Almost a week after playing God of War for the first time, I can’t stop thinking about it.
If by some miracle you were unaware, there’s a new God of War game coming out for the PlayStation 4 on April 20. It’s simply called God of War, but it’s not just a remaster of the 2005 original. SIE Santa Monica Studios have reimagined the God of War series; one could argue that the only thing to stay around is our troubled protagonist, Kratos.
GoW has ditched the Greek mythology-based lore of the earlier games and now instead revolves around Norse mythology; Thor, Odin, Loki – that bunch. There’s also a smaller, less angsty male running around, as Kratos has a son, Atreus. He’s quite young, and as troubled as you’d expect, but with an underlying hope and positivity that adults seem to outgrow. Overall, he’s extremely likeable, and his relationship with his father forms the basis of GoW‘s story; Atreus and Kratos must take Atreus’ mother’s ashes to the top of the highest mountain together. In order for them to undertake the journey, Kratos must ensure his son is battle ready. One of the first moments in the game has Kratos encouraging his son to hunt and kill a deer, and the conversation proceeds as such:
“You are hunting deer.” “Which way?” “In the direction of deer.”
This sets the precedence for, at least, the beginning section of God of War. We played just shy of 2.5 hours on a PlayStation 4 Pro, and came away very impressed not only with how remarkable the game actually looks, but the combat systems and the dynamic between fledgling father Kratos and his son, Atreus. While it is very ‘tough love’, you can see that Kratos is struggling with the burden of fatherhood as he vies to be a better dad.
Story spoilers aside, the pacing of GoW‘s opening couple of hours is great. There are never points where you’re wandering from location A to B and going ‘OK, can something interesting happen now please’ – if the scenery doesn’t do it for you, Atreus is prone to commenting on the world around him, or speaking with his father about whatever event has just happened. There’s always the chance an enemy will pop out of nowhere.
Which brings us to the combat. In short – it’s brilliantly intense. Kratos is no longer equipped with his double chained blades, and instead has the Leviathan Axe. Thor fans will be delighted to know that it behaves a lot like Mjolnir. You can throw it at enemies or to activate things in the environment, and then simply press a button to have it return reliably to your hand. It’s easy to aim (left trigger) and the new over-the-shoulder camera brings everything together to make it a breeze to throw your axe at the nearest (or furthest) baddie for a bit of damage.
When fighting, Kratos can swing his axe with light or heavy attacks, or – if he’s thrown it away – can also employ hand-to-hand combat. It’s fast-paced and occasionally high-pressure; one or two draugr at a time is fine, but when they’re everywhere, and a couple are up on ledges hurling fireballs at you, it can get very intense. You can easily highlight and switch between enemies for targeting, and while in combat you build up a stun meter that can then be used for finishing moves similar to those used in the DOOM reboot. These kill animations also vary depending on the creature you happen to be taking out, so try as many as you dare. Don’t forget, too, that you’ll also be able to use Kratos’ built-up rage to unleash a flurry of hand-to-hand attacks over a short period of time – something else that’s useful in close-quarters combat when your health bar has seen better days.
On enemy types, you’re most likely to run into draugr, who are fairly disposable but can necessitate a bit of wit to get rid of in larger numbers. You’ll also come across trolls (larger and more annoying), and revenants (spooky, frightening witches) in just the first few hours – who knows what’s still out there? Each enemy has their own weaknesses and you’ll find that some have even fortified themselves against the Leviathan Axe, so you may need to get creative. Each enemy you face gets recorded into a Bestiary with notes from Atreus – which I happen to think is a really cute touch.
And, of course, God of War wouldn’t be an action/adventure/RPG without skill trees and weapon customisation. For example, Kratos can occasionally find rune upgrades for his Leviathan Axe in chests scattered around the land that add extra ‘abilities’. I picked one up that let out a short-range wave that knocked back and damaged nearby enemies – particularly useful if you’re surrounded and low on health, which happens more often than you may think.
God of War‘s environment is ambient and immersive. Everything looks better on a PS4 Pro, but the environment of God of War especially seems in its element with the 4K textures and beautiful scenery, not to mention the orchestral score that’s always permeating the fights and the wanderings between. It’s important to note, too, that you can usually see the mountain (your final destination) somewhere over the horizon – an intentional design choice from the team that gives you a more concrete purpose on your journey. You’ll also never encounter a load screen in God of War‘s world, as everything is loaded during cutscenes.
You should also expect plenty of puzzles scattered throughout the world of the new God of War. Some are pretty straightforward – like ‘open gate, freeze cog, go through gate’ – but others require a little more brainpower. They’re not always simply to further the plot, either. Some chests can only be opened when you destroy corresponding rune statues, but there are always goodies inside should you meet the requirements.
The Norse mythology setting is a bold new direction for the series, but a needed one in order to ensure the integrity of the franchise. Kratos – like Jak, Crash, Ratchet, Nathan Drake, and now Aloy – is a PlayStation mainstay, and as such needs to change with the climate. While still managing to keep his gruff and menacing personality, he’s developed a softer side with nurturing Atreus, and is also now aware of a new legion of Gods and monsters at play.
Today marks exactly one month until we see more of Kratos. I can’t wait to get my hands on more of God of War on PlayStation 4.