The God of War series has been around since 2005, thrilling us with its over-the-top action sequences and epic battles, with its equally over-the-top violence and brutality. Outside of battle, we were treated to great story-telling and fun puzzles just to mix things up a bit.
So with such a great formula, and not one bad game in the series, why did Santa Monica decide to dramatically change up such a beloved series? Did the major changes pay off? The answer is a big, resounding yes!
A New Journey, A New Mythology
God of War is set in Norse mythology, as opposed to Greek mythology of the previous God of War games. So expect a whole new set of characters, villains and weaponry to match.
The story starts off with an emotionally charged introduction. Years after the events of the original God of War trilogy, Kratos has a son named Atreus, and together they perform a cremation of Kratos’ wife and Atreus’ mother.
Her wishes were to have her ashes scattered over the highest peak of the nine realms. This sets our protagonists off on an epic journey to make their way up the tallest mountain to carry out her final wishes.
God of War’s story is much more personal one, they’re not here to save the world or stop the bad guys. They are two people in mourning and you really feel that throughout the game. Even though it may seem like a smaller goal, you realise just how important it is to Kratos and Atreus, and then it becomes important to you when you see just how much they’re willing to go through.
Their journey is a perilous one, and I absolutely loved the story! It’s so eventful and memorable, as you’ll face hordes of monsters, travel to beautiful locations, and meet some very interesting characters.
The story-telling is also of the highest quality. Everything Kratos must do has purpose, and just when you think they’re nearing their goal, there’s another major obstacle they have to overcome. There was never a moment I was bored of the story, as it constantly kept me engaged. There were just so many different scenarios and all were a joy to play through.
Without giving anything away, the story’s end manages to do something that is attempted by many games, but falls flat more often than not. God of War somehow gives us a satisfying and emotional ending, but at the same time leaves us with questions and theories for us gamers to discuss afterwards.
Usually when other games try this approach, the ending is left unsatisfying and incomplete. In God of War, I never felt that was the case. The way it also lets us carry on with post game and any unfinished side quests was done so well, which I greatly appreciated because I wanted to complete the game after I finished the story.
Major Changes to God of War
Where to begin? It wasn’t just a little change here and there, the series has had a complete overhaul. As I asked before- why would Santa Monica drastically change up such a beloved franchise?
The simple answer is to keep things fresh. Too much of a good thing is still too much, and a change can reinvigorate interest. I personally wasn’t getting tired of the old formula, but I’m just as happy as anyone with what has changed with this new entry. Let’s take a look at the biggest changes to the series:
Combat & Perspective
The most noticeable change to God of War is the camera perspective in which we play. Previously we would play from a distant third-person perspective, but now it’s shifted to behind Kratos’ muscular shoulder. Why is this significant?
It changes things completely! Now we only see what Kratos sees, meaning we need to always be conscious of our surroundings. Enemies will surround you, so you’ll have to do your best with crowd control. While you’re focusing on one enemy, you’ll have to make sure the other enemies are kept at bay.
Luckily we do have a little marker that shows the direction of nearby enemies and whether they’re about the attack you. Having this eases the pressure a bit, and allows you to just unleash on the enemy in front of you without having to worry until the last minute.
The combat is another major change and it is some of the best combat in gaming! It just feels so good and it has the depth too. It plays a lot like other modern action games like the Souls games, but not quite as brutal.
This time around, Kratos trades his Blades of Chaos for the Leviathan Axe, and I love this weapon! It contains a frost element that you can use to freeze enemies, which is very useful in big crowds. There’s just so much variety in the combat, I’ll need another whole review just for that alone.
Kratos also has the ability to throw his axe for those enemies at a distance. After that, you can simply summon it back, and the catching animation and sound of Kratos catching it is strangely satisfying.
In case you forget to summon back your axe, you can use your bare fists to fight, which not only cause damage but builds the enemies stun meter. Once this meter is filled, you can press R3 to grab your enemy and instantly kill them, or cause big damage if they’re a tougher monster.
To make combat even better, God of War has a much deeper than RPG system than before. You can equip tiered gear which raises your level to ensure you can handle the higher level monsters. I’ve always thought every game should have RPG elements like this, and God of War does it very well without confusing the player too.
Even more that God of War adds is runics, which are extra abilities tied to your light and heavy attacks. There’s quiet a huge range with these, so you’ll have fun experimenting to find which ones you like the most. The game also shows you a video preview of each one so you have a general idea of how they work. They really did think of everything with this game!
Kratos’ son Atreus also joins the fight and he’s a lot more useful than you’d expect. Equipped with bow and knife, Atreus acts as support, firing arrow to deal little damage but mostly to cause enemies to stun. He’ll also gain abilities (like Kratos) to increase his usefulness, such as grabbing onto the enemy to allow Kratos to finish them off.
At first I didn’t use him too much, but as his skill set increased, I learned just how awesome he is. Your approval of Atreus improves slowly just like Kratos’ does.
At first the enemies might not display much variety, but that changes as you progress. I suppose the developers wanted us to get used to combat before introducing more enemy types. A very smart decision, as the game can be difficult at times.
When you fight a large group of enemies, there may be different types of enemies thrown at you, meaning each fight will be varied and force you to adapt. It’s so satisfying surviving each battle because you have to earn it.
The boss fight as just as amazing as ever! They’re not just simple hack and slack, as you’ll need to learn the attack patterns and learn what attack you’re meant to do. It’s always a grand spectacle when fighting bosses and finishes are just as stunning. This might be a big call, but the fight against Hraezlyr is possibly the best boss fight in any game ever!
Just so much care and effort went into making the combat as good as it can be. It’s so incredibly polished and always fun. And that’s only one aspect of God of War that’s incredible as there’s certainly more to rave about.
The New Open World
Previous God of War games had you on a fairly linear path, not a bad thing as there was always something fun to do and overcome. This God of War may start off that way, but it’s not long before it opens right up and you’re free to explore the region before continuing the story.
What I really appreciate is the game makes it clear when a good time is to explore, and when you should stay focused on the story. I hate it when storylines in games keep a certain intensity and urgency for too long, and you don’t know when to take a break. God of War masters that pacing issue and you’ll always feel good when the game let’s you know it’s ok to explore and give the story a break.
I do think it’s quite funny how it’s handled though. Atreus is the one who want to wants to go off the beaten path and explore and help people, but Kratos wants to just continue the quest at hand. It’s like Atreus represents our child-like nature to want to explore and see what’s out there, and Kratos represents the need to stay focused and not get distracted. As a gamer though, I want to do it all!
What’s great about the open world in this game is that there’s always something to do. There are side quests, but not too many so that it’s overcrowded with boring fetch quests. There’s a point and story to each side quest and I enjoyed every one of them. In general you never feel overwhelmed with all the different activities, there’s plenty to do, but not so much that it feels like a chore.
There’s a variety of activities other than side quests too, like the locked treasure chests that require you to find and break runes to unlock it. The rewards inside are always worth it too, so it’s always worth your time.
I think my absolute favourite thing about God of War’s open world design is how well it rewards you for exploring. Almost every corner you turn in to, you’ll find a treasure chest, an artifact, or a hidden entrance for more to explore. These things aren’t shown on the map, so it’s always a surprise to what you’re going to find.
I usually explore games for the sake of completion, but with God of War, I did it because I enjoyed every second of it.
If I have just one criticism of the open world, it’s that there is no local map. There’s the world map, but that only shows you where particular landmarks are, but it would’ve been nice to be able to get a proper layout of the area so I know if there’s anything I’ve missed.
Kratos and Atreus
Out of all the great things about God of War, it’s the relationship between Kratos and Atreus that fascinated me the most. Kratos seems very distant from his son, famously referring to him as “Boy” throughout the game, as though there isn’t much of a connection.
He’s extremely harsh on him, telling Atreus early on “Don’t be sorry. Be better”. Poor Atreus. He’s very young but Kratos expects him to fight like a Spartan. I won’t give away how their relationship develops, as it is something that builds and becomes just as interesting as the game’s great plot.
Kratos himself is a changed man from the previous games. He seems very disciplined but worn out, like someone who has had a very tough life. Veterans of the series knows that this is true, and Kratos’ portrayal of that (along with his voice actor) is shown really well.
He doesn’t say a whole lot either, as he usually speaks only what needs to be said. But you really feel everything he says, and you sense so much more depth from Kratos than the angry man we all knew from before.
Atreus is very different from his father, he is very lively and caring, much to the annoyance of Kratos. But the best part is both watching them grow, and become accepting of each other. From memory, only The Last of Us has achieved this kind of relationship growth, or at least done this well.
Of course Kratos and Atreus aren’t the only characters in God of War. There’s the two bumbling blacksmiths, both hilarious in their own way, and always a pleasure when you run into them.
The Witch in the Woods is another intriguing character who holds her own mysteries, but my favourite character was Mimir. Some of the best lines of dialogue came from him, and always made me laugh. But it’s everything from their personalities, facial animations, voice acting, and back stories that make them all fascinating characters.
God of War encapsulates everything that is great about modern gaming. That combination of action, story, and exploration is perfected here. Everything in God of War has such a high level of polish, and contains some of the most fun you’ll have in this gaming generation.
The action has so much depth that it’s a pleasure to do battle each and every time. The story will keep you engaged, and amazed, throughout the course of the journey. The exploration is handled perfectly, giving you just enough to do, without overwhelming you or giving you too little. The constant rewards at every turn just gives you so much satisfaction and you’ll always be craving more.
If you don’t have already own a Playstation 4, then God of War is your decision to purchase one. I feel every gamer should experience this new level of greatness. When people look back on the very best games of the generation, God of War will be right up there in the conversation.