Simply titled God of War, the newest entry into what can only be described as Sony’s mascot series takes a huge step away from the original material that solidified Kratos as a gaming legend and offers gamers an entirely fresh take on what it means to be The God of War.
The end of the original series sees The Ghost of Sparta broken and betrayed by Athena and bleeding out on Mount Olympus whilst the world around crumbles into disarray. The parting shot is a trail of blood leading to the edge of the cliff where atop the final battle took place. Even eight years ago I refused to believe that Kratos was truly dead. Flash forward to 2018 and finally, gamers are able to indulge in the next chapter of Kratos’ story. But this time around a lot has changed.
From the get-go, it’s clear that Kratos is a different man. No longer bound to the Blades of Athena, the events of his previous encounter with the Gods tempered his fiery nature and drove him to live the quiet life; in Midgard. The game begins with Kratos and his son Atreus paying respects to the recently deceased Mrs Kratos with a Viking funeral. Her last wish was for her ashes to be spread across the top of the highest peak in Midgard – no easy request, but one that Kratos intends to keep.
The initial sequences of the game acts very much as a tutorial. Kratos instructs Atreus to fetch his bow in order to hunt deer. The game hand-holds you through a few minutes of new gameplay mechanics before allowing the story to progress. Giving the player a chance to get used to the new Leviathan Axe as well as introducing us to a different protagonist. It’s in these moments that we get our first look at Kratos the father. A towering and terrifying figure of a man that we’ve come to know as the Ghost of Sparta, the God of War; despite his tough demeanour it’s clear to the player that he cares about his son, though he doesn’t often show it. This becomes even more evident as the game progresses and is a true testament to the writing team as they’ve done a fantastic job of bringing these characters to life. Making you care about their wellbeing and inwardly hoping that Kratos will show some form of affection to his son.
Atreus is equally as fleshed out, character-wise, as his father. Though to be honest, the same could be said for the number of characters that are encountered during the game. In particular, the child-like wonder that Atreus sees in everything that the pair encounter. His interest in the history of Midgard is reflected in his journal entries as well as his descriptions of various shrines that are located. Not only does this serve to build his character further but also allows the developers a way to inform the player of the rich history of the Norse culture.
I found it particularly funny that Atreus was brave enough to make a joke about his father’s age: “That was impressive. You didn’t hurt your back, did you?”. Atreus quickly became one of my favourite characters and like Kratos, I felt the need to protect him, especially during later stages of the game. It’s the banter between the two which shows the clear bond between father and son and breaths life into the characters, even if Kratos, at first, plays the stoic and uninterested parent figure.
But what use is character development and a great story without the locational setting? Much like its predecessors, God of War does not disappoint. The series takes a huge step away from its ancient Greek origins and settles firmly within Norse mythology. The change in art style is instantly noticeable. Atreus is easily recognisable as a young Norse lad; adorned in furs and leather belts with a bow to match while the ruined temples and buildings that scatter the landscape of Midgard are covered in Norse Runes and effigies to the Norse Gods. Enemies now include giant trolls and undead humans, and dwarfs are commonplace – much to Kratos’ dismay!
Everywhere Kratos goes there is something to uncover. While still a linear plot line the game actively encourages the player to go out and explore. Little hints from Atreus suggest the perfect moments to wander from the main story and indulge in the many side quests and hidden areas the game has to offer. Often these side quests contain challenges that are not as present in the main quests but yield rare items and materials to upgrade your arsenal.Considering the number of hidden items and quests there’s a hell of a lot to do in God of War.
Unlike previous entries in the series, God of War has more of an RPG element. While in its predecessor’s players were able to upgrade the variety of attacks and magic that Kratos obtained during the course of his travels, this latest entry offers greater depth in character customisation and skill trees which can be unlocked using in-game EXP. From the pommel of the Leviathan Axe to the armour that adorns Kratos’ oversized torso; it can all be upgraded to provide more strength, defence, vitality, runic abilities and cool down. Each represented as an individual value to show the player where Kratos’ strengths and weaknesses lie. In addition, I noticed that the Leviathan Axe became more and more ornate as it was upgraded. A nice touch – the weapon begins the game as a fairly simple axe, but as the story progresses it morphs into a weapon deserving of a god.
Players attached to the Blades of Athena may be somewhat disappointed in the begining with God of War. As Kratos is no longer under the servitude of the Greek deities, no longer is he bound to their weapons. Leviathan is the new replacement – a two-handed war axe that Kratos can seemingly swing and throw with ease. Much like Thor’s Mjölnir, Krato’s can call Leviathan back to his hand which can be chained with the weapon’s light and heavy attacks to pull off some devastating combos.
Another large change to God of War is the removal of magic attacks. During the course of the previous titles, Kratos would – in most cases – forcibly obtain magical abilities. These special attacks would consume mana but would deal a devastating amount of damage to any in Kratos’ path. The current generation removes these abilities in favour of runic attacks; gems that can be attached to the Leviathan Axe that allows the player to perform a strong and fast magic attack. Players can collect more of these as the game progresses allowing gamers to adapt to each situation.
In addition to the plethora of upgrades for the Ghost of Sparta, players are also able to upgrade Atreus, though not as much. The young Spartan can be equipped with new clothing sets which enhances his abilities to stun, attack and provide health support to his father during battle as well a number of skills which again can increase his damage or the number of arrows he can fire consecutively. While in most games the AI assistance is fairly poor, Atreus can be a huge help. I found that upgrading his stats definitely helped and his assistance was pivotal in many a battle.
Despite these changes, however, the game still feels like the God of War. While Kratos now only kills for necessity, the blood and gore that we’ve all come to expect are still there. Stun kills still exist and are just as brutal as well as the over-the-top boss battles and epic kill-cams; and of course, the Spartan Rage returns in its full glory. To me, the original games felt like a hack and slash adventure interspersed with snippets of story to keep the player going – a reward for clearing a tricky boss; now God of War feels like a fully rounded experience. The right amount of puzzle solving, story and bloodshed. That’s not to say the previous games weren’t great, they were, but God of War steps it up a notch to become as close to perfection as a game can in the series.