling companion for nearly his entire odyssey. Kratos has been a solo act for so long that I had reservations about how a sidekick — much less one who's a child — would alter the dynamics. It turns out that my concern was unfounded because Atreus is awesome.

Young Atreus serves as Kratos' emotional counterweight, adding depth to the story by allowing us to see what "dad Kratos" would look and sound like. Atreus also has his own backstory, which I won't expound upon here, and also lends an element that God of War has never truly had: genuine humor. When a hero in a game has someone else to talk to, it can lend energy and light to otherwise heavy situations. The banter and connectivity between Kratos and his son shows slight tinges of Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us, one of the all-time great pairings.

Atreus is also not a burden. He's every bit the son of Kratos — capable, fierce and powerful — while also subject to the same things that would befall any other boy his age put in his position. He's very gifted with languages, so he can read all the mystic runes that show up during the journey while also lending invaluable aid to absorbing the game's teaspoons of puzzle work. In combat, I like that I didn't have to hold his hand. He uses his upgradeable bow and arrows to take out enemies (hit Square to have him shoot when he's not fighting independently) and can also stun them to set up killing blows from his dad. I didn't have to keep knocking enemies off of him, revive him or engage in some drawn out "protect" or "escort" mission. The game treats him as worthy complementary piece.

However, it's Kratos who does all of the heavy lifting, once again serving as the sun around which the game's combat system orbits. If you're a fan, you'll know how this feels. Kratos remains fully battle ready, alternating between light and strong attacks, blocking, evading and sprinting. What's new are his methods. Gone at the outset are the chained Blades of Chaos. In their place is the Leviathan Axe, an ice-magic-infused gift from Kratos' late wife that functions as both weapon and occasional puzzle-solver. It functions like Thor's hammer, which means Kratos can throw it at stuff, and it can be summoned back with the press of the Triangle button. Not only does this open up the potential for some very cool combat moments, but I also thought it was clever how the game utilized the ax's ability to freeze things that it hits when thrown. A flashing-arrow system keeps you visually apprised of threats surrounding Kratos, as well as Atreus yelling out "Behind you!" or "Fire coming!!" It's very similar to the combat system used in the fantastic Hellblade from Ninja Theory, with light arrows and voices telling the player where the enemies were. Interestingly enough, Hellblade also had heavy Norse roots.

Also, Kratos and Atreus are upgradeable — abilities, armor, attack combos, weapons and other things can be boosted through a relatively easy to manage RPG-style commerce system. This allows Kratos to gradually level up. There's also an open-world feel to this adventure, where you'll eventually encounter a variety of side-quests that are more like errands than Witcher or Skyrim-style metaquests.

In terms of how the story feels, this iteration of God of War feels a little like "The Force Awakens" or even the first God of War on PS2, where you feel like you're getting a taste of something bigger. This epic road trip with Kratos and his son unfolds like a glorious intro to Norse lore, where you hear names like Thor and Odin, but also get to educate yourself about what the Nine Realms actually are, various legends (some appearing in physical form), the lore of the giants, and how the Norse God of War handled business (hint: not like Kratos). I enjoyed all of the characters I encountered, and I won't spoil how each of them fits into the grander narrative. All of this is packaged in one of the more beautiful visual experiences you'll find on the system. God of War games always looked good. Not to be overlooked is the musical score from Bear McCreary ("Outlander," "The Walking Dead"), which floats deftly between its Norse tones and echoing Kratos' Spartan roots.

The quibbles I have are few. I sometimes felt the control was taken out of my hands a little too much during epic boss confrontations and in the transition from playing into small cut scenes. I also found myself finishing off some of the mini-boss enemies the same way, which got visually repetitive. Some might not like how this God of War reminds them of other great titles; I felt flashes of Darksiders, Hellblade, Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Last of Us and the Batman Arkham games during my initial 10- to 12-hour trip through the main story. It doesn't bother me, since you can make memorable games without reinventing wheels. There was no point where I forgot what game I was playing, which has been part of the magic of the series. Despite all of these elements, the experience is still distinct.

Of all the iterations of Kratos I've seen over the lifetime of the God of War series, Old Man Kratos is probably my favorite. His newest adventure might not have quite the same wall-to-wall bombast as the ones that came before, but he's added a new dimension to his personality. He can only stay Old Testament-angry for so long, and the table is definitely set for more installments. There's more to explore now in this new corner of mythology, and it'll be compelling to see if he burns everything to the ground or finds an even higher place to go.

Score: 9.2/10

More articles about God Of War
blog comments powered by Disqus