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God of War (PlayStation 4) artwork

God of War (PlayStation 4) review

"Witness the journey of a sad dad becoming a pretty okay dad."

For a time, God of War was arguably Sonyís strongest intellectual property. With each of three main games, Sony Santa Monica was able to up the ante and wow us with the ever-increasing scale. Even the PSP and PS3 spin-offs were successful enough in their own right, but it was becoming increasingly clear even to super fans like myself that God of War was finished. When the new installment in the series was announced, I assumed it was just Sony jumping on the reboot train. Iím so glad I was wrong.

God of War opens with Kratos (now heavy with beard and years of introspection) and his son Atreus preparing for the funeral and cremation of his wife. It was her wish to have her ashes spread from the highest mountain in the land. Thus, Kratos and his son set off on their journey.

God of War (PlayStation 4) image

What makes God of War so interesting is that it really does feel like a reboot at first glance. The narrative does a really great job of framing everything within the context of Norse myth. Kratos is definitely still the Ghost of Sparta, but his exploits feel like a distant memory. Over the course of the gameís story, however, itís clear the deeds of the past have never been forgotten. Kratos has to reconcile his past with his current identity as a father trying to guide and shape his son, who is only just coming into his own.

That narrative is strong, and itís helped along by some of the best visuals and direction seen this console generation. The direction is especially fascinating, as the game is conveyed through a single continuous shot. The camera never cuts to a new angle for any of the narrative. It will move to focus on the characters who are speaking, but it always swivels around instead of cutting back to the action. The approach is so effective that it always felt natural. Other narrative AAA games should definitely consider using a similar technique.

God of War makes its most drastic departure, however, in the way it constructs its world. Kratosí journey is no longer the roller coaster of his past adventures, but instead plays out within a Metroidvania-esque world that players can freely explore at their leisure. Thereís always a core mission to follow, for sure, but the game encourages exploration from early on to find optional objectives, rare treasure and mini-dungeons. While I was playing, I kept getting flashes of Metroid Prime, with its ability to craft a world that felt connected while varied.

God of War (PlayStation 4) image

Oh, and did I mention that God of War is now an action-RPG? Sure, the past games let players upgrade their abilities, but now thereís loot, armor and even a leveling system. Experience from killing enemies is used exclusively for upgrading skills that expand Kratosí and his sonís combat repertoire. Armor can be crafted with components or found in chests. The level of the equipment you find influences Kratosí overall level, with each piece also impacting one of numerous stats such as strength, vitality, or luck.

I think the piece of the God of War puzzle that fans were most skeptical of going into this new game was the combat. The original games prided themselves on their Devil May Cry-inspired systems, with a heavy focus on combos. The new game, however, takes a more measured approach. The combat system encourages the player to watch enemy movements and look for opportunities to block and dodge. It still has enough speed to where it never feels too different, but itís definitely a game inspired more by the likes of Dark Souls and other modern action-RPGs, instead of its character action game roots.

The two major additions to combat, then, are Kratosí axe and his son. The axe isnít anywhere near as fast or as good at crowd control as the Blades of Chaos, but Kratos can throw it and call it back at any time. This creates some interesting scenarios that find Kratos throwing his axe at a distant foe and then recalling it, striking a threat on the way back and then going in for the kill on the recently staggered enemy. Itís incredibly satisfying when these scenarios play out, and the game makes it easy to ensure they do. Of course, Kratos may find himself without his axe. Thatís when he can switch to hand-to-hand combat. This allows Kratos to more easily build up the stun meter, which allows for quick context-sensitive kills more reminiscent of the cinematic kills from past games.

God of War (PlayStation 4) image

When the axe just won't do, Kratos' son Atreus steps in with his bow. While in combat, Kratos can either have his son shoot targeted enemies or simply shoot the closest enemy with the tap of a button. His sonís arrows donít do much damage at the start, but they serve as a suitable distraction while building up stun. As players progress through the game, theyíll find Atreus becomes far more formidable and is able to take down smaller enemies on his own while dealing significant damage to larger foes.

Thereís so much more I want to talk about here, but I simply canít. God of War so expertly ties its narrative in with its progression that itís impossible to discuss some of the later gameplay wrinkles without spoiling some of its biggest surprises. And one reason God of War succeeds so beautifully is that it still can surprise us. When God of War Ascension came out, we knew exactly what the game would be. When the new God of War was announced, I thought Sony Santa Monica was just going to offer another sad dad simulator. There are certainly traces of that in God of War, but the ideas it pulls from games like Metroid Prime, Dark Souls and The Legend of Zelda are far more pronounced and itís a stronger game for it. With this change, God of War may just reclaim its throne as Sonyís most beloved IP.


Phazonmasher's avatar
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (April 29, 2018)

Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.

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