I finished God of War about a week and a half ago. I started trying to write a review for it but ended up with an immense case of writer’s block, which struck me as weird because I really, really liked the game. So I shelved the review and stepped back to think about why I was having issues writing it out. And the writer’s block basically creeped into all writing as I just sat and stared at the computer screen any time I attempted to write for the last week.
What I finally realized was that I was trying to contextualize my review and base it off of my pre-God of War post – which you can read here – and trying to discuss all the things I brought up in that post and that was not only overwhelming me but it was causing me blockage (heh heh) because I didn’t know where to begin or how to approach all the issues. So instead I’m just going to review the game like I would normally and maybe touch on a few things here or there related to my initial musings on the game before I actually got my hands on it.
There will be some mild spoilers on early game story beats in the review, so if you aren’t a few hours into the game and care about those sorts of things this is your last chance to abandon ship. For the rest of you, let’s begin!
God of War picks up shortly after Kratos’ wife, Faye, has died. Kratos and his son Atreus are out cutting down the last tree for Faye’s funeral pyre. This is where the story begins. It starts out very solemn and quiet with Kratos being introspective as his wife’s body burns to ashes on the pyre, but it doesn’t take too long for the action to start after he and Atreus go hunting a deer. You see, Faye’s last request was for Kratos and Atreus to spread her ashes from the highest peak in all the realms, and Kratos has to see if Atreus is strong enough for the journey ahead so his first test is hunting a deer.
From there, we get some very good moments between Kratos and Atreus. When Atreus acts too eagerly, Kratos’ trademark rage builds to the surface – but you can see him calm himself and try to be a better father to the boy. He chastises the boy with wise words: “Don’t be sorry – be better.” There’s a great moment after Atreus is successful in finding and killing the deer in which Kratos tries to put his hand on the boy’s back in a sign of empathy, but can’t bring himself to do it. And when you fight your first huge monster, Atreus shows that he is definitely his father’s son by getting his own rage on after the monster is felled.
Then an event happens and Kratos and Atreus are forced to go on their journey to spread Faye’s ashes quicker than they expected. The story itself is pretty amazing in a character study kind of way. Most of the main story is held up by interactions between Kratos and Atreus as you explore the Norse world – along with a third character that provides a bit of levity as well as a lot of Norse backstory after you meet them. But the key is Kratos and Atreus’s relationship – the problems and quarrels of the Norse gods are basically in the background as Kratos and Atreus make their way to the highest peak.
And on your right, a statue of some guy with a hammer. He’s probably not important.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really address Kratos’s prior atrocities in any huge way. He acknowledges he is a monster but the main focus is his patricide of Zeus at the end of the original trilogy. The game clearly takes its cues from the “reformed monster” trope but doesn’t do anything particularly meaningful with them. Kratos’ objective for the entire game is to fulfill his wife’s last wish – he doesn’t want to get involved with the affairs of others. Atreus plays the empathetic one, constantly wanting to explore and help all the other people/quest-givers you meet on your journey. Sometimes Atreus rubs off on Kratos and Kratos learns a lesson, but other times Kratos will rub off on Atreus and he’ll throw an “I told you so” after the boy’s good intentions go awry.
The game balances their relationship very well, but the emotional, solemn moments are mostly towards the beginning. As the journey gets longer, the teaching moments and reflections on Kratos’ past are dropped in favor of more action (which is expected, of course, from an action game) except for one gripping part that happens about mid-way through the game. And that part allows for Kratos to show genuine emotion that isn’t anger and it’s pretty interesting to see this character that’s only been motivated by revenge have a different motivation for that scene – and the game as a whole.
And here we see Dad comforting BOY.
As for the game parts – the combat is spectacular and probably my favorite part of the game. The Leviathan Axe feels so good to use – it’s one of the best weapons I’ve ever played with in a game. You have the ability to throw it and recall it to your hand like a certain Norse god’s hammer, and the fluidity of throwing and recalling allows for some fun combos when fighting enemies. As you upgrade the axe you unlock even more stylish moves, and along with special Light and Heavy Runic Attacks you have a wide array of ways to tackle most fights. I liked the combat in this much better than any previous God of War and it outshines several other action games, in my opinion.
Upgrading the axe, along with Kratos’s shield and Atreus’ abilities, makes the game feel slightly RPG-ish but only very vaguely. There are experience points and stats, but your experience points are only used to upgrade skills, while your equipment is what determines your “level.” And equipment is upgraded through money, not experience. It gives the game an interesting flow – by increasing all your armor’s stats you can increase your overall level – and while you might have a piece of equipment you really like, sometimes it’s more important to cross the threshold from say level 1 to level 2 because that inherently makes fights with those level enemies easier. It’s an interesting system that works well within the game’s framework.
The game is also more “open world” than previous God of Wars, although it’s not the same kind of open world as a Far Cry or something similar. There are quests and explorations to be done, but everything feels manageable. The fast travel system is limited in a way that makes it necessary to be able to travel everywhere on foot or by boat – and the game’s sidequests and exploration being designed around this makes the game world much tighter. The only chore I found was finding Odin’s Ravens – the typical one collectible that there’s just too many of (51 of the little buggers to be precise, and I found 12 just by casually looking). Some of the game’s side puzzles involving throwing and recalling your axe are quite clever as well. Finally, for people who love the combat like me, there are a few high-level side enemies that are basically bosses in their own right and give you an endgame challenge if you complete the game and still want more fighting.
Overall, God of War is an amazing package. The gameplay is fluid and always fun – only one enemy type got super annoying (there’s always one) – and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The story is well done and weaves its own take on certain Norse mythological tales. It’s also humorous in its own charming way – I’ve found myself saying “BOY!” in a gruff Kratos tone to myself for no good reason. (This may indicate I have a problem – I choose not to see it that way.) And boy (BOY!) do the graphics shine – I was in awe at some of the visuals.
Look at this snow! Just look at it!
I think it’s a game worth playing even if you haven’t been a fan of the series before. If I hadn’t already started my top 100 list (which I swear I’ll be back to finishing soon!) it would probably land somewhere in the top 50 range. As a fan of mythology in general, I’m really interested to see where the next game goes after finishing this one – I’m invested in seeing more Kratos and I can’t say any previous God of War made me want to see more of him.
I deem God of War a definite PLAY.