Released in 2018 for the PlayStation 4, God of War breathes new life into this beloved PlayStation franchise that began in 2005. God of War adds emotional layers to the storytelling by taking a new angle on its protagonist. And, it revamps its gameplay mechanics to fit in with modern action-adventure design.
The story of Kratos and his son Atreus as they journey through the lands of Norse myth is unrivaled in the series in terms of character development and thematic impact. With a fantastic overhaul to combat and the inclusion of meaningful exploration, God of War is worthy of all the heavenly praise it has garnered. God of War masterfully evolves its main character and combat system to create one of the most engaging action-adventure games ever.
I have always been fascinated with the story of Kratos. His rage-fueled journey of failed redemption during the previous entries in the series had me captivated and entertained. With that said, I will concede that his character arc became firmly locked in its revenge-driven state.
2018’s God of War takes a different angle on this fallen warrior by presenting Kratos as someone who has buried his past rather than someone trying to kill his way out of it. Kratos in this game stills feels like a believable continuation from the destroyer of Olympus. But, the writers cleverly show a maturing side to him, content with living a peaceful life in the Norse realm of Midgard with his new wife and son.
However, that life is fractured at the beginning of the game as Kratos and Atreus farewell the recently deceased Faye. Together, they set about completing her final wish of spreading her ashes atop the highest mountain in the land.
Now, Kratos and family haven’t always had the best history. And Atreus brings a new challenge to The Ghost of Sparta as he has to find a way to connect with his son as they both take very different approaches to mourning the loss of their wife and mother. Their relationship receives a lot of attention throughout the story. It’s genuinely moving to see the two of them work through the harsh realities of their world, and through those challenges find strength in each other to persevere.
God of War takes its themes of family and redemption through to its entire cast of characters. Everyone whose path crosses with Kratos and Atreus are shown to be burdened by their own demons. This plants their actions firmly in the grey and provides depth to their motives.
Baldur makes for an entertaining villain whose tragic backstory made me sympathize with him. And, Freya worked as an emotional center for Kratos and Atreus. But even she harbors her own mysterious past, one which has major ramifications later in the story.
God of War brings its visceral action right up to your face in a modified camera perspective that trades scope for intimacy. The core of combat builds upon the light-and-heavy attack formula of the previous games.
However, the Leviathan Axe has more customizable moves that makes it feel like your own personal instrument of destruction. The weapon can be used for both bone-crunching melee assaults and penetrating ranged attacks. And, its weighty physics gives each swing and throw a satisfying sense of momentum. This is especially true when chained together in a devastating combo.
The game’s level layouts are also impressive. They remain largely linear but are connected through a central lake area. I spent hours circumnavigating this lake, trying to engage with everything it had to offer. It is gratifying to fulfill the final wishes of undead sailors, and closing realm tears by defeating the powerful foes that climb through them provides a solid challenge. The side quests and collectables in this game take on an addicting checklist formula.
Indeed, God of War’s world-building takes full advantage of the Norse mythology that it is based on. In particular, the anecdotal way that Mimir presents his tales of myth while rowing around the lake brings a great deal of character and history to this rich world. In fact, so captivating is the writing that I would often wait for the story to finish before I would dock my boat at my destination.
Naturally, God of War’s visuals are nothing short of breathtaking. The photorealistic character models and gorgeous lighting engine showcase the game’s unbelievable tech. Yet, God of War also has a stunning art style that displays the hyper realistic color palette of fantasy aesthetics.
Furthermore, Bear McCreary’s spine-tingling soundtrack can run the gamut from emotional to haunting to epic. This is due to his solid understanding of melody and some great implementation of choir vocals.
God of War is not only the best game in the series, it stands as one of the greatest action-adventure games ever made. It incorporates a near perfect mix of an emotional story, engaging gameplay, thoughtful world-building, and gorgeous presentation. Combined, it ascends the game to god-like levels of quality. Santa Monica Studios have created a modern masterpiece. Kratos may finally crack a smile at this magnificent piece of art he stars in.