Review: God of War (2018)

With great power comes great parental responsibility.

Console: PlayStation 4 game played on a PlayStation 5.

After 9 games, the God of War series found itself at a crossroad. God of War: Ascension's reception was mixed. It didn't sell as well as its predecessors nor did it receive any awards. This made the folks over at Santa Monica Studios wonder where to take the series next. A futuristic reboot with guns and whatnot was in early development before it got scrapped. It just wasn't coming together the way the developers were hoping it would.

Cory Barlog, a long time contributor to the series, started contemplating what defined God of War. Due to his changing perspective of life after the birth of his daughter, Barlog landed on what the next God of War would be. A narrative-driven action-adventure game pitting Kratos against the Norse Gods and the challenges of fatherhood.

Even 4 years later, God of War 2018 is doing killer business in no small part due to its recent PC release. With its sequel, Ragnarok, on the horizon and a fresh PS5 in my possession, it's about time I gave the game a go.

Without further ado, let's dive in!

Kratos, the former Greek God of War, made a new life for himself in the realm of the Norse Gods. At the beginning of the game, Kratos' wife Faye has just passed away. Her final request was for Kratos and their son Atreus to scatter her ashes from the highest peak in all the realms. Kratos wants to wait with this journey until Atreus, inexperienced and having similar anger issues to his father, is older. However, when a stranger knocks on Kratos´ door and almost kills Kratos, he deems his home unsafe and sets out with Atreus to fulfil his wife´s dying wish.

The story of God of War is excellent. Beneath all the very well researched mythology lie a strong and compelling story about the bond between father and son. About a father whose distance from his son because of the dark past he does not want to burden him with and the son who perceives this as a lack of love. About a father learning his son how to be a God and his son teaching him how to be human again. About the damage a parent can do to their child even if they had the best of intentions. It's a strongly written emotional story with some very good life lessons that are only strengthened by the performances and the game's execution.

The relationship between Kratos and Atreus is the backbone of the game.

All the cutscenes are integrated seemingly in the game. There are no cuts, no fade to blacks, no load screens even. To put into in the film terms the entire game as if it is one single shot. A detail that is pretty amazing and lifts the story and presentation of the game up.

The acting is amazing as well. The game uses motion capture to capture the performances of the principal cast, upping the acting game of the stellar cast by letting not limiting them to their vocal performances. Christopher Judge's Kratos is the standout here. Whenever he barely holds back his rage, you feel it. When Atreus falls sick, you feel his desperation. When he is forced to dig up a part of his dark past you can feel the tension. The weight on Kratos' shoulders.

Kratos is a gruff man of few words but doesn't mistake this for a cold heart or dumbness. It's simply his experiences in the Greek era and his still not quite under control anger issues that shaped him this way. His more optimistic and naive son Atreus pulls more warmth out of him. Characters such as Freya and Mimir, gems in their own right, challenges Kratos' worldview while the Stranger proves a good foil to Kratos. One that is very similar to the man he once was and, together with his cronies, tempt Atreus' dark-side.

In terms of graphics, the game looks amazing. High fidelity and well-animated models. Stunning world design with nice textures and amazing lighting. The cutscenes, thanks to the amazing fidelity and motion capture have a very cinematic quality to them. The soundtrack is very good as well. The main theme is excellent and while the rest doesn't reach that same bar, they fit the atmosphere to a T and always gets the right emotions out of you.

On to the gameplay! God of War, unlike its predecessor, is a cinematic action-adventure game with exploration and puzzle-solving thrown in. You control Kratos in both combo-based combat and puzzle-based exploration in the (somewhat) open world. The Blades of Chaos is no longer Kratos’ primary weapon. That honour goes to the Leviathan Axe, an axe left to him by his deceased wife and counterpart to Thor’s hammer Mjölnir. It’s imbued with ice power, capable of freezing enemies and being thrown like Mjölnir. You chain together light and heavy attacks for combos while using your shield to block/counter attacks if you don't feel like dodging. A solid system that can be upgraded and tailored to your liking through the skill system and wearable and upgradable gear.

Not a lot of people look forward to a game-long escort mission of a fickle AI partner. Luckily, Atreus is far from dead weight. He helps in combat, traversal, puzzles the whole she-bang. You also get to have some control over him. Pressing the square button during combat Atreus will shoot enemies with either a light arrow for a stunning effect or an electric arrow for a shock attack. It’s not very powerful but shooting an arrow at the right time can make a big difference.

A look at the combat system of the game.

When not in combat you're exploring the worlds. God of War has you travel 5 of the 9 realms with Midgard, Earth, being the one where you spent most of your time. It's where you start your journey and where you can find the bulk of all of the side quests. The other realms are much smaller, but still offer a good amount of ground for you to explore and their distinct look and atmosphere always make them a treat too (re)visit. You travel across these realms, coming across ruins, long abandoned mines and a lot more. Most of these places are set up as environmental puzzles. From finding hidden runes to open a door to freezing gears to find your way through death-traps with battles thrown in. Nothing special here but it doesn't need to be as it's very entertaining.

God of War 2018 mostly met my expectations but I was surprised by one aspect. The amount of content in the game. Not only is the story longer than I thought it would be, about 21 hours compared to my expected 12, but there is also a good amount of side-content. From the side-quests to challenges to combat gauntlets. If you feel like diving back into the game after the story, or want to take a break from the main narrative, there's plenty for you to do.

Do I have any gripes with the game? A few. I'm not the biggest fan of the controls. God of War is the first game I played where you attack by pressing the shoulder buttons, not the face buttons. I don't know if this is a common practice for PlayStation games these days but I´m not a big fan of it. It feels weird to me and caused me more than once to activate a rune attack instead of my shield bash. The transitions between gameplay and cutscenes are so seamless that it got confusing when I needed to be ready to push some buttons and not.

 

Conclusion

I think that by now, I made my feelings on God of War (2018) clear. It's an excellent game thanks to its incredible story and is supported by its solid and entertaining gameplay.

If you have a PS4/5 or PC you've got to give this game a shot. It didn't become Game of the Year 2018 for no good reason and nowadays, you can pick it up on the cheap under the PlayStation Hits line.

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