Kratos has finally retuned in an all-new God of War game and he's brought with him a son, a new world and mythology to explore, and an all-new weapon for a new generation of console gamers and his arrival couldn't be more welcome.
It's been five years since PlayStation owners have had a new God of War game, but even longer if you ignore all the re-releases, portable versions, and the prequel. It's been eight years since the PlayStation 3's God of War III and while Sony's Santa Monica Studio's latest entry could have simply been called God of War 4, the barebones numberless title fits.
Related: Why The Voice of Kratos Was Recast
2018's God of War is more of a new product than just another entry of something familiar, and that's not a knock against it for longtime fans of Kratos. This game is very different in a lot of ways but fully embraces the lore of Kratos along with some traditional game design elements. His history with the Greek gods is very much a part of the character and plays into the central dynamic of the game built around Kratos' son Atreus and the plot.
A change in camera perspective to fully third-person gameplay, a change in weapons, the change in scenery and mythology - bringing with it all-new villain types and larger than life battles - make God of War feel new again. The addition of Atreus helps that and Sony Santa Monica uses this new character to pull players deeper than ever into the narrative and themes of the game successfully. In a lot of ways young Atreus is the audience's perspective.
Right from the get-go this is evident as players are thrown right into the family dynamic of an older, bitter but remorseful Kratos, clearly aged, and his naive but capable son shortly after his mother has passed. In the first half hour of gameplay, the opening sequences will introduce players to movement and combat mechanics, and some puzzles but the complete introduction involves a few more hours of gameplay since there's a lot to absorb in this God of War.
For that reason, the introduction of Atreus is a smart one since it allows for dialogue and lore to be talked about in between battles, giving players a lot more to connect with rather than an angry, mostly silent destroyer in Kratos. It’s from Atreus’ perspective that the game’s lore is recorded as well in codex journal entries, tracking everything from creatures and enemies encountered to the overall lore. Mechanically speaking, the two-character dynamic also feeds the perspective shift since it better allows for the two-character gameplay, where Kratos is able to order his son to fire arrows and strangle enemies or distract larger bosses.
God of War Takes on Norse Mythology
Kratos took out his fair share of issues dispatching the Greek Gods over many years and Santa Monica Studio made the ambitious leap to take Kratos into an all-new realm, or should we say, the nine realms of Asgardian mythology. Everyone knows Thor and his mighty hammer Mjolnir and now you get to see Kratos use another weapon made by the same dwarven brothers who forged Mjolnir. God of War's take on the lore and settings of Norse mythology are a sight to behold and they do some very intriguing things with the characters players will meet (and battle).
Gone are the infamous Blades of Chaos, previously chained to Kratos as a reminder of his past loyalties and tragedies, and in is the Leviathan Axe made by the Huldra Brothers, Sindri and Brok. You'll learn more about that during the game too and it plays into the progression systems where players can upgrade and add mods to this weapon and Atreus' bow, but can also upgrade the pair's armor pieces. Add to that a pair of skill trees which help players unlock buffs and attack combos and there's a lot to God of War's progression system.
Players level up through experience completing story mission and side quests which can then be spent on unlocking the skill trees, but there's also in-game currency and rarer components from chests and dispatching key foes, which are used to upgrade or build gear. The side quests aren't necessary but help to guide players through more of the lore, and certainly, to help the protagonists reach their full potential. They help make a long game even longer, but never boring. Make no mistake, God of War is massive, the biggest in the franchise in terms of narrative, gameplay features, and world size.
God of War At His Best
Kratos may be older but he hasn't lost a step. The change in voice actor to Christopher Judge (Stargate SG-1) and push towards forcing him to open up, even a little, with is son was a smart one. The main story sees him teaching Atreus as the pair set out on a very personal quest and them together allows for some interesting, sometimes humorous, dialogue between combat scenes making solemn moments always intriguing as the two juxtapose each other in their perspectives on life and gods. They each have something to learn from each other.
We will save story and character elements for you to enjoy as intended but will say the battles with large creatures and other gods are as epic and cinematic as ever, a trademark of returning creative director Cory Barlog. Mastering movement, blocking, ranged combat, and combinations will become essential to complete the game. Some boss fights are very challenging, and usually that's due to the smaller enemies on screen who can cause problems when outnumbering the player, especially if they have unique strengths and weaknesses. The game has a very forgiving checkpoint system however, and players can also manually save at anytime.
God of War brings with it beautiful visuals, from environments to animations, bolstered by a powerful score. And it all runs silky smooth with that Sony Santa Monica polish even on the base PlayStation 4. There are options to turn off HUD elements for players wanting to not detract from what's on screen.
And just like Kratos and Atreus are two opposites working together, that dynamic can be used to describe the overall game design as well. All the changes to old school God of War gameplay, settings, and story mix well with the more traditional video-gamey elements. Item pickups for filling up health and chaos meters, cash or upgrades feel like something from a generation or two ago. The same can be said for how players can smash any wooden box they see and how some of the puzzle elements play out. The journal system, map markers, and progression screens all fit and build on classic God of War systems so there's a ton of "game" for players to embrace on their epic journey with plenty of secrets to find and return to throughout the experience.
God of War is an even bigger and deeper game than you may expect, and certainly the the most narrative-driven and emotional take on Kratos and the series yet. The gameplay changes and bold decision to delve into another protagonist pay off in big ways and together, with Sony Santa Monica’s award-worthy sound design, musical score, and mastery of console visuals help make 2018’s God of War game something that fans old and new will easily love. This is such an impressive achievement.
This God of War is an absolute must-play.
Stay tuned for gameplay footage and fun, spoilery dives into the game post-releases here on Screen Rant. Sony provided a copy for review.
- God of War (2018 Video Game) release date: Apr 20, 2018