Image via playstation.com
In the year of our Lord, 2018, the last thing I ever imaged writing about was a God of War game… much less how much I enjoyed it.
An untold number of years have passed since Kratos left Sparta. His life away from the other Gods has been as quiet and unnoticeable as he could possibly keep it. A house in the woods, a wife, and a child have been his life. The story picks up after his wife has died and Kratos has reluctantly become a single father. Not only does he have to raise his son on his own but he has been charged with fulfilling his wife’s last wish, that is to have her ashes scattered from the highest peak in all the lands. This task will test the mettle of not only Kratos himself, but also his son and all of those he meets along the way.
The God of War Series is well known for taking Greek mythology and turning it on its ear. This game does all of that and adds in Norse mythology as a new focus. The blend is both seamless and intriguing. Even if one never played the previous God of War games there is no barrier to playing this game after coming in fresh. From the start, there are subtle hints and alludes to to Kratos’s past. Therefore no loss will be had in the story regardless of one’s past, or lack of, with the series. As the game progresses it continues to not only reveal Kratos’s past but that of what he has been part of since moving to the Norse-lands. The theme of Gods is not heavily-handed but rather delivered as something which Kratos wants nothing but distance from. This is balanced against what he must tell his son about his past and his nature.
On a technical level, this game is brilliant. Of the current generation of PS4 games, Horizon Zero Dawn set a new standard of graphics and this game only carries them forward. There seems to be something about Sony exclusives because God of War has taken the capabilities of the PS4 to a new level. Even playing the game on an original PS4 delivers a vibrant experience. The cinematics are rendered and delivered in a quality that is over-the-top for a console game. The single-cut delivery style keeps the player immersed in a strange but beautiful way. Once again, the idea of being seamless comes to play in marrying the graphics to the story. From lush forrest to frigid icelands the sights always match with the tone of the story. There were some points, particularly in combat with many enemies on the screen, that the framerate took a noticeable hit. Just be aware that this beauty my come at the price of performance at times even though these problem did occur minimally.
The game builds on it’s past but does something new. The combat system is nearly nothing like the games of old, however there are times it feels the same. Those familiar with parrying will know how to handle the combat. As someone new to this, it was a struggle to deal with and the learning curve was steep at times. However, after learning the cues for an opponent attack that can be parried versus an attack that must be dodged, the combat hits a new level. Those that want the button mashing combat of days old it is still there but one cannot survive on it alone.
Where the game is failing or lacking is in the crafting and upgrade systems. There is no explanation as to what, how, when, or why to upgrade. You’ll meet two individuals that will upgrade your weapons and armor for you but there is no explanation as to what you will need to have to get them to do so. By exploring through the environment you’ll gather supplies but given that different upgrades take different supplies you may not be able to do the enhancements you want. This is somewhat frustrating and leads to doing whatever upgrades you can. The same can happen with attack upgrades since there is no precursor to the fact that some equipped items can be upgraded with XP.
The one forgiving point about upgrading is that XP and other resources are given out in relatively useful amounts. Even if it is not clear what or why things should be upgraded, a player should have enough to do so. Players may not find the supplies for the upgrades they want but will get enough other resources to keep you going for other upgrades. Enough abilities and upgrades will unlock to help in combat regardless of what the player may or may not understand about the upgrades.
The semi-open world of the game works during the main story as well as after. Even when the story is complete there are things to do. If something was left undone or undiscovered during the story it is still there afterwards. There is nothing stopping a player, however, from doing as much as possible during the story other than meeting enemies that are just far too powerful without the proper equipment and upgrades.
The story is truly the best part of this game. The awe of the environments and cinematics never fades off but take a second seat to the tale that the player is being taken through. From the beginning, the inner struggle of Kratos is just as palatable as the resolution in him at the end. Twist and turns abound throughout the game but never are too far out of place. Even when part of the story takes a sharp turn it has already setup a plausible to reasonable explanation as to why or it will do so shortly thereafter. By the end of the game I found myself so entrenched I played for several hours and was wowed at the finish.
Having played only the original game and part of the first sequel, I didn’t know a lot of the lure and it turns out it didn’t matter. The game turned out to be an unexpected gem that did a tremendous job at doing something completely different than it was known for while still being true to what it was. This game was so far off of my radar that I didn’t decide to purchase it until days before its release. The combination of the overwhelming positivity about it and the fact that I had nothing else to play made me decide in favor of the purchase. Looking back I wish I had followed the game’s development over the last five years better and had been more aware of it. At the same time, I’m glad I found it at the last minute and can just enjoy it for what it is and not for what I ever thought it should be.
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A self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing on the western side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet.