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God Of War

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Developer: SCEA Santa Monica
Release Date: Jan. 14, 2022

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PC Review - 'God of War'

by Andreas Salmen on Jan. 12, 2022 @ 8:00 a.m. PST

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...

God of War has a very special place in my gaming library. It triggers nostalgic memories of playing the original trilogy on the PS2 and PS3, but most importantly, it is one of the few remarkable comeback stories in gaming. God of War successfully re-established its place among Sony's most acclaimed properties with its quasi-reboot in 2018. It reinvented its protagonist, the way it tells a story, and how the combat works in a cohesive and impressive way. Sony has been releasing select titles from its backlog onto the PC platform. Its first port, Horizon: Zero Dawn, was plagued with bugs and performance issues at launch, but Days Gone's release went much smoother, and that made the announcement of God of War all the more exciting. God of War is probably Sony's best PC title of the three, but how well does it hold up as a video game almost four years after the reboot?

I'm excited to see Sony's commitment to the PC platform by dishing out regular releases and releasing some of its biggest titles right out of the gate. The upcoming release of God of War: Ragnarok is the reason that we're seeing this PC port now, but it's as good excuse as any to revisit a story that is still worth experiencing.

In Midgard, we meet Kratos and his son Atreus as they lay Kratos' wife to rest, determined to fulfill her final request of scattering her ashes at the highest peak in the realms. At this stage, Kratos and Atreus are estranged and have barely spent time together, making the journey a tense endeavor that is predominantly driven through dialogue and character development. They're entirely different in demeanor and the way they grieve, so the early sections of the game show a father and son who are incapable of communicating effectively or showing empathy for one another. It's only when a mysterious stranger forces them to complete their journey that they start to mend and grow together as they push on to the highest peak.

God of War has a relatively small cast of characters, but every one of them has significant portions of dialogue, distinct characteristics, and character development throughout the entire adventure. Kratos and Atreus are the stars, and their transformation is the most impactful, spinning a heartwarming tale of father and son who grow together and come to terms with who they are and inspire to be. Even though it is an older release, I won't go much deeper into story or character details for spoiler reasons, but rest assured that the story is one of the best I have played in past years. That praise is not exclusively for the characters or the writing, but the entire execution. The game is presented without cuts, forming a cohesive one-shot tale from start to finish, supported by extensive motion-capture cut scenes.

The performances are excellent. Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic deliver some great performances as Kratos and Atreus, respectively, but side characters regularly steal the show. If anything, the facial animations seem stiffer than what we have seen from Sony since. Otherwise, I'd wager you wouldn't be able to tell that this ambitious piece of storytelling was from 2018; that's a huge compliment.

God of War is a mostly linear experience set in a semi-open world. While most of your adventures revolve around the realm of Midgard, the story periodically takes you into different realms. The Lake of the Nine is where you spend most of your time, rowing a trusty boat through rivers to main mission markers and collectibles, puzzles and side-quests along the way. It's the biggest open area in the game, with most other areas being more linear stages branching off from that hub-world.

While linearity is unwanted nowadays, God of War handles it gracefully. Every environment is full of loot and nooks to explore, many of which are hidden until you unlock additional skills or special weapons later on. If you want to see everything, you'll likely backtrack through previous areas quite a bit, something you can do almost at your leisure. The storytelling and progression are mostly linear. The thing that keeps you invested is the story and how it's told when there's no cut scene. Kratos tells stories while traveling by boat (and failing miserably) or a few side-quests feature interesting lore and side stories; it constantly engages and connects you with the world and their characters. It's an epic journey filled with towering creatures and Norse-inspired environments and structures.

However, no matter how well the game fares in its interpretation of Norse mythology or story execution, God of War has a few areas that it doesn't execute quite as well. Perhaps surprisingly, one of those areas is combat. I do enjoy the combat in God of War; it's brutal, skill- and timing-based, and satisfying to execute. Kratos' ax can be thrown and returned (similar to Thor's hammer), so it's interesting and fun to use, although the over-reliance on the tool for puzzles can become repetitive over time. Kratos is slow but powerful, and every strike or special attack has devastating impacts on enemies and environments. It's not shallow, but it may be overloaded.

Different strike variations, throwing attacks, two special attack slots, and a variety of unlockable skills keep combat fresh. By the end of your adventure, you'll likely have almost everything decked out and will be able to summon a few devastating attacks based on fire or ice to dismantle your enemies. Kratos can use a shield to block and parry attacks or fight without weapons to maximize stun damage. Once stunned, some gory finishers keep the bloody spirit of GoW alive and well.

Atreus isn't useless either, and a lot of his character progression is mirrored in combat. From moving around the battlefield and firing arrows when you tell him to, he eventually gets different elemental arrows and pins down and attacks enemies by himself. He's never a burden; on the contrary, he can quickly become a staple in your combat strategy if you level him up consistently.

No matter how exhilarating and impactful the combat system feels, it has its downsides. Most notably, it can be clunky. Kratos' field of view is very narrow, and even with hit markers and the means to instantly turn around, he is slow to navigate in combat. I repeatedly lost the overview in fights because I couldn't keep track of enemies around me, which becomes all the more frustrating at higher difficulties. It also gets repetitive quite quickly. The game features a few unique boss encounters that are amazing to play, but beyond these, it often resorts to the same enemy types with realm-specific skins. After the fifth hour of gameplay, a lot of enemies are a variation of an enemy who you've fought previously. While that wasn't too distracting during its 16-hour campaign, once you get into the endgame content, it is obvious that you are fighting the same enemies over and over again with few variations.

Game progression is another weird spot for God of War. The loot and progression system is too complicated for the game that it's supporting. You collect XP, currency, and crafting resources, but their use is so overcomplicated that you won't know if something is useful. There is a myriad of steel types, dusts particles, serpent scales, smoldering embers, and more; each is needed for a different type of equipment. There are sockets where you can slot in additional improvements or special attacks that can also be upgraded with XP. The menu system also isn't the most intuitive.

Kratos get noticeably stronger throughout the adventure, but it's difficult to see any substantial improvements in the gameplay and tie them back to gear changes, apart from a few stat numbers being higher than they used to be. It feels like a remnant of a game that was perhaps a bit bigger and more open to facilitating deeper RPG mechanics in its initial concept, but the end product doesn't have the room and attention to make it a worthwhile addition to the gameplay.

Despite this, God of War is so much fun to play. Its story and combat segments are well-paced, so you go from exhilarating fight to story moment, an engaging puzzle moment, and back again at a satisfying rate. Harder difficulty levels test your skill (and make gear management more important), and the game has a NewGame+ mode for repeated playthroughs.

I want to point out the excellent endgame content. In addition to side-quests and exploration, two further realms open up to offer combat challenges and rare and powerful armor sets that you'll need to defeat the toughest enemies: Valkyries. Nine of them are scattered around the map, and they are some of the tougher boss fights I've endured in a video game. Even if you finish the story in under 20 hours, completionists can extend that time to beyond 30 hours if they solve every challenge. I highly suggest you do because overcoming all challenges in God of War was a satisfying journey and test of my skills that felt worthwhile and even a little punishing.

God of War on PC stands and falls with the quality of its port. Thankfully, I didn't need to spend much time worrying about that. I encountered almost no issues, with the rare exception of a few characters awkwardly wiggling into place in some dialog scenes. Apart from that, I did not encounter a single crash or other issues, period. I said similar things in my Days Gone PC review, but that game still had some occasional bugs. God of War has been a flawless experience on that front, and it still looks impressive for its age. Animations are fluid and detailed, environments look sharp and incredibly textured, particles are used to great effect, and the art direction comes together cohesively. Stone and wooden surfaces look incredible, with character models showing their age more in comparison, even though they look great when compared to very recent game releases.

As for graphical options, God of War is special. The only way to experience it is on par with its original PS4 release; there are no lower settings to be found. The game offers improved shadow resolutions, screenspace reflections, ambient occlusion (GTAO, SSDO), and ultrawide monitor support. These improvements are relatively subtle, and I doubt that many players will notice some of them unless staring at comparison screenshots. That said, if you pay close attention, there are improvements to see, but depending on the power of your system, you're likely going to be fine running the game in its (still impressive) original glory.

I also need to point out that, apart from its excellent voice acting, the game has one of my favorite video game soundtracks. That is just judging the epic orchestral tracks on their own. Together with the superb voice-acting and storytelling, it truly comes into its own. The music composed by Bear McCreary is exceptional and fitting throughout, and it's one of my highlights in recent years, next to Mick Gordon's Doom soundtrack that was coincidentally released in the same year.

Our test system (5600x, RTX 3070) had no issues running the game on its highest quality settings at about 70-90fps in 1440p without DLSS. With DLSS, that frame rate stayed closer to and sometimes above the 100fps threshold, providing a boost of up to 30% when set to quality under these conditions, which is impressive for a game that does not also utilize raytracing, since that is where DLSS often sees the most gains. I found the environment to look a tad fuzzier with DLSS on (regardless of the level) rather than off, but I have been unable to substantiate that notion on screenshots, so I cannot say where that stems from or if it's a figment of my imagination. It's not by any means to the point where it degrades the image, but it did sometimes feel out of place when looking around the scenery.

What DLSS could not hide were some substantial frame rate variations. If you were hoping to run the game on high frame rates, your best bet is locking the frame rate to avoid slight stutters. In transition areas when the game loads the next section, things can break down quite significantly, and I saw my performance sometimes dip into the 30s while running on an internal SSD drive. It never occurred in combat or critical moments, but it was very evident whenever entering a new area, especially via boat.

NVIDIA Reflex is also included in the package, and it's meant to reduce input lag for faster response times. This is difficult to test without a professional setup or one of NVIDIA's fancy 360Hz monitors, but we were able to register latency improvements with the setting turned on nonetheless, at least on paper. The render latency usually hovered around 15-20 ms when not using reflex, which was regularly reduced to 10 ms or below with the Reflex setting turned on. While that is a significant reduction, I haven't noticed a substantial difference playing with it turned on or off for lengthy periods, but it won't do any harm having it turned on in any case, especially for a game as reaction-driven as God of War.

The parts that comprise God of War may not all be equally well-crafted, but they build a great cohesive experience and a noteworthy PC port. The soundtrack, visuals, story, combat, and the world come together so well that it amounts to something greater than the sum of its parts, and that is still true on PC almost four years removed from its original release on a last-gen console. That's all you need to know, so go and finally experience this gem for yourself.

Score: 9.0/10

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