REVIEW – Kratos, the Spartan demigod warrior, the anti-hero of the God of War series, is back, fierce 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. This year, after a long wait (nearly four years), the upgraded PC version has finally arrived, and to celebrate, we’ve tested one of Sony’s best games to date on it.
My father was 56 when I was born. He was a gruff older 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…
Kratos and PC’s raw power and extra abilities
But before I get into the details of the game (which PlayStation fans will already be familiar with), let’s first take a look at what’s new in the PC version. For those still interested in the PS4 game, feel free to skip this section.
God of War looked stunning for a PlayStation 4 game when it was released, and even when the PS5 update added 4K 60 fps support, it still looked stunning. Of course, this will be available on PC too.
Here are the PC-specific features Sony has offered so far:
- Docked framerate
- “Enhanced” high-fidelity graphics: higher resolution shadows, improved screen area reflections, the addition of GTAO and SSDO, and “much more”.
- Nvidia DLSS and Nvidia Reflex
- Built-in support for DualShock 4 and DualSense controllers
- Ultrawide 21:9 support
Sony Santa Monica has put together five configurations to help you figure out which setup will work best on your setup. (Click on the image for readability.)
Their partnership with NVIDIA means that PC gamers with GEFORCE NVIDA RTX GPUs can take full advantage of features that make gaming even sharper and more responsive.
Nvidia DLSS AI performance boost
Using NVIDIA’s revolutionary Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) software, combined with exceptional RTX GPUs, gamers can experience God of War running at increased resolution while maintaining framerate. DLSS uses [MU1] machine learning to scale up the game’s resolution, delivering amazing image quality without sacrificing performance.
When you’re facing the toughest opponents, like Sigrun the Valkyrie Queen, how quickly you can react to her attacks can mean the difference between life and death in combat. Thanks to NVIDIA Reflex, the gameplay of God of War (2018) for PC is responsive with reduced system latency on multiple generations of NVIDIA GeForce RTX and GTX GPUs (NVIDIA Reflex is supported on GTX 900 series or better).
AMD FIDELITYFX super-resolution
The game also supports AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) technology, so gamers with AMD GPUs can take advantage of this visual resolution enhancement technology.
Higher resolution shadows, improved screen space reflections, enhanced Ground Truth Ambient Occlusion (GTAO) and Screen Space Directional Occlusion (SSDO), and highly detailed tools and rendering solutions mean that God of War on PC will be a beautiful, crisp visual experience.
From the frozen wastelands of Helheim, to the jagged icy terrain and eerie green skies of Alfheim, to the lush Lake of Light with its exotic plants and crystalline waters, God of War’s mythical and stunning environments will shine as you travel through them on PC.
The PC version includes a wide range of graphical presets and options, so you can fine-tune the visual experience based on your preferences. From higher resolution shadows and enhanced screen reflections to GTAO and SSDO’s enhancement of the ambient occlusion pipeline, God of War on PC is capable of creating a stunning visual quality unparalleled on the platform.
In addition to graphics and performance improvements, the PC version also features 21:9 ultra-wide screen support.
Sony Santa Monica’s plans for God of War on PC also included robust controller support and customization of the keyboard mapping.
For those who would prefer to use a controller, the game will support DualShock 4 and DualSense wireless controllers, alongside a wide range of other gamepads.
For keyboard and mouse gamers, you have the option to fully customize the bindings to create control settings that best suit you.
Finally, the PC version of God of War also includes the following digital content:
- Death’s Vow armour sets for Kratos and Atreus
- Exile’s Guardian Shield Skin
- Buckler of the Forge Shield Skin
- Shining Elven Soul Shield Skin
- Dökkenshieldr Shield Skin
In the Name of the Father
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the this new God of War is something that was never really very important in the older games: the story. Yes, Kratos was always a compelling anti-hero with a tragic 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 travelling 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.
Go on a great adventure – now on PC
So God of War is a really excellent game, and you’ll enjoy it especially once you’ve mastered the otherwise generally professional (but initially weak) combat system. The story about Kratos and his son is definitely first class and I really liked the NPCs we meet during our adventures. It’s a shame that the RPG and progression system is rather functional and over-complicated with skills, many of which you’re unlikely to use even if you learn them, and I wouldn’t say that all of them are brimming with creativity.
The northern universe, the monsters, the adventures and the quests are really engaging, but this semi-open world didn’t really appeal to me.
So, there are flaws in God of War, and the PC system requirements are considerable, but we’re still talking about one of the best games of the last four years – even for those without a PlayStation console.
+ 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 travelling 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