At first I was skeptical about the new God of War. On one hand, all the previews made it look like a boring cinematic The Last of Us rip off. But on the other hand, I’m a sucker for anything with a viking or Norse mythology theme so I thought I would give this one a spin. And with the many hours I have spent with this, it has been an utterly compelling experience.
There are two major changes in this soft reboot. The first is the change in camera from a fixed, pulled back camera to a much tighter third person over the shoulder view. I wouldn’t say this change is necessarily ‘better’ than previous entries, just different. However, the biggest problem with this is that the field of view is just a bit too tight, which means some fights, especially against enemies like revenants, can become very irritating because of their fast movement and teleportation that makes you have to wrestle with the camera and lock on to catch them. This tightness also makes it difficult to see enemies behind you,but this is compensated with by a threat indicator. However, despite being tight, at least the field of view never brought me to the precipice of nausea like the PS4 version of The Evil Within 2 did where I had to acclimatize.
Speaking of camera, in the transition from game to cinematic sequences and in fact, throughout the entire experience, the game utilizes a single shot camera style. This is a risky move, as if it doesn’t work well, it comes across as showing off and distracting. Here, it is superbly implemented and does an incredible job of involving the player in every aspect and is a perfect fit for the series.
In terms of the overall design, the game offers isn’t pure linear hallways, but more of an explorable world with many hidden areas and set pieces that reminded me a lot of Rise of the Tomb Raider or Arkham Asylum. This world of Midgard, and some of the other realms too, such as Alfheim, are truly sights to behold and make the game world a joy to explore. Seeing new worlds and artistry, especially since the game makes heavy use of angular stone monuments, runestones and even just tapestries on walls in certain areas are wonderful. Since the world is not too large and each area is varied in look and design, no area becomes boring in the slightest. The realm of Midgard (an other realms) as presented here is awe inspiring in its artistry and production value.
The second biggest change for the series, apart from camera, is the tone. The best way to illustrate this is to compare the opening for this one and God of War 3. God of War 3 opens with Kratos climbing Gaia, a Titan, and fighting loads of dudes while also fighting the Titan as well. Here, the game opens with Kratos felling a tree and taking it back home to use as wood for the funeral pyre of his recently deceased wife. The driving thread of the journey is fulfilling the wish of the deceased wife of scattering her ashes on the highest peak of all the realms. Kratos here is also accompanied by his son, Atreus and they have an interesting dynamic and a believable relationship that is well developed. Kratos here is also different in character and, while he still is angry almost all the time (although there are moments where even Kratos shows some humour), his anger is better contained and not compelled to mere blood lust. There is a wonderful supporting cast too, such as the witch, the dwarven smiths that are brothers (the surly Brok and germaphobic Sindri) and Mimir. The journey of Kratos and his son, however, are complicated by Baldur knocking on their door and thrusting them into the affairs of the Thulean gods along their journey. It is a very well told and touching story, with brilliant vocal performances but once certain things are established in the plot, many of its twists are predictable if you have a decent knowledge of Norse mythology and religion.
In regards to how the game actually plays, the game is divided into combat, light puzzles and downtime which is mostly just traversing by boat, which is a relaxing palate cleanser where you can hear Kratos tell fables in the most dry, matter of fact way which is quite funny. Combat is a weighty affair with a visceral feel owed to amazing animation work and quality sound effects. The control scheme for combat is mildly reminiscent of Bloodborne, with the shoulder buttons being used for attacks as opposed to square and triangle like most games in the genre traditionally use. It is a quite simple system, but the series has never been known for having deep combat.
Here it has just enough depth to be fun and offer decent challenge, but it still doesn’t match up to the genre greats. Also, much like the Souls games, or The Witcher 2, rolling away and then hitting after the attack pattern is a very useful strategy. There is a simplified form of juggling here too, which is effective and looks cool but doesn’t feel quite as satisfying to pull off as it does in something like Devil May Cry 3 or Tekken. There are also certain moves that can be switched out and are unlocked as loot, but they are on cool downs, which keeps things simple but lessens the skill ceiling of combat compared to if they were all available for use but required more complex inputs. Your axe can also be thrown and recalled, which is not only for the light puzzles but is very useful in combat and setting up combos. Square, or the BOI button, is used to tell your son to shoot arrows at dudes or to read runes on walls and occasionally assist in solving puzzles. I still miss the jump button for combat. There are also light RPG mechanics, where your gear determines your level, which means some fights can be less about player skill and more about how good your stats are. It works well enough in this game, but might annoy genre purists.
Even though the combat is not as complex as I would like and there are lots of slow walking bits, everything from combat to light puzzles, exploration and everything in between is so well paced that there is hardly ever a dull moment
What of the gore, sex and spectacle, you might be asking? The gore is present an abundant, but not as much as in previous entries which is a bit of a shame and he finishing kills often feel less brutal being primarily against draugr instead of flesh and blood most creatures most of the time. There is a lack of the kind of excessive, gratuitous violence, such as ripping off the head of Helios from the previous mainline game, which some might see as making the game more ‘mature’, but I see it more as missed opportunity at best and glaring omission at worst. In terms of sex, having it in this particular entry would not have fit but it was always handled in such a juvenile PG-13 way in the old games that it is not missed here. I wouldn’t be surprised if future entries had more sexual activity, but presented in a more explicit, yet tasteful, fashion. In terms of spectacle, that is present in abundance here from the very first fight with Baldur to the last.However, considering the sequel bait ending and the inability to enter Asgard, Vanaheim or Svartalheim, I can’t shake the feeling that the developers are still holding many cards close to their chests in this regard. There is also a lack of enemy variety, which is most obvious by the fact that most of the boss monsters in the game, both visual and in combat design, are reskinned trolls, which is quite annoying. The best, most challenging bosses are the Valkyries, but this is late/post game content.
What is my summary, then? The new God of War departs from its roots in many ways yet still retains many essential characteristics. It has superb production quality and artistry, with brilliant storytelling and a setting I enjoy immensely. While the combat and spectacle factor has a few missed opportunities, I still found myself utterly engrossed in the entire experience and as such, the game is very easy to recommend to anyone with a PS4.