God of War (PS4) - ReviewRex Hindrichs , posted on 19 May 2018 / 8,185 Views
Since bursting onto the scene 13 years ago, God of War has been one of PlayStation’s most iconic and bombastic franchises. After several games across numerous platforms, its distinct formula had been thoroughly iterated and it seemed as though the franchise as we knew it had nowhere else to go and would fade into memory. Then, during E3 2016, God of War announced its triumphant return with a wizened protagonist, new mechanics at his disposal, and a new mythology to explore. Now, 8 years after the main trilogy concluded, the series' reinvention has arrived to do its history justice for a new generation.
You reprise the role of Kratos, the Spartan warrior turned god who conquered the Greek pantheon of Olympus in his rage. With nothing left to go home to, he has wandered the Earth until ending up far away in the Norse land of Midgard, finding a new home and starting a new family for himself. After many years hiding from his past, our new game begins during a funeral for his wife, with his young son Atreus at his side. Alienated from each other by Kratos’ deep character flaws but with only one another to rely on now, the two must learn to connect as they never have before in order to fulfill the mother’s dying wish together. As if real parenting wasn’t going to be hard enough for the Ghost of Sparta, Kratos must also confront his bloody past and keep both himself and his son alive when a mysterious and powerful stranger shows up on their doorstep.
Thrust into a new journey for solace and survival, Kratos and Atreus set off into a dangerous and unfamiliar land. Midgard is wide, winding, and beautiful. While not as large as today’s typical open worlds, it's certainly more dense, with intricate level design that changes over the course of the game. In contrast with the zoomed out automatic camera of the series’ past, the game is played from a tightly focused over-the-shoulder perspective with a camera that never cuts for anything save the menus. It’s an impressive technical feat, though franchise purists may miss the old scheme.
With a new setting comes a new ecosystem, with everything from decorative flora and fauna, to all manner of monstrous beasts, to the powerful gods and sentient races of Norse mythology that must be contended with. To do just that, Kratos has a new mainstay: the Leviathan axe; a versatile weapon imbued with frost magic that can chop, blast, twirl, freeze, and be thrown in a variety of unlockable ways. Just as formidable are Kratos’ shield and bare hands, which can pummel enemies into a stupor that sets up devastating finishing moves. Atreus is no liability either, wielding a bow you can use to stun enemies and prolong combos.
With numerous tools at your disposal and multiple ways to use them, combat is deep and satisfying. ‘Deliberate’ would be the best way to describe how it has changed. Fewer, more threatening enemies require more calculated responses from the player and force you to take full advantage of your skillset. Juggling your various attack methods to fend off and vanquish a diverse encounter is very stimulating and watching your skill improve to do so is that much more gratifying. Of course, God of War is also known for its larger than life boss fights and the new game - while a bit more grounded than before - does not shy away from epic and brutal moments (though you may wish you had a bit more control over some of them).
You’ll be doing even more exploring than fighting, so thankfully the environments have been given just as much attention. The hours upon hours of twisting pathways are filled with puzzles, hidden treasure, numerous side missions, and scores of opportunities to develop our characters and the lore of the world they inhabit. Your journey will take you through many distinct realms and each is a sight to behold.
One of the game’s most prominent elements is its progression. New RPG mechanics dictate your power and the caliber of enemies you can take on. Your stats are increased by the gear you loot, craft, and upgrade. Experience gained in combat and quests can be used to unlock new moves and abilities. These menus can be overwhelming at first and even unexpected for an action game, but their depth allows you to specialize your characters as you see fit and experiment with different builds. Progression applies to more than just stats and moves, as well; watching the world widen and characters grow before your eyes is greatly rewarding.
Beyond the gameplay, God of War is also a master of presentation. Richly detailed characters and environments, sophisticated animation and lighting, dazzling effects, seamless design, grand sense of scale, clean image quality, beautiful music, impeccable voice casting, and crunching sound design all amount to an industry leading audio visual experience let down by only the slightest bits of pop-in or performance dips. This artistry further extends to the game's improved writing; Kratos is no longer a one note caricature but a tapestry of scars to draw from. The long, steady development of father and son is some of gaming's best storytelling and anchors the whole affair. All of these strengths combined exceed the franchise’s reputation.
God of War has evolved. After years of legacy and increasing familiarity, the next chapter for a new generation has grown with its audience. With a wider, more balanced scope, loads of content, and the series’ trademark panache, it chronicles an adventure both intimate and epic. A new legend has begun.
This review is based on a digital copy of God of War for the PS4
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