God of War Review for PlayStation 4 (PS4)

God of War Review for PlayStation 4 (PS4)

Old Man Kratos

I was a ride or die Nintendo kid growing up, but a friend of mine, the turncoat bastard, had a PlayStation 2. And buddy, you best believe we played Devil May Cry and it blew our minds wide open. After that, we found Onimusha . I couldn’t have told you what a “character action game” was before then, but these days, I could write a novel. Naturally, when God of War violently erupted onto the scene, I noticed. That game wore its influences on its sleeves, sometimes literally. But there was one big problem, the thing that really bounced me off the series… Kratos.

The guy on the box was, well, boring. I played game after game and never felt like Kratos was growing up along with me, so I left him behind in due time. I don’t think I was alone there, and I’d like to think the folks at Sony Santa Monica didn’t think so either. So when God of War made its big comeback on stage at E3 2016, the presentation felt like it was addressed to people like me, who loved the genre, but couldn’t relate to the character. Fast-forward nearly two years, and now I’ve played 2018’s God of War reboot. It feels exactly like that – a God of War that exists in the contemporary gaming space, with the running thesis that Kratos, despite everything, is an actual person. I think I buy it.

The crux of Kratos’ newfound character depth is his new family. Sometime between God of War 3 and now, Kratos has found a new lease on life, now surviving in a cabin in the snowy woods of Midgard. There’s no telling how much time has passed, nor is it important. What we do know is that, until the point we start the game, Kratos finally succeeded in burying his tragic backstory and progressing, sans Athena. Unfortunately, the Norse realm is just as full of godly drama as Greece was, and Kratos can’t run from the past forever. Circumstances force Kratos and his son, Atreus, out of their self-imposed isolation and on a journey that will challenge the pair to depths neither expected, but ultimately need.

There’s been much talk about this, and yeah, God of War is certainly a sequel, but it’s also a soft reboot. The fundamentals of this game are totally different that was in place before. Santa Monica has purged the Capcom from its blood, and it has instead drawn from the whole, contemporary video game space. For comparison’s sake, you can see bits and pieces of The Last of Us , Uncharted , Dark Souls , and Destiny . But that doesn’t mean God of War abandons its roots. It’s still about being aggressive, discovering the bolted-on restraints during combat, then dancing around them to sustain nasty combos. But the changes are also diegetic. Kratos is visibly older; he’s still strong, but slower, more reckless, and limited by how much he’s holding back from what he was before. You feel it all as you navigate God of War ’s combat systems.

Kratos lumbers as the camera follows behind him, never cutting away for the duration of the game. The player has full control and needs it, as spatial awareness is key to survival. Fighting is done with the shoulder buttons, as we’ve grown accustomed to now. You can link light and heavy strikes together, leveraging heavy attacks to put enemies in juggle states. While the new perspective is an adjustment, series fans will notice familiar visual cues and animations. Kratos still moves like Kratos, although things are slightly different now. What really separates this game from the previous titles are two separate pillars of combat, those being God of War ’s progression systems and Atreus’ support.

Atreus is both a passive and active agent in combat. He fights with a bow and small knife, a deliberate juxtaposition to Kratos’ hulking Leviathan Axe. He will act on his own during a fight, based on his available skills and equipment, but the player can also issue a limited set of commands. This is where God of War ’s new combat style really shines. Having supplemental commands really expands the options available to the player in the middle of a combo, and that’s what character action games are all about.

God of War Screenshot

You can start a combo string on an enemy, exhaust Kratos’ basic options, and then hit a combo-ender, resulting in a juggle state. While the enemy is still in the air, Kratos can start a new, much more restrictive attack string, but he can’t do another full sequence on his own before the enemy falls. Incorporate some arrows on demand from Atreus, and you can find windows to extend that juggle state, giving Kratos further opportunities to pile on damage. Pair that with the various skills each can learn, and the possibilities and creativity soar.

Skills come from trees tied to each primary offensive ability. Rather than messing around with orbs and whatnot, you simply spend XP on what’s available to add to your bag of tricks. This is supplemented by runes you can slot into equipment, which gives Kratos additional commands that can be swapped in and out as you find more. These can also be upgraded with XP, which adds more passive effects. While God of War is largely a linear affair (with a surprising volume of pseudo open-world side content, mind), individual Kratos builds can vary quite a bit, even with the static skills all bought and paid for.

God of War Screenshot

I’m not entirely sold on all the overlapping systems though, especially when it comes to armor and upgrades. God of War wants to be hands-on, with the physicality of commands and button combinations demanded by an expanding moveset. But it also wants to focus on stats, with color-coded equipment tiers and loot drops that feel like a more tacked-on acknowledgement that the kids like their greens, blues, purples, and golds these days. Kratos can gain access to all kinds of different pieces of armor, all of which commendably change his model and can be mashed up as arm, waist, and chest pieces comprise the available options. Atreus’ equipment can be updated as well, although with more focused options with specific benefits.

The problem I have with this system is that it doesn’t feel balanced or built for the first run-through. Luckily, playing on the default difficulty and learning the fundamentals meant I never found myself hitting any brick walls, unless I stumbled into a side mission not meant for me at that time. But I did often find myself unlocking or discovering new armor options, yet almost never having the components I needed to either get them or keep them upgraded. Resources are scarce, and you won’t ever get enough unless you start grinding. It was frustrating to approach the end of God of War and still have armor that was advertised in-game as middling, despite never even coming across a single component for some of the higher-tier stuff.

I understood that perhaps God of War was telling me to explore and earn more stuff on the side, but it’s not communicated very well what I should have been doing or expecting with respect to cycling through different equipment. Compared to the tighter and more deliberate combat skills and items, the armor felt way less thoughtful. As a result, I never felt compelled to seek out answers myself. On harder difficulties though, I imagine much more importance lies in the loadout. It’s worth noting that taking on side quests led to both more armor discoveries and more resources, but I still never felt like I had the same kind of room to experiment with armor as I did with my weapon skills.

Another interesting new gameplay component revolves around Kratos’ Leviathan Axe. It’s just as much a tool as it is a weapon, and it is often of utmost importance during puzzle sequences. The axe can be aimed and thrown, which has its own set of combat-oriented skills to unlock. But it also has freezing properties, meaning it’s one of the most crucial tools when it comes to freezing trap parts and mechanical bits in place. Recalling the axe is as simple as the press of a button, which also has neat combat implications. It’s an extra thing to keep track of in the heat of battle, but it never gets old to realize you left the axe hanging somewhere, push the button to retrieve it, and feel the distance as it comes sailing back as fast as it came, tearing through enemies in its path.

God of War Screenshot

Speaking of sailing, many of God of War ’s best moments are the times it tells us it’s okay for a big action vehicle to be quiet. As Kratos and Atreus move from beat to beat, they’ll speak to each other, and it’s through these little conversations we can track where we are in both the story, the growth of these two, and the development of their fragile relationship. But it’s not just on boat sections. God of War is full of small moments, whether the two are scaling a mountain, solving a tough puzzle, or barely surviving enemy encounters. Indeed, the great victory in this game’s storytelling is its fearless drive to stare down its loud, angry past and take a breather.

It’s not all perfect, though. We’re still looking at a late sequel in a series to make up for lost time in the character development process. Sometimes things come off as heavy-handed as the game really wants you to know you’re supposed to care about something or someone, but doesn’t always stick the landing. Sometimes the two leads will behave inconsistently for the sake of in the moment drama. Especially early on, God of War seems to undermine itself as the story is still finding its footing. By the end through, I realized how much I did care and was rooting for Kratos, Atreus, and Kratos and Atreus.

God of War feels ambitious in the best kind of way: the messy kind. It’s not afraid to get its hands dirty digging at something it thinks is interesting, while knowing it might not find it at that moment. It’s fine with not telling you everything, or with dialing back on the usual tropes of loud music, brutal violence, and hamfisted emotional manipulation. Sometimes, God of War just wants you to take some time and think about how you feel, and compare notes with Kratos as he struggles through his trauma to relate to his kid. And sure, sometimes you beat group of monsters to death by juggling them in the air with a magic axe and a pack of wolves made of lightning fired from a bow. It’s still a video game about a violent, hulking bald man, but it’s thoughtful and, most importantly, genuine.

Pretty incredible stuff that moves smoothly and isn’t marred by constant loading screens or scene transitions. Characters sometimes a bit lacking in expression though, and lots of repeated enemy and NPC designs 4.5 Control
Excellent combat loops that allow for customization depth along with combo creativity, while leaping to a new style without forgetting what came before. A bit busy though 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Voice acting conveys emotion exactly the way the story intends. Music is often deliberately quiet, but that’s just as important and effective as the loud bits 4.0 Play Value
The story lasts a good long while without overstaying its welcome, and there is plenty of side content to dive into, although motivation for that is debatable 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • A New Beginning — His vengeance against the gods of Olympus far behind him, Kratos now lives as a man in the lands of Norse Gods and monsters. It is in this harsh, unforgiving world that he must fight to survive… and teach his son to do the same
  • Second Chances — As mentor and protector to a son determined to earn his respect, Kratos is faced with an unexpected opportunity to master the rage that has long defined him. Questioning the dark lineage he’s passed on to his son, he hopes to make amends for the shortcomings of his past
  • Midgard and Beyond — Set within the untamed forests, mountains, and realms of Norse lore, God of War features a distinctly new setting with its own pantheon of creatures, monsters, and gods
  • Vicious, Physical Combat — With an intimate, over-the-shoulder free camera that brings the action closer than ever, combat in God of War is up close, frenetic, and unflinching. Kratos’ axe —powerful, magic and multi-faceted – is a brutal weapon as well as a versatile tool for exploration

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