Boy! Come over here and translate this review, boy!
This one was tough for me. I generally like to write spoiler free reviews, or in some cases, I try to massively label when a spoiler is coming. There is just so much I want to discuss here. But I will not spoil it. Please don’t let this game be spoiled for you, do yourself a favor, and go out and buy it. Start playing it. Does God of War live up to all the praise it is getting? Oh yes. That and beyond.
Maybe I’ve said too much already. Maybe I am just a huge God of War(GoW) fan here to add to the already stellar review scores. I am not. I enjoyed God of War 1 and 2, but haven’t really been into it since then. Sure, I have played GoW3 and the offshoots, but they all sort of got really stale for me. The series goes dark for a short while, only to pop back up out of nowhere at E3 2016 I believe. Although you would have never guessed it was God of War. You hear a young voice praying, and as the camera fades in you see the boy kneeling over what appears to be his mother. She has passed on, and by the looks of the cabin and the clothes, you would think this is something resembling a viking tradition. You would be right. The door opens to show the snow trying to claw its way in and almost steal away your very essence. You see a hulking shadow of a man, who speaks low but in a very menacing tone. What does the man want? Is he connected to the- wait that’s Kratos! With a full blown beard! What in the world is going on here?
I know I wasn’t the only one that freaked out a bit. The trailer continues to reveal you are the father of that young boy, and the departed woman was your wife. Cut to Kratos taking the boy out to hunt. Right on queue, some monsters show up. Kratos brandishes a very rustic looking axe, and goes to work. Almost instantly you see the dynamic of combat has changed from the previous GoW entries, and feels more personal. Kratos throws his axe, and then calls it back to his hand. You go on to learn that Kratos has somehow hopped worlds, and is in Midgard, which is Norse mythology. Leaving more questions than answers, we would all have to wait a while to get our hands on this game. Cut to this game in my hand……
I have lost track of how many hours I have sunk into God of War, and I still plan to put many more in. This game exceeded my expectations in every way. At first I thought this might be a reboot of the series, and in a way it could be, but it does indeed take place after the events of the previous GoW games, and by using that established lore instead of tossing it to the side really helps here. Can you play this without playing any of the other GoW games? I would say yes. There are flashbacks and hints to let you know what is going on, and that really helps newcomers sort of see the buildup on Kratos and why he has started over here in Midgard. But if you have played games in the series, you are in for more than just icing on the cake. Minor things here can lend to you relating with Kratos, as you know what he has done, what he has went through, and maybe he just feels like he is done. With everything. And you sort of get to see him struggle with his son. Who goes by the name Atreus.
Oh great. This is now Babysitting of War. Escort Mission of War. Or the ever popular Dad of War. I can say that you never ever feel like you are babysitting Atreus, or leading him on a game length escort mission. Atreus acts independently in a fight, and adds another layer of depth to the already fun to play combat system. Dad of War? Well, yeah, the entire game is a family journey so to speak, so you will see those interactions, and they are nice to see unfold in front of you. Let’s be honest here, Kratos doesn’t know how to be a father no more than he knows how to not end every conversation without killing someone. And it shows. There is a growing experience here, and you see moments where Kratos is hard on Atreus, because he knows he is in for a life of constant struggle and confrontation. But then you see a slight crack in Kratos, where he wants to comfort the boy, but doesn’t. Which is why he mainly calls him boy. Partly because he doesn’t really know how, and the other because there just can’t be any weakness when you are going on a journey where killing would be involved. Close your heart to it, Kratos tells the boy about having to kill. This will not be an easy journey, which involves going to the highest peak in all the realms to scatter the woman’s remains. How does that journey play out?
You could say GoW is linear. You could say it is open world. The weird part is, both answers are correct. Midgard is a sort of hub world, where more areas can be unlocked as you progress and get items that will let you pass, similar to say a Zelda game. But most areas are fairly small, with little exploring to do outside of completing your objective or side quest. But, this is Norse mythology, so the Bifrost comes into play here, leading you to explore other realms outside of the Midgard hub world. So expect some nice set pieces that can keep the scenery from getting stale. The changes are nice, as they bring on new enemy types with some neat boss battles. Gone are the controls from the old GoW games, replaced with a more, well, Dark Souls type layout. R1 is a regular attack, R2 is heavy, L1 block and parry, and L2 a sort of aim to throw your axe(going with the old school spelling of axe, because viking). The X button dodges while other button combinations allow for special moves that have cooldowns. Look in any general direction and press square, and Atreus will shoot arrows at enemies. This comes in real handy with different arrow types, and so many arrows can briefly turn the attention away from you to gather yourself. Yes, the game gets violent at times, as you’d expect with Kratos driving his axe or fists, among other things into many skulls. Killing a boss doesn’t end with your normal GoW quick time event, you have to fight it out. And there are plenty of things to help you on your way. For instance, there are many different runes you can unlock to socket into weapons and armor that will fit almost any play style here. So there are some light rpg elements, which makes going off the beaten path totally worth it to get some nice gear and enchantments. Which is where some of the comedic backdrop falls into place. There are two dwarf brothers that do all the work on your gear, offer side quests, and are just fun to chat with. I won’t spoil anything, but they have roles to play throughout the game that I really enjoyed hearing about.
Is that it? Just go through fighting constantly? While combat is a main part of God of War, there are a variety of puzzles here too. And most of the mechanics stay really fresh, and new ways of solving puzzles are often introduced while you journey throughout Midgard and other realms. If you mess up a puzzle, Atreus will be there to poke fun at you, or eventually try to help if you are stuck. These interactions are constant throughout the game, and it really shows that even the small things count here. I found myself thinking of The Last of Us a bit, and how Joel and Ellie would have their interactions, but with Kratos and Atreus, it truly feels like their journey has become your own, and seeing the story play out to the climax will be on my mind for quite a while. The amount of detail to The Witcher 3 now crosses my mind as CD Projekt Red poured everything into crafting a narrative that almost can’t be beat. But I think the bar might have been raised with GoW, as creative director for Santa Monica Studios Cory Barlog truly created a father-son journey that works within the confines of a Norse story, even with all the background from the Greek mythology. It just works. Even as I sit here typing, I am thinking about lands traveled, seeing the icy peak of the mountains, or the colorful forest where you cross paths with a certain witch. There is no trust here, and Kratos tries to pass that on to the boy, but he takes after his mother. He wants to help everyone and is too caring. Hopping in a boat and traversing the waters is even fun to do, and I usually hate anything to do with sailing or boats in games. There are nice interactions, like getting to see the massive World Serpent Jormungandr wake up from his slumber. If you have read even a bit about Norse mythology, it will put a smile on your face. Wait until you hear him talk. Which leads to the sound just being top notch, hearing the wind rustle through the leaves, or how everything echoes in caverns, to the heart pounding music during battle, or the solemn theme that plays when Kratos has to remember a darker time.