Let’s get this out of the way; God of War is the greatest game I have played this generation. Perhaps The eventual The Last Of Us 2 can surpass it, but it has an uphill battle to climb. The God of War’s previous 3 main console entries were excellent 9.5/10 games in their own right, and yet what Santa Monica Studios did here with the 4th installment is nothing short of outstanding.
If Red Dead Redemption 2 is a jaw dropping showcase of what money (as in hundreds of millions) and a large workforce, working insane hours with unlimited resources can accomplish in the creation of a video game. God of War then (by far the better game) is equally a jaw dropping awe inspiring showcase of what a talented team working with love and passion (and also hefty resources) can accomplish when working on a single hardware platform.
God of War isn’t just the latest installment in a brilliant series, but a major overhaul (if not a reboot) of something that wasn’t broken and yet somehow has received a fix and consequently made better.
God of War joins the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn, and Uncharted 4 as perhaps the greatest looking console game in this generation. Sure RDR2 in glorious 4K is a feast for the eyes, but take away resolution and God of War is the better looking game.
God of War has always been known for pushing Sony’s systems to the brink and perhaps this newest installment does a better job at it than the previous three entries.
Kratos is rendered to perfection. His skin features defined muscles, veins and pores. His facial animation is top notch delivering noticeable emotional responses to events unfolding around him. His clothing materials are also rendered to high levels of realism. Leather, Metal, and fabric all sport the proper look and textures.
The environments are some of the most detailed and breathtaking creations I have seen. Only HZD has come close this generation as far as making me stop in place to observe and marvel at different areas of the environment. The fact that the game runs at a mostly 30fps at 1080p on the base PS4 is a testament to both Santa Monica’s mastering of the hardware and the PS4 itself.
Without going into deep discussion of the story in this section, God of War’s dramatic tale required a high level of range of emotions for each character and God of War delivers spectacularly. I can’t quite say that it is superior to Uncharted 4, but it’s close.
Character animation is spot on, the game runs at 30fps, but there is an impressive amount of fluidity to Kratos’s movement while in combat. The same can be said for Atreus; Kratos’s son and companion.
Enemy design is also peerless, an impressive array of mythological creatures based on Norse mythology are present in the game. Each has its own attacks and distinctive look. The previous 3 main games (Specially GoW3) offered an over the top visual spectacle . God of War tones that type of unbelievable spectacle down but in my opinion it was for the better as the game stays within the boundaries of the visual style and story that Santa Monica wanted to present here.
God of War is a grittier, more realistic game in comparison to its predecessors. Kratos remains a violent and brutal protagonist. As he has entered old age he is a tad slower than he used to be, his violence and rage now seem not only contained but controlled by experience and fatherhood. However, he does get to kill things, and when he does it is spectacularly gritty and gory. Blood in massive unrealistic amounts splatters everywhere realistically. After a hard fought battle Kratos’s skin turns into a beautiful bloody crimson mess.
Current gen hardware is able to deliver impressive wintry environments…The Witcher 3, HZD, RDR2 all have utilized Wintery settings to their advantage perhaps the over use can be traced back to Skyrim. That being said a big part of the eye candy during these snowy sections is the snow deformation techniques applied. GoW to me in this regard seemed a little more advanced than HoZ. The environments though are gorgeous, from snowy peaks to magical elven realms, to a living giant turtle house every environment in the game has its wow moments.
The texture work is also top of the line. While the game could have done a better job on character reflections in certain areas, GoW along with Uncharted 4 is probably the best looking game I have played.
God of War tells one of the most engrossing stories ever conveyed by the medium, and in order to do so a majestic score along with some top notch acting is ever present. The score is epic, and matches anything Hollywood has ever come up with in these type of mystical epic films. I can’t remember a modern soundtrack that I enjoyed as much…perhaps Halo’s.
The voice acting is a treat, Kratos delivers his lines powerfully and with the proper emotion needed in Evey scene, the same goes for Atreus. The chit chatter between them and Mimir is the best I have heard since the The Last of Us. That’s the highest compliment I can write for the cast.
Video Games are ART
The late but extremely famous and accomplished movie critic Roger Ebert once famously said that video games weren’t art and would never be art. Obviously he didn’t live long enough to see the Last of Us or the game subject of this review. But alas Ebert was wrong.
In my personal opinion the moment Miyamoto and Co. Began to design levels on graph paper for the original Super Mario Bros. Games were art. Modern games like the aforementioned TLoU and God of War mix Musical composition, art work, Film direction, Screenwriting, engineering, acting and many other disciplines into one single product in an effort to both tell the audience something and ultimately entertain. If films are art then video games are art and games like God of War actually take this premise further than any film has. Films don’t let their audience control (or the illusion of control) of what happens on screen as God of War and video games in general do.
We all might have to thank the film The Road as a source of inspiration. The Road inspired Naughty Dog when they were conceiving the Last of Us, and ND’s mega successful (both critically and commercially) game in turn probably inspired God of War.
From a storytelling perspective it is clear to see that God of War has undergone a transformation from a game that intended to wow players with an epic, and violent tale of Kratos taking on the Greek gods into a game trying to touch the player’s heart with an Epic, Violent, and yet touching personal tale of Kratos trying to be a good father in every sense of the word while taking on the Norse gods that threaten him and his son.
Kratos must do all of this while committing to a dangerous yet eye-opening errand on behalf of his late wife. Kratos’s past haunts him, and he walks the constant fine line of being over protective of his son while at the same time trying to make him a strong individual that could in theory survive in the future without him. It is all reminiscent of the road, and his struggle to express his affection for Atreus is reminiscent to Joel’s struggle with Ellie.
The developers tell the story with brilliant writing accompanied by equally brilliant voice acting and animation. Just simply walking to your next goal or paddling your way through the Lake of the Nine is always an interesting affair because characters keep naturally flowing conversations going. Most conversations are usually started by Atreus’s curiosity. But Kratos is a man short on words, big in actions and before his participation in the two-way dialogues with his son get boring the game introduces to you the smartest being in the world: Mimir.
Mimir adds much needed spice to Kratos and Atreus’s conversations, as well as some humor. Mimir’s knowledge of the world and of the gods including Odin and Thor is unrivaled and he is a pleasant story teller. What impressed me the most about GoW is that it hooked me in its storytelling and visual fest (fighting on top of a dragon has never looked so freaking awesome) in ways that neither Vikings or Last Kingdom (both sharing some of that Norse mythology material) have been able to. Films about mythical gods like Immortals and Hercules have been even more pedestrian at presenting the subject at hand through storytelling.
Sony Santa Monica Studios placed the personal father and son struggles at the forefront of this story and it paid off in spades. GoW is simply the best work of Ancient Mythological fiction that I have experienced in films, TV series or Video Games and so it is Roger Ebert 0 and God of War 1 in the finally tally of the scores about video games never becoming art.
To finalize things on the story telling it must be stated that God of War is a part of a much bigger work as I believe it is the first chapter of a trilogy. Though I could go deeper into the story I won’t because I don’t want to spoil the wonderful journey that Kratos embarks in with his son Atreus.
A Big Risk
Where God of War took a real risk aside from the more personal emotionally driven story is in the way that it plays. God of War is more classic 3-D Zelda than it is the previous God of War trilogy. The world is gigantic but it has clearly defined boundaries, you need certain items to reach certain places and treasures.
There are health and magical upgrades in chests of all over the world. Some of these can be reached after certain clever puzzles have been solved. There is a main hub The Lake of the Nine that connects to all of the places in Midgard…including realms outside of Midgard. It is like Zelda with a heavy emphasis on combat and the statistical progression of an RPG.
Because God of War plays like an action RPG combat is more focused on strategy than just simply mashing buttons as some of the battles in previous God of War games devolved into with Kratos literally wiping out horde after horde of enemies. The combat and the game world is now seen mostly from an over the shoulder perspective similar to that of TLoU, which was similar to that of Gears of War, which was similar to that of RE4 which was perhaps the first AAA originator of this currently most used perspective.
The camera change completely invigorates the series gameplay. The environments can be appreciated at a more up close and personal capacity than the older view point allowed, and Fighting multiple foes now is a dangerous endeavor as you can get hit from a blind spot. Atreus usually warns you just before you are to be attacked but I fell prey to many a foe who attacked me from behind. Constant movement and positioning yourself to face the enemies is key for success.
Atreus fires different types of arrows with the touch of a button and as such the synchronization of father and son during combat is a beautiful thing to behold when the player gets a hold of the combat system. Understanding and learning the attacking patterns of enemies is essential for success.
Enemies now have levels which can readily be seen on their health bar. Take on an Enemy 3 or 4 levels above you and certain death awaits unless you are near perfect. There are a few impressive bosses here and there ….nothing as big as the Titans but the game and wows and impresses in other stunning ways.
Valkyries are Kratos’s greatest foes and what thrilling high it is to face one of these legendary warriors. Every skill in Kratos arsenal, from parrying and countering with the shield at the right time to utilizing your three sets of weapons which include a magical Ax forged by dwarves and bare fist combat have to be carefully but quickly utilized to bring these foes down. It is that type of frenetic yet strategic combat that kept me hooked on the game for hours on end even after watching the credits roll.
The Ax itself is a great and balanced weapon that works both as a weapon, and as a tool for solving puzzles as the Ax’s ability to freeze objects (and enemies) comes in handy in many of the game’s puzzles. The ax is also a long range weapon as Kratos can throw it at enemies with great accuracy. With the press of a button Kratos can recall the Ax back to his hand not unlike Marvel’s Thor recalls his hammer. The way the Ax feels on the DualShock 4 as it hits Kratos’s hand has to be one of the most satisfying “rumbles” in controller history. The meticulous attention to detail is seen and felt everywhere.
XP is gained by felling foes but the greatest quantities are gained by completing side quests.
The gained XP points are used to buy skills for different types of weapons and defensive actions. God of War can be a very challenging game even on normal mode if one decides to skip all of the extra side content. There are some QTE presses here and there during some boss battles but mostly the game forces you to get by on skill and the ability to read your opponent’s moves.
The side quests here can yield anything from crafting materials to gems for Kratos’s equipment. But perhaps the most important aspect of the sidequests is that they always add something to the lore and story of the game. God of War can at times feel like an open world game because of the amount of things to do and discover.
God of War features storytelling and production values worthy of the Last of Us praise and the longevity worthy of a Zelda game. It is the culmination of technical know how and cinematic presentation that Western developers have been king at for years now combined with the polish and gameplay fine tuning of a Nintendo first party game…God of War ladies and gents is one of the (if not THE) defining games of this generation. It is a game that single handedly demonstrates that Video Games are art, and perhaps one of the higher expressions of it. God of War is a must play experience.
Gameplay: 10.0–God of War combines action adventure, and action RPG elements flawlessly. Combat feels perfect, success depends on equipment crafted and XP gained but strategy and skill are a must in difficult scenarios. Hidden secrets, side quests and places to find abound in the game world, few games encourage and reward exploration more than GoW.
Graphics: 10.0–Uncharted 4 and HZD are its only rival. Gigantic detailed worlds, with top notch texturing and detail. The characters are flawlessly animated, and details like clothing and fabrics move and flow naturally. Few games in any generation have been as jaw dropping upon release. The artistry of the cinematic action sequences are without peer. A feast for the eyes.
Sound: 10.0–Some of the best voice acting featured in a game…ever. The music is epic. The audio visual package in the game has no flaws that I can point to.
Story: 10.0–A refreshing take on a Nordic Mythological setting. The story is as intriguing as previous Kratos’s encounters with mythical gods, but the show stopper here is Kratos humanistic side when interacting with his son Atreus. The chit chatter amongst characters is the finest I have yet seen for this type of game The series storytelling has really come together here, I can’t wait for the next installment
Replayability: 9.5–New Game Plus mode. Finish the main tale and the game continues to entertain and amaze for hours on end. An enticing world worthy of 80+ hours of play time and an engrossing tale worth replaying a few times.
Overall: 10.0–God of War is simply the most recent showcase of games as a high form of art and a generational must play experience…unless The Last of Us 2 is better than its original iteration God of War will probably stand as the best game of the generation.