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God of War II (PlayStation 2) artwork

God of War II (PlayStation 2) review

"This Pegasus is darker. Completely black except for fiery wings, itís quite capable of defending itself with Kratos on its back. At a command, itíll ram hostile griffins in the side or execute a forward dash to catch them off guard. These attacks are often more effective than using any of Kratosí slashes, as his range is limited. At the same time, you must dodge energy blasts and charges from other aerial enemies, especially since the latter can send you into a spinning nosedive."

God of War IIís story isnít terribly shocking, but it does fit well with a continuation of the myth. Kratos returns in all his fearsome glory, this time displaying his ruthlessness as the new god of war. His perpetual arrogance and defiance to the other gods, as well as the sheer swath of destruction he cuts, disturbs his fellow Olympians. Zeus especially takes Kratosí actions as a threat to his power. In a ploy to stop Kratos in his path, Zeus strips him of his godly strength and eventually kills him. From there, with the help of the titan Gaia, Kratos escapes Hades and vows to slay Zeus. To do so, he allies himself with the other titans and seeks out the Fates so he can return to the point where Zeus betrayed him.

From the very beginning, Kratos will have his work cut out for him. Unlike the previous installment, where the opening boss served no purpose other than to show people the basics, the opening boss in the second game is no joke. Whereas the hydra could easily be beaten on the most difficult mode of play in all its forms (except the last), the Colossus of Rhodes gives Kratos a hard time from the outset. On the toughest difficulty, one swat from the statueís giant hand will drain half of Kratosí health, effectively making the first ten minutes the most challenging of any other game Iíve played.

After the dramatic opening, things become a bit easier, but periodic spikes in difficulty will make you think twice about feeling complacent. Fortunately, Kratos has many new toys with which to destroy his enemies. Even his famous chain blades get a makeover as new combos replace the old, some of which are even more effective than their predecessorsí. While launching foes into the air has become harder, Kratosí ability to counter attacks has improved. Once you obtain the Golden Fleece, you can deflect any projectile provided that you block at the precise moment of impact. Even typically unblockable attacks like gorgon beams can be reflected back at the attacker, turning everyone around you to stone.

In addition to useful items such as the Fleece, Kratos now has access to more weapons and magic. As the game progresses, he acquires a mighty hammer and flexible spear, though both never really match his famous chain blades. Kratosí new magic proves considerably more useful. While two of the ďnewĒ spells share similarities to the old ones (you obtain a bow that acts much like Zeusí thunderbolts, and you also acquire the head of another gorgon, Euryale, for petrifying enemies), the other two are unique enough to keep things interesting. Cronos gives Kratos the power to summon balls of lightning that target strike multiple targets at once, and even explode at higher upgrades. Atlas grants Kratos the power to create powerful earthquakes that knock enemies into the air and throw rocks in all directions, obliterating just about everything on screen.

To keep things even and, therefore, forever challenging, Kratos must also face a host of new creatures. While many old friends, such as Minotaur, Cyclops, gorgons and sirens return, there are many new beasts (and even mythical heroes) to fight. And youíll be able to do so in all of Kratosí infamous brutality.

Nymphs appear as insectoid pests that, depending on breed, will throw fire at you and explode upon death, or spit acid and spin an ensnaring web that prevents you from moving until you break free. Some even emerge from hives that must be destroyed before the swarm will cease. Orc-like beast lords will summon Cyclops mounts, making the already powerful monster even more deadly. Further, the Cyclops cannot be destroyed until the beast lord is removed from atop it. Once thatís done and the Cyclops has been weakened enough, Kratos can finish it off by gouging its eye out, which heíll then keep as a trophy. Skeletons will collapse to the floor if theyíre not killed quickly enough, recovering lost health upon reforming. Thereís even a new kind of Minotaur. Immobilized by rock it may be, but itís huge and its smashing and spinning attacks will destroy even the most powerful warrior.

New bosses also serve to give Kratos a headache. Like the previous title, many have specific weak points that must be exploited. The Kraken and its many tentacles are too large to destroy simply by chopping away at it. Kratos must use the environment around him. Pulling a lever hidden beneath the beastís bulk eventually slices it in half as a bridge forms between the gap dividing two platforms. But before he can decapitate the monster, Kratos needs to slice off its tentacles one at a time, using a corpse and air vent to do so. Other bosses merely require that you hit them until they stop moving, but these often have a variety of powerful attacks or forms that make fighting a difficult task. The barbarian king can summon lost souls to assault Kratos or use them to enlarge his size to unimaginable proportions. His attacks in this form deal devastating damage if they connect.

Despite the new enemies, the basic elements of the God of War series are still there. Youíll always have to deal with traps where failing to kill every monster in the room quickly results in instant death. And youíll always have to solve deceptively simple puzzles involving pushing some object somewhere so as to open a door or stop an elevator. However, there are some genuinely new features that make things interesting. Kratos can now scale ceilings in addition to walls, use his blades to swing across large distances using grappling points, and, later in the game, even glide using Icarusí wings. But beyond these ďminorĒ changes, there are some segments that particularly stand out.

At two points early on, Kratos must use the winged horse, Pegasus, to fly to specific destinations. However, this Pegasus doesnít fit the stereotype portrayed in myth or film. This Pegasus is darker. Completely black except for fiery wings, itís quite capable of defending itself with Kratos on its back. At a command, itíll ram hostile griffins in the side or execute a forward dash to catch them off guard. These attacks are often more effective than using any of Kratosí slashes, as his range is limited. At the same time, you must dodge energy blasts and charges from other aerial enemies, especially since the latter can send you into a spinning nosedive. Once a griffin or purple raven is weak enough, youíll get to perform a brutal finishing technique, this time involving mini games where Kratos rips off the birdsí wings and lets them drop to their death.

Furthering his advantage, Kratos gains the ability to slow down time. Though reminiscent of Prince of Persia, the ability appears only sporadically throughout the game, and is primarily used to solve puzzles or cross (often fatal) obstacles. To use this ability, Kratos must stand within range of a Fates Statue where heíll have about thirty seconds to accomplish the task required of him. However, care must be taken while time is slowed; pulling a lever or even opening a chest will automatically cancel the effect.

If you happen to be fighting within range of a statue, youíll be able to tear enemies apart before they can even get two strikes in. Alternatively, if youíre fighting in a trap room, you can use the trap to your advantage. In one instance, I found myself in a room covered in spikes except for the small area where the lever lowering them stood. Pulling the lever without slowing down time, you only have about fifteen seconds to cross the room. However, once you break the wall containing the statue, two powerful scythe-wielding warriors will assault you. These enemies arenít stupid and will head straight for the safe zone unless you keep them occupied. Slowing down time will help with this, as youíll be able to better see where theyíre headed and intercept them. As soon as the period ends and the spikes raise again, youíll be able to dash to safety while the two of them get impaled, thereby eliminating much damage you wouldíve received fighting them together.

God of War II somehow manages to extend Kratosí epic tale without recycling too much old material. Kratos is still an arrogant, ruthless brute, but his savageness somehow comes across as refreshing, perhaps as a result of the fact that it goes far beyond anything he ever did in the previous game. Whatever the case, itís a rare event when a sequel actually surpasses what had come before, but I remain impressed with how much the developers were able to do with the second without making it feel stale.


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Community review by wolfqueen001 (May 24, 2010)

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JANUS2 posted February 27, 2011:

"God of War IIís story isnít terribly shocking, but it does fit well with a continuation of the myth."

This is a boring sentence to begin with. In fact, although your explanation of the story is eloquent enough, the whole paragraph lacks momentum. You say the game is exciting, but this opening doesn't get that across.

It might be better to start with something similar to the first sentence of the second paragraph: "From the very beginning, Kratos has his work cut out for him." This would be a brilliant opening to a review because straight away a few things are established. Number 1: Kratos is the focus of our attention. Number 2: God of War is hard and action-packed. It also makes me want to read on because now I'm interested in hearing WHY Kratos has his work cut out for him . . . which you then start to answer with the exciting explanation of the first boss.

"Fortunately, Kratos has many new toys with which to destroy his enemies."

This sentence may as well say NOW I'M GOING TO TALK ABOUT KRATOS'S ABILITIES. That's fine and necessary, but it's not very subtle. I don't really have any suggestions about how to make these transitions more subtle (which isn't very helpful), other than to read lots of Zigfried reviews because he's excellent at it. Take his God of War review, for example. As he's describing sections of the game, he inserts select information about Kratos's different abilities. This is more memorable than if he had said, "Kratos has loads of abilitiesÖ" and then reeled them off one after the other in one paragraph.

"To keep things even and, therefore, forever challenging, Kratos must also face a host of new creatures"

This sentence is a bit awkward with the fore, fore repetition.

Generally, your writing is really good. It's clear, precise and engaging. Complex scenarios are explained in an understandable way and the structure of the review is very logical, particularly the focus on new aspects that the game brings to the series. If I had played the original and was interested in learning about what the sequel adds I would find this review very useful. What you perhaps could work on is raising the enthusiasm level slightly at the end of the review. While you were describing the Pegasus flight sequences I was thinking OK but doesn't this just detract from the core appeal of the game? I'm not saying pile on the hyperbole, but perhaps in addition to explaining how the Pegasus bits work you could also give an example of a particularly memorable flight section so we can understand how fun it is.

In fact, you already do this when you talk about the enemies. I really enjoyed reading that bit. What you do well is contextualise the battles and fights and explain how they work rather than just opting for loads of empty adjectives (it's INTENSE, CRAZY, THRILLING, etc.). This approach is much more engaging than overdoing the descriptive writing.

So yeah, I would say this is a good review and I did enjoy reading it. I think you are clearly a capable reviewer who knows how to explain games and understands which aspects to focus on. To improve I would say try and think more carefully about the reader. When you're writing an intro, think to yourself: would people find this interesting? Would I find this interesting? Is it what the reader wants to know first? What do I want to tell the reader first? etc. I think that this sort of awareness would help give your writing a bit more finesse and style and make it more consistently engaging and exciting. Of course, you may not want to go down this road, but I think it's probably the next step.
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zigfried posted February 27, 2011:

Just want to offer a counter-point to one piece of Janus's detailed and hopefully very helpful critique:

Since this is a "sequel" review, I actually like the inclusion of a paragraph that blatantly lists-and-describes new abilities. People who played the first game already know about epic fights and lush scenery; those two paragraphs in Wolfqueen's review are a very effective way to deliver information on what has changed.

Reviews of sequels/ports are often less stylish than reviews of originals for this very reason. Although it's possible to pull off a perfect blend, describing the mechanical differences between episodes/versions is often at odds with experiential storytelling and wordplay.

So basically, when it comes to "style", I had an advantage because I was reviewing the first game. My method isn't necessarily appropriate for the sequel.

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wolfqueen001 posted February 27, 2011:

Thanks, Janus! That's quite a lot you had to say, there, and I really appreciate that. I know I've got a huge problem with intros. It's often hard for me to think of a way to make it seem interesting, so I usually end up starting it somehow, even if bland, so that I can at least finish the review and try to make the intro more interesting later. However, this isn't always possible and I often struggle to find unique and fun ideas to open my reviews.

Transitions also tend to be a problem of mine, and I've tried working on better integrating gameplay elements with examples and such so it flows better, but with varying degrees of success. I have read Zig's God of War review, though, and found that to be very well done. I should probably read that again, as well as his other reviews, to try and get ideas for how to improve my own technique in that regard.

In any case, I'm glad you liked the majority of the review. i remember not being too happy with it myself because it didn't feel as good as my first God of War revie (and I still think the first is my better of the two), but I wasn't sure how it stood up in the grand scheme of things. I tend to get down on myself a lot, anyway, so wasn't sure whether I was justified in this case. I'm glad o see that I wasn't, for the most part.
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wolfqueen001 posted February 27, 2011:

Thanks, Zig. Somewhat ironically, what you say about the nature of sequel reviews is partly why I tend to dislike my own sequel reviews more than my original ones. I feel that the necessary comparisons between the two games sometimes feels formulaic and boring. Ideally, I'd like to get better with that at least to a degree where it's less jarring and smoother, but I also know that such an achievement can't be reached all the time, or even most of the time. Often I write reviews and they come out however they come out... I... don't really know, honestly.

I guess as an example, my Half Life 2 review seems to have overcome this problem quite effectively. Though I also know I focused it differently. I guess it depends on the game I'm playing. Sometimes I like to have this sort of side-by-sdie comparison like you're talking about, because you're right in that players of the first will be familiar with the basics of the second. Other times, though, I like a rather mixed approach... so balancing the two is kind of tricky. I guess for me, the main goal now would just be to make things more interesting... regardless of the style that eventually ends up getting used. I think interest can be generated in both, depending on how you write it.

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