When God of War III concluded, we all pretty much assumed that that was the conclusion of Kratos’ story, and the next time we see a game titled God of War (other than a prequel), it will be some sort of reboot, with a new protagonist in a new setting. Thankfully, Santa Monica Studios decided to continue the story of Kratos, because it is probably the biggest reason why God of War might just be the best game you play this year.
It still is a bit of a reboot though with the setting now taking place in Norse Mythology, as opposed to Greek Mythology of the all the previous entries. God of War once again follows the story the Spartan, Kratos, and his young son Atreus, who set out on a deeply personal journey that ultimately turns into something much bigger than they could have anticipated. If I’m sounding a bit vague, it is because that is how the story is told, and I’m not about to reveal anything that the developers worked so hard to keep under wraps.
Out with the old, in with the new
It is not just the setting that is different for God of War, but the gameplay has also changed, since the camera perspective shifted from a fixed, cinematic angle to over-the-shoulder of Kratos. This not only changes how the game plays and feels, but it also makes the game feel much more personal. It also allows combat to feel much more brutal, since you are now in the middle of the action, rather than an onlooker as was the case before. Sure, it’s not nearly as grand and over the top as what we’re used to, but it still is every bit as powerful, if not more. Everything feels great, and stringing combos together never felt as satisfying! Kratos now feels a bit slower and calculated during combat, but it can be attributed to him being wiser and less reckless. And that is mostly due to him now having a son that he is looking out for.
Combat is simple and straightforward, though it can be pretty hard and unforgiving.
Atreus is not just a simple NPC though, and he is an integral part of both the narrative and the gameplay. He mostly moves and reacts to things on his own and, even while in combat, he can become a handy distraction when in in the middle of a stressful battle. You can give certain commands that help to distract or stun enemies and it is easy to do since it all mapped to a single button. He also acts as a sort of a guide on your journey. He will move in the direction of your destination, which adds to the immersion, since you don’t have to look at a compass or mini-map the whole time.
Combat is simple and straightforward, though it can be pretty hard and unforgiving. God of War is a hard game, which is easy to get into, but does take a bit of time to master. But once you do master it, it is a truly fantastic experience. It uses the basic control systems like what we’ve become accustomed to with something such as in Dark Souls, where R1/R2 is light and heavy attacks, and L1 is block and parry. More recent examples of using this button layout to great effect is Assassin’s Creed Origins. The big difference here though is how it is used, with different combinations of button presses having a rather large effect on how combat plays out. It especially feels great when you unlock different and new attacks as you progress. During combat, your view is a lot more limited due to the over-the-shoulder perspective, but thankfully the game gives you cues as to where the attacks might come from and what type of attack it might be. This is done very cleverly by using visual markers that flashes red when an attack is immanent, or by warning from Atreus shouting out what to expect. There is a bit of a learning curve here, but when it all comes together, it really feels awesome and powerful.
God of War features a leveling and progression system. You can gain better skills, gear and upgrades by visiting the various shops scattered across the world. Each of these upgrades provide different perks and advantages. You can also slot some runes into your gear to give it an extra boost or a specific light or heavy attack which requires to cool down once using it. This also goes for Atreus who can have his skills, armour and bow upgraded in order to provide better support. You really have a lot of options in this regard, so you can play in a manner that is fitting for you.
A personal and grounded experience
But the best part of God of War is probably not the combat, but rather everything else, which is really hard to believe considering its roots. The world that has been created is absolutely phenomenal, and exploring the Realms of Norse Mythology was an absolute joy to do. God of War is not an open world game, as some might have thought, but rather a hub-based game where everything revolves around a central area. It has a bit of a Metroidvania feel to it, with certain areas and loot only being accessible once certain skills or magic has been learned.
If there are one criticism I might have about God of War, is that it has some backtracking because of this world design, but even then, it never feels like you are doing the same thing repeatedly. The game also feature a couple of side missions, which unlike from what we’re used to are each a story to be told on their own. There’s not many of them, but each will keep you busy and add a lot of value to your overall experience. Other than that, there’s things to collect and do over and above the main story, but it never feels like it truly distracts from the main narrative and because there’s not too many of them it never feels like too much. You spend a fair amount of time on a boat, and a lot of the locations are accessed by rowing across a massive lake that is the central world.
The story is where this game is truly at its best.
The story is where this game is truly at its best. The journey of Kratos as Atreus are not easy and the way their relationship evolves over time is something truly beautiful to experience. And while we might know the series for its grand, over-the-top action, it is the quieter moments between a father and his son that truly stands out. It is those moments when they start talking while on the boat, rowing to the next destination where they connect on some level which is really hard to describe without going into too much detail. And it is a deeply personal story for Kratos and Atreus, one that I really hope everyone can experience the same way that I have.
A truly special Journey of father and son
It is hard to describe exactly how I feel about this game without revealing any story details. It is also part of the reason what makes it so special. God of War is one of those games where, the less you know, the better the experience. After finishing the game I sat and thought about it for a bit and the more I think about it, the more I realise just how special this game really is. God of War is an epic game that not only fans of the series will enjoy, but anyone who likes going on an adventure. It is an absolute must play.