Perfection in Redemption
God of War represented one of the PlayStation 2’s finest exclusive series. Since the original duo, a third installation launched on the PlayStation 3, while a few others made their way to the PlayStation Portable. By its end, the series was tired, overused, milked of its initial promises, and left to rot by the wayside. And who could really blame Sony for wanting to drop one of the most reviled characters in PlayStation – no, video game – history? Irredeemable was Kratos, I always thought as I yearned to see his revenge riddled quest come to an end. Yet somehow, the morally bankrupt Kratos found a way to survive, using and killing just about anyone on his path for revenge. It was no question, then, that I was overly hesitant to consider playing God of War after it was announced and released for PS4. As with most hype, however, I caved and purchased the latest tale of Kratos’ life.
The game opens with a somber Kratos cutting down a tree. We learn soon that his wife passed away, and he, along with his son Atreus, must sent out on a journey to spread her ashes from the highest peak in the realms – per her final wish. Together, the estranged father and son venture into a journey that will either tear them apart or bring them closer together than ever. Interestingly, Atreus doesn’t know that his father is a god and that he is also, probably, half-god. Before they can begin their trek, a strange and powerful stranger who seemingly knows who and/or what Kratos is pays the two a visit. A vicious and groundbreaking battle ensues where Kratos barely escapes. When he returns, he grabs Atreus and begins their journey for the peak.
The first thing gamers familiar with God of War will notice is the fixed camera angle and the revamped combat system. You’ll spend the game peering over Kratos’ shoulder, and it’s something that works extremely well given the new combat style and presentation. Sony Santa Monica’s visuals have gone to such beautiful levels that there is no longer a need for cinematic transitions – but we’ll get into that later in the review. For now, know that the camera angle – one that takes heavy inspiration from your traditional action RPG – works well in the lands of the Norse.
Combat within God of War takes the series traditional style and trades it in for a Souls-esque setup. Kratos begins his adventure equipped with a two-handed axe called the Leviathan. With it, Kratos can perform an array of attacks and skills. The setup is pretty much the same as Dark Souls, in that the R1 button performs a light attack, R2 a heavy, L1 a shield block, and L2 aims the axe for a throw (light or heavy depending on whether you also press R1 or R2). L1 and either R1 or R2 perform special rune attacks that you can equip to your gear, and you can also throw in hand-to-hand combat by sheathing your axe. Don’t worry, however, as God of War still holds on to that rewarding combat sense while offering brutal finishers and enough of a challenge to make you consider your potential avenues of combat. The best part, however, is that you can command Atreus to shoot his bow at targets, increasing their stagger meter or, eventually, stun them. Either gives you an opportunity for a brutal attack or some free, increased damage hits. Additionally, Atreus’ bow interacts with various pieces of the environment and can be used to explode some objects in battle.
As you get into the close quarters of brutal kills, you’ll notice the saturation of colors that so vividly runs amok through God of War. On my 4K HDR television, God of War is absolutely breathtaking. The particles at the witch’s house or in the initial woods and the effects of snow breaking as you walk through it have never looked prettier. It’s a game that should rival some of the best looking games for some time to come, and it can’t be said enough how beautiful it is. Everything down to the detail of Kratos’ beard to the pinpoint movement of lips to Mimir’s googly eyes, every little aspect of the game is painted in stunning realization.
For me, though, God of War redeems a character I once believed irredeemable. Does Kratos still make all of the best choices? No. Is he haunted daily by his past? Yes. Do his choices from Sparta and his choices in game hurt his relationship with his son? For a while, yes. But everything Kratos does in this game is to honor his wife, teach and protect his son, and keep others from repeating the same mistakes he made. There are moments spread throughout God of War that speak to Kratos’ past, and other characters reflect much of what Kratos hates about himself in the present. He offers no more excuses in his journey, and takes steps along the way to heal himself and build a relationship that he desperately wants with his son. Perhaps this story touched me a bit more than usual, as my wife and I are expecting our first child at the end of August. In any case, it’s an emotional and well structured story well worth your investment of time and money.
God of War is certainly worth all of that, too, as there is plenty of post game content – hell, entire new realms – to explore. There are numerous side quests that begin during the story and carry through the end and after, so you’ll be busy for another dozen hours on top of the already 20-30+ hour campaign. Greatest of all was the fact that I never felt fatigue while playing God of War. It’s length was perfect, and its gameplay was varied enough to make sure I never grew particularly tired. Whether you’re paying full price for the game is irrelevant, as it’s worth every penny.
If you’re on the fence about this one and can’t accept the plethora of positive reviews already to its name, make sure you jump and take a leap of faith with this one. The gameplay is pure, unadulterated fun. Visuals are breathtaking, and sound is at points subtle, eerie, and emotional. Your value is all there packed into a the longest God of War experience, and the story told along with its characterization is the best the series has to offer. The PlayStation 4 may have found its magnum opus in this one, and you don’t want to miss it.