An Epic That Would Make Homer Proud
The original God of War is one of the best games on the PS2. The fast-paced combat, massive boss fights, and fascinating Greek mythology make for an incredible experience. The game’s hack and slash combat against classic mythological creatures like minotaurs and cyclops, as well as the spectacular boss fights, creates one of the most memorable games.
God of War centers on the heroic struggles of Kratos, a renowned Spartan warrior. Kratos is the very definition of an antihero. His face is perpetually stretched in a snarl of rage and contempt. His skin is ghostly white. Long red warrior tattoos line his face and body. He’s incredibly muscular and bellows his words like an extra from 300. He’s a man who looks fully capable of disemboweling and eviscerating enemies. When he rips an undead warrior’s arm off and clubs him to death with it, it’s not totally surprising. Kratos looks and acts like the personification of death. This look is fitting because gory murder is at the heart and soul of this game. The game juvenilely relishes in the violence and gore Kratos creates. Kratos uses two long blades attached to chains around his wrists to create a maelstrom of destruction. Combat is fast, fluid, and fun. It’s a blast to mix up quick and heavy attacks to cut a bloody swath through hordes of enemies. New combos and weapons can be unlocked as you progress through the game, giving you new ways to pulverize your foes. My favorite was the attack that lifted you and your enemy into the air and let you use your blades on him like a buzz saw until you both crash to the floor.
This game is not for the faint of heart. Blood flows freely from all your enemies and Kratos. Kratos murders his foes in uniquely horrifying ways. When an enemy becomes weak enough, a circle appears above his head. Approaching him and pressing the prompt leads to a QuickTime Event that, if performed correctly on the controller, leads to a brutal fatality. You rip arms off, tear enemies in half like a rag doll, pull a Gorgon’s head off, crush a Siren’s skull, and more. The most memorable is the Minotaur’s death sequence. You knock him to the ground and slam your blades towards his open throat. He grabs his hands, but pressing the right prompt quickly enough renders his fighting back futile as your blades slowly push through his throat.
Rather than repulse, this level of violence immerses you further into the game. This immersion results from the game’s larger-than-life enemies. A majority of your foes are significantly larger than Kratos and present daunting challenges. Wounding them, while dodging their powerful blows, until they are finally weakened to your level, then finishing them off is an incredibly cathartic feeling. Plus, your enemies are all monsters. There’s no moral issues with killing a snarling beast. Even the female monsters are repulsive. The Sirens have creepy shark-like jaws, and the Gorgons are green half-serpent creatures with snakes for hair.
This is most apparent during the game’s epic boss battles. God of War pits massive boss enemies at you throughout the game. The bosses are as tall as skyscrapers and attack you with massive swipes. Defeating them usually means climbing onto their massive frame and wounding them in various ways. This adds a fantastic level of scope and scale to the fight. Within the first five minutes, you’re pitted against the famed Hydra. The three-headed beast towers above you, snapping at you with its giant maws. He disappears and reappears to attack you throughout the opening area and it’s incredibly satisfying when you finally smash its primary head through the sharp mast of your ship. Combined with an epic choral score, these boss fights are the highlight of the game.
This level of violence also fits the setting incredibly well. Greek myths and epics are full of overblown violence and gore. Homer’s The Iliad has more death and murder than most R-rated films. Book 16 of the Iliad reads, “The metal point of the spear penetrated under his and smashed the white jaw bones. His teeth were knocked out and his eyes filled with blood; and gasping for breath, he blew blood through his mouth and nostrils.” That’s incredibly graphic. Also, monster slaying is at the heart of most Greek stories, such as Theseus or Perseus.
The plot is nothing special, but you’re not playing this game for the story. Kratos blames the god of war, Ares, for the death of his family and seeks vengeance. Along the way, he is assisted by other gods and must seek the mythical Pandora’s Box to be able to kill a god. The story is pretty stereotypical, but the fantastic combat and epic setting makes you ignore that. Each chapter takes you to a different Greek setting, the greatest being a temple on the back of the gargantuan titan, Kronos.
To add variety, the game does offer some puzzles. Most are pretty straightforward, but one particular one is daunting. The entire chapter is a massive puzzle as you try and unlock the secrets of Pandora’s Temple. The puzzles are only a minor part of the gameplay and serve as pauses to the frenetic combat.
God of War is a highly successful and acclaimed game, and rightly so. For its time, the combat was innovative and, even today, is still fun. The epic boss battles stand out from other games because of their massive scope and spectacle. The beautiful settings and choral music make you feel like you’re in a Greek epic. No other game makes you feel like such a formidable warrior while slaying massive creatures in this unmatched cathartic way.