We first beheld the trailer for the new God of War game back in January, but last week we were lucky enough to get some hands-on time with the new installment in the franchise, and to play through the first two and a half hours (give or take) of God of War, which is the eighth title in the PlayStation cornerstone franchise, and the first in five years.
Right off the bat, this is a different God of War. As glimpsed in the trailers, Kratos is now older, bearded, and most importantly, attempting to raise a young son named Atreus on the outskirts of a dangerous world. This game is a radical departure from all of the other franchise installment, beginning with Kratos now wielding an axe instead of his iconic chained blades, and stretching all the way to the fact that this time around, we’re moving into a world steeped in Norse mythology, rather than the deeply-seated Greek mythology in which Kratos has always existed.
Don’t worry; there’s still plenty of hacking and slashing as you move around this breathtakingly luxurious world. You’ll kill lots of beasts and people and monsters, and your son will be right beside you, shooting an arrow into whatever you point at and tell him to. You can aim and chuck your axe, and then recall it, and it will hit enemies coming and going. It’s a great little twist to play a Kratos that feels a lot like a version of Thor in his old age … and somehow appropriate.
Through the first hours of the game, you will be getting a lot of cutscenes and quicktime events involving Kratos and Atreus, and these pack far more of an emotional punch than you might be expecting. For a franchise with a murdered family at the center of it, God of War has always been strangely lacking in emotion and gravitas. This installment gives it to you right off the bat, and makes you feel it. And for the first time, pains have been taken to make it really feel earned. Maybe that’s got a lot to do with the new voice of Kratos, Christopher Judge.
After you get through the opening salvos of learning how to harness your new fighting abilities, you’ll start learning how to upgrade and customize Kratos using gear upgrades and runic magic. You’ll meet new allies and new enemies, and you’ll find yourself begging Kratos to just give Atreus a hug, dammit!
Another intriguing aspect of the game — which is exceedingly story-heavy — is the opening screen options for playing the game. I selected “balanced experience,” but there is a “Give Me A Story” mode which claims to be light on actual gameplay so you can just enjoy the experience of the story at the heart of God of War, and two more hardcore options if you just prefer to jump in and start wailing on demons with a big axe. I mean, it’s all appealing in very different ways.