Sony Santa Monica’s God of War series has long been the benchmark in terms of fast-paced, violent, action-focused gameplay. The series protagonist, Kratos, has become a cultural icon, the poster boy for unbridled rage and brutality. His destructive and merciless quest for vengeance has lead him on a path of devastation and bloody murder across the entire Greek god pantheon in previous entries. This muscled, ashen-skinned, tattooed badass has been a symbol for gory, macho badassery for years. In short, the God of War series has never been known for its subtlety. So, it may come as a surprise to many to discover that the long awaited sequel/rebirth of the God of War series is one of the most touching, beautiful and emotionally gripping videogames I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
God of War takes place many years after the events of 2010’s God of War III, with everyone’s favourite demigod attempting to move on from his violent past and settle down with a family. The most notable thing to take away from the newest entry in the series is the welcome introduction of an all new mythology to explore. Kratos has left the land of Greece behind for the frigid mountains of Norse mythology. This opens up many new avenues for storytelling to the series, with Kratos having already seen (and killed) the majority of what the Greek pantheon had to offer.
The story of God of War is a drastic departure from the plot of previous entries in the series. While earlier entries focused on the frankly tiresome subject of vengeance and the pursuit of power, the newest entry deals with relatable topics such as loss, guilt, connecting with a loved one and growing up. Taking the series in such a drastically different direction was an incredibly risky move on the part of Sony Santa Monica, but I’m delighted to say that the risk has more than paid off.
Kratos has recently lost his beloved wife, Faye, and must raise their young son, Atreus, alone. His wife’s last request is for the two to spread her ashes at the peak of the highest mountain in the realms. And so the estranged father-son pair set out on a journey of adventure and self-discovery under the backdrop of a chaotic and beautiful world, filled with interesting characters and terrible dangers. I won’t spoil the story details here, but just know that it still contains the heart pounding action of previous entries in the series while also offering some emotionally charged moments and story beats that will stick in players minds for a long time to come. Newcomers to the franchise can also rest assured that no previous entries must be played to understand this one, you can jump right in and enjoy the story with no prior knowledge. But long-time fans of the series need not fret, as this game offers many telling Easter eggs and references to previous games that will have fans beaming with delight.
If you’re anything like me, your first thought may be something along the lines of “great, now I have to babysit this brat throughout the entire game,” but the inclusion of Atreus may be just the change that the series needed. Kratos has never been the most verbose character, with one-word answers and grunts being his usual form of communication. By having the character of Atreus accompany you on your journey through the games stunning environments, players are allowed a window into the story through the eyes of a relatable foil to Kratos. Atreus himself quickly proves to be an endearing and likeable character. His mostly one-sided conversations with his father often raise a smile or give little nuggets of information about the games world and history. Kratos and Atreus’ journey brings them into contact with many interesting and well-developed characters. The dwarven brothers Brok and Sindri in particular quickly establish themselves as stand-outs, with some of the funniest dialogue in the game. That’s right, you heard me, God of War is actually funny now. Crazy, right?
One of my biggest misgivings regarding this latest entry in the franchise is the change in camera perspective. While in the past Kratos’s adventures were viewed from afar, in mostly fixed camera view, this latest game switches to an over the shoulder tracking shot, with the viewpoint never leaving Kratos’s perspective. Its an accomplishment in itself that the developers have managed to smoothly accommodate this new style, with creative camera cuts always keeping the game focused on Kratos. I was at first very skeptical of this change, thinking that this new viewpoint would severely hinder the series trademark chaotic combat. But yet again, Santa Monica studios exceeded my expectations by delivering an over the top, and surprisingly deep combat system. Kratos has ditched the iconic duel Blades of Chaos in favour of a new weapon more befitting his environment. Hemows through the games impressively diverse and varied enemies with the all new Leviathan Axe. This Icey weapon is an absolute joy to use. Kratos can string together light and heavy attacks to create numerous combos and special moves to decimate his foes. But, by far, the most fun inclusion is the Leviathan Axes’ ability to be thrown at enemies and recalled at the touch of a button, ala Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. Kratos can also beat enemies senseless with his fists when his axe has been thrown, giving the combat some much needed variety. There’s nothing more satisfying than throwing the axe at an enemy, beating another enemy to death with your bare hands, only to recall the axe at the last second and finish off a third.
Atreus is no slouch in combat either, regularly providing his father backup in the form of arrows and combo moves. At the touch of a button, Kratos can command Atreus to fire arrows at his enemies, allowing him to string together greater combos and manage enemies in greater numbers. God of War also includes an all new RPG-style skill tree for both Kratos and Atreus. Both characters develop greatly over the games roughly 30-hour campaign, learning new moves to slice and dice their enemies. There is also an upgrade system, allowing players to outfit Kratos and his son with upgraded weapons and armour, which in turn unlock new avenues for upgrade in the skill tree.
The game offers yet another dramatic change in the form of its relatively open-world design. Kratos and his son traverse the games main hub world, using their wits, strengths and magical items to solve numerous environmental puzzles and combat encounters. God of War also allows players to journey to other realms, which have their own unique challenges to overcome. Side quests are also a first for the series, and each of them tells a compelling and exciting story in its own right.
God of War is a tour-de-force of action, adventure, and emotional realisation. Sony Santa Monica have outdone themselves, breathing new life into a series that many had given up for dead. With exhilarating combat, an unforgettable story, and a fascinating world brimming with things to discover, it may be a serious contender for game of the year. If you’re on the fence about this one, hop right off and treat yourself to a true instant classic. Now we begin the excruciating wait for a sequel.
So, what do you think of God of War? Are you ready to journey through the gates of Valhalla? Or do you prefer a warmer climate? As always, let us know in the comments and on social media!
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