Reviewed on PS4
God of War is one of Sony’s most celebrated franchises, the first game in the series launching way back in 2005; Kratos has indeed come a long way since then and his latest iteration is his most ambitious outing yet, but does it live up to the hype? Here’s our spoiler-free retrospective review, looking back at it two years after its initial launch.
The game has one of the best opening moments that sets its tone almost immediately, as any good story should. Right on top of the head, the game lets you know that you’re about to embark upon a journey and that its going to be an adventure that you’ll talk about for years to come.
The game relies on this feeling of something great that is about to happen throughout its duration, and when it reaches its closing remarks twenty-five hours later, you will not be disappointed.
The plot is fairly simplistic as compared to the more vengeance-heavy plots of previous entries in this franchise. A father and son carrying out their wife’s and mother’s final wishes of spreading her ashes at the highest point in their land as they slowly learn to accept the reality that she is no more.
Even though we’ve seen this parent-child dynamic in video games countless times before, this is one of the best depictions that captures the raw emotional vulnerability that makes it so relatable. Expect to have a very moving phone call with your father after the credits roll.
The star of the show is our familiar Spartan warrior Kratos, who is reimagined in every bit of way possible, and of course young, innocent and lovable Atreus.
Kratos this time around has matured from his old ways, and settled after finding love and starting a family (I guess love can really change a man). Although he’s sometimes haunted by his past, he’s grown wiser with age and determined to not make the same mistakes again, as well as prevent Atreus from going down that path.
Atreus on the other hand is a young but highly knowledgeable child who just lost the person he was closest to. He fondly remembers his mother and craves the appreciation of his cold father. He steps out into the real world for the first time, facing every fear he only heard through the stories that his mother told him over the years; he isn’t aware of his true nature or what he is truly capable of.
The story is only further complimented by an ensemble cast starring Stargate SG-1‘s Christopher Judge, Justified’s Jeremy Davies and Alastair Duncan just to name a few; stellar voice acting and strong side characters such as Brok, Sindri, Freya and Mimir.
What really shines throughout is the Norse lore that helps the world tell its own story. The people at Santa Monica Studio have really done their homework and proved that they are just as capable with a new mythology as they were with their previous Greek-inspired games.
The only complaint that I have with the story is that the main antagonist doesn’t have much screen-time throughout the journey, hence the narrative misses the mark in terms of the emotions the game was trying to achieve when you’ve finally defeated him/her.
While watching the early gameplay videos of the game, as a veteran fan of the franchise I always feared whether the radical new direction developer Santa Monica Studio took would take away its essence. It’s no surprise that that they indeed did take a huge risk but I’ve got to say that it has paid of really well; it is in every way, still a God of War game and I’m happy that they gave the same amount of thought and effort to reimagining the gameplay as they did with Kratos’ character.
The new control scheme needed a little getting used to as my muscle memory made me revert back to the actions-buttons whenever a fight began initially, but once I started getting the hang of it, I rarely missed the old one. Combat is a lot more complex and as a result your old habits of button-mashing the light and heavy attack buttons without blocking won’t hold up very well this time around, you’ll need to master the parry-system.
The over-the-shoulder camera angle is a much welcome change and even though all your enemies will not be in your field of view at all times, the effective pointer system helps you keep a tab on your enemies’ positions and anticipate every attack.
The game does also include some RPG-elements not seen in previous installments. There’s a skill-tree based progression system for your weapon, shield as well as Atreus’ weapon. The two in-game currencies that you gain by certain activities you perform during the game let you upgrade skills, as well as purchase armour and modify weapons.
Speaking of Atreus, he is not just a child that you always have to protect but rather a very contributing ally who actually aids you in combat. You can command and direct Atreus to shoot arrows during combat, and as you upgrade his skills and armour, and as he starts to obtain different types of arrows, he becomes a vital organ of your combat strategy.
There is a good variety of enemy types in the game. Certain enemy types will only be found in their respective realms as a result of which you’ll have to dynamically switch up your strategies for each. They pose a decent amount of threat and challenge you by always keeping you on edge. The boss battles on the other hand, although epic in their own right don’t have the same effect.
There are about twenty-five major boss battles excluding the Valkyries and only about a few of them give you the same feeling of accomplishment as in the previous games. There were definitely memorable ones but, some bosses were only reskins of ones you’ve already beaten in another realm, hence you tend to defeat them without breaking much of a sweat.
There are a lot of environmental puzzles this time around, with some ranging from highly inventive to others being outright redundant. However, these provided a good relief from the fast-paced combat sequences until you’re ready for the next big fight.
The star of the show is the Levithan axe that lets you live all your Thor fantasies in its full glory. They’ve executed the introduction of this brand-new weapon to players flawlessly and nailed the very feeling of it, making melee combat hugely satisfying.
Before you start a playthrough, I strongly recommend turning on the one-button-screenshot setting on your DualShock 4 because you will want to take A LOT of screenshots. The game boasts absolutely picture-perfect visuals and looks impressive even today, two years later. We reviewed the game on a PS4 slim and it really made me wonder if it still looked this good, how good would it look on PS4 Pro displaying to a 4K TV. I mean, just look at this:
The worlds are gorgeous and filled to the brim-with details. Each realm has a unique flair and the visuals never feel flat. Sometimes I just stopped and stared for a while, mind-blown at how truly impressive the scale is of the whole thing.
Exploring the land and engaging in side-quests are both actually interesting and rewarding, making your journey ahead easier. You will want to come back to places that you’ve already visited with upgraded abilities and weapons.
At times, there was so much going on in the screen to the point that my eyes hurt but the visuals never flustered, that’s how well-optimized the game is which shows that developers have really taken their time instead of rushing out a half-baked game.
Interestingly however, the framerate dipped ever-so-slightly when there was nothing going on. I’ve also noticed a bug where Atreus disappeared and reappeared randomly, and once Kratos got stuck during a cinematic and I had to restart the level from the last checkpoint. The fact that these issues only appeared one or two times during my thirty or so hours of gameplay make it negligible; if it wasn’t for my nitpicking we wouldn’t have noticed them.
The single-shot camera never breaks your flow and works so well that you won’t figure out that the gameplay has ended and a cinematic has begun, that’s how perfectly good it is. Director Corey Barlog has directed a masterpiece that will be not live down anytime soon.
Never has a God of War game looked this good, and we can’t wait to be pleasantly mind-blown again by the next game on the PlayStation 5.
Audio & Music
The audio of God of War shines even brighter than the video. Composer Bear McCreary, who previously worked on the soundtracks of The Walking Dead and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, has perfected the soundtrack on every level.
The soundtrack has a perfect, spiritually relaxing feeling and the score during battle combined with the backing vocals and hymns is especially uplifting. The sound effects of enemies such as the nightmares are rightfully eerie and weapons such as the Levithan axe sound both realistic as well as extremely satisfying.
Add with that the exceptional voice acting and you’ve got a truly rich, one-of-a-kind experience. We strongly recommend that you use headphones or surround sound to experience it the way it’s meant to be experienced.
God of War’s Legacy
God of War is one of Sony’s most celebrated franchises, and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s been fifteen years since the first game released and for a lot of players, including myself, these were one of their favourite games growing up. A lot of players have grown and evolved alongside Kratos and this latest entry in the series is an emotional journey that makes you want to erase any memory of this game and experience the whole thing over again.
The game is both welcoming to newcomers as well as containing enough nods to the previous games for older fans. Especially at the halfway point, there’s a big reveal that’ll give goosebumps to veteran fans. I won’t talk more regarding this as I’m afraid I’ll spoil it for you, so go out there and experience it for yourself.
In a time where some developers feel that single-player games have no relevance, Sony and Santa Monica Studio have given us one of the best single-player, narrative-driven experiences to date, and gamers will continue to cherish it for ages to come. Here’s the appreciation video celebrating the anniversary of the game’s release:
Pro tip: If you’ve played the previous games in normal difficulty we recommend playing this game on a higher difficulty as the game appears toned down to make it more approachable to newcomers.
No game is ever perfect, but God of War comes pretty close. It’s still a fantastic game two years later and one of the must-play experiences if you’re a PS4 owner. It’s a testament to video games as an impactful medium for storytelling. It certainly lives up to its hype and is deserving of every award it has received, and AED 39 it’s an unreal steal. To purchase the game, click here.
For more retrospective reviews, check out our review of Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Here are some more breathtaking God of War screenshots.