I am a fan of the God Of War franchise. When the return of series was announced a couple of years back at E3, I didn’t jump out of my seat though. I remained calm, sceptic and hopeful at the same time as an older (bearded) Kratos stepped out of the shadows. A new mythological setting, a new approach to gameplay, and more importantly a quieter Kratos; all became points of contention in the ensuing years, leading up to its release. Fast Forward to today and God Of War is hailed as one of the modern video game masterpieces, but does it stand up to the gauntlet of an old franchise fan? Let’s find out.
God of War is an action-adventure video game developed by Santa Monica Studio and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. The game was released on April 20, 2018, and is available on the PS4 platform.
God Of War
Story & Narrative
In almost every game worth its salt, the narrative acts as a glue that holds the rest of the game together. There is no better example of that than God Of War. The story is so well ingrained into the game, and the game itself feeds so well off the story that it’s uncanny. Its gameplay, its screenplay, its direction, its exploration; Everything is complimented and held together by one story, the story of Kratos and Atreus.
Now there are multiple reviews, previews, and editorials out there who have (rightfully) praised the portrayal of the father-son relationship between Kratos and Atreus. So I am not gonna talk about that, instead I want to focus on how Santa Monica Studio took the Norse mythology and used that to create a game world which exudes wonders from its seam.
A strong recurring theme in Norse mythology is Ragnarok, the idea of destiny, and by extension the cycle of life. A belief that is re-enforced as you discover various stories from Norse folklore, who not only document the past but also predict the future. Also throughout God Of War, you will find walls and objects marked with golden paint to indicate that they can be interacted with. Now in most games, this could be swept off under the pretence of hand-holding (which it indeed is), as one of those things that have to be endured in a video game.
But then you realize that these places have been marked as places you are supposed to visit as part of your journey, already predicted, already determined, something, not the game but your story expects you to do. A game mechanic so gracefully explained by the game’s lore that it blows you away.
The protagonist companion dynamic is one of the most common tropes in video games. You play as the primary character while others tag along. Sometimes the dynamic pays off like it did in Last Of Us. Sometimes it becomes a glorified escort mission. In the case of Kratos and Atreus, it is more of the former. Of course one could argue, why Kratos would take his son along on a suicide mission (apart from video game logic) but for the fact that Kratos is a Greek god in a Viking Land. Sure he has all the strength in the world, but he still doesn’t know what those inscriptions on the door mean. And so Atreus tags along, helping him out with his vast knowledge of language and archery, making Kratos’s life easier all the while getting some quality daddy time for himself as well.
Gameplay & Mechanics
All of that world-building, however, would have amounted to nothing if Santa Monica would not have delivered a top-notch core game. The AI from Atreus is intelligent enough to move out of danger, and not rush head-on into battle. Most of the times, Atreus only attacks when you ask him to, but even his non-ordered finishers are always on point. You are never thinking of protecting Atreus (apart from the time, when you are specifically asked to), and as time goes on, he would become an integral part of your combat strategy.
And you need a combat strategy. Especially towards the end game, where you would have 2 weapons each with a light and heavy attack combo, 2 types of arrows plus a special attack from Atreus, your old buddy Spartan Rage, a retractable shield, and a talisman. Sounds a lot? It is, but all of it flows smoothly as you fall into a pattern, of going through your combos, and laying the smackdown on a variety of enemies before tearing them apart with your bare hands.
Having said that the fixed camera can be a little problematic. Stuck behind your shoulder, you are always open to attacks from behind, and so you find yourself dodging around a lot, sometimes for no reason. There is a hotkey for making an about turn during combat, but it disoriented me too much, so I stuck to the tried and tested formula of dodge and hit. But while that may work for slower paced combat games, for a game like God Of War where you focus more on fast-paced combos and juggling, the blind spot just doesn’t feel right.
Talking about things not feeling right. I hate to say it, but the controls can be a little more responsive. They are crunchy sure, and combos melt smoothly into each other, but the timing is a little off. The axe comes down a little later and the chains spring to action a little sluggishly after you have pressed the button. More than once I was caught because Kratos hadn’t listened to my commands immediately (especially the Level 5 Hard Challenge on Muselpheim, you know what I am talking about).
What does feel right though, is the amazing level design. A masterclass, God Of War puts on a clinic on how to make Metroidvania like maps. Puzzles are self-contained, and you never have to look too far for objects to complete it. There are areas which are locked and become accessible as the game goes along. Finally, there is a neat circular feel to them, so that you keep unlocking shortcuts not just at the end of a particular dungeon, but also in the middle, so that you can turn around any time whenever you feel out of your depth. Exploration is neither tedious nor too grindy, and there are subtle nudges from Atreus, encouraging you at certain times to explore the region instead of the main quest whenever new areas become available.
A New Game Plus mode is on the way, but even in its current state the game does not finish when the story does, so you are completely free to ties up loose ends and get those elusive trophies. None of which by the way, tie up into a difficulty setting, so you can pick the one you are comfortable with the most, and enjoy the game.
If the traditional story campaign does not interest you (BUT WHY???), you can always unlock the realms of Muselheim and Niflheim. While Muselheim offers a bouquet of challenges in the search for better gear, Niflheim offers a maze-like dungeon with legendary gear as a reward. There are also 8 Valkyries to fight and 3 dragons to fight in Midgard. All in all, if you decide to unlock that Platinum, you are looking at 30+ hours of game-time.
Graphics, Performance & Sound
It’s hard to see how God Of War looks if its the only game you are playing. But as soon as you switch to another game, the difference in quality is apparent. I played the game on my PS4 Pro on a 4K TV, so I basically had it as good as it gets. The gold shone, the water shimmered, the mud-splattered, and the fire crackled. There are a lot of vistas in God Of War which would have you reaching for the PS Share button, and there would be a lot of times when you would be impressed by what you see.
But its the world serpent, Jörmungandr which impressed me the most.
If there is anything that God Of War gets right, its scale; and Jörmungandr is an apt example of that. The huge serpent surrounds the main hub area of your exploration, and his huge trunk with its various coloured scales are never far away from your sight. In fact the closer you move to the snake, you could almost see the trunk heaving as the serpent breathes. You can also hear this breathing when you are closer to the serpent’s head.
Then there is the sound. The sound of the aforementioned serpent. The sound of the water giving way as you row your boat. The sound of the thunk the axe makes when it returns to your hands. But most importantly that epic sound that plays in the background as you explore the realms of North mythology. Its recognizable enough as the signature God Of War chorus, and yet different in the way that it sounds more druid now. I found myself humming it hours after my daily playtime, and I have even woken up with the ominous soundtrack running in my mind. That’s how good it is.
God Of War sacrifices fps for detail. Even for the PS4 pro, the game runs at and around 30 FPS. There is a unlock FPS mode, but I never touched it, and the game didn’t give me any trouble in return. There was a noticeable hold twice in the game, but I think I noticed them only because the rest of the game ran smoothly and gracefully. I am told the standard PS4 does lose some details when it comes to facial expressions, but it still runs extremely well there as well. Not a good enough reason to miss out on the game though.
Every traditional video game review is broken into various parts. In order to understand how good a game is we break it down into various components and analyze how those pieces fit together. Do they compliment each other? Is any part weaker than the other? For God Of War, The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts. Slick graphics, intelligent level design and crunchy combat have been integrated with a beautiful story and allowed to blossom into a rich lore. If you have a PS4, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be playing God Of War.