The return of God of War is as beautiful and as captivating as they come, an undeniable reason to own a PlayStation 4, and a prime example of what this console generation is truly capable of.
God of War III concluded the GoW trilogy in 2010. It’s been eight long years, and Kratos is finally back, but it seems nothing is the same. In the opening minutes of God of War on PlayStation 4, you can feel something is different. For one, Kratos is now a father to young Atreus. The boy’s mother has recently passed away, and the pair must embark on a journey to take her ashes to the highest peak in the land.
You don’t need to have played a God of War game prior to this to enjoy it; the camera and combat systems are different enough to warrant the term ‘reboot’ so both experienced players and novices are starting on a level playing field. You now look over Kratos’ shoulder with a non-fixed camera, and his twin blades have been replaced by the Leviathan Axe. It’s nice and weighty, and is awfully satisfying to use in combat.
And, much like the long-haired superhero above, the new God of War is extremely Norse – in other words, they’ve dropped the Greek mythology. Most people will have heard of Odin and Thor, but Norse knowledgables will recognise much more than just those Gods at play. It’s a colourful playground of Norse mythology to get lost in if you want to, or to simply sit back and watch it pass by if you’re overly been in getting too involved.
If you read the hands-on we had with the game about a month ago, you’d know we were impressed with what we saw and played; our positive impressions have remained undiminished now that we’ve got our grubby little mitts on the full game.
Most of what you’ll be doing in God of War is fighting enemies. Thankfully, the new combat system is responsive and rewarding – and fun. Using your new Leviathan Axe and a shield, there are an infinite number of ways you can take on any battle. R1 and R2 are your light and heavy attacks, respectively, and L1 is your shield. You can also target enemies and throw your axe – which can come in handy for freezing things and solving puzzles – and dodge using X. As you level up, you’ll also gain access to different skills that can be used with a number of button combos; examples are knock-backs and freezes. Atreus can also be used to shoot arrows at your enemies that build up a ‘stun’ meter; when it’s full, pressing R3 will generate a pretty cool combo, that varies depending on your enemy.
When you’re not slaying with your axe, you’re being a dad. And a sassy one, at that. It would appear that Kratos was never really there for Atreus when his mother was around, and not much has changed since. The bond the two share is unique, with Atreus’ youth (and at times naivety) meaning he sees the world in a completely different light to that of his jaded, cynical, moody father. In this way, Atreus helps to serve as his father’s humanity – as well as an outlet for sarcasm, a more frequent occurrence than you may think. God of War is remarkably well-written and witty.
God of War‘s environment encourages exploration. Your path forward is fairly linear, but you’ll find that wandering off in the opposite direction usually leads to fruitful circumstances. You could come across a chest with some hacksilver (the in-game currency), a collectable or two that you can sell, or even some runes for Atreus to decipher to add to your journal. Either that, or you’ll be stood on a cliff top, beholding the beautiful vistas, so you’re not really losing out either way. It’s important, too, to note here that the items that aren’t good for anything except selling actually tell you that in their shop listing – which, to us, is nothing short of a miracle.
However you want to play God of War, there is plenty to do. Sure, you can follow the story, but there’s a plethora of sidequests and crafting and selling and upgrading that you can get just from the smithing Dwarves that’ll keep you busy for hours (by the way – these guys will take most of your hacksilver for their troubles). That’s without even mentioning finding all the collectables or discovering all the Shrines hidden around the world. There are also different kinds of upgrades available for your weapons and armour, so there are plenty of combos to try out, and then there’s Atreus’ kit to worry about, too. XP you gain in battle can be used to upgrade your skills in a number of different trees, and equipping different skills will affect how Kratos and his son will behave in battle; if you’re having a hard time with a particular monster, maybe try a new kit. There’s always something new to do.
While you’re traipsing around, you’ll notice that the environment of God of War on PS4 is also very authentic. The ambient soundtrack throws you right in the deep end of Norse Scandanavia, with choir-filled scores flitting in and out creating meaningful moments between Atreus and Kratos. The leaves fall off trees as you walk past, and animals scatter in the woods. Most importantly, you actually care about the NPCs. Their performances are beautifully delivered, with the contrasting natures of the dwarven brothers a clear highlight. The landscape also evolves quite rapidly – when you think you’re about to become bored of one location, you’re whisked away to the next whimsical place. The creatures you encounter are equally mesmerising. Of course, there are the draugr, your base level enemies, but there are also Stone Ancients, and Revenants, and the likes of the World Serpent – whose first appearance reminds us of Gravemind from Halo.
This PlayStation 4 exclusive has no load screens in-game. Once you’re looking over Kratos’ shoulder (as he is to his son – hang on…), you can run around the world unimpeded. Essentially – this is a highly dangerous concept. You find yourself completely losing track of time, and where in other games it would be ‘oh, I’ll just save when I get back to the castle,’ it’s suddenly ‘oh hey the neighbour’s leaving for work.’ With God of War taking place over a single camera shot, you’ll even see yours (and Atreus’) new armour in cutscenes, which is a great addition.
Of course the puzzles also need to be mentioned. While there are many that are simple, there are many that will test your wit – and your patience – but are all the more satisfying once you’ve completed them. Some will impede your path forward, but some will lead to treasure – it’s up to you how badly you want it.
God of War is gut-wrenchingly breathtaking. You notice it in the leaves falling softly from the boughs of trees, Atreus leaving tiny footprints in the mud, the snow reflecting from the stones in the light. The further you get into the game, and the more locations you discover, the more entranced you become, and the more excited you are to see what lies around the next corner.
Much as last year’s Horizon Zero Dawn was a reminder of just how beautiful video games on this console generation can be, Santa Monica Studios have given people yet another reason to be on-board with PlayStation. God of War has cemented itself as one of the best games to own on the PS4. If you’ve been looking for a reason to upgrade to the Pro, this is it. Are you not entertained?