Kratos, the God of War, is back on our consoles after being in hiding for close to 5 years. This new God Of War – sans subtitle or number – is also the series’ first proper appearance on the PlayStation 4, and what a triumphant, epic return it is.
If you want some first impressions, check out our preview here. Read on for our – spoiler free – full review.
THE PRICE OF PEACE
The setup is simple – Kratos has been living in Midgard after destroying the Greek pantheon. It’s a sort of quiet semi-retirement for the angriest god (ever), but peace doesn’t last. With the death of his wife, peace crumbles as he has to leave the protective environs of his home to find the tallest peak and scatter his wife’s ashes as her final wish.
It’s a simple request, sure, but one which leads to an epic journey through the Norse realms. (The Norse gods aren’t pleased to know that the man responsible of eradicating the Greek gods lives among them.) Kratos heads off to fulfill his wife Fey’s request with son Atreus in tow. Our titular God Of War has been an absent father, and so begins a rocky journey of a father who wishes to hide his true nature, and a son who is just figuring out life without his mother.
One might imagine this to be a pretty straightforward tale – and something similar to the “gruff man learns to take care of young girl” we saw in The Last Of Us. Some parts might seem right out of the “how to write an absent father who is also a very violent man” guidebook, but it’s a testament to the writing and voice acting that it feels refreshing. There was one scene which went exactly how I expected it to go … and yet I felt emotional. It might start with some The Last Of Us vibes, but I daresay the game makes full use of its mythos (and the Norse mythos) to make it something new out of the father-son story.
I’m not a father yet, but it’s a dynamic that’s familiar when I interact with my own father, himself a man who has moved from another country to his current home. There’s a tension of living in a new world, yet having ties to an old life that you can’t quite impart to your progeny. Santa Monica Studios have done a pretty good job here – it’s not perfect – but it’s good to see the characters slowly evolve.
And it’s a good thing that having a kid in tow is far from irritating, as Atreus gets handy with a bow after some father-son coaching. Sure, he gets pesky at times (sometimes more-so than others), but he’s a good foil to have around the surly Kratos. (He does get in the way sometimes, so you have to get him to fire an arrow to move him out of the way.) There’s also lots of other Norse-folk around to keep things interesting, and it’s worth a few chuckles at times. Kratos picks up a new companion along the way, which keeps things fun, while helping to flesh out the world and its own spin on the Norse mythos.
And you might want to pick up God Of War early, whether you’re a longtime fan of the series, or a lover of Norse mythology. There’s a lot of twists and turns built into it that’s going to satisfy fans … and that’s all I’m going to say.
AN AXE TO GRIND
Combat is a thrill, with Kratos now armed with an axe instead of the legendary Blades Of Chaos. It lends a different dimension to his combat – the axe can be recalled to your hand after you throw it, like Thor’s hammer – and while it’s not as recklessly glorious like the Blades of Chaos, it works. You’ll run into duelling brothers Sindri and Brok, who’ll help you upgrade your and Atreus’ weapons and armour when you have the correct materials.
There’s a large variety of Norse baddies to contend with, and while you’ll see some of them upgraded with new skins, they do come with some upgrades just to keep things interesting. Atreus does keep a journal that identifies their weak points, in case you ever need help in combat. There’s a good level of difficulty in this game at Normal, but you can always choose story mode (yes you can still die) or “God of War” mode where the game is “as difficult as possible”. Have fun!
The enemies do get stunned if you do enough arrow or blunt (read: fists) damage to them, which allows Kratos to unleash some of his ultra-violent bloody-good finishers. They do get a bit repetitive after a while, but they also keep you invulnerable for a while, so I think it’s a good thing.
And yes, Spartan Rage is back for times when it gets hairy.
THE PRETTIEST KRATOS YET
There’s a good story and fun combat, but what helps from the get-go is how amazing the game looks from the very first frame. From the starting close-up shot of Kratos to the amazing vistas you’ll be viewing, God Of War is a beautiful game. You do start off in a snow-covered opening area, but it opens up quickly, and breathtaking sights across the realms are scattered throughout the maps. But soon you meet the witch and the world explodes in colour. I don’t have a PlayStation 4 Pro, so just think about how impressed I already am on a PS4 and 1080p.
There’s a lot to see in the different realms – and tonnes of secret to uncover – so it’s a good thing it never gets boring to look at. I mean, just having the World Serpent hanging over Midgard never fails to take the breath away. And the in-game engine is so good that you never have to cut away for cut-scenes, it’s all rendered right there, seamlessly. Man, I still get nightmares from the days of Final Fantasy VII.
The new off-shoulder camera works very well to showcase the environs. It might be trickier to handle combat when you’re surrounded, but I think it’s an improvement over the old view.
A WHOLE NEW REALM
The new God Of War is an open world – most of the time you can go forth and find secrets and unlock new things while the quest to scatter Kratos’ wife’s ashes moves to the back of your head. And it’s vast, with multiple realms to visit, so like many open world maps, there are a sort of (slow) quick travel points. Let me explain: Each time you open a portal you have to enter a separate realm …. And run around for a bit while you wait for a door to apparate before stepping through. It’s the biggest bugbear I have about the game, especially when you realise you’ve gone and chosen the wrong location.
And even if you’re done with the main story, there’s just so much to explore in the realms in the open world. Older blocked-off areas open up once you get the correct upgrades to unlock hidden areas, and there are new areas at the end where you can test your skills and unlock better equipment.
NOT JUST ABOUT PUNCHING STUFF
There’s a wide variety of puzzles to keep your grey matter tickled. There’s even a particularly fiendish one where even your companion praises you for your cleverness when you solve it (yay me). That said, nothing is difficult to the point that you’ll take days to mull it, but tough enough to make it feel like it’s worth a pat on the back. Some of them even require you to solve a puzzle at speed, so if you’re feeling a little braindead that day, good luck!
God Of War rewards those with more than a passing knowledge of Norse mythology. You won’t need it to enjoy the story, but as the pieces fell into place, I was quite pleased with how developers Santa Monica Studios made their own spin on Norse mythology that also fits nicely with the history of the God Of War series. Old-time fans will have lots to be excited about, and new fans won’t feel alienated.
But even if you can’t tell Sindri from Brok, God Of War is a masterpiece that shows that there’s lots of strength in Kratos’ old legs, especially with a son in tow. Norse mythology is huge, and it’s clear that in God Of War (2018) we’re barely scratching the surface of just who Kratos can meet.
Returning to an old franchise, especially one as famous as God Of War, isn’t an easy task. There’s tons of baggage and expectations to handle, but I can safely say that Santa Monica Studios have done a fantastic job. Whatever mild issues I have with the game are easily forgotten by the way they weaved the father-son stories and Norse mythology together. Throw in bloody fun combat and the beautiful world … This God Of War is a winner.
I can’t wait for the next installment.
God Of War will be released on April 20 2018 on the PlayStation 4.