God of War is the eighth instalment of the franchise but is a reimagining of the series, meaning it can be enjoyed by both veterans of the series and newcomers alike. The game centres around Kratos, the perpetually angry hero of the series and is set many years after he clashed with the Gods of Greece. Kratos has moved on and fathered a child named Atreus and is living a fairly secluded family life, this time among Norse Gods. The game opens with the passing of Kratos’ wife as he and Atreus navigate the forest to gather materials to perform her last rites. After burning her body, Atreus and Kratos plan to spread the ashes over the highest peak of the mountain as per her last request although Kratos is reluctant to leave the safety of their home, fearing that Atreus is not ready to make the journey. Enter a mysterious stranger who appears to know Kratos’ shady past and he is forced to start the journey despite his reservations about his son. The story feels like a much slower burn compared to other entries in the series and this is no way a bad thing, the easiest way to describe it is that the God of War series has ‘grown up’ – and it works on every level.
The story is fleshed out with the back and forth between Kratos and Atreus (although the ever miserable Kratos spends much of his time telling Atreus to shut up), and the dialogue works well, keeping the flow natural. The lore is padded out from various spirits and writings spread across the map which are all explained in a child-like manner by Atreus, as he is able to read the languages that his father cannot. This again helps to round the story without the need for cut-scenes or lengthy reading which works wonderfully throughout. The game does have cut-scenes from time to time but not in the traditional sense, due to the jaw-dropping beauty of the game, they are seamlessly integrated with the gameplay allowing for a level of immersion that I have not seen since The Last of Us.
This brings me on to the graphics of the game, which are absolutely breath-taking, even on my little-old PS4 slim. The character detailing is beautiful, whether Kratos is clean, covered in blood or on fire(!), every effect looks amazing. The scenery is stunning and has a level of detail that I don’t think I have ever seen before this. The woodlands are rich with trees and plants of all types with almost photo-realistic textures at times, the water effects when travelling by boat are glorious and the snowy landscapes of the frozen islands are equally as beautiful. As well as the realistic areas, the more fantasy-based areas are equally as impressive. One particular area that houses a witch actually had me in awe. The vibrant colours of the trees and foliage combined with the eye-popping magical wildlife forced me to stop for a minute just to take it all in. Just when I though the game could not get any prettier, I was whisked off to another realm with lush jungle foliage and a sky full of a stars….God of War is full of surprises. The enemies share a similar level of detail, especially with the fire and ice effects that are used by many early on in the game. It isn’t often that I struggle to find an issue with the graphics of a game but God of War is truly a masterpiece of modern technology and will be the bar in which all other games must pass.
As well as looks and story-telling, the gameplay also takes a different turn from Kratos’ other games but still manages to keep the feeling of being a God of War title. Perhaps the biggest difference is the weaponry. Kratos has always had a range of weapons at his disposal but none more iconic than the double-chained blades that have been a staple of the series so far. In God of War, Kratos uses magical battle-axe, called the Leviathan Axe which is upgraded and imbued with elements as the game progresses. The axe can be used as a standard bludgeoning weapon but can also be thrown at enemies and called back to Kratos’ hand damaging enemies both on the throw and the return. This can be done in quick succession meaning Kratos can pull of a combo, throw his axe at a different enemy, call in back and continue fighting. Kratos has a light and heavy attack that can be chained together to create combos and can also fight both bare-handed and with his shield if his axe is not equipped (or is sticking out of the chest of an enemy!). Each enemy has a health bar and a stun bar that if filled, will allow Kratos to perform a special move to inflict major damage (and usually a killing blow). The stun bar fills up quicker when Kratos is using bare-hand combat and some enemies cannot be harmed with the axe, meaning each fight will require a level of strategy as they can’t be won by hacking away at everything that moves. As well as standard attacks, Kratos can also attach runes to his axe, each with a special move assigned to them. These vary between light and heavy attacks and range from sweeping attacks to hit a group of enemies or charging attacks to use while sprinting. All of these skills work seamlessly together and allow for some amazing looking and truly fluid combat.
Atreus is also on hand to help Kratos to fight the hordes of enemies they must face. Although not directly controllable in combat, Atreus can be commanded to fire arrows by pressing square, to distract enemies and encourage them to turn their back on Kratos, allowing for an opening. As the game progresses, Atreus gains more moves, such as choking enemies, which further help to give Kratos the edge in battle. As well as the satisfying combat, Kratos must solve a range of puzzles to either progress the story or open chests to reap rewards. Most puzzles either involve breaking runes hidden in the area or using the axe to flip archaic mechanisms to disarm traps. Although this sounds simple, God of War’s puzzles were some of my favourite of recent years due to the way they are presented. Most of the time, a room lies in front of you and it is up to the player to explore the area and work out what to do. The balance between not spoon-feeding the player and giving enough room to work out puzzles independently is executed perfectly.
Overall, God of War is a true gaming masterpiece. Not since The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a game matched pure beauty, fluid combat, clever puzzles and an engaging story but God of War succeeds on all accounts. The combat is fun, as are the puzzles and the relationship between Kratos and Atreus naturally evolves over time. These are characters that you feel for, that you care about; whether that be Kratos opening up and showing vulnerability to his son or Atreus reigning in his rash nature and proving himself to his father. Not since The Last of Us has a story been told so organically and with such heart, purely based on the narrative between characters, rather than having a plethora of cut-scenes thrust upon you. If you have a PlayStation, I implore you, play this game….you won’t regret it!
- Beautiful to look at.
- Fluid, fun combat.
- Satisfying puzzles.
- Heartfelt Story.
- A photo mode would have been nice.