Santa Monica Studios have outdone themselves using brilliant sound design, vibrant visuals and a new change of pace in story and gameplay to reform what may be the biggest hit of the year: “God of War.”
It seems that the previous games in the series have taken their toll on Kratos, for he no longer is a rage-fueled warrior built on revenge. Instead, he now is a stern and reserved father-figure who shows hints of grief stemmed from his past.
He now also has a son, Atreus, whose relationship with his father helps to reveal deeply-rooted vulnerabilities between each other. For Kratos, it’s his self-pity and regret built from his past that haunts him; he keeps his bandages wrapped around his arms to conceal from Atreus the awful truth of what a monster he was back in Greece.
For Atreus, it’s acceptance from his father. Due to the fact that Kratos remains reserved throughout the game, Atreus is left with little feedback over how his father feels towards him. Over multiple instances, Atreus wants to know more about his father, but due to Kratos putting his own shame above his son, his reluctance to answer anything generally leaves Atreus in the dark.
The relationship between them was something entirely emotional and relatable, and this in turn creates a struggle that one would be compelled to see through. It was as if you were not only watching their troubles but were also apart of it. Everything that happens to the two of them weighs heavy on the heart, and it’s that kind of storytelling that really drives this game into a better direction.
The score of this game was also an absolute pleasure to hear. The deep baritone harmonics of the choir that clash with the fierce playing of the strings and brass combined to create a sound most relevant to the atmosphere of Norse mythology. It left a deep humming that would resonate throughout a time even after it had stopped. There really is only one word that best describes it: epic.
Sound design was also well-matched. Hearing the crunches of leaves as Kratos steps on them, the swishing of water as he rows the boat or even the gruesome tearing of him ripping a Draugr open with his bare hands, sounded natural.
Visually, the game looked incredibly detailed and vibrant. Each realm was laid out with great texture quality on nearly everything from the cliffs Kratos could scale to the armor that he may wear. One really gets a sense of the time it must take to create just a simple beard when each and every particle could be seen up close on that of a dead giant.
Looking so good comes with a price though, for having visuals on high resolution settings could come with frame rate drops on standard PS4s. That being said, these instances were few and far in between.
Combat has also changed drastically when compared to previous titles in the series. Combos are no longer emphasized, and hacking away through enemies won’t work anymore. There is now a greater need for strategic gameplay.
Oh, you wanted to light the braziers? Well at some of these locations, a Traveler kneels waiting for a challenge, and he’s come prepared with an impenetrable shield on his back and a long, sharp broadsword. Trying to wail on his shield will only get Kratos killed. Choosing to be patient and stopping to analyze the attack patterns of this enemy as well as many others will yield more satisfying results.
This shift to strategic planning when taking on enemies couldn’t be more apparent when attempting to beat the game’s final bosses, the Valkyries. There are nine Valkyries total, and eight of them come with a uniquely deviant set of attacks that will leave many players frustrated. Whether it be summoning other enemies to fight alongside them or swooping up into the air only to deliver their foot onto your neck, it’s not hard to see how these enemies were designed to break players.
Using strategy to beat foes leaves a satisfying feeling when all goes accordingly, but the ability to fluidly combo between enemies is a feature that will be missed. This is largely in part to Kratos now sporting the Leviathan axe, a welcome addition to what was originally a treasure trove of weaponry. The axe alone feels devastating to wield, for its attacks feel heavy and forceful when it staggers back enemies with each hit.
Crowd control is a must, and adding in the feature to throw the axe and being able to recall it like Thor’s hammer, “Mjolnir”, was brilliant for it gave a much needed range. Not only is this axe a hardy weapon, but its use through platforming the various areas of the game comes in handy. For example, a cloud of poisonous gas could be blocking you from going forward; Kratos can throw his axe at its source and use its ability to freeze it solid, which blocks any more gas from spewing out, allowing for passage.
If the axe is no longer in his possession, he is by no means defenseless. Though unarmed/shield combat is less damaging, brawling will fill up a stun meter much faster, which could allow for powerful executions that would demolish most low-level monsters. Partway through the game, another weapon will be added to his arsenal that is much more fluid and great for taking on hordes of enemies at once like the good ol’ days.
If combat doesn’t suit you, then maybe RPG elements will. There is now a newly built reliance on stats that can be altered depending on the armors and enchantments that the player decides equip. Though admittedly this change feels needless, it can be beneficial to set up the right armor to take on specific foes.
One complaint with “God of War” is that enemies do get boring after a while. Fighting strategies may vary depending on what they wield, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that they are kind of all the same. Giving a Draugr a shield doesn’t make them a new enemy, though the game would tell you otherwise.
Not only would a larger variation have been beneficial but there was a surprising lack of gods to face. This series has nearly been built upon the idea that a player could experience the extreme high of fighting the gods and winning, but this game takes a step back from that. At the very least, players should expect to see more of them in future installments.
Exploring also felt half-baked, for generally most of the game was spent checking the same places over and over again. It felt like a drag when the water levels changed, which in turn meant that the player would have to go back to re-explore beaches they’ve gone to already, only to find slight changes. At least the game rewards handsomely for doing so with high level gear and good banter between the characters.
Despite these minor issues, “God of War” still manages to deliver a thrilling journey for the player across multiple moments in the story. Coupled with expert-level gameplay that satisfied to no end, it gets an A rating for rebuilding a legacy from the ground up and making it better than ever before.