I often like to think of games on a scale between gameplay and storytelling. You have games like Call of Duty on one side of the scale representing gameplay-oriented games with little story, and Telltale games on the other side representing games with a lot of story elements but lacking in gameplay. When I started playing this game, I thought it would be along the lines of Uncharted, where the gameplay is somewhat okay while the story and characters excel. But by the end of my journey, I realized that this game can’t be on that scale. Why? Because this game both excels at storytelling and world-building while still being jam-packed with gameplay systems. God of War isn’t just a game: it’s a milestone in games that may just be the best game ever released on the PS4.
This story has you following an older Kratos as he tries to live a somewhat normal life with his wife and kid in the Norse realm. The game starts with his wife dead, but before she died she gave one last request: spread her ashes upon the highest peak of the nine realms. From there, a journey begins with Kratos and his son Atreus as they fight their way to the highest peak. Along the way, they meet friend and foe, and travel through multiple realms in an attempt to achieve their goal.
It’s hard to know where to start. I’ll start by saying I haven’t played the previous God of War games, so I can’t tell you how Kratos has evolved or anything like that. But what I can tell you is that the characters, namely the father and the son, are fantastic. Kratos is old and almost brooding while Atreus is curious and wanting to explore. While Atreus is smart about the area and can read Norse, Kratos is smart about war. This duo plays well off of each other almost as opposites, and watching them be together was amazing. Not only that, the characters also develop well as the story goes along. While Kratos doesn’t seem changing, you can tell that he is more proud of his son and is trying to be more forgiving of his flaws. He is trying to reach out and connect with son, but he struggles to do so. Atreus on the other hand swings vastly in his character development. Throughout the journey is mood changed from adventurous to sad to mad and even to boastful, but throughout that time he always found his way back to his old adventurous self. But these aren’t the only characters in the game. Throughout your journey, you run across various friends and foes who also have character and backstories that also develop with you. Whether it be through two dwarf blacksmith brothers (one is blue, by the way) who hate each other and always hate on each other’s work despite it being the same, or the goddess Freya who helps you along the way and will stop at nothing to get back her son. The characters in this game are great as for they are really well developed and are great to be around. But above all of that, it’s the journey with Kratos and Atreus and how their character develops as they go along felt second-to-none.
One of the things I was most impressed with are conversations and dialogue in general. Whenever the game slowed down, conversation ensued. Climbing? Dialogue. Boating? Dialogue. So on and so forth. Not only were they a nice way to fill the air while doing a menial activity, they were also fantastic to listen to. Atreus would ask you questions about life and growing, and while rowing the boat stories would ensue. Nothing quite beats Atrues asking Kratos what direction he should go while hunting deer and Kratos simply responding, “In the direction of deer.” These conversations were such a delight that I found myself staying on the boat feet from the shore just so then I could finish listening to a story. But what I found even more impressive is how conversations were cut off. The rule is stories can only be told while on the boat, which means if someone is in the middle of the story, that story will end when hitting shore. But instead of doing the thing all video games do and just cutting to silence, the story teller will finish his final thoughts then say something about going back to the story. Conversations flowed really well throughout the game, but they also cut off properly; something that almost felt like a culture shock in video games.
A couple of other noteworthy story elements also came up throughout my time with the game. The compendium that accrues as you go along is written in the perspective of Atreus, which I thought was neat considering Atreus is the one writing all of this stuff down. Also, one of the biggest small details I noticed is that Atreus only proved to be a little annoying, a great stride forward considering I feel that almost all kids in movies and video games are super annoying.
The one flaw I could come up with story-wise is the story’s scale, which I also feel is a positive for the game. The story throughout alludes to something grander, but it never gets there. It constantly speaks of Ragnarok, the bigger Gods of Norse mythology, Asgard, and more, but that’s all it does: speak on the matter. Even the final boss is the same person as the first boss fight. But these bigger themes were also shown in other ways like the different realm gates showing up on the map only to say that you can’t go there. Personally, I didn’t mind this because I enjoyed the smaller scope of the story. The story from the beginning was always about the smaller journey and the adventure with Kratos and Atreus. But I can also see this as possible bait for a sequel, which both makes me a little annoyed as for it just wants to make money on another sequel and extremely happy because that means there could be another sequel. Overall, I would say the story elements are fantastic in this game. The story that unfolds between Kratos and Atreus is epic and various characters you meet boosts it all the more.
The story is strong, but what about the gameplay? When I think about strong story elements in game, I immediately think that the game would be lacking gameplay-wise. But this game breaks that thought process by offering a boat-load (get it?) of content and gameplay mechanics. Main quests, side quests, collectibles, crows to kill, puzzles to solve, abilities to upgrade, armor with stats, and so much more.
While combat is the weakest link gameplay-wise, it still felt really good and full of different systems. Two things to particularly note is the axe retrieval and glory kill system. Remember the satisfaction of the Doom Marine in new Doom cocking the shotgun in the elevator? Imagine that feeling every time you call back your axe. Speaking of new Doom, the game has its own glory kill system that can also be pretty brutal. Watching Kratos grab the jaw of a werewolf and rip it down to its waist is quite something. But these aren’t the only systems in play combat-wise. light and heavy attacks, a plethora of different enemies, various different combo moves learned throughout the game, the ability to throw the axe, the blades of chaos coming in halfway through, various special moves, armor with various stats and abilities, and so much more fills the combat in this game. At times, it almost felt overwhelming how many options there were. I did think the combat was a bit too spammy and I wish I learned more passive combat abilities, but overall I would say its weakest link is still as strong as Kratos.
One thing I did find surprising is how open the game is. I was expecting a linear game considering how cinematic the game looks, but it’s actually the opposite. While it isn’t the biggest open world I have ever been in, the fact that I could go anywhere and do anything was shocking. What’s even funnier is that the game almost has a metroidvania aspect to its world, because a lot of the places I went to had areas I couldn’t access until I picked up a certain tool. Exploring this world was a blast because of how beautiful it is and how many things there are to do in this game. Puzzles, chests, side quests, boss fights, collectibles, and more things to do inhabit this world. two things that didn’t help was how nondescript the map was and how fast travel didn’t work properly until after beating the game, but I still found navigation to be easy enough to go where I wanted to go. But all of that is just in the main area; wait until we hit the other realms.
Midgard is the main area of the game, but throughout the journey you get access to other realms. There are five other realms to access in the game. Three are through the story (one is empty and there is no reason to go back), and two are optional. While these realms are smaller and more linear than Midgard, they all still have plenty to offer gameplay-wise. The story realms feel like miniature offerings similar Midgard, but it’s the optional realms that are really unique. The first realm, Muspelheim, is essentially a trial realm. All it offers are various combat trials with a boss at the end. While I did like the creative challenges available, I couldn’t help but not like this realm as for going through all of these combat trials were annoying. The other realm, on the other hand, is really cool. Niflheim is a realm full of a gas that can kill you if you stay in it too long, but the thing that makes it cool are its randomized elements. Each time you go into its area, the map changes. The layout itself doesn’t, but the enemies, loot, and traps do. All of it is filled with this gas, so you can’t stay in the area for too long. This to me was the coolest realm out of them all considering how unique it is. Overall, I would say that the other realm offerings offer even more gameplay to be had, and thus, an excuse to stay in its world.
The biggest thing I loved about the game isn’t the story or the gameplay, but how the two are tied together. The aspect of this game I loved the most is its endless shot. The only time the game cuts is whenever you die. Fast traveling, going through realms, exploring the world, going between cutscene and gameplay; all of it is in one shot. While at times I do forget that this game is in one shot, just how impressive this feat is alone makes this game a milestone. But I feel that this endless shot is downplayed by others. The endless does two things for this game that I don’t really get in other games. The first is that get rids of loading screens. How they do it, I don’t know; but that means the whole game is loaded in or that they found a clever way to load the game without showing any dips in the frame rate, which I feel is a huge advancement for video games. The other thing it does is that it makes gameplay and cutscenes seamlessly flow. Can I notice the times when one flows into the other? Yes. But I have been fooled a few times, and I even if I wasn’t ‘fooled’ I still think that the seamless change is still impressive.
Man there is still so much to talk about with this game. For starters, this game is drop-dead gorgeous, and fortunately enough this game has a photo mode. I spent so much time taking screenshots of this game, that I am going to put up a separate gallery up for all of the images I took. The music of this game is fantastic and plays to each scene really well. I loved the ending and it’s one of the few times where I felt truly emotional with a video game. I loved how throughout the game the water sinks twice, offering new areas to explore and reason to go back to previous ones. I loved the boss fights against the Valkyries, but I was super close to breaking the disc on that last boss. While that boss was hard, I found the other side bosses and soul eaters to be too easy. Finally, I think the game did a good job at separating itself from the older games, which was good for me considering I didn’t play the previous game.
While other games offer better aspects to any one of God of War’s game aspects, no game out there combines all of these elements so well. Sure I could get a better story in one game and better combat in another, but no game has combined all of it like God of War has. Its story is excellent, its gameplay is filled to the brim with mechanics and things to do, and all of it is tied together with a shot afraid of scissors. While there is still so much left to talk and still so much left to do in the game, I can say with certainty that this game is truly an epic and just may be the best game of this generation.
P.S.: Images can be found here.