- Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
- Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio
- Release Date: April 20, 2018
- Genre: Action-adventure game
- Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 Pro*
*Disclaimer: My copy of God of War was purchased at retail. Since I did not have early access to a review copy, many other reviews will have already been published by the time you read this. With that in mind, I decided not to rush and explore every bit of the game. So, with one 100%/Platinum Trophy playthrough under my belt, here are my impressions of God of War with no story spoilers.
God of War has been by no exaggeration one of the most anticipated game releases of all time. Sony first revealed the existence of the new game at their E3 2016 press conference and was meet with so much praise and excitement that it literally made grown men scream.
The change from Greek to Norse mythology for the new God of War was met with a little bit of apprehension from some fans of the series but I was immediately intrigued. Developers these days have it rough with players crying out that they want something new and innovative with each new release. Then they are met with complaints that they have “ruined the franchise/my childhood” when they dare to deliver something new and innovative. This in turn just leaves us with the same old racing, sports and shooters because studios are afraid of losing money if they try to do anything other than sticking to the same old formula. So, this reinvention of everything we have come to know about God of War was a very nice surprise. Throw in the fact that Cory Barlog, the director of God of War 2 (my favorite of the original trilogy) was directing the new game, I knew something special was coming.
The land of Midgard serves as the back drop for the new adventures of Kratos who has settled down after wandering the Earth after the events of God of War 3. Kratos now lives in a cabin in the woods with his young son Atreus. As the game begins, we witness the pair preparing funeral rites for their now deceased wife/mother. I couldn’t help but think that this woman must have been very special to have captured the heart of Kratos after all he has been through. Her final wish was to have her ashes spread from the highest peak in all the realms which is the basis for this new adventure.
The dynamic between Kratos and his son Atreus on this journey is the perfect example of storytelling done right. Kratos’ struggle to keep his own rage in check while simultaneously helping to control his son’s inherited anger while simply trying to survive in a harsh new world (and not add another relative to his skin) has been by far one of the most memorable tales in recent memory.
With the new God of War, we are not only treated to a brand-new Norse mythology setting but a complete overhaul of…everything. A new over the shoulder camera view keeps you right in the middle of the action in one continuous shot. The camera does not cut once (unless you die) from the very beginning of the game until the final credits. It must have been very time consuming to create a continuous in-game camera and I am glad that the development team took the risk. It is absolutely breathtaking to watch. Breathtaking can also be used to describe God of War’s visuals. You are given the option to play with resolution optimized (checkerboard 4K/30fps) or framerate optimized (1080p/60fps) and I went with resolution. Every character model from Kratos, to the enemies and even NPCs are excruciatingly detailed and the lighting is stunning. Looking at God of War made me realize that PS4 games have not been truly next gen until now as this game sets the standard from which all future games will be judged. Environments are gorgeous as well and this time around there is a bigger variation to the locales you visit. I won’t go too far into this for those of you that have not had the chance to play it and have been avoiding spoilers, but there is more going on than what Sony has been showing in trailers.
Another aspect of God of War I was intrigued about since its reveal is the Leviathan Axe. Before I started playing I was a little worried that I would immediately try and fight as if this was one of the old GOW games and that it would take me a while to get used to not using Kratos’ trademark chain-blades. This was not the case as I instantly fell in love with the combat system during the first tutorial battle. Combos are a breeze to string together using R1 for light attacks and R2 for heavy attacks. Holding down L2 and then pressing one of the attack buttons allows you to throw the axe which can be recalled at any time using the triangle button. I love throwing the axe past enemies, the hitting them in the back as I recall it and then dive in for a combo as they reel from the surprise attack. The axe is also used (and thankfully not overused) to solve environmental puzzles which are creative and well designed. Atreus is also a big part of combat as you can press the square button to have him shoot arrows at enemies to aggro them. Atreus is also in no need of escorting and aside from needing to be freed from a few grabby enemies early on, he holds his own throughout the entire adventure.
The game is not really what would be considered open-world, but it is a huge world to say the least. Midgard is a very large hub world of sorts that connects you to other locations to travel to. Through some very clever mechanics, the hub world becomes even more explorable after key points in the story. So, if after playing a bit you feel like you have seen all what Midgard has to offer, you have only scratched the surface.
God of War now has an RPG-esque leveling system in place that doesn’t really require a lot of grinding but does reward exploration. Going off the beaten path will uncover valuable materials for crafting and or augmenting Kratos’ weapon, armor and abilities. There are some creative hidden items and skills to be uncovered and as much as I loved the story, I constantly found myself looking for the next treasure or optional boss fight. Atreus also has his own set of skills that will grant him different abilities that make him even more useful in combat situations.
God of War for all its impressive graphics and gameplay also has one of the most well composed and powerful soundtracks of this generation. The music which was composed by Bear McCreary is being streamed in the background as I write this. God of War’s music is emotional when it needs to be and is epic always. Accompanying the score is a fantastic voice cast that delivers memorable lines (except for one super cringe worthy optional boss) that will alone make you want to replay the game. Christopher Judge (Stargate SG-1) has taken the reigns from Terrance Carson (Living Single) as the voice of Kratos and no disrespect to my boy Kyle Barker but Judge knocks it out of the park. Judge’s performance gives Kratos the level of maturity needed to tell this new story. Where Carson’s portrayal of Kratos was full of the hatred and rage that the original storyline called for, we get a full range of emotions with Judge’s performance that fully realizes a mourning, gentler, meaner God of War.
Santa Monica Studios had a huge legacy to live up to with God of War and not only did they live up to it, they managed to create a new legacy in the process. The time and care that the developers have poured into this game are evident in every blade of grass and drop of blood. I spent roughly 60 hours during my first playthrough gathering every collectible and earning every trophy. I am now five hours into my second playthrough and it’s like seeing it all again for the first time. The bar has not been raised, it’s been thrown away. “Do not be sorry, be better.”