Whether it is the movies, books or games, the task to reboot an established franchise is never an easy thing for any developer or publisher. With some much expectations from the series’ fans, on top of making sure they are not forgotten while trying something new, the new God of War was definitely a gamble. To achieve this reboot of a flagship PlayStation brand, it took over five years of hard work and dedication from the iconic producer Cory Barlog and the team over at Santa Monica, carefully dissecting the franchise and putting everything back into something new, from the gameplay mechanics to the general artistic direction of the game.
However, everything in this “reboot” of God of War is actually a balance between retaining the essence of the franchise will creating something new. Beyond the obvious technical and the artistic aspect that comes from a switch to next generation, the game still pays a tribute to its legacy in all sorts of ways. While it would have been easier to start from a clean sweep to reboot this franchise, there’s a certain genius behind Santa Monica’s studio to switch to another lost mythology and yet keep Kratos at the center of it. You see, I personally wasn’t a big fan of the original God of War series, even if I admire the lore of ancient Greek myths, but it’s this episode that changed my mind, as we now venture into the Norse realm, with Odin on its throne, paired with other deities and creatures.
Despite his divinity – Kratos is, after all, a demigod and one of Zeus’ many sons – it made sense for the developers to do something similar to other iconic franchise reboots, and be interested in the human side of the character. Like it was the case with the reboot of Tomb Raider, Hitman and many others, the game is focused on Kratos’ inner struggle, as well as the desire to tell a deeper and equally intense story through his quest for redemption as a father, in a journey of initiation with his son Atreus, following the death of his wife. While this sounds a bit like a recipe a la “The Last of Us“, the similarities end here, as the script is done so well that it flows naturally even interspersed with very numerous clashes against ogres, trolls and other legendary Norse creatures.The narrative is intelligent in its structure, swinging back and forth between emotional, brutality and humor, with excellent conversation playing mostly on the Atreus’young innocent and playful reactions, contrasting those more contained a battle and life hardened Kratos.
And so in the rough 20-25 hours of gameplay to reach the end, the story of God of War contrasts with that of the other opus, because it’s all about Kratos finally teaching his son Atreus to not fall in the same mistakes he sadly did. For the rest of you, if you hope to discover a story of vengeance and treachery between gods, like the previous games, then you’re probably be disappointed. While these are present, however, they are not the central element of the story despite the journey of our heroes punctuated by clashes against some of these Norse gods. If you’re coming with the expectation of the previous games, then the sooner you realize God of War is indeed an entire story, the better. This 2018 game is dedicated to the Spartan and his son, his new life and being more human than ever, despite his divinity, and that is not an easy thing to do. Constantly struggling with this rage and anger slumbering in him, Kratos is looking for redemption by teaching Atreus to become a better man than he ever was, hiding his past for a better future. Everything makes sense and you’ll notice how the boy’s reactions remain credible, both in his burst of childish joy or uncontrolled anger, on top of his natural tendency to stand up to his father.
Between Kratos and Atreus, there’s also enough room in the game for some secondary characters, notably the first you’ll meet such as Brok and later on his brother Sindri, both dwarves with quite opposite personalities. The award for best-supporting actor though will probably go to Mimir. An important figure in Norse mythology, this god of knowledge and wisdom will be saved from Odin’s torture by our pair of heroes, forming an interesting trio with perfect chemistry. In addition to becoming the brain of the group, both literally and figuratively, Mimir will constantly give interesting tidbits about the game’s world, and several Nordic legends, helping Atreus – and the player – perfect his knowledge. This whole coherence of the universe is one hell of a blast for a history nerd like myself, as everything in God of War makes sense, or is interconnected for a purpose, including making the game even more fun.
Without presenting fooling anyone of being an open world – in comparison Horizon Zero Dawn, the last Action Adventure game from the publisher – God of War offers a huge map which you’ll truly enjoy. The set is built in a way that urges you to discover every nooks and cranny, revisit areas, and from time to time appreciate the beauty of its digital brush, as you enter a majestic cave or dock on a river bank still acting as a witness to a forgotten war. Although the system of traveling portals could’ve been better thought of, there’s never a feeling of too much backtracking, with even minimal touches of Metroidvania as you’ll end up opening new areas in the map, once you gain new powers and skills.
Inspired obviously by Norse mythology, the Santa Monica team created one hell of a visual canvas, filled with sumptuous landscapes and confined sets embellished by a neat work on lighting effects. Whether you are in Midgard, Helheim or Muspellheim, the setting will take your breath away, as you cross an icy expanse in front of a giant that has been lying down for centuries. You thus find all the strengths of the saga’s visual strength, now help with a much more contemplative camera angle – behind the shoulder – to travel at your own pace and enjoy the panorama. But I’m a bit annoyed by the lack of variety in terms of the bestiary, which is smaller than those of other games, with barely any major changes or visible upgrades on most creatures, whether it is the trolls or just mere wolves. Thankfully, this lack of variety is completely forgotten when you see how devastating and visually complex Kratos’ attack are on those creatures. Adding the special effects and motion blur, with some subtle use of slow motion, the fights are staged so well that every monster or enemy will in a way feel different.
Remember when I spoke about the new camera angle? If you played the previous God of War games, then you probably are trying to figure out how that old gameplay system works with a behind-the-shoulder angle, correct? Well, the developers have only improved what was already well made, with the new a closer camera angle literally plunging the player into the action. While it’s might seem surprising that it works, playing God of War that way feels almost natural, thanks to Atreus or Mimir’s warning of incoming dangers (a bit like Senua’s inner voices). You’ll then have to fight in a traditional hack and slash – similar to the old games – but with extra mechanics like a switch to hand to hand and shield combo, a parry, and secondary skills. All of this will be confusing for the old veteran of the series, but enjoyable, especially after a few hours of play when we start to unlock more of the skill trees.
You will also need to learn the new weapon and gear system, which are linked to both Kratos and Atreus’ skill tree opening more branches and nodes. To start with, most of your weapons and gear will need to require a key amount of materials and money acquired from chests, completing quests or eliminating enemies. It is regrettable that some materials are sometimes difficult to find because of a lack of guidance, especially when it comes to crafting some legendary loot pieces and unlock more awesome abilities and combos for Kratos, or passive and supportive attacks for Atreus. On that front, I’m actually glad that it wasn’t another “The Last of Us”, as Kratos’ son is not imposed on your, and its usefulness in combat is quite well, especially when he gets the opportunity to bring you back to life with a resurrection stone.
Finally, we got the Rage mode, which builds up with effective combat skills like proper parry or dodge, as well as successfully chaining combos between Kratos and his son. While that mode is recurring from previous games, it was also tweaked for this new game, switching the Spartan into a berserker, with boosted punching attacks. The latter can become quite devastating when unlocking more nodes in its dedicated skill trees, such as a blasting area of attack ground stomp, or even the ability to pick up a large boulder and throw it at enemies. So yes, you get the gist of it, the gameplay has evolved and will be difficult to get used to for hardcore fans, however, it does not deny its true essence: the savage ferocity in each of Kratos hits.
Before we end this, there are two things that might be important for some of you to know. While I tested the game on two different consoles, both the vanilla and original PlayStation 4 (not even second generation slimmer model) and the Pro version, I totally suggest the latter. If you don’t have a PlayStation 4 Pro by now – even without a 4K TV – this game is a totally viable reason to upgrade your console, because you can feel the normal suffering with its intense fan sound. While there might not be damage visually on the screen in terms of performance, the game is visually better looking on the PlayStation 4 Pro. In both cases, the game runs at a locked 30fps, unless you activate performance mode on the PlayStation 4, and get an increase of framerates between 40 and 60, depending on how much is going on the screen. I don’t recommend the latter, as you’ll be trading in the 2160p resolution for a 1080p one, but it’s the HDR that really turns this game into one colorful digital canvas, full of crisp details and rich textures. Sadly, while there’s one thing that I truly like in the original series, it was the soundtrack, but this episode feels a bit hushed or not as epic as the original game music. Don’t get me wrong, It’s not bad, but it’s maybe not as powerful as the first titles.
God of War was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 digital download code of the game provided by PlayStation Middle East. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published (click here for more information about our review policy).
• Visually impeccable on an artistic point of view
• Quite a technological achievement.
• The Kratos and Atreus relationship
• The skillset, gear and weapon system
• The Nordic mythology and settings
• Rich in content
• Might be too much of a change for hardcore fans
• Normal PlayStation 4 will suffer the heat
• A less memorable soundtrack when compared to the other games