When the latest God of War was announced at E3 2016, it was met with some mixed emotions from fans and those that never cared for the games. Some loved the new over-the-shoulder gameplay and focus on narrative, while others wished for a more traditional hack-and-slash experience. Almost two years later, and it’s clear that Santa Monica Studios knew what had to be done to evolve God of War and most importantly, its protagonist Kratos.
Rather than simply calling it God of War IV, this newest entry serves as a soft reboot of sorts. Though the events of previous games and spin-offs certainly happened, anyone wishing to jump right in without having played the original trilogy can do so with little consequence. Every call-back in God of War is either understood immediately or explained later by Kratos to his son Atreus. The story is set many years (likely decades) after Kratos killed all of the Olympian Gods, and he has since traveled to the land of the Norse Gods. In that time, he married again and had a son named Atreus. After his wife died, her last wish was to have her ashes spread atop the highest peak in all the Nine Realms.
Upon the journey, Kratos and Atreus encounter the likes of monsters and of course, Gods. While the first God of War was keen on showing every major Greek God, the new one takes the time to build up an idea in players’ heads of how powerful and menacing these Norse Gods are. It makes the battles with these Gods have more of an impact than in previous entries. Matter of fact, the same can be said for the narrative of God of War. Just the way it’s told in a one-shot camera take is impressive on its own.
Complimenting an epic tale of Gods is also grounded tale of a relationship between a disconnected father and son. Even if the setting is mythical, the raw emotions dealt between Kratos and Atreus is anything but. Kratos has significantly more depth than he ever did in the original trilogy, where his actions were driven by vengeance. This time, Kratos has learned from his mistakes and is a much more mature and sympathetic individual because of it. That is until he unleashes his Spartan Rage.
God of War may have a heavier focus on narrative, but it doesn’t detract from the gameplay in the slightest. More specifically, the combat, the franchise’s biggest staple. Armed with an axe enchanted with ice powers, Kratos is the same beast we remember him. I knew as soon as I swung my axe at a draugr for the first time, that I was hooked. The combat is so incredibly satisfying that I actually looked forward to when enemies would appear. You won’t be mashing buttons as much this time around, combat is a more tactical experience where you must think on the fly how you should approach a battle. Maybe you’ll want to kill the enemy with 5% health left before taking on the brute with a shield. What I loved doing was throwing the axe at an enemy to freeze them in place, leaving me with only my fists to pummel other foes. The benefit of using only your hands or Atreus’s arrows are that they inflict greater stun damage than your axe would. Stunning the enemies completely will open them up to a brutal attack that will either kill or greatly damage them.
Kratos is not alone on his journey. Atreus is a worthy companion, one that you won’t need to worry about in the slightest. Equipped with a bow and arrows, you’ll be able to command where he shoots the arrows and when. Sometimes he will act on his own, jumping on enemies, putting them in chokeholds for his dad to take down. Atreus definitely ranks as one of the best video game companions.
For an action/adventure game, God of War has a dense upgrade system. You can upgrade Kratos and Atreus’s weapons, armor, skills, and you can modify them even further with enchantments. It would take a great amount of time to explain just how detailed these systems are, but players shouldn’t have any trouble customizing their battle tactics and controls in this game. The only complaint I really have is that it’s a little troublesome trying to maneuver the camera during fights. This comes with the territory of changing God of War from an automatic camera that’s pretty far from Kratos, to a manual one that defaults to over the shoulder. It’s more of a nitpick than a severe complaint, fortunately
What really takes center stage is the dense map, made up of many corridors and Realms. It can be compared to the latest Tomb Raider games, where it’s not technically open-world, but the pathways and areas make it huge. Since fast travel points are few and far between, exploring areas you’ve already cleared to get to a new one can be somewhat of a drag. Other than that, the feeling of discovery and success after completing a difficult environment puzzle is very rewarding.
Along your journey, you will come across sidequests taking you to areas you wouldn’t have visited if you followed only the main story. There are also ways to unlock optional realms, making the total six instead of the required three you enter to progress the story. Even if you ignore all the side activities, the main quest will take you roughly 18-20 hours to complete. If you determine a game’s value by how long it is, you’ll be getting your money’s worth and then some with God of War. I is a true genre-defying experience that future game developers will be influenced by. Combined with a satisfying combat system and immersive narrative that made it harder for me to want to turn off my PS4 and go to bed. If you told me two years ago that one of the most memorable games this generation would be from God of War, I would have called you crazy. And yet, here we are.