God of War (2018)
Released: April 20, 2018
No longer driven by fury and living as a simple man, the iconic Spartan warrior and eponymous god of war has become a father once more. Following the death of Kratos’ second wife and Atreus’ mother, Faye, the two embark on a journey to spread her ashes from the highest peak of the Nine Realms.
While all of the previous games have been deeply set within Greece and its mythology, the 2018 reimagining has placed Kratos into unfamiliar territory. Marvel may have popularised Nordic legends in more recent years, but God of War brings the gritty brutality in its retelling of the stories. Set in Midgard, players are able to traverse the realms found in Norse mythology and bury themselves in the massive amounts of lore that the game provides. The environments are beautifully rendered, spanning from the base area, Midgard, full of snow capped mountains and winding forests to the other eight worlds such as the picturesque Alfheim and the fiery Muspelheim. Additional aspects to the charismatic environments are the impressive large scale statues and structures to add to the vastness of the world. Nothing does this better than the inclusion of Jörmungandr, who towers over everything in the Lake of Nine, and Heimili in the Witch’s Woods.
Coupled with the immersive setting is the new dynamic between Kratos and Atreus. The Ghost of Sparta is no longer a bloodthirsty warrior, but a father to a curious and brash son. Kratos shares profound moments of insight and wisdom with Atreus, a distinct departure from his original conception, in which his emotional range spanned from angry to furious, but instead has his own demons to fight and lessons to be learned. The growing relationship between the two of them throughout the game is a significant journey and successfully humanises Kratos, despite his previous gory dealings. In this game, Kratos is not only struggling to raise his child alone but he is also a grieving widower.
Players are able to utilise both characters in battles, providing ranged attacks with Atreus’ bow and a mixture of close quarters and ranged combat with Kratos. Having departed with the Blades of Chaos, Kratos’ new Leviathan axe can be thrown and recalled in a similar manner to Thor’s infamous hammer, Mjolnir. Both characters’ abilities can be upgraded using XP and Hacksilver (in game currency), and by making Atreus a more active deuteragonist it forces players to ration resources for a more tactical approach when playing. As Atreus becomes stronger the relationship, so does their relationship and Kratos will encourage him after battles.
Combat is aggressive, as expected, but with the introduction of the Leviathan axe it takes a heavy departure from the previous titles, although the Blades of Chaos do become available later in the game. Kratos is able to either hack away at an enemy or beat them down with his fists, which can lead to a ferocious finishing move that differs between enemies. While God of War is known for its gratuitous violence, in this most recent installment there appears to be a conscious effort to draw it back. It is not to say that there is evidence of shying away from violence, but there is a noticeable lack of diversity when it comes to finishers in comparison to previous titles. This could be to emphasise Kratos’ decision to try and keep his anger in check, a trait that he sees in Atreus and so fuels his want to teach him restraint. However, there is still the presence of the Spartan Rage mechanic, showing that there is still fury within Kratos despite his conscious effort to suppress it, as we see when he refrains from shouting or during his short passing comments about gods.
Enemies are often recycled with different appearances, making the bestiary a lot smaller than what it actually seems. With that being said, the design of the various enemies is phenomenal even with the reskinned models. The attention to detail in both appearance and movements have been so finely tuned to make for impactful interactions. Small animations such as the Revenant’s spin with their staff when they reappear and the graphical mastery when seeing light pass through a dragons’ wings are what bring the enemies to life. The corrupted Valkyries in particular are beautifully menacing in appearance, and challenging them makes for the toughest fights in the entire game. They may be optional battles, but these combat sections truly test the player’s finesse.
One of the most impressive aspects of the game is the seamless transitions between gameplay and cutscenes alongside the almost complete absence of loading screens. Director, Cory Barlog, explained that the reason for changing the perspective to an over the shoulder camera is to get more up close and personal with the action and to give more freedom to the player. By doing this, the player is always fully immersed in the world and has better control over their exploration choices. The only real downside to this is due to the game having to load in areas during gameplay, some sections where moving platforms and the like are used to get in and out of places can take longer than usual to account for the loading times. This does allow for short periods of rest, which is often what loading screens provide, but it can be frustrating when you’re just itching to get back into the action.
Elements of other franchises have definitely had their impact on God of War. In Uncharted 4, the characters will converse with one another in a jeep while traversing the map, and after leaving the jeep the current dialogue will be picked up again after reentering the jeep. This is very similar to Kratos and Atreus’ conversations (later including Mimir) in the boat, and only when they leave the boat does Kratos claim that “Stories are for the boat” and not while they are on land. Exploring while on land also has hints of Dark Souls and Bloodborne mixed in. While the game is not open world, the design of the maps take inspiration from FromSoftware’s games with hidden paths that snake back around to create shortcuts to create the feeling of a more open space to play around in.
God of War as a franchise had always been about excessive violence and grand battles against iconic figures. This game has certainly held true to its predecessors but it is clear that gamers are more open to a compelling narrative alongside these aspects. Video games do not have to be just about killing enemies for points, but instead have stories to tell. God of War is a prime example of how video games are more than that. With the raving reviews of the game so far, it was a risk worth taking with such a well established franchise.