There’s something to be said for developers who acknowledge the effects of franchise fatigue on their fans, and the God of War franchise is certainly a property that has been oversaturated in the past. God of War (2018) is actually the seventh God of War game – the fourth in the “main story” although Ascension, Chains and Ghost were all very much part of Kratos’ arc to reach the conclusion in God of War 3. In fact, Dad of Boy – a term of endearment for this title – isn’t even the first God of War title on PlayStation 4. Fortunately, the long hiatus since 2010 saw Kratos’ end has done the property some good, not to mention made some narrative room to bring the main character back from death. Cory Barlog and Santa Monica Studio came into 2018 swinging with a game that sounds, looks, and plays freshly, maintaining loose enough ties to the old that the newcomers aren’t alienated, and long-time fans can still get into it.
Christopher Judge (of Stargate fame) and Sunny Suljic join costars Jeremy Davies (Lost, Saving Private Ryan), Alastair Duncan (Shadow of War) and Danielle Bisutti (Curse of Chucky) in using Hollywood talent (term used loosely) to affect the sincerity of this new entry, constructing a story and game that can actually be taken seriously. Adding Hollywood voice talent is also a first for a Sony first party title – something Sony doesn’t normally do. Jeremy Davies does a great job at playing Baldur, with the character animations occasionally even channeling his role from Lost in order to bring him to life, and the same can be said for everyone, including Alistair Duncan as Mimir who is inexplicably Scottish.
The previous games – six of them – at their most complex were still Graeco-Roman mythology fan fiction. It always felt like the entire Pantheon served little more purpose than to be a backdrop – an object for Kratos to utilize in showing everyone how badass and seriously furious he was by stomping all over it, bleeding it dry, and taking its women, with little regard paid to the purpose of the stories from which the characters were taken. Except for Zeus and Athena, who were directly involved in Kratos life and story. But even they were one dimensional until the end.
Rage and fury can be adult emotions, but the essence of them is seated in emotional immaturity no matter how they’re analyzed, and so the new game sees a controlled, collected Kratos serving as a father figure to his son Boy, otherwise known as Atreus. Both are thrust into a situation they aren’t ready for and don’t necessarily understand, and must come to terms with their own immortality, as well as that which still makes them human. Kratos explicitly says as much in fewer words on more than one occasion. In order to reach his son, Kratos must lose a little bit of control and let him make the same mistakes – the same decisions.
Atreus and Kratos’ coming of age bonding tale is all set gently in a bigger story that – to my surprise – treats Norse mythology with more respect and awe than the previous games ever did with their material. Using the collectibles and side content in the game – of which there’s a fair amount (Not as bad as an Assassin’s Creed game, not as sparse as some others) – God of War will provide ample explanation for the many intertwined stories of the Gods, the Nine Realms, the histories between them and the coming of Ragnarok. It is Kratos’ role, and his sons, which is the most subtly and well told role in the events to come, that make the game interesting. You don’t have Linda Hunt narrating in grandiose fashion anymore, and although it isn’t hard to figure out (quite the contrary), the player is left to discover how this game actually fits the God of War motif. Regardless of how the original trilogy was viewed as a whole, this new iteration offers a much improved narrative over the original.
Among the things to give Santa Monica and creative director Cory Barlog credit for are the art direction and graphics of this game. Even as a PC gamer, it’s refreshing to see a game where so much effort was put in to making the graphics look good while at the same time actually functional. I played on a PS4 Slim so I didn’t get to experience the choice between high resolution or framerate, but even on the Slim the game looks better than anything else the PS4 has shown yet. Everything is colorful and easy to spot, and each realm has its own distinct look. Whether it’s the lava flows of Musphelheim, the mists of Nifleheim, the green sickly look of Helheim, or the alien pastels of Alfheim, they made the same world look drastically different each time.
There are even little quirks to show how much detail went into the animation and immersiveness of the world. Mimir’s lips move if he is talking, regardless of anything, and if one pays enough attention you can see it whether you’re rowing or walking, or climbing. Even Kratos magic gravity defying baldric is the Omega symbol, the symbol of the game since day 1. The symbol burned into his hand which you see every time you use the bifrost. Each area is covered in objects that might tell a story or lend tangibility to one you hear or read nearby. My favorite areas would have to be the bifrost room, and Brok’s workshop. On that note, God of War – just like Sony’s other current first party exclusives – now has a feature (which was patched in after a few weeks) that I think every game with significant work put into its art should have – photo mode.
You can enable photo mode at any time simply by pausing the game and pressing Triangle. It throws you into the third person camera like you would expect from a game like Shadow of Mordor, Mad Max, Uncharted 4, etc. As is par for the course, it’s replete with a set of functions like depth of field, rotation, tilting, filters, and you can even make Kratos smile. My only complaint with photo mode also applies to most games that have it – you are extremely limited in how far away you can move the camera, which makes it difficult to get certain shots from places Kratos can’t go. However, unlike games such as ME: Andromeda where entering photo mode completely halts your character and makes it impossible to take a good action shot, God of War delivers the real deal.
Unfortunately, there are a few things to take issue with in this game, starting with some of the art direction. If you think back to the previous games, there was only one possible execution move for each different type of monster. Cyclopses had one. Minotaurs had one. Gorgons had one. Harpies had one. Well, it’s similar this time around but the enemy variety pales in comparison. Each enemy type only has one, but the button minigame is gone. So if you want to instakill a draugr – any draugr – after staggering them enough, hitting R3 will play the exact same animation. Every single time (for that enemy type.) Meaning there are very few, maybe 6, total. Trolls all have the same cinematic death. Smaller trolls all have the same different cinematic death. And so on.
Which is fine, it just seems like if they were going to cut back on the actual variety of enemies and combat flashiness of the game, they could have balanced it out with some creativity. None of that is a sin on behalf of the game, but it definitely gets repetitive.
The real problem with the game is that reviews and fans will label it as a breath of fresh air. An innovative new height for God of War. Technically amazing. It “has no loading screens.” Yes it does, they’re disguised as elevators in many places, just like Mass Effect 1.
Well that’s great, but, we’ve all played this game before. I played it when it was called Castlevania. I played it when it was called Metroid. I played it when it was called Darksiders 1 and 2. Even the Arkham games implement the same game progression. That progression is called “metroidlike” or “castleroid.” It’s been a staple of game design for literally 30 years. Metroid, Castlevania, Zelda, Resident Evil, Arkham Asylum, Arkham Knight, and most accurately, Darksiders all progress the same way. The only difference is in story and setting.
God of War is not a bad game because of that, but the design is so bleedingly obvious that it begs the question of how much content actually exists. Anyone who’s played this type of game before can see what’s happening the first time they find something they can’t open, and God of War puts these chest/sarcophagi right out in plain sight. I don’t remember where but the first time I recall seeing one was right after the gif above, actually. Maybe 2 minutes later. Probably before that. Definitely before that because there are a few chests behind locked doors on the way there. After all, the previous games actually kind of did this too, like the Three Judges where Kratos has to come back later with additional powers to break the chains – but in those cases the game was not open world. This is.
It’s disingenuous to celebrate this game just because of the brand name attached to it, when other games mechanically worked the same way before this and were swept under the rug. Darksiders didn’t get universal acclaim from every magazine with a nerd. Neither should this. Let’s not kid either. God of War has always very much been a low-tier game that exacerbated some of the worst cliches in gaming. The previous titles were heavily about mashing buttons and God of War is almost singlehandedly responsible for the disgusting over-saturation of QTE’s disguised as actual gameplay, which permeated the entire PS2 and 360/PS3 era of action games. That being said, God of War “4” (7) is actually a pretty good game. I won’t put a number on it, but it’s definitely worth a purchase. It’s even worth purchasing a cheaper PS4 if you don’t intend to play much more games than this.