(CAUTION MODERATE SPOILERS)
Very few games resonate with me on a personal level these days. I think the primary reason for that is the current evolutionary state of the industry. Games tend to now cater to fans of the sandbox battle arenas; derivative MMOs from the good, bad, and horrendously ugly; and rehashed cash grabs of once great giants that roam the halls of video game Valhalla. Perhaps that’s why I was just a touch nervous when a new God of War was announced. Remasters had already done a seamless job of jumping from one platform to the next across the Playstation divide, and as a collector I had done my duty for Rome in collecting the past and present versions. Yet, without having seen so much as a video, I threw my chips down for the collector’s edition as I usually do for franchises in which I felt I got an equitable bang for my buck.
A Father and Son Journey
With certain games I tend to avoid spoilers disguised as gameplay footage and admittedly I did with the new continuation of the God of War franchise. So with no knowledge about the narrative other than a Greek to Norse transition, I stepped into the rather somber intro to God of War. From the very beginning a distant relationship between Kratos and his son Atreus helped to set the tone for the rest of the game. As you progress through the story, so does their attitudes towards each other in ways that are both crafted but emotionally realistic. At multiple times in the adventure I found myself juxtaposing situations that occurred between me and my son with similar arguments. The writers did their best to create a story that, while taking place in a very fictional setting with elevated challenges, was laced with a real dynamic father-son relationship. Even if you can’t yet place yourself in these situations or even imagine it, the interactions between the two (and others) was well crafted enough to still be powerful in almost every context. From small talk to arguments, the quality of both voice acting and writing are on a very high grade. As their journey through the various reaches of Norse mythology expands, so does the level of their interactions with each other and the world around them. Things only become more interesting when Mimir is added as a companion as he tends to add a lighthearted approach to most of the conversations that is needed at just the right time.
Gameplay and Controls
From the get go, God of War veterans will have to immediately grasp a new set of controls as only a few commands are on traditional button schematics. Some aspects may also turn you away initially. Specifically, I have always hated 180 degree quick-turning reminiscent of survival horror games. But as I played the game I found that to be my only real complaint and was surprised to find out that with quick and careful maneuvering, it wasn’t even required. Fighting game enthusiasts will be pleased as there are sufficient weapon-switch combos to keep you juggling enemies until death if you try hard enough. Even if you suck at combos and switch-ups, you can still get through the game just fine using basic commands. One of the first thing people will notice however, is the lack of a jump option. Jumping (and platforming) itself is pretty much eliminated and replaced by command vaulting for exploration and evasion for combat purposes. The rest of the combat controls were exemplary and smooth leaving little to be desired. Only the occasional turn and vault seemed to annoy me while exploring, and though a sporadic botched axe throw may have gotten under my skin every now and then, it was certainly only my fault.
That brings us to modes which are exactly that, exploration and combat. QTEs or quick time events, a phrase which God of War popularized back on the Playstation 2, are still implemented though they play a far lesser role in this game. There are still puzzles and specific challenges for those looking for them and as with any modern open world game, there are collectibles. All of these elements add to Kratos’ overall power in one way or another whether that be experience, items, skills, or enhancements. This gives a desired sense of exploration to the game which is aided by the game’s beautifully rendered world and discovery-based dialogue. Leveling up is done via acquired gear, which raises your overall statistical strength level; experience which is used to buy skills and elevate abilities; and enchantments, which lend stats or procced effects during combat.
Aside from the main story, there are several side quests which will not only add to the depth of the tale, but also serve to help equip the heroes for the challenges that await. The Valkyries exist for those looking for a heightened combat challenge and who want to torture themselves on higher difficulty settings. Additionally, treasure maps exist for those wanting to tackle a hunt solely based on clues.
Optional areas such as Niflheim and Muspelheim can either be challenged during the main story or after depending on your level and order of desired exploration. Collection enthusiasts can also continue to pick up anything they may have missed during an initial play through as some items in the game are progression locked until you’ve acquired the sufficient story abilities. That being said, the post-game is worked into the narrative and gameplay experience smoothly in the dialogue.
The only bug I personally encountered occurred when live enemies that got trapped in off limit parts of the game after I threw them there in Muspelheim, creating an unending encounter.
Graphics and Sound
Not much to argue about here. The world is well designed and in high detail but you really don’t need 4K to enjoy it. Though there some improvements here and there in the 4K mode, I perceived a slow down and stuck with performance mode for the cleaner experience. As of this writing however, a photo mode was patched in for those who are screen capture fans giving the 4K a substantive non-gameplay use.
In terms of detail, little things will often catch your eye such as the runes on the Leviathan Axe. You’ll also find it hard to resist the whirling clanks of summoning the axe from a long distance. Areas such as Thamur’s Corpse and any scene involving the World Serpent will give audio and visual cues that will make most people stop for at least a moment to appreciate the environment. Each realm within the game’s setting also has its own peculiarities that made me personally stop to appreciate the hard work that went into rendering and recording it.
In terms of acting, both the motion capture and voice acting were top-notch from every actor. A robust cast and crew added their own element and gravitas to the blend and scenes were played out convincingly in both on and off-screen detail. A dynamic range of scenes through Kratos and Atreus’ development were captured and conveyed in stunning direction. One of my favorite stuntmen, Eric Jacobus, was responsible for many of the action scenes and as usual, he never disappoints.
Ultimately what God of War does well is provide a solid story driven single-player game in a multiplayer world. It is truly a breath of fresh air in a franchised world. I myself must admit some surprise that it came from the IP that it did, a series known for its fast-paced tactile, but otherwise repetitious gameplay. The God of War series has always had an intriguing story and staple combat, but never has it attempted to grab and interact with the player in such a powerful way. What’s more, is that it has accomplished this in an era where single player games are considered as being on the decline in terms of want, quality, and quantity.
To me, this game will simply be one of the games I first remember when asked about the gems of the PS4 in the future. The worst actual part about the game is that it’s only available on the PlayStation. But for those who have access this is simply a game you do not want to miss and I recommend it to anyone wanting a strong combat and story-driven experience. Also, the “boy!” memes won’t get old anytime soon…