Review: God of War (PlayStation 4)

Reviewed by Jakub Kowalski, posted May 9, 2018, last updated May 9, 2018
I have to start with a confession - I've never been a huge fan of God of War. As much as I like hacking and slashing, I just never saw the appeal of playing the role of a near-indestructible demigod with more muscle than sense. Then... I saw the promotional material for this game. It seemed to be a massive departure from the original, and in a good way at that. It came across as much more mature, more story-driven, it seemed to have substance. It piqued my interest immediately, and since I'm happy to give game franchises a fair shake, I eagerly anticipated this title.
May 9, 2018
  • Release Date (NA): April 20, 2018
  • Release Date (EU): April 20, 2018
  • Release Date (JP): April 20, 2018
  • Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio
  • Genres: Action Adventure
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
God of War is an action adventure game for the PlayStation 4, the latest in the long-running series revolving around Kratos, a Spartan with a lust for the blood of gods. The game was played on a PlayStation 4 Pro and was set to favour resolution over performance, your picture quality and framerate may vary depending on your system and your settings.
Jakub Kowalski

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Where are all the good men gone?

What do you do when you smite all of your sworn enemies? When the fight is won and there is no more blood to spill? You settle down, of course. That's precisely what Kratos was hoping for after leaving the smoldering ruins of Olympus behind - a little peace and quiet. He hung up his blades, he found a wife who bore him a son, he built a small cabin in the woods and he planned to spend the rest of his days in Midgar, the home of the Norse. For all intents and purposes, Kratos the god-slayer was retired. He grew old, but he also grew wiser, more measured, less impulsive. He became a hunter and a provider, away from home most times while his wife reared their son, Atreus. Naturally, all good things must come to an end, and in Kratos' case that end was truly tragic. His beloved wife, Faye, perished before her time. Her dying wish? To have her ashes scattered off of the highest mountain in Midgar - a request that is simple enough, at least on its face. Even though I never got to know her, I could tell that when Faye died, a part of Kratos died with her. Now he had to fill in the role of the parent, a role not necessarily best-suited for an incognito slayer of gods. There was a perceptible distance between Kratos and Atreus, as if the two never really spent much time with each other. In spite of that, they both ventured on not one, but two journeys. One across the realms, the other, towards one another. What was initially supposed to be a short little skip quickly turned into an epic adventure, all because of a run-in with a strange man - a man who could feel no pain.

...and where are all the Gods?

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The solemn adventure begins... with training!

If you're scratching your head in confusion and wondering whether we're still talking about God of War, welcome to me from two weeks ago. To say that this game is a departure from the original formula is an understatement of the century. I'm one of those people who never really paid a lot of attention to the series up until now. Sure, I played a God of War game from time to time, but it wasn't one of those titles that would immediately sell me on a console. From the moment of its inception it seemed somewhat simplistic and flawed. This game changed all of that. The latest installment in the God of War series isn't just a new coat of paint on an old jalopy - it takes everything that was good about the original concept and builds a whole new game around it, and against all odds, it works perfectly. This is not just taking an established character, putting him in a brand-new setting and calling it a day, this is very different. I like to be up-front with my readers, so I'm going to give it to you straight - as far as screenshots are concerned, this review only features ones from relatively early sections of the game. This is partially because the developers at Santa Monica Studios requested that we don't spoil the story, but mostly because *I* don't want to spoil it for you. Now, whenever I see games getting straight 10's from most big name outlets, I'm immediately suspicious, not excited. We've seen many 10/10's come and go, more often than not they disappear in a blaze of fire rather than glory. God of War is not one of those games. For once, everything you have read and seen online is true - you owe it to yourself to play this game, and that makes my work exceedingly difficult. With all that said, I will do my best to tell you something about the game everyone is talking about in a way that will, perhaps, clue you in on why this, more than any other game on the platform, is the PlayStation killer app we have all been waiting for.

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Godlike or not, Kratos still has a heart like the rest of us

The story is what immersed me the most in the world of God of War, and I did not expect that from a game that originally, for all intents and purposes, revolved around a disgruntled son of Zeus exacting revenge on all of those who wronged him by means of killing anything that happened to be between him and Olympus. Make no mistake, Kratos is still a very angry man, but... he's old. You can feel it in every part of his new design - his movement, his speech, his overall approach to life. An on-looker would say that Kratos is cold and regimented, he's the embodiment of a stern father. He does not really raise his son so much as he trains him, which is something to be expected from a Spartan. Kratos expects results, not just words, and is very reluctant to put trust in his son who is yet to prove himself in true combat. His militaristic past clearly had a hand in shaping his parenting methods, but he is no longer a warrior, just an old hunter, passing on his knowledge to the next generation. Atreus seems to be the polar opposite - brought up mostly by his mother, he is warm and compassionate, eager to earn his father's love in any way he can. That being said, he can also be careless, he is still young and naive, and while he has the same spark of Spartan rage as his father does buried deep within him, he lacks the wisdom to control and channel it properly. Throughout the course of their journey you witness the rapport between them develop and before long you realise that they are not all that dissimilar and that although Kratos is a demanding father and a cold warrior on the outside, he does have weaknesses and his heart is not solid ice. Watching the two transform as they carried the ashes through adversity kept me glued to the screen more than anything else, and trust me, there's more.

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As , it turns out, size isn't all that matters in a fight

Structurally the game describes itself as "open", which is not to be confused with "open world" - a distinction that escaped me until I played the game for a while. There's one main quest for you to attend to and one way to progress the story, but at the same time, God of War doesn't pressure you to follow it. In fact, the two main characters often times urge you to stray from the path to help someone out or to explore a dungeon of some kind. Those escapades reward them with necessary resources for crafting, glyphs, money and other items which invariably help them in the long run. That being said, the game never turns into an Elder Scrolls copycat - God of War has a strong sense of direction and purpose. Any diversions from the main path, however lengthy they might be, don't take your attention away from the main goal of your journey, they merely supplement the overall adventure. The various realms of Midgar are teeming with large areas that are completely optional, and it's times when you're exploring those islands and caves when you really appreciate the sheer amount of effort that went into world-building and the dedication required to give the game such an unparalleled level of polish. It took me a few days to put my finger on it, but eventually I realised why this kind of structure felt just right - it's exactly how old-style Zelda games used to work. You know what you're supposed to do from the get-go... but there's a Heart Container on the cliff over there and you can't help but think that you could use another heart. God of War feeds that desire to discover more than adequately - if you just don't feel like continuing the hike and want to explore the realm instead, you can rest assured that you'll find something interesting without having to start a whole new line of quests.

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Sometimes additional "encouragement" is called for before an enemy goes down

From the screenshots you've probably already noticed that you're not travelling alone - Atreus is at your side, and he's another reason why God of War deserves all the praise it gets. From the moment I saw the first trailers I knew exactly what the developers intended - this game was supposed to be a cross between The Last of Us and God of War, but the final result goes beyond that. If you're worried that the game is an extended exercise in escorting a brain-dead NPC, you can put those worries to bed - not only can you tell Atreus to use his archery skills to aid you in battle, he's actually a quite formidable and smart ally when left to his own devices too. The Kratos-Atreus dynamic works very well, especially during boss battles or environmental puzzles which require the use of their combined skills. Atreus' precise, long-range bow attacks and Kratos' brute force melee work great in tandem and although our main hero traded his Blades of Chaos for the Leviathan Axe, he's still just as deadly as ever. In fact, combat is one of the more satisfying elements of the game. Admittedly, the new God of War is far less frantic than its predecessors, but the slower, more deliberate combat comes with higher stakes and more satisfying returns. One of my colleagues described it as "Dark Souls-like" - I don't think it's quite that extreme unless you're playing on very high difficulty settings, but I must admit that the days of breezing through hordes of enemies are over and every encounter can be lethal if you don't play your cards right, which is great - it adds tension to the game.

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When exploring the area you'll often come across environmental puzzles, elements of game lore and sweet, sweet loot

Among other departures from the roots of the series the new God of War features crafting and customisation mechanics, but unlike in "open-world" games they're very unintrusive. God of War gives you plenty of gameplay-changing choices without being too overwhelming or taking your attention off your quest for too long. In short, adding new glyphs to your weaponry gives you access to new skills, collecting resources allows you to enhance your pre-existing loadout and the money you collect along the way can be spent in shops scattered around Midgar - standard affair that's to be expected from a game of this type. That being said, this isn't one of those crafting systems that forces you to travel all around the map in search of a very rare pansy or having to slay armies of enemies on the off chance that the gods of RNG are going to drop a piece of damascus steel. Rather, it's a system of natural progression in which items you'd normally pick up either way enhance your character and make your own playstyle even more effective. Of course as you progress on your journey you also earn experience points - those can be spent on learning skills, both by Atreus and by Kratos. Overall the game gives you just enough leeway to make the gameplay tailored to your playstyle, but not an abundance of freedom that leads players to spend three hours in the inventory, which is a difficult balance to nail.

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Did I mention that you can find dragons? You can find dragons.

Aesthetically the game is a masterpiece, there's no other way to describe it. I played God of War on a PlayStation 4 Pro and it really shows what this hardware can do when you know exactly how to push it to get the best results. The title allows you to select whether you'd like to prioritize resolution or framerate, and having tried both, I just had to prioritize resolution despite normally being a higher framerate fan. The game is just gorgeous to look at, especially in 2160p. I don't think it's controversial to say that it's the most beautiful game on the platform, not just visually, but also from a technological standpoint. The lighting, mist, flames and other effects are dazzling and the attention to detail on display really makes Midgar shine. God of War takes you through a number of different realms and all these settings are unique, they have a different feel, different enemies and different environmental hazards and puzzles for you to contend with. The audio presentation is just as impressive as the visuals - sound effects and music are fitting and the performances of all the actors are top-notch which helps you immerse yourself in the world surrounding the heroes.

Where's the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?

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...these guys probably don't need the money now anyways, right?

I tend to be a harsh critic. When I write reviews, I like to juxtapose each good quality of a title with a flaw to paint an accurate picture of the title. This review is different simply because I can't find flaws in the final product. Sure, I could say that some monsters, particularly certain bosses, are reskins of monsters you encountered previously, but at the end of the day it wasn't jarring to me - I wasn't particularly surprised to find out that there's more than one kind of ogre living in Midgar. Besides, for God's sake, if we have a 10 score, this is as close to perfect as a game can be. Like I said at the beginning of the review, I'm no die hard fan of the series, but God of War made me want to revisit all of those older games just to find out the full story of how Kratos became the man he is - the game retroactively sold me on a series I wasn't particularly interested in, and that's quite an achievement. I firmly believe that God of War belongs in the pantheon of titles that define a console generation, it's most certainly one of those titles you buy a PlayStation for it's pretty clear that you'd be doing yourself a great disservice by missing out on this one. The game deserves all the praise it gets, both from established publications and from users themselves, and if you haven't tried it yourself just yet, this might be the journey you should embark on next - you'll be happy you did.

Verdict
Pros
+ Beautifully crafted world
+ Engaging story that keeps you invested in the adventures of the protagonists
+ A great re-imagining of a classic franchise that adds rather than detracts from the series
+ Top-notch audio-visual presentation
+ Terrific gameplay with a fair degree of customisability
Cons
- Some enemies come across as re-skins, although that's a minor gripe rather than a true con - there's plenty of variety in the bestiary as-is
10 Presentation
The game is easily the most gorgeous title available on the PS4 to date. There's nothing I could point out in its presentation that would come across as genuine criticism. If I had to nitpick, I'd say that some of the monsters you encounter are re-skins, but then again, it's not exactly reasonable to expect that there's only one zombie or only one stone golem in the entirety of Midgar, so it never came across as a big issue in gameplay.
10 Gameplay
The classic God of War combat was slowed down to be a little bit more measured and deliberate without losing its edge, resulting in an experience that keeps you glued to the screen and on the edge of your seat.
9 Lasting Appeal
The game is full of expansive areas filled with loot and requires you to revisit old locations with newly-acquired skills to truly pillage each and every coffer ensuring a long and rewarding experience. God of War is a title I'll happily play *at least* twice, once for the story and once for the trophies.
10
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
I said it once and I'll say it again - God of War is one of those few rare games that truly define a platform. I'm confident that many years from now it's going to be one of those titles you see scoring high in the Top 10's of our current gaming generation. The game truly pushes the hardware where it matters and the resulting product is nothing short of perfect - a must-buy for a PlayStation owner.


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