- Released: 2018
- Played on: PS4
- Also available on: –
- Time to get into: 10 Hours
- Time to complete: 25 Hours
- Multiplayer: No
The relationship between father and son is what God of War is all about. Kratos and Atreus have their ups and downs, working together and working against each other, moments of anger and moments of intimacy. The development of their relationship is as wonderful to experience as any I’ve ever come across in video games and makes God of War a must play for anyone who loves narrative-driven games. It’s not quite backed up by gameplay that can be slow and repetitive and a plot that is bloated and convoluted but it’s worth getting through all that to see out the journeys of Kratos and Atreus, as individuals and as a family.
Like Father, like Son?
Gaming doesn’t have a good track record of telling great stories of relationships. Naughty Dog has completely cornered the market with Nate & Elena, Joel & Ellie, Chloe & Nadine. But, perhaps because most of the time the player journeys alone, even great games with great characters – Lara, Madeline, Aloy – don’t feature relationships that develop over time. 2018’s God of War walks into this space and sets a new, and pretty high, bar for the rest to follow. The game could just as easily be taken as being Kratos‘ journey as a world-weary cynic trying to hide from the world, as it could being Atreus‘ journey of growing up curious to explore it. For me though, the real wonder and joy to be found here is in the combination of these two characters – how they learn more about the people they come across, about each other and about themselves. I fear to talk too much more about this in case I would give away anything and ruin it. Spoilers here would be far more damaging to this game than any spoilers of the plot! Suffice to say that the most frustrated, apprehensive, shocked, fearful, exhilarated, amused, proud and pleased I felt during my entire playthough of God of War were all to do with the interactions between Kratos and Atreus rather than the story or the action. The development of their relationship is so good that anyone who enjoys storytelling should play this game to experience it. It is totally worth your time, even if the rest of the game isn’t quite up to the same level of quality.
Slow and steady wins the race
Combat in God of War can be very satisfying in short bursts. I’ve already posted on social media and in a roundup about the Leviathan axe. It’s a total joy to use on enemies, as are some other tricks that Kratos has up his sleeves later on in the game. The combat is very violent. Even throwing the axe for ranged attacks feels very brutal – everything in the game feels like it has weight and a heavy presence in the world. On top of this there are the takedowns which can be performed on downed enemies with a well timed press of R3. They are in your face, gruesome and very very final. Plus there are quite a few spectacular set pieces, for example taking out large trolls using their own huge stone totems. But sadly, all this gets repetitive. I think this is a combination of two things. Firstly, the combat is almost too strong, too heavy, too violent. It means that it never becomes second nature to you – it doesn’t get out of the way, if you will. By creating combat that is so dramatic, the developers have ended up with combat that is a drama to use – fighting ends up cumbersome and slow. Second is that the number of different types of enemies is actually very low, whilst the number of enemies is very high. As such you do the same stuff over and over. Throw the axe, call it back, swing it and finishing move. And then again. Even in the bigger enemies are the same – the troll fights I mentioned before basically always play out the same.
The never-ending story
The story, outside of Father & Son as I mentioned before, doesn’t do much to lighten the load either. Does the heavy lifting, more like. Unless you love lore-over-story then God of War takes far too long to do anything interesting. It took me ten entire hours – the full length of many wonderful games – to actually want to carry on playing for any other reason than the fact that everyone had said how good the game was. It’s a really really slow start. It must be said, I then really enjoyed the next few hours. Fantastic twists and revelations and heart-stopping moments. During this period God of War really keeps you on your toes: characters come and go, we learn more about people, realms and of course Kratos and Atreus themselves. For a while I was enthralled. After that though, the game drags like crazy at the end. Repeatedly you feel like you are coming to the final moments, only to have to go off on some additional superfluous and manufactured drama. There’s a truly amazing 12 hour game in here somewhere. I think the main issue is this: the story is not moved forward at the same time as the fantastic action set pieces. The best narrative-driven action games manage to combine stunning set pieces with dramatic twists or reveals in the story. Just last year on Playstation 4 we had two games that did that perfectly: Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. God of War, for the most part, has action for action’s sake and then pushes the story on via long conversations in cut scenes or whilst traversing the landscape. It’s good, but it’s not great.
In a sense you already know whether you should play God of War – this review is just confirming it. There’s is so much that is great about the game but it can be a real slog to get to see and play those parts. As such it’s pretty straight forward: if you know you love complex stories and heavy lore then yes: you should play it. But if you’re not already sure that you are going to enjoy those aspects then no – you aren’t going to! Go with your gut.
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