Kratos has killed the entire pantheon of Olympus, and the world is torn asunder.
Everyone is dead.
The world is flooded.
But through it all, like a butterfly from Pandora’s box, there is a trace of hope.
If you are looking for an experience similar to the God of War franchise of old, this game is probably not for you. Gone are the fixed camera angles, floaty combat and quick time events. But the developers have replaced these things with something unexpected. They have given God of War a heart.
The old God of War games were well known for the way they fitted every teenager’s idea of what makes a game cool. Blood, guts, giant monsters, sexy women willing to sleep with you for no apparent reason, more blood and guts and a whole lot of extreme anger towards everything and everyone. It was a teenage angsty game, and much like those who played it in the early 2000’s, it has grown up.
The game opens with a much older-looking Kratos, cutting down a tree in the woods, with a young boy – his son. The first thing you do is finish preparing a funeral pyre for your wife, the mother to your son.
It is slow.
It is intimate.
It is heartfelt.
Your wife’s last wish?
To have her ashes scattered at the highest peak in all the realms.
This is the basis for your journey, and so you travel with your son to complete his mother’s last wish. Atreus, or ‘boy’ as Kratos tends to call him, has lived a sheltered life and is learning about the world and, importantly, about his father. It is apparent that there is not much of a relationship between Kratos and his son, and you, the player, are taken on the journey as they come to learn more about each other and about the world that they share. And they kill a lot of things on the way.
The game is not as gratuitous as in previous titles, but it does not shy away from violence. Kratos still tears enemies apart, but combat has been reworked to feel heavier, and more methodical, appropriate for an old god that has lived with all the sins of his past. You fight alongside your son, who slowly becomes a more proficient fighter as you fight alongside him, until by the end game he becomes a force of nature by himself, able to dispatch enemies before you have to. The game is at its core still an action platformer, that has been reworked for a modern audience, and the action is tight, taking influences from the evasive combat of Dark Souls, and the fluid multi-attack combat of the Batman Arkham games. The most you get for quick-time events will be occasional finishing moves against larger opponents, but the loss of these is not necessarily a bad thing, in a world where QTE’s have been done to death, following the early God of War games. The game’s story is linear but there is a large central hub for exploration if you wish to tickle that free-roaming itch, which is appropriately awards players who care to look with lore and skills and items to help you make things deader faster.
The game itself is set within the nine-realms of Norse mythology, a world that it captures beautifully. The icy environments are simply stunning, as snow blows around a grizzled and bearded Kratos, the world feels real. I thought the game was so beautiful that I bought the God of War Art Book so that I could revel in the juicy concept art that made such a visually delightful game.
But for all of the tight combat and beautiful graphics, it is the story where God of War truly sets itself apart.
The parent-child dynamic feels deeply personal. Seeing Atreus grow and who he is becoming becomes a central theme throughout this game and it is one that feels particularly hard-hitting given the knowledge that you the player and Kratos have about who Kratos is and what he has done. The story is emotive as Kratos hides who he was from his son, in the hopes that his son can be different, and not shaped by his own past, but his son is still affected by Kratos’ issues with emotional communication, which are a consequence of everything Kratos has done.
This game is a solid action platformer with beautiful graphics. I have completed the game, and have almost got a platinum trophy from completing all the side-quests, so I have squeezed about as much as I can out of the game, and I have enjoyed every second of it. The older God of War games were not particularly to my taste, but if you like a good character exploration story, with healthy doses of Norse mythology, and tight action, then the new God of War will be right up your alley.