REVIEW – Kratos, the Spartan demi-god warrior, the anti-hero of the God of War series is back, gruff as ever, but much older and father of a young son, Atreus. He left the Greek lands as the story is a new direction for the series, as it is loosely based on Norse mythology. We received the game about a week ago, and we are sharing with you our review.
My father was 56 when I was born. He was a gruff old man, a kind of an ancient hero of the Hungarian ’56 revolution against the Soviet oppression. He was always grumpy; he was a man of a few words, and he was never really satisfied with my deeds.
Why am I telling you this, at the beginning of a God of War review? Because that is exactly, what’s the main story is about: the story and road of an older, bitter Kratos and his young son, bringing the ashes of Kratos’s companion and the mother of Atreus, to the highest northern mount off their land. The whole game feels like the western with the older Clint Eastwood: Unforgiven, with the bitter, older hero and more realistic, more grounded storyline and action. Does it still feel like the old, classic God of War games? Well, I will have to spill the beans sooner or later: no, not really. Is this a blessing or a curse? We will bear with me, and I will tell you…
In the Name of the Father
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the this new God of War is something which was never really very important in the older games: the story. Yes, Kratos was always a compelling anti-hero with a tragical past. Born in the Greek city-state of Sparta, Kratos is the demigod son of Zeus and a mortal woman named Callisto, although he would remain unaware of who his father was for most of his life.
Outraged at Zeus for fathering yet another bastard child, Hera ordered Kratos’ execution on the day he was born, but the King of the Gods took pity on the child and refused, leaving him in Sparta to be raised by Callisto. Becoming a Spartan warrior and serving the Gods he was tricked by Ares, the God of War to slaughter his own family: his wife and his child.
From that day forward, Kratos was forced to forever wear the ashes of his dead family on his skin. Kratos became The Ghost of Sparta; his skin now ‘pale as the moon’ from the ashes that coated him.
He swore vengeance against the Gods, and through each game so far – always furious – he massacred each Greek gods.
The reason I am recapitulating the story of Kratos is that in this game he is completely different. He lost his anger; he is “just” an extremely bitter, older man, who just lost his wife, and who is raising his son, Atreus. Whether the game will be a disappointment or a treat to you lies mainly in whether you like this new Kratos and his son, as the story is mainly about them and their journey in the often hostile land of the North. Both Kratos and Atreus have a strong, compelling personality and while they meet lots of different character, they are all just the supporting cast to the journey of Kratos and his son.
Yes, as you have suspected the relation of the two main characters feels a lot like the one between Joel and Ellie, the heroes of The Last of Us. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as they are different enough, so you will not feel the game’s narrative being just a copycat. Still, they will argue and alongside the road all the time just like Joel and Ellie, with Kratos being a grumpy, gruff daddy and Atreus the hotheaded young lad with a strong personality of his own.
The aforementioned supporting cast is an interesting bunch as well. You certainly noticed the young sorceress from the trailers, who will help them along the road, there will also be two dwarf blacksmith brothers who are making and upgrading the War Axe – the only weapon Kratos himself will use during the game – and the different kind of armors and a talking head of a Norse God among. The latter three character offer some kind of comic relief to the game’s otherwise serious tone. It is not always truly funny, but when the game’s humor works, you will have some good laughs alongside the road.
Kratos enemies are also interesting, but not that much memorable as the ones in God of War III for example. One of them is quite different: he looks like a brawler from a Guy Ritchie movie, bantering all the time during the fights.
There also some other enemies (bosses), that you have to fight during the game, like a giant dragon, but either they do not have that much of personality as the Greek gods, or they do feel less epic. I replayed God of War III Remastered not long ago, and I especially had the latter impression.
Still, the game’s story is an impressive work, with a very compelling pair of the two main characters and some memorable side-characters as well.
Hack’n’slash and puzzles
While the story is similar to The Last of Us, God of War’s gameplay is a mixte between Dark Souls like games, like Bloodborne or more classic hack’n’slash third version action RPG titles. At the beginning of the game, it feels less than stellar, as Kratos feels a bit of weak sauce on higher difficulty levels, and while it’s way too easy on the middle difficulty level (it’s also a criticism to the game difficulty levels not truly adjusted) it feels a bit of the letdown, compared to the older God of War games. The game also lost its epicness, especially due to the fact, that the camera is not fixed anymore. It became a more generic hack’n’slash title, although later, the more skills you learn, (and the more you learn the combat system’s gripes), the more the fight becomes fun. Still, again: it does not feel that epic anymore, then in the older games.
Otherwise, the War Axe is very fun to use against all kind of enemies. It’s a beautiful weapon (both in looks, and the way you use it) and it also has a close combat and throwing function. The latter is VERY important, especially on higher level levels difficulties. It’s so important in fact, that the combat becomes a bit of “God of Axe Throwing”, especially with lots of enemies, or more difficult enemies around.
The War Axe is also used during the game’s puzzle sequences. The puzzles are perhaps the most annoying and boring parts of the game. Either you have to find runes and open chests with three runes to find and hit with the axe each time. It’s very repetitive, and many times you will have to look for the runes and hit them fast enough, so they can be opened. Some of those axe throwing puzzles are also the key to progress, and I have to confess being stuck at the very first puzzle because of the game was doing a poor job at explaining the puzzle mechanics. It is a shame because similar Sony games like Uncharted has great puzzle parts, I cannot really understand how those in God of War are that much botched.
My other gripe is that on higher difficulty levels you start to rely on Atreus bow skill too much, while you roll and roll all the time. Since the enemies are deadly and fast, you will learn, that your Terminator son (who can never die), will save your ass in the long term anyway.
The bigger enemies (like the trolls) are more fun to combat, especially since there is always some tactic to use to get rid of them and you can ride some of them to wipe out enemies. Pity, that those troll riding sequences are surprisingly short.
RPG and traveling system
The original God of War games had some very basic RPG elements, with weapons being upgraded with red orbs and different skills being awarded. The new skill system here is similar to the role-playing elements of many action-RPG titles which came since, or those of any kind later Assassin’s Creed game. It gets the jobs done, there are many rather interesting skills and others, which are not that much thrilling.
Maybe the version I was playing had some bugs, but some skills did not seem to work either, but honestly, the way the combat works, I did not care either. To be frank: there are so many skills, and the enemies are so quick and deadly, that you either use your War Axe, or axe throwing skill from afar combined with Atreus bow skill. Yes, unkillable Atreus and his bow… There’s way too much of that in the game…
God of War also has some light open world elements, as you can travel from portal to portal, for example, going back to the blacksmith dwarfs to upgrade your weapon, or fulfilling other mission elements. You can also travel by a small barge on the pond, while papa Kratos is telling purposefully stupid and simple stories to his son. (Which are sometimes fun, sometimes not that much.) The level design, however, is pretty linear, and enemies are generally all gone when you go back to already discovered places. This kind of semi-open world level design works well in a game like Bloodborne, where enemies are respawning, but it is strange and feels clumsy here.
“You look so awesome, dad!” (Atreus)
Concerning graphics, the game overall looks pretty good – especially if you play on a PS4 Pro console (like I did.) Kratos himself looks particularly great, with some old scars, a much suffered, wrinkled face, but still built like a champion. Atreus or other important NPCs also look pretty good. You can also spot scars on the face of Atreus as well, and the witch who is helping us has a lovely, well-animated face. Concerning the monsters, they also look great, with some exceptional graphics done on a giant snake.
Same with the environment: it generally looks pretty good, with caves, small forests, mountain paths. However, they do look a bit boring compared to the epic levels of former God of War games, and it also doesn’t help, that Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which was set in a very similar area was artistically more exciting and a bit better looking.
That is especially true the water’s graphics (while rowing in the small boat), which was excellent in Hellblade, and for some strange reason, it looks ugly as Hell in God of War – like was some water design back from the PS2 era. There are also some blurry textures here and there, which do look strange on PS4 Pro from a Sony exclusive game like God of War.
Animation (chiefly combat animation), on the other hand, is pretty excellent both – those of Kratos and those of his enemies.
The sound design (to quote Kratos qualifying his son’s bow skill) is “adequate,” the monsters sounds are rather chilling, but the music section is clearly missing the epic feeling of the former GoW games.
God of War is an excellent game, especially when you learn to appreciate the gripes of the rather well-made combat system (when Kratos is high level enough) and the compelling story with Kratos and son and the interesting NPC. Still, the RPG system is rather functional and a bit too overloaded with skills, – which those you will likely never use – and also a bit bland, with only two weapons for both Kratos (the War Axe) and his son (the bow). The Norse universe, the monsters, the world presentation are great when you are roaming the land, but the semi-open world system is a bit clumsy, especially, when you have to backtrack your way.
So it is a bit “Unforgiven”, that a God of War game, which was meant to be so epic, like almost all the other titles in the series is “just” excellent (8.1/10) in our book, especially with so much anticipation. Let’s hope, that the next episode, already announced will be more polished, so Kratos and son could be back in another awesome game of the franchise.
+ Great story with old Kratos and son
+ Solid combat system, with some great moves and skills
+ The Midgard presentation and graphics are overall is top notch
– The RPG system is too cluttered, with many useless skills
– Semi-open world system and traveling is not that great
– Some graphical elements (water) are rather ugly.
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio
Release date: April 20, 2018