Just The Two Of Us

HIGH The jaw-dropping graphics.

LOW Those repetitive troll boss battles.

WTF A decapitated head steals the show?

I’ve been putting off God of War for a while. Having played the first game from 2005, I didn’t want to start this new installment until finishing the other two in case I missed out on anything. I managed to get through them towards the start of 2020, but ended up feeling burnt out. Besides, surely God of War couldn’t live up to the hype? In Mike’s review, he certainly didn’t seem to think so. However, I was badgered by friends to play, and I took the plunge…

God of War is a third-person action-adventure developed by Santa Monica studios. The player controls the series’ lead — a noticeably older Kratos — and his son, Atreus.

The story begins with a funeral pyre for Kratos’ wife and continues with a quest to spread her ashes on the highest mountain in the land. The player then makes their way through various Norse-themed environments while solving simple environmental puzzles and using Kratos’ axe on enemies with ranged support from his son.

Right off the bat, God of War looks jaw-dropping. The visuals are spectacular, and I was not prepared. I had recently finished Red Dead Redemption 2 and assumed that it couldn’t be surpassed, graphically. However, with its highly-detailed character models and beautifully-realized environments, I was proved wrong. It is the best-looking game I have ever played.

The camera’s over-the shoulder perspective (new to the series) shows these visuals off and gives God of War an increased sense of scale. In past games the environments often dwarfed Kratos, but this new angle puts new focus on the size of the areas Kratos finds himself in and it pays off several times, particularly with the introduction of a certain serpent whose sound design had my house shaking.

This visual angle also changes the feel of combat. Now armed with an axe, fights are heavier and more impactful. The series has always been visceral, but we’re now seeing Kratos tear enemies apart in a wholly new way.

Combat also has plenty of options thanks to various moves and combos to learn for the axe, on top of the option to throw the axe and recall it with a button press. There’s another moveset for Kratos when he is without his axe, and Atreus provides arrow support from long distance. I never got bored with the combat in God of War, and enjoyed adapting my approach to different enemies.

This revamped experience isn’t perfect, though — the new perspective sometimes makes it hard to keep track of enemies that aren’t onscreen. God of War provides a color-coded arrow to indicate enemy positions, and also when they’re about to attack. However, it’s tough to keep track of these cues during busy moments and I often felt that some enemy hits were unfair.

Bosses in God of War are also a letdown. Early on, the player has a battle against a large troll — it’s an intense experience thanks to the beast filling up the screen and attacking with a huge broken pillar. The problem? Future confrontations are just repeated with variations of this same troll, and the same tactics work with each battle. There are other types of bosses, but even the fights against the main villain feature repeating patterns. For me, these sequences were weak.

While the combat (apart from bosses) is great, it’s not the sole focus of God of War — much time is spent on the relationship between Kratos and Atreus.

This father-son connection is characterised by subtlety, which will come as a surprise for anyone familiar with the older GoW games where it was in short supply. Kratos begins this journey in grief and keeps his son at arms’ length — literally — as he is afraid to physically reach out to Atreus in a time of sadness.

Moments like these sell the relationship and solidify the player’s emotional investment. Kratos has clearly softened since God of War 3, but there is a sense of holding back and constantly battling to keep his rage at bay. He also doesn’t want Atreus to go the same way, and this intention works due to the quality of the writing, voice acting and character animations, all of the highest standard.

I do agree with many of the points Mike makes in his review. The story does get extended by constant obstacles and MacGuffins, and the script holds back too many details for the end of the game and/or the inevitable sequel. I would find this annoying in another game, but I think it works here in the sense that the relationship is given plenty of room to breathe and develop naturally. I never felt like I was wasting my time with these two, and even the side missions (granted, they’re not particularly creative) usually end in some great dialogue. By grounding God of War in a personal story, it should lead to a great payoff when in the sequel.

God of War is a high point of the last generation thanks to fantastic presentation, a new visual perspective and a raw visceral quality to the combat. It also excels in the subtle, well-paced relationship between Kratos and his son. While the overall plot could have been tighter and the experience is not without its flaws, the best aspects came together and ensured that I enjoyed every moment.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Santa Monica Studios and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.  It is currently available on PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via retail purchase and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence and Strong Language. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is an action-adventure game in which players assume the role of half-human, half-god-like Kratos as he battles supernatural forces with his son. From an over-the-shoulder perspective, players travel through the Norse wilderness and use axes, bows, and swords to battle various enemies (e.g., rival gods/demigods, monsters, dragons, skeleton warriors). Combat is frequent and often bloody, with characters punching and kicking each other repeatedly, using bladed weapons to slash/stab/impale enemies. Larger enemies and bosses are dispatched in more intense sequences of violence: Kratos slashing and stabbing a dragon’s tongue; a character using an axe to hook and tear off an ogre’s jaw. During one sequence, players decapitate (off-screen) an imprisoned character and carry the severed head around; headless corpses also appear in other scenes. The words “f**k” and “a*shole” appear in the dialogue.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully subtitled, although these cannot be resized. There aren’t any audio cues in the combat and there are color-coded indicators to show when enemies are attacking. However, the subtitles do not indicate when runes are activated or deactivated during puzzle sequences. This can be important in certain puzzles when these runes have timed deactivations.

Remappable Controls: There are different controller presets available, but the controls are not remappable.

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