I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never really liked Kratos. The God of War games always appealed to me with their epic scope and insane action. I didn’t play them for the story. I know Kratos was tricked into murdering his own family, but he only ever had two moods: angry and angrier. There was never any real depth to the character. I played the first three and just lost interest.
I’m happy to say that this completely changes with the new God of War. It’s been five years since the last game, and the character matured tremendously. Kratos is still the asshole we know, but he shows his vulnerable side trying to take care of his son, Atreus. There are those epic moments we love, but there are also the quiet moments with Atreus that have just as big of an impact. There’s some really great storytelling here. Making the jump from Greece to Norse mythology was a smart move. Kratos fits right in here alongside Odin and Asgard. By the end of the main quest, I just wanted to go around and explore the world some more. It’s huge and full of secrets to find. I was also itching for the next installment right away.
The game begins on a somber note. Your wife has just recently passed away, and you and your boy Atreus are out chopping down the trees she requested be used for her pyre. She wanted to her ashes to be taken to the highest peak in all of the realms. The both of them are trying to be strong, but you can tell this is a different Kratos then the one we’re used to. He knows his son is hurting, but he doesn’t want to be vulnerable. Instead, Kratos does what any dad would do with his son after they just set their dead mother on fire: he takes him hunting.
What starts as a hunting expedition to see how well Atreus can handle the journey to the highest peak quickly becomes something much more. One of Odin’s sons Baldur has taken an interest in Kratos. This introduction is also a way of showing you just how batshit insane the fights are going to be from here on out. I won’t say anything, but there are some really crazy battles with some pretty jaw-dropping moments that escalate as you get further into the game. You have to experience them. The quiet moments, like I mentioned previously, carry just as big an impact. They reminded me of the little conversations Joel and Ellie would have in The Last Of Us. When you’re riding in a canoe with Atreus, he asks you to tell him some stories. Kratos sucks pretty bad at telling them, but you’re watching these characters try to understand each other. They grow together. It’s a nice departure from just killing everything in sight and moving on (although that does happen here), the gameplay is broken up nicely between the two tones.
The story wouldn’t carry any emotional weight if the characters didn’t make you care about them, but God of War makes you care. Actors Christopher Judge (Stargate) who plays Kratos and Sunny Suljic (The Killing Of A Sacred Deer) who plays Atreus are brilliant. They really bring these characters to life and give great performances all around. These guys deserve awards, seriously.
All the characters are great, but the standouts for me are the dwarf brothers Sindri (Adam J. Harrington) and Brok (Robert Craighead). They provide you with weapon and armor upgrades and some much needed comic relief. Brok is a loudmouth who doesn’t mind swearing and talking about fucking in front of a kid. Sindri is a neat freak whos number one priority is cleanliness. Whenever Sindri has to upgrade Kratos’s Axe, he tries not to touch it too much. It’s hilarious and I really hope this kind of humor carries over into the next game.
Big props should also be given to game director Cory Barlog (God of War II). Each setpiece looks fantastic. What’s also amazing is that the entire game is one continuous shot. The camera right from the start never cuts away from the action. It’s always hovering behind Kratos during exploration and battle. During the scenes where you aren’t controlling the game, everything just continues to play out. There aren’t any loading screens. It’s really well done, and I wish more games could strive to achieve this.
The combat is very satisfying. The game is still just as ultra-violent as it was before. Plenty of enemies will die in gruesome ways. Either getting an axe to the face or literally being ripped in half. It’s horrifying to look at, but immensely satisfying to pull off. Kratos now carries the Leviathan Axe, which you will use for most of the game. It’s essentially Thor’s hammer. You can throw it at enemies and call it back to you. It’s used for solving many of the clever puzzles throughout as well. During combat though, I typically like to throw it and then proceed to beat the hell out of my enemies with my fists, then call it back and finish them off with an axe slash. The dreaded quick time events that plagued the previous games are all but gone. You push a button to start up the crazy looking finishing move you’re about to pull on a boss, and that’s really it. You just watch it unfold in front of you.
The other noticeable difference is the progression system (you know I love that sweet progression). Throughout your quest, you’ll gain access to various new armor and abilities. You can upgrade your weapons and equip them with different enchantments. The same goes for your armor. By the end of the game, you really feel like a god. It’s not just the gear and weapons though. Atreus levels up as well, gaining new abilities and gear to help you out in battle. He starts out as this awkward kid who turns into a full-fledged warrior that charges into battle screaming and it’s a sight to behold. The progression also carries over into the world that you explore. There are different realms you will travel to, each with their own secret areas. You’ll gain abilities as you progress that can be used in previous areas that you couldn’t access. It really feels like one whole, cohesive world.
Who cares about all that though. That’s nothing compared to the hilarious new Photo Mode that was just patched in. I can’t stop taking silly pictures of Kratos and Atreus. You’re able to change lighting, add frames around the outside edges, even change the expressions on the characters faces. Kratos never smiles but here’s your chance to make it happen. It’s available to use right from the start. It makes the journey not too heavy on the heart when you can take a picture of Atreus smiling at a severed head.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m actually really stoked for the next God of War game. What’s teased at the end of this one paves the way for some very interesting things later on. The franchise really needed a facelift, and that’s exactly what this installment does. The actors involved are fantastic. You really care for the characters. The graphics are astonishing. The gameplay is involved and well paced. There really isn’t a bad thing I can say about it. It’s honestly one of the best games I’ve ever played. If you own a PS4, you need this game. – NVJ
God of War is now available on PS4