Review by Darkness-Seeker
A different take on a classic franchise
Since it first debuted in 2005, the God of War games have become a series that is synonymous with Playstation, rivaled only by the Uncharted franchise. Though the franchise seemingly concluded on a high note in 2010 with the release of God of War III, Sony Santa Monica chose to release another entry three years later. Though it was far from a bad game, God of War Ascension gave off the impression that Santa Monica had run out of ideas on what direction the series should be. As the years went by the series was slowly overshadowed by Naughty Dog's releases, which had become the face of Playstation, and before we knew it, the God of War series had become irrelevant. Following the lukewarm reception of Ascension, Santa Monica decided that the series needed to evolve or die and thus chose to take God of War in a completely new direction. A direction which has proven controversial to many hardcore fans of the original games but a welcomed one by those who had desired for the series to change. Whether you will love the changes to the fundamental aspects of God of War is up to you, but for me this change gave new life to a franchise that I was about ready to give up on. While I was excited for the game it exceeded my expectations in almost every way, save for a few minor problems, and left a great impact on me that reminded me why I love video games to begin with.
While the past God of War entries were great action games, the story has always been the weakest aspect despite how entertaining they were. In this way, God of War takes the series in an entirely new direction, one that is built on the themes of family and change. Years after the ending of God of War III, Kratos has settled down with a new wife and a new child, which serves as the catalyst for this new story. In 2013 Neil Druckmann, director of The Last of Us, referenced a meeting that he had with Corey Barlog, God of War's director. He stated that Corey told him that his favorite stories are those with "simple stories and complex characters". Mr. Barlog has followed through with this belief, as God of War's story is one that is very simple in its nature but emotionaly deep at the same time. Following the death of his wife, Kratos and his son Atreas set out on a journey to take her ashes to the highest peak in the realm to honor her last wish. Amidst this journey, Kratos struggles with balancing the rage that once fueled him with the love for his son that he simply cannot express. Though the story never diverges from this, the development between Kratos and his son serve as the pillar that holds this simple story up. Delivering a narrative focusing on the bond between a father and his son, who is desperately trying to save his son from the same anger that once was his driving force.
Though he is not the same raged fueled god-slayer that we fell in love with over ten years ago, Kratos still carries the same traits that once made him human in the previous games. Rather than a full reboot of his character, this Kratos is one that is trying to be a better person and father to his son, desiring to leave his blood soaked past behind him. His relationship with Atreus is this game's most interesting dynamic, as he has trouble expressing himself to his son and at the same time Atreus has trouble loving Kratos after his mother is gone. Alongside them there is a small, but very entertaining, supporting cast. There's little I can say about any of them that would not be a spoiler, but there is not a single time that one of them are on screen and not funny or entertaining in some way. While characters were always one of Santa Monica's weakest subjects in their games, they have crafted an incredible cast of both main and supporting characters that I will not be forgetting any time soon.
Having pushed the Playstation 3 to its limit with God of War III and Ascension it should come as no surprise that God of War has done the same on the Playstation 4. Even though I knew this, I was still completely and utterly blown away by the graphical quality of this game. I played this game on a standard Playstation 4 and it was absolutely gorgeous. From the detail in Kratos's beard to the snow atop the mountains, Santa Monica has went into pain staking detail to craft one of the best looking games ever to grace consoles. Ultimately showing the true graphical power of the PS4 in a way that few before them have managed to accomplish.
While the previous God of War games focused on Hack and Slash action with a fixed camera, the new God of War completely diverges from what was once a staple of the series. This change has proven to be extremely controversial amongst hardcore fans and while I was skeptical at first, I must admit that the combat won me over and surprised me in ways I did not expect.
Though it has deeply departed from its hack and slash roots, God of War is still very much an action game. Like quite a few games nowadays, it takes influence from Dark Souls with its light and heavy attack systems. However, unlike games that simply copy and paste this formula, Santa Monica have taken this system and put their own God of War esque spin on it. Every blow from Kratos's axe feels like it is tearing into the flesh of each enemy it slashes, not since Metal Gear Rising have I played a game that makes me feel like I am actually holding a weapon that can kill. Alongside this, the game allows Kratos to use his fists, which is used in conjunction with his shield that is used to parry enemy attacks. By attacking with is bare knuckles, Kratos builds up the stun bar of his enemies and once it is full he can unleash a cinematic kill that reminds you that you are indeed playing a God of War game. Alongside this is the classic Spartan Rage that, while less flashy, allows Kratos to let out his inner beast and unleash a flurry of damage with his bare fists that restore his own health during the process.
Aside from the change to Kratos' combat, the most significant addition is that of Atreus. Many were worried that he would be an annoyance and while I'm sure everyone will not love his character, he is incredibly useful in combat. As you unlock more abilities Atreus will strangle hold enemies, leaving them wide open for you attacks or stun them with arrows. Some enemies cannot even be harmed by Kratos until they are stunned by one of Atreus's arrows, which can be slightly annoying on harder difficulties, but it teaches the player to work with him to dominate your enemies outside of simply destroying them as Kratos.
God of War games of the past have had puzzles that seemed to mimic games such as Ico and while puzzles are present in the game, they are quite different then past games. Every one of them is easy, it is very unlikely that anyone will not get these on the first attempt. However, despite being very simple I enjoyed these puzzles more than past games. Nearly everyone utilizes the Leviathan Axe in which you will have to freeze certain contraptions and even unlock bonuses that increases your health, rage, or just simple loot; all of which can be found by exploring God of War's surprisingly immersive world.
One aspect to this game that I did not expect to fall in love with is exploration. While God of War is not an open world game, it has open areas in a way that is quite similar to Tomb Raider. You will discover these areas by traveling in Kratos' boat. While it took me at least two hours to get the hang of it, once I did it became an addiction to me. I wanted to explore all this large lake had to offer and sometimes come upon an entirely optional area. However, many of these areas feel integral to the bonding between Kratos and his son, even though they can be completely avoided without feeling like you missed out on anything, it still contributes greatly. More than that, many of these areas, save sidequests, are not marked on the map, leaving the player the task of finding them on their own. It was this feeling that there was always something out there to find that kept me exploring the game's world and it made the world feel so alive in a way that no other God of War has.
On your journey Kratos will acquire various amounts of loot which contributes to player progression in a manner similar to RPG's but far less complicated. You can customize Kratos' armor which will increase his stats, as well as equip enchantments which grant stat boosts. Alongside this you can upgrade Kratos' Leviathan Axe, and other weapons, to make them stronger to coincide with the new skills that are unlocked after upgrading. You acquire these abilities through a skill tree and while it is a very simple skill tree it gets the job done. It provides a good amount of new skills that are all useful and greatly enhance the combat experience. The same applies to Atreus, who's armour and weapons can also be customized to make him stronger and in turn, much more useful in combat as the game progresses.
While I have just given this game a ton of praise, it is important to note that it does have a few flaws. One aspect that I personally felt let down by was the boss fights. The first boss of the game is an incredible experience and one of my favorite God of War boss battles, however, aside from two mid games boss fights and the final boss, there are very few unique boss battles in the game. Throughout your journey you'll find yourself mostly fighting reskinned trolls and while the battle is fun, it gets a little ridiculous when this boss is used for certain enemies in the game that should have been very different given the circumstance of the story. With that being said the boss battles that are different are fantastic but there is simply not enough of them sprinkled throughout the main game. Though there are some pretty cool optional boss battles, even they fall victim to some recycling.
Another major change to the game was of course the switch to an over the shoulder camera rather than a fixed camera and while I felt that it worked for the most part, there were elements that I found frustrating. The camera is perfect when exploring, it is not too close to Kratos and gives the player a good view of the area. However, in combat the camera can prove problematic. I can't tell you how many times I was fighting a swarm of enemies that killed me because the camera was so close that I couldn't react to them fast enough. This was never a problem in boss fights, but in battles with average enemies it was something that proved annoying time and time again.
While I had my quarrels with the camera and the amount of interesting boss battles, I found the gameplay incredibly entertaining. The ability to throw and recall the Leviathan Axe becomes an addiction and is integral to many of the puzzles in both story areas and optional ones. Ultimately, while the combat is drastic departure from what made God of War what it was, to me, the combat is incredibly fun and never got dull even after over twenty hours with the game.
Technical Performance: 8/10
Now I played this game on a standard Playstation 4, so if you have a Pro you may not have any of the problems that I had. Now the game ran very well on my regular PS4, however, my experience was hindered quite frequently with small frame rate drops. It mostly came when opening doors or going to a new area and while it only lasted for a brief second it happened enough to the point that it became very noticeable. With that being said, these did very little to hinder my experience and I really didn't give much thought as I was playing. However, if you plan to play this on a normal PS4 then you can expect small technical hiccups throughout your journey but is never enough to leave a negative impact.
Final Score: 9/10
God of War is a game that is not going to be for all God of War fans, regardless of the praise that I have just given it. If you have seen videos and did not like the change from the hack and slash gameplay of previous games, then I can promise you that the game will do nothing to change your mind. However, for fans like me who were open to the change in combat and willing to give it a chance, there is plenty to love here. It is not a perfect game, it has flaws, but the positives of this game completely overshadow the small number of negatives that I had with the game. It was very risky for Santa Monica to change so many core elements to God of War and while it will of course not appeal to all fans of the franchise it was one that I feel greatly paid off. Even though it is different, God of War is without a doubt one of my favorite games of the generation, due to the combination of incredibly fun gameplay, an emotional and well executed story, and incredible world that will stay with me for many years to come.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: God of War (US, 04/20/18)
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