It’s weird to think that our games age alongside us. Much like those that play any given title, some do so better than others – but the need to keep evolving a franchise sometimes gets placed on the back burner in favour of maintaining mechanics to appease longtime fans. God of War could have stayed on the tried and true path that made it such a prominent force within the industry to begin with, but with fading interest in hyper-aggressive, narrative-light, hack-and-slash endeavours (evident by slowing sales of the series) Sony Santa Monica opted to take a risk… and it paid off.
Taking place after the events of God of War III, Kratos finds himself in hiding. He has left Greece and taken up refuge in the human-occupied realm of Midgard (read: Scandinavia), but he’s also found a love interest and had a son by the name of Atreus during this time. The narrative picks up after the passing of his newfound love, leaving him and his son to figure out a way to honour the final wishes of their now-deceased family member by spreading her ashes from the highest peak in the nine realms.
It doesn’t take long for the story to pick up, with gamers quickly becoming acquainted with the intimacies of Kratos’ new weapon, the Leviathan Axe, and the mechanical implementation of his son into the core gameplay. The end result is smooth, violent, and engaging for fans of the original instalments that further adds depth to the combat through a medley of enemy types that each require a different means of dispatching. A skill tree and armour upgrades are also present so that gamers can attempt to build the ‘God of War’ that best suits their battle style.
Admittedly, despite the variety in killable characters, the sheer length of the game ensures that the feeling of battling baddies feels familiar. Even the appearance of giant enemies is rarely varied, with the same ‘hit R3 to kill’ animations playing out over and over again. There’s some tedium in that regard that God of War never truly escapes, with massive, cinematic battles being a welcomed change of pace from the rinse and repeat strategies that can and will be deployed by players throughout.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s solid combat mechanics that Sony Santa Monica has built into God of War, but the limitations in arsenal options and generic skill trees make room for a sense of overfamiliarity to grab hold. This is written from the perspective of a critic that has had to play through the game in a time-sensitive manner, so it’s a context-heavy point of view, but it’s a noticeable stick in what is otherwise a phenomenal offering for PlayStation 4 owners.
This is in no short thanks to the narrative that casts Kratos in an entirely new light and pushes the character back into relevancy in 2018. With a cast that only further builds the intrigue of the Norse world Kratos now finds himself in, there’s no shortage of personality to be found from the characters that occupy the land.
Now, there are a few moments from the comedic relief that pulled me out of the experience, but the gravity of the situations that Kratos and Atreus repeatedly find themselves in overtakes the excessive gagging from the germaphobic dwarf that assists the duo in upgrading their equipment. Even then, the aforementioned personality also holds true for the environment itself, as the quasi-open world is riddled with countless hours of side missions and collectibles for fans to complete and find, respectively.
Given the scale of the changes present in the final product, and how they are all for the betterment of fans and the future of the franchise, it’s safe to say that Sony Santa Monica’s efforts are some of the most notable of any developer in years. God of War stands as an outstanding take on Norse mythology that informs consumers (with a few creative liberties) and immerses them in a long-forgotten world.
From a stylistic approach, I often try to end reviews with a quote that summarizes the game through a seemingly profound one-liner, but the reality is that God of War has never been this good.
God of War is available on April 20, 2018 exclusively for PlayStation 4. Okay, Cool received a code of the game from Sony for review purposes.
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