The God of War franchise started its life over ten years ago, and it stayed fairly consistent for that span of time. It wasn’t until this new release that they decided to take the series in a different direction. Having the same name as the first game, it’s pretty obvious that the intention was to reinvent.
But God of War doesn’t change to the point where it’s unrecognizable. Some knowledge of the first game is necessary for understanding the events in this one. The changes to gameplay are for the better, and the ways it develops its characters are excellent.
Kratos is no longer the ferocious blood-thirsty monster we all grew to know and love (or hate). Instead, he wears a calmer expression and seems to purposefully hold back his rage. The reasons for this become clear pretty fast as we’re introduced to his son Atreus. Living in a completely new world of Norse mythology with a young boy to take care of gives him a fresh start to forget his past, and a motive to be better.
The theme of being better is prevalent throughout; not only for Kratos, but for the ways he raises his son. Atreus is a wide-eyed young boy with a lot of optimism and excitement for the world around him, but he carries some of his father’s traits. They portray Kratos’ wish for Atreus to be different from himself very realistically. It was very clear that this someone who has experience raising a child wrote the script for this game.
Family plays an important role in God of War. Before passing, Kratos’ wife leaves him and his son with the task of carrying her ashes to the highest peak in all the realms. Without any true explanation given for why she wanted this, they still have an intense determination to fulfill her wish.
Their journey is really set into motion when a powerful stranger attacks Kratos outside their home. An exhilarating boss fight with this character left me impressed within the first hour, and excited for what the game had in store.
Bigger fights like the first one are there, but its excitement is only reached a few times. Boss encounters are few and far between. The majority of the more difficult ones were slightly harder versions of beefier enemies. This problem never ruined the game though since the challenge of regular fights was so enjoyable.
As a tool for combat, Atreus is one of the most useful things to focus on. This is surprising since I was worried that he would be extra baggage that you would need to protect from dying, but he serves an important role. As a player, you don’t have full control over everything he does, but you decide when he shoots his arrows. And these arrows stun enemies allowing you to finish them off with a crushing move.
The most fun thing about combat is playing around with the Leviathan Axe. Being able to throw it and call it back like a boomerang is a genius mechanic that never once got old. I would often get distracted from my goal by chucking it at things and calling it back over and over, only to realize that a whole five minutes had passed.
You can also find runes to buy and fit into your axe. Two can be equipped at a time, and they give you special moves to use in combat. There are a lot of these to pick up along the way, and they were fun to mess around with. By the end of the game, I’d discovered the best pair for me, and I ended up sticking with those.
Upgrading and making use of all the assets available to you is very important in God of War. This game is tough, and fights will have you always on your toes. The higher difficulty settings are brutal, but even the normal one is very challenging. Paying attention to enemy signals of when to block and when to dodge is another way to make it through a fight.
You earn a lot of your upgrades by travelling around the map, but most of the main stat boosts are done in the menus. XP is earned by finishing quests and winning fights. These points act as currency to spend on skills. There are a lot of these, and while the game gives you a descriptor on what they do, I never found the need to memorize them to be a problem. They have specific button combos, but usually they would happen naturally during combat.
Visiting the blacksmiths at their shops is another way to upgrade Kratos and Atreus. Finding money and materials around the world can be traded to make Kratos more powerful and Atreus more useful in a fight.
God of War’s setting is a sight to behold, and exploring its openness is not only refreshing for a game in this series, but for open world games as a whole. Its size isn’t big to the point of becoming overwhelming, but there are several things to do. The Lake of Nine serves as a hub that you use to get to different areas on the map. Going off the beaten path can earn you side missions and hidden information on the world.
As you travel, Atreus discovers the world’s lore and fills it out his notebook. There’s a staggering amount of it, and while Kratos is never interested, Atreus always is. This information is never necessary to read for getting an appreciation of the game’s narrative, but it gives you a lot of extra background on the world. In turn, it makes seemingly little things a lot more important.
Kratos’s lack of interest in all things outside of his goal is very befitting to his character. The spectacle of gods and large monsters is nothing new to him so it makes perfect sense to have him unimpressed the majority of the time. Atreus, however, is always intrigued by every new thing they come across. Having him be in awe of each area is an excellent way of representing how the audience should feel at a given moment.
Character interactions are at their best during the quieter moments. Atreus is always keen on hearing a good story, and Kratos’ dry and uninteresting way of delivering them was always hilarious to hear. These conversations were also a great way to passively consume the lore so you don’t have to put in extra work by reading each new journal entry you pick up. For some reason though, if you leave your boat, he refuses to continue the story until you get back in. This would result in me waiting outside a boat dock for a story to finish so I could continue playing the game.
A lot of this stuff seems like a huge departure from the original series, but God of War isn’t ashamed of its past. Call-backs get doled out occasionally, but the biggest and best return is how brutally violent it is. There will be fights where Kratos gets covered in the blood of his enemies while he howls in rage.
The writing in God of War is some of the best I’ve seen in my many years of playing video games. Cut scenes are treated with great care. Hours would go by unnoticed because I was so invested in each thing that happened.
Some cut scenes are woven into the gameplay. While this is often done flawlessly, there were times where I would be disappointed by how the game took over control of what I was doing. In some fights, I would have the analog stick pushed forward, only to let go and realize I wasn’t even in control of Kratos anymore.
I can forgive this by how great the characters were. There aren’t a lot of them, but the important ones stood out by how big their personalities were. Whether it was laughing out loud at the comedic nature of the blacksmiths Brok and Cindri, or being completely entranced by the menacing main villains, I was always immersed.
My experience with God of War was only interrupted a couple times with some minor glitches that forced me to reload my save. These instances were few, and both times they consisted of icons that wouldn’t appear on screen when they were supposed to.
God of War exceeded almost every expectation I had of it. A series that had me uninterested before has now become one of my favourites. The way it changed my perception of Kratos was mind-blowing. Its interesting take on Norse mythology has me anticipating what’s in store for the future of the series. Santa Monica Studios raised the bar with this game. The managed to make a cinematic adventure that meshed its gameplay excellently with its story telling. God of War (2018) is truly one for the ages.