I started this game back in May, but thanks to a long summer internship, it was hard to get fully invested in the game so I thought I’d wait until that was done. God of War, the surprise sequel to the God of War game franchise was released in April of 2018. Ever since then, it has been met by nothing short of reverence and acclaim, particularly for its story, world, and visuals. People are hailing this game as the biggest PlayStation exclusive since The Last of Us. The hype for this was beyond compare. So having finally finished the game, I can say that without a doubt this game lives up to its massive praise. God of War is one of the most visually breathtaking games I have ever played. On top of that, it is an emotional rollercoaster filled with both heartbreaking and heartwarming moments. The game’s biggest strength, however, is in its characters, and the strong bond between father and son as they go on their epic journey. Throughout the game, the dialogue is subtle yet powerful, and the atmosphere and tone only enhance the emotional beats. Creative director Corley Barlog has succeeded in reimagining an already established franchise and elevating it to new and unimaginably wonderful heights.
The story takes place several years after the events of the last God of War game. Kratos, the angry, Greek-god killing protagonist who is a god himself, has settled down in the world of Norse mythology. He has a wife and fathers a child who he names Atreus. The game begins with the death of Kratos’s wife, and the plot is set in motion as Kratos and Atreus must journey throughout the realms to spread her ashes from the peak of the highest mountain. The initial interactions between Kratos and Atreus are of a cold and distant father harshly drilling his young and inexperienced son as they embark on their journey. However, much happens on their journey, including several surprise twists and revelations that change the nature of the relationship between father and son. As the game progresses, these two characters learn to work with each other and understand one another. By the end, the bond between Atreus and Kratos matures to the point where both have tremendously grown as characters. Throughout the story, Kratos is trying to suppress his violent past and must learn to temper his anger and hatred, and the realization that he must do so comes when he sees Atreus begin to follow in his path of rage. Kratos learns just as much from Atreus as Atreus does from Kratos. Together, the two characters find a balanced view.
The story, though the strongest aspect of the game, isn’t the only thing that makes the game appealing. God of War also has the luxury of being one of the best looking games I have ever played, if not the best. The art design is intricate and flowing, the colors are vibrant, and the cinematography would make an Academy Award winner jealous. What makes the visuals so dynamic is that there are multiple worlds to explore, each with their own unique color palette and art style. There are areas that are lush green and red, snowy white, rustic brown, and even in areas where the colors are a little drabber like dull green, there is enough contrast in the surroundings or in the colorful apparel of our characters to give some vibrancy to the overall image. Speaking of colorful characters, Atreus and Kratos aren’t the only ones. Throughout your journey, you encounter a host of fleshed out and interesting characters like the dwarf brothers Sindri and Brok, Freya, and the talking head Mimir. All of these characters add to the fantasy and enhance the lore, making it more interesting. There is a general feeling of this world of Norse mythology that the gods are not saints, but rather selfish and detached entities that often embroil the rest of the world in their own problems. The entire tone and progression of the game made me feel like I was reading an old fantasy adventure novel along the lines of The Hobbit. The music is fantastic, at times soaring and soft and at times forbidding and heavy, hitting both enchanting and epic cinematic beats.
Unfortunately, the combat is where the game falters just a bit. It’s not bad by any means, but it isn’t entirely fluid or satisfying to play either. It comes down to the tradition light attacks using R1 and strong attacks using R2 with target lock on enemies with R3 on the PS4 controller. What’s missing, however, is the movement and move set. I don’t really feel the impact of the blows as I dish them out to my enemies, and the actual attacks themselves don’t seem to do enough damage to enemies to take them out quickly. The best and most effective elements of the combat come in the form of runic attacks which act as kind of super moves with powerful energy blasts or longer animations. Using the runic attacks can be fun, but I often found myself less interested in combat and more interested in exploring the world. The combat sections, especially in the beginning, felt kind of like a momentum stopper and I constantly wanted to get back to progressing through the story. However, the combat can get very fun towards the end when new weapons and attacks are introduced. The story itself also drags slightly in the middle but it wasn’t too glaring. The world, although filled with beautiful creatures and locations, felt empty in terms of people. Considering that Midgard is a realm for humans, there weren’t exactly many that were seen in the game. The RPG level up system is adequate, although I didn’t pay too much attention to it as it became a little convoluted with the multiple upgrade steps and multiple resources and currencies. The final nitpick is with the difficulty, which in Normal mode, can be quite hard. Sometimes the difficulty gets a little cheap and you can die in one or two powerful hits but it’s nothing too frustrating.
Overall, where God of War thrives is in its character depth and the beautiful cinematic quality of its aesthetic elements. The narrative is intricate and comprehensible, with themes of family, love, vengeance, and learning to let go of hate. The literary and aesthetic elements combine to evoke complex and powerful moments throughout Kratos’s journey with Atreus. There are even some surprising twists as well as some big epic spectacle fight scenes that are expected of the God of War franchise. In short, the hype is all true. This game is a fantastic experience, one that will blow away and tug at the heartstrings of anyone who has the pleasure of playing it. Creative director Cory Barlog and the team at Santa Monica Studios delivered a work of art that stands out as a soon to be classic while also spearheading the franchise into bright and new directions.