This is a very hard review to write. God of War is one of those series that evokes strong feelings in just about anyone who has played games in the last decade and a half. A lot of gamers have grown up with Kratos and his journey of vengeance and revenge. Even those who have never played a God of War game are generally familiar with Kratos and his foreboding silhouette. Rife with blood, guts, over the top violence and even more over the top sexual conquests, God of War is one of those series that just everyone talks about. And the most recent God of War game, simply titled “God of War”, is no different.
But this game is not the God of War you may have played and grown up with. This is, for better or worse, a new God of War for a new generation. That’s why this review is hard to write. This mostly stems from the emotions and memories wrapped up in the series from previous installments, partly because everyone has some sort of opinion on the game and how it has changed from the previous games and what it has tried to keep the same.
God of War
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: April 20th, 2018
In “God of War”, the player once again takes on the role of Kratos, the titular God of War. But this isn’t the story of Kratos going on a revenge seeking kill streak. This is the story of… well, that’s one of my biggest complaints about GoW. There is no story. At least, not in a more traditional sense.
This isn’t the story of a hero’s redemption. This isn’t a story of a man out to right wrongs or save the world or anything like that. This is a story of a father traveling with his son to spread the ashes of his dead wife. And that’s all you get. There is a bit of exposition at the very end of the game, a slight nod to what has actually happened in the game, but for the most part? The only story that the player gets is that Kratos and Atreus must “Spread the ashes of his wife from the highest peak in the realms.”
And you will, but not before venturing through several of the realms from Norse mythology, including Jotunheim, Alfheim and Helheim. Generally speaking though, each of these jaunts into the other realms and are short, with specific quests to achieve a singular objective before heading back to Midgard in order to continue towards the final objective of the mountain.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a veritable mountain of character development along the way. Throughout the events of the game, both Kratos and Atreus will grow, not only as individual characters, but as father and son. And that is where this game absolutely shines. There are moments of true emotion from these characters. There are moments where your heart will break right alongside them and there are times where you will scream at the screen “JUST TELL HIM HOW YOU FEEL!”.
Even as you travel back and forth from the hub of the main game, the characters will banter back and forth. Atreus just feels like a young child, finally on an adventure with the man who is his father, but has never acted like one. That is the charm of this game. Just the dynamic between father and son, watching them become closer, watching them grow together. If this dynamic had been any worse or if the characters weren’t just so well done, GoW would not receive as much praise.
But this dynamic, this interaction between the characters, does not excuse the overall lack of story through out the rest of the game. It’s obvious by the end of the game that the developers were planning on either more for the game or were planning on a sequel/DLC. You’ll notice this when at the end of the game, both Kratos and Atreus ask questions that any reasonable player would be asking with no conclusion offered or any answers given. Not only that, but there is a scene at the end of the game, when you finally head home, that just screams “This is sequel/DLC bait!”.
I really wish that the story of GoW was better; that there was some other reason why the few Gods who do show up do what they do; that there was some sort of actual redemption story behind all of this for Kratos. Unfortunately, there just isn’t any. Kratos just kills what he kills because things are in his way. He tries to teach Atreus the way of the warrior and what it means to take a life and spare one, but at the end of the day, he still comes off as an impeccable killing machine, again rarely showing remorse or considering the consequences of his actions.
While the narrative of the game is a double edged sword, so are the combat and mechanics of the game as well. Gone are the days of any sort of aerial combat, combo attack meters that gauge how many hits you dish out before getting hit/a time runs out, or really any sort of the violence and evisceration that the series is known for, for the most part. You can no longer jump in GoW, as all combat is now land based.
You still receive interesting “magic” attacks by equipping certain runes to your main weapons (these attacks aren’t just magical, more than a few of the attacks are stronger melee attacks as well), governed under a cool down timer, just so you can’t keep pulling off these attacks at will, though that timer can be shortened by raising your cool down stat. There are still the over the top kill scenes, but this time around, they are severely limited. In order to pull off a kill scene, you must inflict enough “stun” damage on an enemy and then press R3 near them.
As long as you do this, you will be gifted with watching Kratos rip enemies in half, slam his weapons through the skulls of enemies, or curb stomp them to oblivion. The few, very few, boss fights in the game usually come with their own kill camera scenes as well. There are several fights throughout the game that should qualify as boss fights, but they’re all with the same creatures you fight several times throughout the game and they more or less all have the same kill scenes, whether you’re 30 minutes in to the game, or you’re 30 hours in.
There are approximately 6 actual “Boss” fights in the game, of which several of them are against the same creature type and completely optional. There is a lot in GoW that has been toned back or diminished from previous installments: slower combat, less enemies, less enemy types, fewer boss fights. There’s quite a lot actually, but when you do actually get one of the games few boss fights, they’re every bit as brutal and QTE mashing as previous games.
Ironically, the fewer kill shots actually make the ones you do pull off that much more meaningful, even if you’re pulling off the same kill animation for the dozenth time. By the time you fight your seventh troll or ogre, you mostly know what it is you need to do to bring them down as quickly as possibly, and even when you kill it, you’re more than than likely going to see the same animations as before.
These fights, which are billed as boss fights, make the game feel as if it’s filled more with “mid-boss” fights than any actual boss fight that will leave an action oriented player wanting more. This limiting of the action was, I suppose, an effort to focus more on the narrative rather than the actual gameplay of the game.
Speaking of the father/son dynamic, Atreus can help Kratos out in combat, having access to ranged attacks and summon attacks. Each of the characters have several different skill trees that the player can put experience points into to increase their effectiveness and access new attacks.
Atreus will see a massive increase in usability the more you pump up his different trees, while Kratos will see a modicum of ability increase, but will mostly see extra attacks that are rarely used throughout the majority of the game.
Most of the damage increase that Kratos will see comes from increasing the effectiveness of his armor and crafting new armor. Again, throughout the main game at a normal difficulty, standard purchased armor will see the player through the game and most of the optional fights found throughout.
Beyond the father/son dynamic, there is one aspect of GoW where the game just shines beautifully, and that’s the atmosphere of the entire setting. The game is just absolutely gorgeous, even on a standard HDTV running on the PS4 Pro. There are just some amazing vistas and areas that the player is presented with. I won’t say that the game world feels alive, because it doesn’t, but it feels like a place that was once alive.
Regardless, the game is absolutely beautiful and I never noticed any slow down or stuttering during my playthrough. There were a couple of times though, where I was able to progress fast enough where the game would pause, a load sigil would appear and I would have to wait a few seconds for the game to catch up to where I was. That was the biggest issue I ever had when it came to game. No crashes, no game ending glitches or bugs, there were just a few times where I had to wait for the game to catch up to me.
The music in the game generally blends seamlessly with the game and the action, regardless of what is going on. There are a few times where the music becomes dynamic and takes a front and center role, but they are relatively rare. For the most part, the music complements the overall situation and just fades back. The voice acting, however, is spot on. If the animations and environments evoke emotion, the voice acting nails it and just drives the message home.
All in all, God of War is a fun game, it just leaves more to be desired. The biggest and most egregious faults of the game are the overall lack of story and any sort of real desire to beat the game, other than to find out exactly what happens when Kratos and Atreus reach the top of the mountain.
The very fact that the game dumps just an absolute ludicrous amount of exposition on the player in the final moments of the game, taunts the player by having Kratos and Atreus ask the exact questions any normal player would be asking at that point, and then sets up a very, very blatant DLC/sequel bait at the very end of the game, is outrageous. It is so out of left field and just left a bad taste in my mouth after what was up until that point a fairly enjoyable experience. There is just so much that GoW could have done better, but didn’t. While the narrative is fairly solid, too much emphasis was placed there and not enough was actually done to make the player actually care why they were doing what they were doing.
At the end of the day, GoW is a narrative driven action game that sacrificed the over the topness of previous entries in order to portray a more human protagonist that gained popularity because they were over the top. Is GoW a worthwhile game to play through? Absolutely. Does it deserve a perfect score and near universal praise? Probably not. There was just too much missing in the game. It’s worth a playthrough just to see the dynamic between father and son and how well-crafted the world is, just don’t expect much in the way of an actual story and be prepared for all questions you may have while playing to be thrown back at you at the very end of the adventure.
God of War was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 using a review copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 8
- An extremely well crafted father and son narrative that evokes honest emotion at times
- A well developed world that takes several liberties with the source material
- An OST that blends well with the main game
- A non-existent story that leaves the player with more questions than answers
- A departure from the previous games in terms of gameplay that may alienate long time fans
- More focus on narrative that leads to short falls in terms of story telling, story and combat
- Lack of enemy types makes combat predictable