Since its debut, fans have been divided over developer Santa Monica’s new portrayal of God Of War‘s protagonist, Kratos. The team at Way Too Many Games debated almost daily whether or not Dad of War would be a hit, or whether the twenty plus hour babysitting job would be worth the cost of the game. Thankfully, I’m here to tell you that Papa Kratos still packs a punch.
Sony and Santa Monica Studio had good reasons for keeping so many secrets during God Of War‘s development. What we learned before the game’s release was that the camera angle had changed, Kratos now had a son, and we’re not really sure how the logic worked, but there was some absurd statement about the weight of Kratos’ new axe and beard weighing him down too much to jump. Fans of the original series were lividly crying foul over the game-long escort mission and declaring that this was #notmyKratos.
But to everyone’s delight, God Of War remains a fate defying experience that’s not to be missed. Despite the changes, perhaps even in spite of them, Kratos’ first adventure in Midgard is a grand success. There are certainly aspects of the previous series that I missed, but for each part I lamented losing, there was something new and worthwhile in its stead, but we’ll get to that later.
After what we can only assume was a few hundred years, Kratos has settled down in the quiet wilderness of Midgard, determined to live in peace with his wife, Faye and his son Atreus. At the opening of the game, we learn that Faye has just recently passed and her last request was to have her ashes scattered from the highest mountain in the Nine Realms. But before Kratos can prepare Atreus for the journey, a new foe, the gods of Asgard, come knocking at his door.
We aren’t entirely sure why Baldur sought out the family of nomadic deities, but it’s clear to Kratos that it’s time to move on, even his boy Atreus isn’t ready. Through Midgard, to Yggdrasil, and beyond, Kratos and Atreus are pursued by Baldur and the two sons of Thor, Modi and Magni while Odin’s ever watching eye observes from afar. But making it to the end means that Kratos will have to teach his son to survive and hide his true identity.
God Of War makes a lot of excellent changes to the series’ formula, but there are definitely aspects in the original that I sorely missed. As can be expected, the scale of the world is gigantic, best highlighted by Jormungandr and the giants. But it didn’t feel quite as large as the originals.
Cronos carried an entire temple on his back. Gaia was the earth and the mountains that we fought upon while Poseidon so desperately tried to stop our ascent to Olmpus. And the giants of Jotunheim were, well, giant, but they lacked the same sense of awe.
Granted, it’s important to note that this is not a story about Asgard or its denizens. God Of War is exclusively about Kratos and Atreus on a personal journey. It’s a story that is meant to be smaller, involve fewer characters, and be more intimate. Sanata Monica games exceeded all expectations on that front, but at the cost of the grandeur that I loved so much.
I miss the fast combat. Kratos is still a powerful figure, but he’s aged a fair amount and has managed to develop a bit of a dadbod. As a result, combat is not as fast paced as it once was, so closely mirroring that of Devil May Cry. Instead, Kratos is slow, powerful and calculated. While I certainly miss building long combo chains, his speed doesn’t take away from the game.
But most of all, I miss the boss fights. God Of War has some great optional fights to be discovered in the end game content, but the main story is terribly lacking in variation. The game opens and ends with a similar boss, with only two note worthy big-baddy fights in between. The other “boss” fights are a series of reskinned trolls and waves of lower tiered enemies. Occasionally a new troll ability will be tossed in there to update the boss’ move set, but the updates aren’t very impactful. With the defeat of each troll comes the same execution animation that becomes stale and outdated by the third time around.
One of the biggest changes to God Of War‘s gameplay is the loot system. As you venture through the nine realms, baddies will drop crafting materials, rune stones, and enhancements. Kratos will bring materials to the blacksmiths Brokk and Sindri where they will upgrade the Leviathan axe or craft new items, each one able to to be upgraded to a higher level; an invaluable asset through your adventure. Kratos is able to equip chest, arm and waist armors, each with matching sets that can sometimes provide bonuses for wearing them simultaneously.
At higher levels, armor sets will gain slots for enhancements that will boost Kratos’ strength, defense, vitality, runic, and luck stats, combining to increase Kratos’ overall level. Each enemy has its a combat level that will determine their difficulty. The more that players upgrade Kratos’ equipment, the better the likelihood of survival.
But possibly the most important tool you’ll have at your disposal, are the runes. Each of your weapons can equip two runic abilities that will devastate the battlefield, and Atreus can equip a summon spell. As collateral for their effectiveness, there is a required cool down period before it can be used again. For example, one of the earliest available runes is Fury of the Ice Troll which can be equipped to the Leviathan axe. Using it will create a shockwave that knocks back and slow enemies that get caught in it. Runic abilities can be upgraded to higher levels by spending experience points. In the case of Fury of the Ice Troll, higher levels will increase the range of the shockwave and completely freeze enemies hit by it.
Lastly, there is now a skill tree where players can spend experience points to unlock new skills for both characters. There is a skill tree dedicated to the Leviathan axe, to Atreus and his bow, and another to Kratos’ shield/barehanded combat stance. The best piece of advice I can give to players is to prioritize upgrading Atreus and barehanded combat. By pressing the square button, players can command Atreus to target enemies, providing essential support to Kratos. But by teaching Atreus new skills, he will begin to act more independently, sneaking up and choking enemies to stun them. As the enemies get tougher, Atreus will prove to be a saving grace.
And while this is an unpopular opinion, I strongly advocate for prioritizing the shield/barehanded tree before the axe. Kratos won’t be able to do as much damage with his fists, but you’ll be able to build up the execution meter at a much faster rate this way. You’ll thank me later when the big hordes come out to play.
Despite my qualms about the scale of the game, God Of War is beautiful. Previous games simply can’t compare to the way that the new world just pops. Realms like Nifelheim are bleak and gloomy, offering little to admire, but Midgard is alive. The bright colors of the flora are a welcome contrast to the burning ruins of Greece. Weather particle physics (when present) are some of the best I’ve seen yet.
God Of War‘s soundtrack isn’t bad, but after finishing the game so recently, I’ve already forgotten about it. What’s difficult to forget, is Christopher Judge as the new voice of Kratos. As soon as Kratos opens his mouth, its apparent that we aren’t going to encounter the same Kratos that we have in the past. As a fan of all but God Of War: Ascension, it was a challenge to get used to the new voice. But this is a new, more disciplined Kratos. Once players come to know the new Papa Kratos and how far he has come from the one we knew before, it’s far easier to accept the change.
For players who have been able to avoid spoilers thusfar, congrats on the rare achievement. But it’s time to pick up your copy of God Of War because there’s only so long you can avoid such significant points. From the beginning, players were expecting to be surprised by the next steps in this series, but no one could have anticipated how well they would deliver. Without spoiling anything, Santa Monica Studios did a fantastic job of honoring the history of Kratos and the God Of War franchise, while dropping hints and opening exciting doors for the future. There is a good reason why the game has sold so well in the initial release period.
Personally, the dynamic between Kratos and Atreus was the highlight of the game. I was never a big fan of Kratos as a character. His two-dimensional wrath was just boring to me, regardless of how much I liked the games as a whole. But this new Kratos is grounded by a second chance at fatherhood and his struggle to be there for Atreus. It’s far more moving to witness the internal struggle if you’re already familiar with the character, but I found myself more interested in the father and son story than I ever anticipated. If there’s anything I want from the future sequels, it’s more of that.
It’s tough to say where the franchise could go next, but there is no shortage of credible theories. This first adventure with the father and son duo will certainly not be the last. Cory Barlog hasn’t revealed any details about the series’ future, but he did make it clear that we won’t have to wait another five years to see it. If you haven’t played God Of War already, you’re missing out on something special. And if you have, do it again.
Stunning and colorful environments draw players in, but some off visuals can just as quickly pull them out.
Loot, enhancements, runes, and the Leviathan axe make for a great time. But God Of War‘s bosses are in desperate need of more variety.
It takes some time to get used to Kratos’ new voice, but players will acclimate eventually.
The new open world approach and wide range of runic abilities available, there are plenty of reasons to revisit when it’s over.
Final Verdict: 8.5
God Of War is available now on Playstation 4