It is not easy to bring back a series with a completely rebooted look and then find success with it. God of War for PS4 feels like such an attempt that miraculously not only has managed to surpass its original vision, it also sets new benchmark for an action adventure game that will be hard to overcome by others.
God of War is a series that is known for its high spectacles and crazy set pieces. It is also remembered for its violence and bloodshed that seemed like second nature for Kratos. As a person that was on the path to vengeance, Kratos was merciless and always angry against the gods for fooling him into killing his family. It was basically the foundation for his story as it was told in 3 different games and released across two generation of consoles. The original trilogy is still well regarded today and it cemented Kratos as an angry and violent god that won’t hesitate to kill anyone that stands in his path.
When the new God of War was initially revealed at E3 2016, it featured a completely different Kratos. His personality didn’t show any sign of his past and he seemed to have embraced his role as a father to a son. This new personality presented an interesting look at how the developers decide to mature the character of Kratos, after all, how many times can they repeat the same angry look for him that was a key focus of atleast 3 mainline games and 3 spin-offs. There was some skepticism towards the new approach and after having finished the game, it is sufficient for me to say that it has worked out really well for the developers based on how they intended it to be the new direction for the franchise going forward.
God of War also features a complete revamp of all the basic gameplay mechanics. The game is now more grounded and the story here feels personal to Kratos. This does come at a price though since if you expected the crazy boss fights from the previous trilogy, they do lack here. The violence is also toned down and more focus is placed on the interaction between Kratos and his son Atreus. As a fan, it was hard to adjust the new changes but the truth is that they are made for the better, and while the initial pace of the story is slow, once you sink some time into it, it is hard to leave without being impressed by it.
I will start off with the gameplay first. The new weapon that Kratos has now gained replaced his old trustworthy Blades of Chaos honestly makes the combat a lot more enjoyable. The long range of the Blades of Chaos were fun but the ability to throw and summon the Leviathan Axe, like Thor can do with his hammer, is such a major feature of the battle that it is hard to realize its true potential until you unlock a lot more of the abilities. The locked camera system has now changed to a fully controllable camera that features a third person view with Kratos occupying a major part of the screen. It feels a little claustrophobic at first but it doesn’t take time to get used this new look.
My issue with the combat system is that the camera makes it hard to keep track of the enemy during some of the more fast paced boss fights. The lock-on feature doesn’t work as well, which is rather unfortunate because it makes some of the battles slightly frustrating. There are a lot of options available to practice in combat, from using your leviathan axe, getting help from Atreus, using runic attacks, to triggering your Spartan Rage once you have fulfilled its meter. The combo system keeps evolving with each new skill that you learn and it can get surprisingly deep near the end of the game once you have mastered everything. Of course, you can also just mash your way to victory but where is the fun in that, right?
The lack of enemy variety and boss fights are a huge bummer for me. For a series that was well known for them, it is disappointing to see them being rather middling here. The enemies repeated throughout the game and one particular type of mini-boss, troll, keeps getting reused in almost major story scenario. They might be different in appearance but their attack pattern remains mostly the same. Other than that, I really enjoyed the final fight and felt like it did manage to hit the height of its predecessors considering how crazy it felt, and how the action flowed smoothly during the battle.
The story presented in this new God of War hardly has any reference to the past games, which is rather disappointing. There are a few mentions of some of the events from the original trilogy and to the past of Kratos but other than that, don’t expect to get much explanation for how Kratos ends up being in this new mythology. The stakes feel a lot lower since the game is now an emotional journey for Kratos and his son Atreus as he decides to fulfill the last wish of his wife by spreading his ashes from the highest peak in Midgard. It is hard to talk about the story without spoiling some key moments but throughout the journey, the bond between Kratos and his son keeps growing leading to an emotional payoff near the end of the game. It is not exactly a traditional video game ending and I thought it was rather well done and a risky move when looking from the outside.
God of War never feels like it is a linear game, because you are always given choice to continue the story or keep exploring different locations. The game is choke full of content for which the developers deserve all the praise. It can take you more than 20 hours to finish the main story and once you are done, there is plenty of post-game content that will be unlocked including some of the most challenging boss fights in the game. You can tackle them when going through the main story but it will result in additional challenge. The exploration is handled in a main hub called Lake of the Nine that connects to the various realms in Midgard. The optional content can include new weapons upgrades, armors and their upgrades and collectibles. Unfortunately the post-game content that unlocks new area can be a bit of a grind so it is not exactly as interesting as one might hope.
The production values and presentation in the game is simply amazing. The visuals are easily some of the best ones on the PS4 rivaling the technical prowess of Sony 1st Party Studios like Naughty Dog and Guerrilla Games. The game is extremely polished and even though the developers ended up releasing around half dozen patches since launch, I didn’t face any major issue. The support for the PS4 Pro is also remarkable offering 2 different choices: Unlocked frame rate with 60 FPS target running at 1080p or 4K resolution using checkerboard rendering at 30 FPS. I settled on the 4K mode since it shows the best result with the image quality.
God Of War Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: God of War is a third-person action-adventure game developed by Santa Monica Studio and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
God of War is a more grounded and personal journey for Kratos. The game excels at world building, combat and exploration but suffers from some flaws with its lack of enemy variety and pacing near the end-game.