As someone who had never played a God of War game before, I felt like I had a good idea of what to expect from what I had seen of God of War in the past. I came in expecting a lot of gory kills and over the top action and not much else. What I ended up getting was that great action and kill sequences, but Santa Monica Studios also threw in a side of an interesting story and characters, and the feels. Kratos has jumped from the Greek mythologies he was born in and has made a new, very promising future in Norse mythology going forward.
The game begins with Kratos gathering wood to burn the body of his recently deceased wife Faye, with help from their son Atreus. Here at the beginning of the game the story nails down the loss both characters are carrying. Atreus is more vocal and acts a lot like you would expect a child to, while Kratos holds it in, but you can tell from his face the pain he is facing. Facial expressions are one of the things I think the devs nailed down the best in this game. Every time something happens the characters do not have to tell me what they are feeling. It seems like this is something that in 2018 you would see all the time, but I think that still too often we see blank expressions from our characters and it makes their feelings harder for us to relate with. Whether it is anger, sadness, or any other emotion, the character’s face in God of War tells you the whole story upfront.
Faye’s final wish was for her ashes to be spread from the tallest point in the nine realms by her husband and son. In the beginning, you can tell that Atreus had spent much more time with his mother this far into his life. Kratos would leave a lot and never take his son with, being a very shut off father who has never told his son of their god lineage or his past in Greece. This adventure being Kratos and Atreus’ first true time together, you see them start bonding. From Kratos being hesitant to show any emotion or support to Atreus at the beginning, to the two being a true father-son duo to be reckoned with at the end, this game focuses on the transformation of two truly interesting character arcs going off at the same time.
As a father myself, I was able to put myself in Kratos’ position of not being sure what was the best parenting move, but as a son, I also felt with Atreus just trying to grow up and make his father proud of him. The evolving relationship between the two is the real heart and soul of the game. What helps with the emotion is the camera work. In gameplay, the camera is always behind Kratos, but during cutscenes, it expertly zooms in on the things you need to see. A characters emotion-filled face, something happening in the environment, or some other things. Combine that with a chorus that pitches in with the right tune at the perfect time, and this is a great cinematic experience on top of an excellent gameplay experience.
While waiting for Faye’s ashes to be ready for travel, Kratos decides it is time for some father-son hunting. During this tutorial, we get our first experience with my favorite weapon of the game, the Leviathon Axe. Think of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir from the Marvel movies, but in axe form. Kratos can throw the axe and no matter where it is thrown, a simple press of the button brings it flying back to him. The very first time I did this I was in awe of just how good it felt. The sound of the axe flying through the air and the slight rumble the controller gives made it believable that I was the one that threw the axe. The way it perfectly comes back to his hand and is ready to continue your fighting combo is one of the best experiences in gaming this year so far.
Speaking of fighting, Kratos has some new moves he can pull off when he is holding his axe. These come in the form of runic attacks, which need to be attached to the weapon and can be upgraded by spending XP. There is a limit of two that can be attached at a time, one heavy, and one light runic attack. These come in handy for disrupting enemy attacks or hitting multiple enemies at once. I mostly stuck with my favorites, but there is a large enough variety that I believe everyone can find something for them.
Throughout the game, new armors and enchantments can be bought and sometimes found to upgrade Kratos’ stats. In the beginning, I felt pretty even with my enemies, but towards the end of the game, after you have been upgrading for a while, there were some enemies I felt were just nuisances. That’s not to say that I think the game gets easy, I am just saying as you build Kratos and Atreus and get used to using your abilities, the game gets quite a bit more manageable as you would imagine.
Atreus, while not as customizable as Kratos, can be a great help in combat. He uses his bow and arrow to stun and damage enemies, but can also summon animals to do a lot of damage, or jump on a foe leaving them open for attack from Kratos. At the beginning of the game, he seems to have very niche assistance, but as he trains and upgrades, he truly becomes a reliable source. His upgrades largely revolve around his bow, but he can also get armor that lets him assist in other ways. I stuck with using armor that allowed him to pick up health stones for me in combat when I got low, much like Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite which I loved then too.
There are quite a few enemies in God of War. You are first introduced to the zombies of the world who are pretty simple slow enemies that are never too hard to handle. As you battle your way through the game, you face dark elves, trolls, and not as many bosses as I had expected. Besides facing a certain god multiple times, you only get into an altercation with a god-like force one other time. The rest of the bosses are mythical creatures that stand in your way. Of course, this makes sense because Kratos is not on his path of vengeance anymore, but I expected to be fighting many Norse gods throughout my journey.
What you do see of the other characters in God of War is very well done. Every character in this game has a personality to them and the voice acting associated with that character helps you feel for them and makes them relatable. Two brothers that are opposites of each other so they don’t get along? Been there. A man who just wants to feel anything? I could empathize with that. Every character in the game is believable and has a real-world element to them that if they were human and walked down the street, I could believe they were a real person.
If you have watched or listened to mine and Joel Campos’ “Pixel Street Podcast” (Facebook page HERE), you will have heard me say that I think this is the most beautiful game I have ever played. I already went over the character detail, but the environment in this game is second to none. The mix of shadows and bright colors in every setting of the game is truly expertly done. I am just playing on a slim PS4, so I can only imagine just how divine the game looks on a Pro.
In the end, God of War is a truly special video game. You get that brutality that the series is famous for, but there is so much more to this game that makes it stand out. The story is the best example of a father-son adventure that I have ever seen in the medium with great side characters that provide everything you could want from a side character. The story never feels like it gets too long, and the end will leave you wanting so much more.