For 13 years now the God of War franchise has been gracing PlayStation. The action-adventure, hack and slash has been a long-time favourite of mine. Yeah I may be a little biased when it comes to Kratos and God of War but I also know the franchise pretty damn well. I thoroughly enjoyed God of War 3 Remastered when it hit the PS4 but in this day and age the gameplay really was starting to show its age. In God of War, Santa Monica Studios have taken Kratos out of his familiar surroundings and placed him in a whole new mythology with a story that is a majestic coming of age for the franchise.
From the moment you first start God of War the realisation dawns that this is not the same God of War experience of yesteryear, this is a God of War that is breaking new ground for the franchise and right from the outset it does not disappoint. Once you get to the game menu for the first time, Kratos is right there next to a tree. Push that new game button, select your difficulty and then prepare yourself for said menu screen actually being the very start of the game.
At the end of God of War 3, Kratos basically flipped Athena the bird after defeating Zeus and disappeared. Turns out the great demigod went to check out some Norse mythology and see if their gods are any easier to deal with. So that may not be exactly what happened but at some point along the journey into Norse mythology, Kratos found himself a new Wife and had a Son, Atreus. Unfortunately what we quickly discover is that the wood is being cut down because Kratos’ wife has died and she is to be set alight and turned to ash. It’s also very evident that whilst Kratos is an expert at fighting, his parenting skills leave a lot to be desired. Very quickly a hunting lesson turns into Kratos getting very upset with Atreus’ inability to hunt at a level that only a demigod could expect from their offspring. You get the sense that Kratos is burdened with fatherhood of Atreus, who has lost his Mother and so desperately needs a Father, which Kratos is ill-equipped for. Perhaps it’s not unreasonable to think that the real issue Kratos has with Atreus is that having a Son brings back memories of his Daughter and that he is scared to get too close to Atreus to avoid the deep pain that could come if something happened to the “boy” as Kratos is constantly calling him.
In any case awkward parenting style aside, Kratos and Atreus decide to take the Ashes of their beloved Wife/Mother up to the top of a Mountain to fulfill her final wish, although we know it isn’t going to be that easy! Cue Atreus hiding when a knock on the door sees Kratos engaged in a battle with “The Stranger”. The Stranger evidently can’t feel any pain so he can take one hell of a beating and give one back! It’s a bloody encounter that sets the tone for the game and gives a great taste early on of what to expect from God of War. With The Stranger seemingly out of the way off go our Father and Son of the year nominees to journey up the Mountain. What follows is an epic adventure unlike anything you’ll have encountered in God of War. You’ll encounter dwarves, mythical beings (of course, this is God of War after-all) and a mysterious Witch in the Woods who is certainly a character of interest… I’m not going to delve any further into the story other than to say that any sense of easing you into the game quickly dissipates into a well paced adventure that picks up steam as it goes, building the action and telling a ripper of a story.
If the story sounds different to the God of War you’re used to then that’s because it is! This is a completely new God of War experience that still retains aspects of that hack and slash gameplay but brings the franchise into a whole new era and redefines the series in the best possible way. Gone is the cinematic fixed camera, replaced with a third person, over the shoulder camera that brings you closer to the action than ever before and creates a more personal experience. The weaponry, well this is a doozy! You know those signature double-chained blades that were a staple of Kratos’ kickass adventures? GONE! Kratos has moved on to the Leviathan Axe. The magical Leviathan Axe is in itself a symbol of change for the franchise. Beyond the Axe is a deep weapon and skill system that again brings God of War into the modern era of action-adventure gaming. You can attach Runes to the Axe, add skills to Kratos and Atreus and improve all key attributes by finding resources and of course solving puzzles to open those crates that have made an appearance right from when the original God of War appeared. This level of customisation and advancement of skills allows players to choose how they develop Kratos and Atreus. Some skills won’t suit your play style so they may not get as much attention as the other skills get that better suit your style and that is one of the great joys of God of War, the freedom of choice that hasn’t been prevalent in past outings.
To go with that gameplay, a new element is added as well and that comes from having Atreus accompany Kratos on this adventure. Atreus is still learning to be a skilled hunter and Kratos just has to deal with being his mentor (as well as a Father) and teach him the ways of the world and how to handle himself in a scrap. Atreus and his trusty bow can be called upon in a battle to help take down enemies. He can also provide a useful distraction in the big fights by firing the arrows and drawings said enemy away from Kratos which will provide an opening for an attack. Again this teamwork is not something we have seen from God of War before but it complements the game well and adds to the story of what is as much about a Father and Son learning how to exist side-by-side as it is about giving Kratos another excuse to kick some serious mythological arse.
And if all of that isn’t enough then let’s briefly speak to the graphics. Did someone say draw-droppingly beautiful? If not then I just did. On PS4 Pro, God of War is an absolute treat. Checkerboarding gets us to 4K (as long as you have a 4K TV off course), and for people with a Full HD TV you’ll be able to use supersampling. PS4 Pro users can also choose between graphics and frame rate. Regardless of what you choose God of War looks exceptional. Textures are rich, the environments and character models are full of detail. Kratos face is a perfect example, wrinkles and battle scars are clearly on display to show that this guy is an aging warrior that has been around more than a few fights in his day. Quite simply, this is on par if not slightly ahead of Horizon Zero Dawn in terms graphical quality.
If you have never played a God of War game before don’t worry because this is God of War completely re-imagined. You may not know Kratos’ back-story but don’t let that stop you because anyone can and should play God of War. PS4 owners have absolutely been spoilt for choice with first-party exclusives and you can add this one to the list of excellent titles. Actually it’s better than excellent, this is a defining moment for a franchise that has stood up to deliver a mature, coming of age action-adventure story that is the best game to grace the PS4 since it was first released.
Put simply, God of War is the God of the PS4.
Ben received a God of War press kit from PlayStation New Zealand to review this game.
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