God of War on PS4
It’s the little details that push God of War far above and beyond its action-adventure competitors. At the same time, it’s the little things that nag at the game’s potential, holding it back from ascending and becoming a truly great hack-and-slash action game with brutal combat and jaw-dropping visuals. Playing through the latest entry in the God of War series left me in a perpetual state of emotional fluctuation, swinging between a sense of amazement at how much attention has gone into the game’s finer details and one of frustration at minor imperfections that mar an otherwise outstanding game.
The latest effort from the team at Sony Santa Monica plucks Kratos out of the bloodied lands of Sparta and into the frozen wilds of Midgard and its surrounding realms. The differences are immediately noticeable, with Kratos sporting a handsome dad beard as he bosses his weakling son around, and an over-the-shoulder camera angle that brings you much closer to the violent action on-screen. The shift from Greek to Norse mythology is a rather refreshing one, and it’s a good fit for the changed man that Kratos has seemingly become. He shouts a lot less now, and he seems to be wiser and more mature in some aspects. Dad Kratos is a pretty chill guy, and while he does retain elements of his old self, for the most part, he’s grown up quite a bit, and it shows in his dialogue and mannerisms. He’s seen some shit.
Right from the start, God of War makes the main story objective plain as day. Kratos’ wife, Faye, has passed away, and her final wish was for her ashes to be scattered from the highest peak in all the realms. Wanting to honor her memory, Kratos and his son Atreus set forth on a journey to climb the tallest mountain to throw her ashes to the winds. God of War’s story definitely suffers from a bit of a slow start, but when things heat up, it’s a fun rollercoaster ride with satisfying lore implications and a neat conclusion. Even so, there’s one element that persists throughout the story that really weakens it.
The game makes it pretty obvious that Kratos and Atreus don’t exactly have the healthiest father-son relationship in the world and, somewhat predictably, the story is arced in a way that brings them closer and pushes them farther apart at specific moments, all to create an intense dynamic between the two for the player to get invested in. And this is where the game falls woefully short.
The young Atreus is supposed to be the one that we get attached to. We’re supposed to root for him as he struggles to earn his mean dad’s approval and ultimately melt Kratos’ ice cold heart. He’s meant to be the Ellie to Kratos’ Joel, the Clementine to his Lee. And, well, I don’t want to mince words here, but he’s just not. Throughout my 30-plus hour journey in God of War, Atreus does go through some pretty significant character development, but it’s ultimately let down by the tiresome relationship he shares with Kratos. Most of the time, Atreus is portrayed as the little weakling kid who’s too stupid to do anything that makes sense, and that leads to him getting scolded (and sometimes hilariously manhandled) by his father. Even when he does get something right, he always manages to ruin the moment by saying something silly or completely asinine.
There are so many moments in the game that are meant to convey emotional brevity, with Atreus staring longingly into the distance, missing his dead mother, and a shot of Kratos raising his hand to pat his son’s shoulder, only to hesitate and pull back dramatically at the last second. Then there are other moments when Atreus royally screws something up (while sometimes being ridiculously obnoxious about it), and that leads to Kratos forcefully scolding him yet again, and the boy retreats back into his shell of abandonment issues and sadness. Look, Atreus, I know you’re dealing with a lot right now, but daddy didn’t raise you to be a little wimp, mmkay?
It’s a very frustrating and tiresome dynamic not just because you already know how it’s meant to play out, but because there’s very little about Atreus that inspires any form of sympathy or attachment to the character. In the first 20 hours or so, Atreus is just kind of an eyesore to have around.
On the bright side, however, at least he’s really useful in combat. God of War’s action combat still feels as fast-paced as ever, and while I was initially a little disappointed about replacing the iconic Blades of Chaos with the Leviathan Axe, that feeling melted away pretty quickly. The Axe itself is supremely satisfying to use. Every hack and swipe is swift, and attacks connect with an awesome crunch that you can actually feel. The moment-to-moment combat and movement in God of War is brutal and weighty, and that classic bone-crunching violence is still on full display here.
The Leviathan Axe comes with a few tricks of its own, such as the ability to throw it around and recall it with a press of a button. Watching Kratos fling it to cripple a Draugr before calling it back and catching it with a forceful grip never gets old. Atreus also adds another layer of complexity to God of War’s combat with the usage of his Talon Bow. As you progress through the story, he gains access to much more powerful arrows that can shock and stun enemies, and this proves to be exceptionally useful for foes that are faster than you or are harder to hit. It’s a pretty fun balance of hacking away at close ranged enemies, and taking down pesky flyers with arrows.
God of War also offers up an extensive skill tree that allows you to unlock new moves and techniques to shake things up in combat. Atreus’ own combat skills can be enhanced here as well, and the combat can actually get pretty deep once you unlock the ability to switch stances while attacking. While you probably won’t see much of a challenge on the game’s normal difficulty setting, it’s a completely different story on higher difficulties.
Unfortunately, the combat itself is let down a little by a few technical issues that keep it from being great. The lock-on system is finicky at times, causing camera control to be rather wonky in tight situations. It’s hard to explain, but there were times where it felt difficult to shift the camera to an angle I wanted after removing the target lock on an enemy. In times like these, it feels like you don’t have complete control over Kratos, and combat can become a little frustrating.
To improve your chances in a fight, you’ll also want to look into upgrading your armor and weapons. Every piece of equipment contributes to Kratos’ overall character level, Destiny style. The higher your level, the better equipped you’ll be in dealing with stronger foes. The equipment system itself is surprisingly deep, even if it can feel rather bloated at times. The Axe’s strength can be enhanced with a Frozen Flame, but you can also customize the pommel to give Kratos various perks like extra health or a Rage boost. You can swap out Runic abilities on your weapons to change up Kratos’ move set. There are talismans you can equip, which give you a special ability to activate during combat. Your armor pieces can be fitted with various enchantments to enhance their stats.
There is a lot to take in when it comes to equipment upgrading and customization, and some of these elements could perhaps have been trimmed or streamlined further. For instance, the pommels, as cool as they are, never felt impactful in combat. The same could be said for Runic attacks; after a while, I had amassed so many of the things that it became a bit of a chore trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff. And we haven’t even talked about Atreus’ upgrades yet, which include his bow, quiver, armor, and summoned spirits. There is a ton to keep track of here, and while I appreciate the depth of the customization system, there are definitely a few things that could’ve been cut.
But if you’re reading this, devs, don’t drop the Axe upgrades. Each time you strengthen the Axe’s power, its appearance is changed a little, and its designs get more intricate. The Leviathan Axe itself is an awesome weapon, and being able to watch it transform little by little as it gets stronger just makes it, well, even more awesome.
It’s just a shame that the boss fights feel so lackluster. The game’s enemy variety is fine, but it’s littered with tons of mini-boss fights that reuse the same enemy type with different skins. Encountering a large ogre with its very own boss health bar at the bottom of the screen was exciting the first time, but it becomes much less so when you fight it about 10 more times in the story. There are a small handful of truly unique and spectacular boss fights, but those felt too few and far between. Even when you do get to those, the fights usually contain scripted phases where you just have to chip away at their health enough before you’re launched into yet another cinematic sequence where you mash buttons.
When you’re not in a fight, you’ll be out exploring Midgard. God of War is structured as a semi-open world game – not quite as expansive as the likes of Skyrim and Breath of the Wild, but large enough to feel like there’s always something to discover around every corner. The small size works in God of War’s favor as well, as I soon became used to navigating the environments. The world design is excellent, not just in terms of aesthetics, but in how the player is eased into familiarizing themselves with every pathway available to them. The level layouts just make sense, and everything loops together in a cohesive manner. Midgard and the other realms you’ll visit are extremely well-designed, and I found myself content with just roaming the world without yearning for any sort of fast travel functionality, which is available for those who want it. Oh, and of course, it’s a very pretty game, but you don’t need me to tell you that.
There are other little details to appreciate about God of War, and it all comes down to my favorite word in video game marketing: immersion. The Witch’s Compass is an item that you receive a few hours into the game, and it provides you with a compass at the top of your map to point you to your main objective. Fast travel is done by going through a door of Yggdrasil, where you must literally run through an ethereal path before you arrive at your next destination. No ugly loading screens for you here. Even the blacksmiths’ teleportation abilities are adequately explained, and not brushed off simply for gameplay convenience. Ever wondered how the same NPCs and shopkeepers would mysteriously pop up at every place you’re visiting in video games? God of War literally gives you a lore explanation for that. It’s fantastic.
As a semi-open world game, God of War also handles its side quests well. Thankfully, all of them are meaningful, and while you will encounter a couple of fetch quests here and there, they don’t feel like busywork. Every quest is tied into the game’s lore or story in some way, and even if the XP or gear rewards don’t always meet your expectations, it never feels like the game is wasting your time. Even after beating the game, there’s still more to do – realms to explore, dragons to free, and stronger foes to kill.
God of War certainly suffers from a lot of minor flaws that keep it from being a genuinely outstanding action-adventure title, but these feel like kinks that can be ironed out in time, perhaps when the next iteration in the series comes rolling around. Despite all my complaints about Atreus and the game’s imperfections, this is still an easy game to recommend to anyone with a PS4. God of War marks the glorious and bloody return of everyone’s favorite Spartan, and with the new dive into Norse mythology, there’s still plenty of adventures to look forward to as the series evolves.
Score: 4/5 – Great
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