April 16, 2018
With practically no more Greek gods to be slain, Kratos has moved on. Now he's living within the realm of the Norse gods, seeking a peaceful existence with his wife and son. It's not long before that peace is shattered, however, and the musclebound God of War himself is forced back into action, with his mild-mannered adolescent son in tow. A reluctant father, the interplay between Kratos and his “boy” Atreus is one of the best things about God of War, alongside the combat, the set-pieces, the level design, the richness and diversity of the game's world. God of War is epic in every sense.
Sony Santa Monica could have quite easily made a God of War sequel in the same mould as the series' predecessors, but instead, God of War's PlayStation 4 debut is a dazzling semi-open world journey, the perfect blend of linearity and exploration peppered with secrets, Metroidvania mechanics and grand cinematic sequences. Where the original God of War games revelled in blood-soaked violence with multiple weaponry, the new God of War puts a giant axe in your hand with which to carve foes asunder, then sends you on your merry way.
Initially, I wondered how the Leviathan Axe could cover all of the bases that a whole array of gauntlets, blades and other bludgeoning tools managed to in the previous games, but Kratos's chopper is a great weapon. Brilliantly adaptable, the axe is devastating at close-quarters, great at managing crowds, and thanks to the ability to hurl it and beckon it back like Captain America's shield (or more accurately, like Thor's hammer), it's also an effective ranged weapon. Sheathe it, and you can also work with Kratos' bare hands and his compact, deployable Guardian Shield, available to break out in an instant to block or parry attacks.
Wearing down and stunning an enemy prompts a flesh-tearing finisher executed with R3, while Atreus can lend a helping hand with a simple push of the square button. As the narrative unfolds, you'll see the one Kratos' refers to as “boy” grow in confidence, his prowess with a bow and arrow improving with every fight, his boldness in battle increasing. By the end of the game, you'll see Atreus leaping on enemies, throttling them with his bow or unleashing summoned spectral animals to lend a hand. Atreus grows into a formidable helper, despite his father barking at him in monosyllabic rants. The moment Kratos tells his son “you did well”, you'll feel your hard, stony heart melt a little.
Predictably, God of War's combat mechanics are superb, meaning you'll be unleashing elaborate combos with R1 (light) and R2 (heavy) in no time. Then there's the loot system, decking out both Kratos and Atreus in armour pieces with various attributes, whereas the Leviathan Axe can be fitted with new pommels and rune stones that enhance its properties. Using Hacksilver as the universal currency for crafting and upgrades, XP earned upon defeating enemies can then be poured into unlocking new skills, expanding the selection of moves and abilities at your disposal. Like the majority of open-world games, God of War's RPG systems add a welcome touch of depth, while the expanded area of exploration, across several different realms – from Midgard to Helheim and beyond – means there's ample scope to venture off the beaten path.
Outside of its central narrative, God of War has an almost unfathomable number of things to do, be it locating shrines, lighting Valkyrie braziers, collecting various lost doodads, helping wayward spirits, doing favours for bickering blacksmith brothers Brok and Sindri, or freeing captive dragons. Travelling by rowboat, you can freely explore all of Midgard by traversing the Lake of the Nine, or you can fast travel via Mystic Gateways once you have the means to do so. Crossing into other realms can be achieved through the travel room, which in itself is a visually stunning way of transferring into a new area. And all of this is achieved without a single loading screen; everything is completely seamless.
But it's not just the meat and drink of the game that's hugely rewarding. God of War's sense of scale and propensity for moments that will genuinely drop your jaw is dizzying. Remember the first time you fought the Hydra in the original God of War or battling Gaea in God of War III? These encounters seem quaint next to the earth-shattering, rock-smashing battles you'll experience as an older, more hard-bitten and world-weary Kratos. Certain boss battles have a real capacity to make your heart race, the way in which the action and music is orchestrated making for some truly remarkable moments that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
There's one moment towards the latter third of the game that will have fans of the previous God of War games whooping with unfettered delight. God of War is still big on head ripping, head stomping and other acts of brutality, much as you'd expect, but it's the relationship between father and son, the epic size of everything – one area is built around the frozen corpse of a dead giant stonemason – and the intricate detail of the world itself that's absurdly impressive.
Repeated run-ins with one particular character also not only proves a narrative lynchpin that's later tinged with tragedy, but these instances in which you butt heads (literally, in some cases) provide some of God of War's most spectacular rucks. Which is why it feels like things fizzle out somewhat by the time you reach the game's conclusion, where an event sets the stage for the inevitable DLC, wherein... Well, you'll just have to wait and see. Not that you'll feel shortchanged by God of War, despite the slightly muted ending.
Ultimately, God of War is a towering achievement, a grand new chapter for Kratos and an exciting new beginning for the series. It's a game that doesn't really put a foot wrong, making it not only one of the best PS4 exclusives, but one of the most essential experiences of this console generation. A sensational game fit for the gods.
Kratos remains gruff and taciturn, while Atreus asks a lot of questions: both are voiced brilliantly. The real star here though is Bear McCreary's sweeping score, the perfect soundtrack for a truly epic adventure.
Easily one of the most visually stunning games we've seen on PS4, arguably even eclipsing the gorgeous Horizon Zero Dawn for jaw-dropping sights. Everything is dripping in rich detail, making for a tangible, immersive world. Play it on a PS4 Pro and weep with joy.
God of War has never been much of a slouch in delivering immediate, exciting combat, but God of War on PS4 is a cut above. Almost instinctive, slaying enemies as Kratos once more feels so damn good.
Finishing the story is really only the beginning. There's so much to do in God of War, you'll potentially be playing for weeks. The entire game world is impeccable too, only one frustrating blip during the story standing out.
An excellent list that rewards the long game and putting the time into exploring the entirety of God of War's varied realms. You'll need to immerse yourself in all of the side content if you want to unlock the Platinum.
Colossal in every sense, God of War is a startling reinvention for the series on PS4 that really has to be seen and experienced to be believed.