God of War, developed by Santa Monica Studio and published Sony, is a never-ending, seamlessly executed single player adventure of epic proportions. Sony continues their dominance with first-party, narratively driven single player experiences; with a game that will undoubtedly be remembered as one of this console generations standout games. There’s a lot to talk about (and I won’t get to touch on everything) and I’m eager to get to that talking, so let’s dispense with the introduction and get to reviewing God of War.
Kratos – voiced by Christopher Judge – is back and this time he and his son, Atreus – voiced by Sunny Suljic – set out on a deeply personal journey to spread their wife’s / mother’s ashes at the highest peak in Midgard. However, their journey soon is fraught with danger and Kratos sees himself once again hunted by gods – only this time it is the gods of Norse mythology, rather than Greek. Both Kratos and Atreus have a long journey ahead of them and they will both grow and learn much about one another on it.
Back on the PlayStation 2, I remember playing both, God of War 1 and 2 (I never got around to playing the third one; I can’t remember why. Nor did I play any of the other ones that came out on mobile or PSP). I enjoyed both games enough but wasn’t that enamoured by them – it was never a game series that made much of an impact on me. So, when the new game was announced at E3 2016; I’ll admit I wasn’t that interested. But I now look back on my past self and think about just how wrong he was. This is a special game. One that from its opening and then throughout continually wowed me and caused goose-bumps to overwhelm me.
What immediately caught my attention from the outset was Kratos himself. In the previous games he wasn’t the most compelling character to play as or follow. Shouting every line of dialogue, having a single driving force and never straying from the path of being completely one-dimensional made for a character who was just too plain to ever be interesting. In this new God of War, it is the complete opposite.
There is an immediate and very noticeable amount of depth to Kratos – thanks in large part to the range of emotion that actor, Christopher Judge, is able to bring to the gruff sensibilities of the character. This is a Kratos who is trying to repress his old ways; to not lose his temper and shout at everything. You can see in how he interacts with Atreus that there is a more thoughtful person – though he hides it well. Again, credit must absolutely be given to Christopher Judge who brings a tone of wisdom and history to Kratos. His baritone voice suits Kratos well and it also allows for more range in how he interacts with the characters around him. This is a Kratos with a very dry sense of humour who continually got little laughs from me. But he’s also a Kratos with a much more resonant emotional centre to him, and when he lets it show, it connects you even more to his struggles.
For me, Kratos was the primary, but not the only reason why I struggled to ever invest or care about the previous God of War games, while this time he was one of my favourite parts of the whole game – and right by his side throughout is Atreus. In the beginning, Atreus had the annoying little tendencies that most kid characters do – and he on more than one occasion tested my patience – but he more than any other character in the game is the one who grows the most. To be a part of that journey; of him learning who he is and what he is capable of, is a meaningful one. It wasn’t long before I cared about him deeply and saw him as someone whose support in a fight was welcomed.
Atreus shines in the story – something I’ll come back to in a moment – but it’s in the gameplay that I found myself forming a bond with him – a bond that lasted for the rest of the game. Alongside Kratos, he helps and supports you in fights; he is not a liability; you won’t find yourself having to constantly run to his aid. Atreus is someone who soon becomes an equal to Kratos and in the few times he wasn’t there by my side when enemies were charging at me; his support was truly missed. Think of Elizabeth in Bioshock infinite or Ellie in The Last of Us; worthy companions who aid you in beating back the bad guys and feeling like an ever-developing partner. Atreus starts out limited in his abilities (understandably) but to see where he ends up and how helpful he is, is really satisfying. Chaining together the brutal attacks of Kratos with the ranged finesse of Atreus’ bow makes for a gameplay experience that becomes a fluid balance of two different styles that become one unstoppable duo.
While fighting, both Kratos and Atreus are effortless and forever fun to play as – and as father and son, their journey is one that pulled me in and soon had me welling up because of how touching and potent it was. Watching the barriers between them fall away and seeing a deeply meaningful bond grow – both when they fight the hordes of enemies and tackle the difficulties of family – is a journey that isn’t easy but is beyond beautiful to be a part of (as I write this, I’m thinking back on the moments I shared with them and genuinely welling up). As someone who personally understands the loss that the two characters are dealing with and trying to find peace with; this game really hit me hard in the heart, and at times was an emotionally overwhelming experience, to say the least.
God of War is a much more personal feeling experience this time round. Not only do you share in a solemn journey to spread their wife / mother’s ashes, but you also watch as their stringent relationship evolves into one where they joke with one another; they trust the other to have their back and they become a father and son who truly can’t be without one another.
If you told me back when this game was revealed that I would form a powerful connection to the character Kratos and go on one of the most emotionally resonant gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time; I would have thought you mad… but here we sit.
But it isn’t all about being wrapped up in a story and characters – God of War of course comes bursting with addictive, satisfying, and most importantly, fun gameplay. The first time I swung the axe and began to dispense with a group of draugrs; when I successfully parried their attacks; when I began to find the rhythm of the combat and feel the power of Kratos – I knew I was in for an experience where I would be excited and eager to battle anything that Midgard, or the other realms, could throw at me.
The gameplay loop of exploring areas and taking on various groups of enemies never got stale for me. I think one reason was the selection of enemies that you face. All have attributes, weapons and tactics that makes every encounter feel fresh. You slowly learn how each enemy type operates; what moves and tactics work best and you slowly begin to build an understanding of how to best your opponent(s). Plus, as you grow and gain new abilities, the furious damage that you can unleash become satisfyingly chained together moments of destruction and ruin. Also, throwing your axe and then calling it back to your hand – sometimes through an enemy; cutting them in half – doesn’t ever stop being the coolest thing to see / do.
And of course, with this being a God of War game, that means boss fights against creatures of unimaginable scale (Dragons and Giants), or beings of unimaginable power (gods). The first proper boss fight you have against another god was genuinely like two titans clashing. It was like watching two all-powerful superheroes clash – just like you see on the big screen – except I was in control and I was having an absolute blast. Chaining together attacks and blocking at the right time to gain the upper hand and unleash all that I had onto my enemy is perhaps one of the most satisfying gaming experiences I’ve ever had – and that’s not hyperbole. It’s like bringing a work of art to life on a canvas; painting with a brush that is delicate in its handling and yet creates something that is raw and intense to look at.
I remember after one particular bout with some gods that the adrenaline was coursing through me and the armpits had gotten a little soaked from the intensity of the fight; that once it had ended, I had to step away for a moment and find my equilibrium again.
Purely from a gameplay standpoint; God of War never stops delivering. As you gain new abilities; strengthening your armour and increasing your punishing move-set – God of War becomes a game where you actually begin to feel like a god. The enemies get bigger and stronger, the tasks you are set seem impossible, but both Kratos, Atreus and you push forward and take part in things that leave you in awe of what the developers pulled off and subsequently what you pulled off when you saw ‘Mission Complete’ flash across the screen. ‘Gameplay is king’ is something I often think / say when it comes to games and in God of War it is truly the king!
And all those enemies you face and moments you experience, take place in beautifully realised locations. To put it simply: God of War is a beautiful game. You travel to a number of realms filled with vibrant colours, unimaginable wonders and events that are beyond memorable. Whether you’re fighting next to the body of a gigantic dead god or exploring a vivid world full of magic and death; it is a game that never stops reminding you how vast the world is that Kratos inhabits and how beautiful it can be in its scale.
And it is of course within the levels and their design that you travel through the varied landscapes. God of War isn’t a simple, linear experience where you follow corridors until you make it to the end. There are of course linear sections, but they are broken up with mini hub-like areas that you are free to explore. As you evolve and gain more abilities, these areas continue to open up new areas for you to peak into and see what treasures they hide. It makes returning to areas you’d once thought conquered feel like a brand-new place where doors once closed can be opened and treasure once inaccessible now yours to claim.
This isn’t anything new. Plenty of other games have broken up their single player experiences like this (the recent Tomb Raider games come to mind) but in God of War these areas are rich in history and artefacts that expand your knowledge of the world and the things in it. I found myself getting excited when I would find a scroll or etchings on a wall that would reveal a little bit more of who certain people were or what terrible deeds they had done. Even after finishing the game, I’m looking forward to diving back in and uncovering more secrets and treasures. For example: the primary hub world that connects the various locations together, is rich in artefacts, side-missions and hidden places to get lost in exploring, and I fully intend to do that.
Which brings me to perhaps the most incredible aspect of God of War: Santa Monica Studio’s seamless presentation of the entire game. It is a presentation that is unbroken and uninterrupted. There are no loading screens, there are no transitions between cutscenes and gameplay – everything moves seamlessly along; making for an experience that is never interrupted. All of these usual breaks in the experience are smartly hidden in minor little moments that mean you are never taken out of the game and never feel yourself waiting around, twiddling your thumbs while a loading bar fills up. It is a technical marvel that made for one of the most engrossing gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The twenty plus hours I put into the campaign were a continually unbroken experience that I never wanted to leave. That I never wanted to end.
When it comes to my review of God of War; I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer and how it offers it. Like I said in the beginning: there is a lot to talk about with this game, but I simply can’t talk about all of it. I’d love to go into depth about the weapon system and the abilities that you slowly gain. I’d really love to talk about the games fascinating exploration of Norse mythology – something I’m now very eager to go and research and learn more about for myself. There are elements of the story I want to talk about – but can’t because of spoilers. There are the handful of side characters that I could happily spend too much time talking about each one individually (Baldur specifically). The list goes on.
In a way I feel I’ve done a poor job of reviewing this game because there is still so much to talk about. But on the other hand, I’m happier to have taken a broader approach to my analysing of the game, as it leaves you the reader to discover all this game has to offer for yourself. This is a game that you can easily get lost in, with the never-ending amount of content to consume – and you very much should.
The incredible team of developers Santa Monica Studio have made a game that is special. This game affected me in ways I never imagined. It took me on a journey of emotions. Along with Kratos and Atreus, I experienced a story that was exhilarating, that was touching, and one that will stay present in my memory for some time. Going forth, when I think or talk about what my favourite games are, God of War will be one I genuinely consider making a part of that. I’ll say it again: It is special.
I fully and wholeheartedly recommend, God of War. It is a flawless experience. It is an unforgettable experience. This is a game that will not be leaving my head for some time. I implore you (if you haven’t already) to play this game and share in its beautiful wonder. Now, if you don’t mind, I still have so much more to explore and do in God of War and I’m itching to be back in that world.
I’d love to know what you thought of God of War, and my review of it, so please leave any opinions or feedback in the comments section down below. If you don’t mind, it would be great if you would consider following my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. But I’ll bring things to a close now by offering my heartfelt thanks to you for taking the time to read what I wrote. Thank you so much and I hope to see you return!