When we first got our hands on God of War, we were impressed by the new setting, tone shift, and mechanics that all mark a drastic departure from the PlayStation franchise and for the rage-fueled story of the central character, Kratos. Now that I’ve played through the central story in this new installment, I’m beyond impressed — I’m blown away.
This review will be as devoid as spoilers as I can make it, because there are a plethora of twists and turns along the way that, trust me, you do NOT want spoiled ahead of time. But I’ll give you as much substantial information as I can without revealing the plot points. And there should be plenty to cover, because this is a big, sprawling game that unfolds delightfully and drastically, and in breathtaking fashion, especially considering how intimate the game is at the outset.
As you’re likely aware at this point, God of War switches the setting and the theme of the franchise from Greek mythology to Norse mythology, and finds Kratos attempting to live in seclusion with his son, Atreus, who will be fighting alongside you in battle, shooting arrows as you dispatch foes with the Leviathan Axe — another departure, as Kratos’ signature double-chained blades are no longer your weapon of choice.
The previous God of War games were about being pissed off and killing as many enemies as you could in wave after wave of madcap combat. This time around, Kratos is still pissed off, but for very different reasons, and you’ll spend most of the game watching him have no idea how to relate to his son, and watching his son bristle at not being able to understand why his father is incapable of the simplest kindness.
SIE Santa Monica Studio knocks it out of the park with all of the story and character interaction, and they deserve massive props for their development of Atreus in this game. It’s tough to pull off dozens of hours of having a child be a three-dimensional character in any medium (let alone an interactive medium where said child is your sole accompaniment) without them being cloying, or irritating, but they threaded the needle perfectly with Atreus. He and his motivations make sense, and help serve to make Kratos relatable and worth caring about for the first time in the character’s history.
As I mentioned before, this is a big, big game. Playing on the “Give Me A Story” mode, the “easiest” setting, it still took about 25 hours to play through the core story with minimal diversions. There’s still the vast majority of the world left undiscovered as it currently sits in my PS4, and I look forward to exploring it at my leisure, possibly for a very long time to come. The world continues to unfold, and unfold, and unfold, and it never stops looking incredible or feeling colossal in scope. It’s a feeling similar to the first time playing vanilla World of Warcraft and seeing that world just keep opening up as you venture out of the starting area into a universe you never expected.
The combat and gameplay is almost always fun. They nailed it with all of the axe mechanics, particularly the throw and return, which makes you feel like Thor pretty much every time you do it (which is a lot). Commanding Atreus also becomes second nature very quickly, and in perhaps the highest bit of praise I can offer, the battles rarely feel mindlessly repetitive. There’s danger lurking around every corner, and maybe there isn’t as much variance in the stunned grapple as you might like, but you’re always moving forward for a reason, always getting attacked for a reason, and always eager to see what’s on the other side of the gods and monsters you’re taking on.
But the setting, the story, and the design is what make God of War truly shine. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this invested or had this much fun playing through a central story of a game, and I now care about the core character in a way I never would have dreamed possible before this installment. They took all the best parts of Norse mythology, Lone Wolf and Cub, Hellboy, and multiple other inspirations and made a unique story full of heart and despair and loss and longing. I truly feel like God of Warsets a new standard for what a “reimagining” of a video game franchise can be capable of.
I want to spend much more time in this world, and I look forward to more God of War games in this vein, hopefully for years to come. Kudos to the entire team for taking a franchise and pumping life into it like they’re whaling on an enormous bellows. If you have ever had a passing interest in the franchise, you’re going to need to pick this one up.
This review was written using a review code provided by PlayStation.