God of War: Review
Throughout Kratos' chaotic history he has provided hours of entertainment by way of exhilarating combat and dramatic scenes that felt larger than life. However, he has never felt like a character anyone should really give a damn about. His motives have been largely one dimensional, rooted in deep vengeance that you could argue was brought on by his own choices. With Sony Santa Monica Studios' latest entry in the series, God of War, we finally have a Kratos with depth who is genuinely attempting to make sure his son, Atreus, doesn't make the same mistakes he did. To put it simply: it's a journey every gamer should experience.
The opening moments of God of War highlight the immense beauty of the world Cory Barlog and his team have created. From the jaw-dropping first boss encounter all the way to the last, you are engulfed in a gorgeous world rich in history. With each close up of Kratos you can clearly see every pore, every strand of facial hair, and even the crow's feet around the eyes of a warrior who has seen unimaginable things (most of them coming from his own hands). As the camera pans out, you are presented with a stunning world that is grander in scale than any other entry in the franchise. As the game progresses and you pass through multiple realms, each of them have their own unique personality. Nothing, aside from some enemy models, seems duplicated and you are always curious as to what will come next. Watching the water ripple along the coastline or the way the snow reacts to Kratos and Atreus' footsteps will continually leave you in awe. All of this comes by way of the brilliant use of a one-shot camera angle. For the first time in the franchise you are no longer stuck with a fixed camera that forces you to adapt. Instead you are given the ability to position the shot to your liking. In combat, the camera angle reminded me of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, however it is far more refined. Quickly turning to block an incoming attack while trying to fend off multiple enemies is one of the most exhilarating experiences I've had with Kratos, and this is coming from someone who played every single PS2 and PS3 entry. Since the camera never cuts I was curious how they'd handle cutscenes. I'm happy to say they struck a perfect balance. Most of the story dialogue can be heard from the tremendously talented cast of characters as you travel. When they do have a scripted cutscene the transition from gameplay is seamless leaving the player feeling immersed in the experience 100% of the time. Enough can't be said about how perfect the camera is in this game. Already equipped with a very limited HUD, you have the choice of doing away with it all together for a fully immersive experience. In terms of presentation, it's evident that Sony Santa Monica simply gets it.
Coupled with the stunning visuals are the vastly improved gameplay mechanics. Combat has always been at the center of the God of War franchise and this time around it's the best its ever been. Gone are the button mashing and quick time events of old and in its place is a fluid, strategy based system. The best way to describe it would be a middle ground between the Batman Arkham and Dark Souls series. It's far more complex than the punch-counter system of Arkham while it's hardly as unforgiving as what you'd experience in Dark Souls. You are always left wanting to continually rank Kratos and Atreus up as the combat feels even better as the story unfolds.
Speaking of Atreus, he is absolutely vital to successful combat. I spent more time in the early stages ranking him up than I did Kratos because of how valuable he is with his trusty bow. After literally defeating every God in Olympus I was wondering how they could justify Kratos needing assistance in combat. Very early on in the game you realize you cannot succeed without using Atreus to the best of his abilities. The best part is Atreus never feels like he is holding Kratos back in combat. You don't have to worry about him dying, as he can't, and it's not a stealth based game at all so he'll never blow your cover. Atreus is a welcome addition to the series and I now can't imagine it ever continuing without him since I've seen what he's capable of.
Another couple of firsts for the series are the addition of side missions and the rank up system for Kratos and Atreus. I actually had to stop myself from getting distracted with side missions so I could focus on the main story. Never in my life did I think a God of War game would cause me to say "Alright I need to stop doing these side missions," but that's exactly how I felt. Even after the credits have rolled all I want to do is dive back into the Norse world, turn over every chest, and complete every side mission I can find. Each mission unfolds another piece of history about the world Kratos and Atreus inhabit. With so much time passing between God of War III and this installment, not to mention the drastically different setting, I feel compelled to uncover every piece of story I can find. Going down the rabbit hole of side missions allows you to rank up Kratos and Atreus before the final stretch of main missions. Finding new pieces of armor and enchantments allow you to adjust the characters to fit your play style. Note: I refuse to put chest armor on Kratos. Not his style. I don't care how much defense you give me, I won't do it!
Ranking up your weapons is equally as satisfying. Each weapon is fitted with light and heavy rune attacks. You'll find multiple rune attacks throughout which provides a great deal of variety to your battles as you progress. The skill trees have enough depth without ever feeling too complex or unattainable. Combat never feels stale. As you increase skills you'll find yourself seeking out enemies to try out your new moves. To end the conversation on combat I'll leave you all with this: the Leviathan Axe is DOPE! It's been said many times that it makes you feel like Thor and that statement is emphatically accurate. You will never get tired of hurling that axe around at your enemies and calling it back to your hand. Wielding that axe was the coolest it has ever felt to be Kratos.
It's amazing that we've come this far talking about how incredible this game is without even touching on the main story. Hands down the best part about God of War is the narrative. The story starts off simple as Kratos and Atreus are set to embark on a journey to scatter the ashes of Kratos' wife; Atreus' mother. Such a simple concept yields a one of a kind tale of a father and son bonding while teaching each other in ways they couldn't have imagined. While the focus has been on Kratos teaching his son to be a better man than he, you come to realize that Atreus is teaching Kratos just as much. Whether it be Atreus educating Kratos on Norse mythology or Kratos teaching Atreus patience in battle, lessons are constantly being learned. As I mentioned earlier the majority of the story is heard through dialogue as you travel from place to place. The voice acting is second to none. Christopher Judge (Kratos) and Sunny Suljic (Atreus) deliver heartfelt performances that force the player to feel the emotion of the moment. As you battle and hear Atreus ask "How'd I do, father?!" you wait anxiously to hear Kratos compliment his boy on a job well done. You're emotionally invested in Kratos' interactions with another person for the first time in a storied franchise.
Judge's subdued and more mature Kratos represents not only a change in the character but a change in gaming. I'm sure many others are like me and had their first experience with Kratos in their early teen years. Back then it was exactly what we were looking for: An exciting game with brilliantly grand set pieces. You truly felt like the God of War with each slash of the Chaos Blades. However, as we got older our tastes changed and we weren't as interested in the same, shallow Kratos that we'd grown accustomed to. We wanted more depth, an enriching story, and a plot that was centered on something meaningful instead of questionable vengeance. We all got our wish with God of War. The bar has been raised on narrative driven games and Cory Barlog and his team at Sony Santa Monica deserve all of the praise they're getting, and then some.
In closing, this is the game that should drive you to get your hands on a PS4. Whether you purchase one or borrow one from a friend, you need to experience this piece of art. God of War pulls off a story that would give Hollywood a run for its money while pairing it with challenging and satisfying gameplay. It's still far too early to dub anything Game of the Year but there is no doubt that God of War will be a favorite come year end. The cynic in me would love to give you all something to gripe about but I truly can't find anything about this game that doesn't work. Even when you might try to question the logic, Kratos or Atreus are one step ahead of you and ask the very same question, only to receive a logical answer. God of War represents the best of what video games can be and I implore all of you to experience it for yourself.