The story of Kratos in the God of War franchise has always brought a level of drama, violence, and mind-bending puzzles to each of its installments. They all had a very similar structure and pacing that made them enjoyable to gamers. And of course, the mythologies inspiring it, from ancient Greece to now Nordic mythos, within each of these games was what truly brought so many to love the PlayStation exclusive series. The first game was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2005 and now, 13 years later, we have a very different God of War game from Santa Monica Studios for the PS4 that packs the same excitement as the first game while looking completely different.
Right off the bat, this game has numerous differences from its predecessors. Many thought this would be a reboot at first glance because of the starkly different presentation and setting. The game takes place in the realm of Norse mythology instead of that of ancient Greek. We meet a much older Kratos with a big dad beard and a look of deep pain in his eyes. He has a young son, Atreus, who you slowly teach to become a young man throughout the game. The story starts with the death of Kratos’s wife and her wish for her husband and son to carry her ashes to the highest peak of the tallest mountain. Instead of Kratos’s usual dual blades, he wields the Leviathan Axe, a magic axe that returns to his hand when it is thrown. I was concerned when I noticed all these changes, but they grew on me very quickly, and the combat remained still equally challenging.
There are two ways to view this game and they have a very drastic effect on how you see the rest of the story. If you’ve played all the other God of War games, you’re going to be itching for Kratos to be the God slayer we know, and you probably have a decent idea of where the story is going (for the most part). If you haven’t played the other games, and this is your first time controlling Kratos, this story is going to blow your damn mind. Regardless of your answer to this survey, the story of God of War is so deep and emotional that it almost felt mistakable for a film in an era where every game looks like a film from a visual perspective. At its core, this game is the story of a father and son, and their emotional and physical journey that changes both of their lives forever.
The gameplay mechanics are slightly different from that of the original games. You still have the ability to do amazingly violent combos and use magic. You can upgrade your weapons and abilities to gain new combos. However, the newest addition is armor collecting and enhancements that can be purchased or made. As you progress through the game you will need to level up and strengthen your character to survive the increasingly difficult challenges. The other huge change to the gameplay is the use of a secondary character, your son Atreus. He uses a bow and arrow and can be extremely helpful when surrounded by multiple enemies. You can have him flank enemies to distract them while you attack from the front.
Another interesting aspect of the gameplay is the semi open world aspect. Your hub in the game is in the center of the Lake of Nine, the center of the Nine Realms and the location of the realm traveling across the Bifrost. You have the ability to travel by rowboat to the local areas around the edge of the lake, or you can enter the Bifrost and travel to the other realms. Once the story mode concludes, there are numerous missions that still need to be done and you will be traveling to all of the other realms that the story doesn’t cover.
While the gameplay does get increasingly difficult and fast, there is one aspect that may frustrate players who are used to the pace of the original games. There are A LOT of cinematic cutscenes in this game. The beginning and ending of the story are basically one big cutscene, a la Metal Gear Solid 4, but way more engaging and emotionally weighted. They are beautiful and full of interesting plot progression, but you’ll find yourself not touching the controller for minutes, and being comfortable with that. I personally enjoyed the break that the cutscenes allowed for, and the intensity of what was happening during them only amplified my drive to fight when gameplay resumed. When you get deep into the story, you’re going to want a break to think about what’s happened so far, and then come face to face with yourself and Kratos’ rage.
The second half of the story mode is one giant spoiler so I’m not going to talk about that, but I would like to talk about where the game is lacking. There is a lot of repetition in the first half of the game. You are wandering the forest and teaching your son how to hunt and defend himself, and this child’s AI just isn’t good at anything. The pacing is very slow and there aren’t a lot of actual combat moments until much later in the story. The only real purpose the first half has is to establish the characters you’ll be spending a lot of time with later and drilling into your mind how the weapons and combos function. Despite the effective twists, my biggest complaint with the game is in the final moments of the story. Something is revealed by a certain character and it felt silly and insignificant. It’s an extremely tiny detail, but it still rubbed me the wrong way as a long time fan of the series.
Despite the nerdy gripes, I was genuinely shocked by how much this game moved me. I was expecting something similar to the previous games, which were mostly Taken style revenge plot based and didn’t carry too much emotional baggage. Seeing Kratos worn down and trying to live his life as normally as possible while dealing with the death of his wife was painful to watch. Seeing him try to connect and bond with his son and refuse to show him affection even though you can tell that’s all he wants to do was gut wrenching. The big theme of the game, which is also I think one of the most morally difficult aspects, is that you can’t change the past and sometimes you have to dig it back up to be able to move on.
As a longtime lover of the God of War series, I was very pleased with this new addition. It took the story, character, and vibe of the game and gave them all a new look and feel. The addition of a secondary character supporting you in combat is a very useful tool and would have helped a lot in the previous games. The new open world layout is refreshing for this realm-trotting story and allows for hours of playing after the story concludes. The new Leviathan axe is awesome and will make you feel like The Mighty Thor within minutes of throwing it, maybe even better. And the story itself will leave you speechless and will have you almost in tears one minute and cheering at the next.