I’m typically bad with keeping up with triple-A releases and will often pick up games months, even years, after their worldwide release. Not to mention having them on a watchlist for even longer. 2018’s God of War was one of those games that fell under the “that looks cool, I’ll play that one day” bracket but after playing through the main story this year, I truly wish I’d taken a dive into Midgard upon its release.
God of War stands as the eighth iteration of the Santa Monica Studio franchise of the same name but acted as a reboot for the series – after the first seven games in the franchise took place in a heavily Greek environment. Citing Greek gods such as Ares and Athena as important characters, but 2018’s God of War was the first game in the series to be more loosely based on Norse mythology, swapping Zeus for Thor.
One unchanged aspect of God of War is its main character – Kratos. However, after a tortured and pained history across seven previous adventures, this Kratos is clearly troubled by his past and is trying his best to leave everything – including his godly status – behind. He attempts to do so by having kept his lineage and history hidden from his son, Atreus, with the story of the game centred around the pair’s journey to spread Atreus’ mother’s ashes from the highest peak across the nine realms.
One of the most impressive aspects of this game is that the entire story plays out in one long take, akin to the film 1917. I knew of this going into my playthrough of the main story, and while I found it impressive that Santa Monica was able to use such a tool (the first triple-A 3D game to do so) I was a bit concerned that the story would become far too linear as a result of the one-shot limitations. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that although the story can be played through in a linear fashion should the player desire, there are numerous branching pathways to lead the player off the path, with numerous opportunities for exploration around The Lake of Nine and beyond.
The story itself is heart-warming, tragic, exciting and any other number of positive adjectives you could think of. Kratos’ relationship with Atreus shines through and provides players with a version of Kratos that they haven’t seen before, as he came across more emotionally mature and almost vulnerable at points, all due to Atreus’ presence. The inquisitive and eager-to-impress nature of Atreus coupled with the blunt and stoic character of Kratos made for some good comic relief moments, while other minor characters did the same – Brok’s brash and crude ranting, Sindri’s pathological cleanliness leading to genuine sickness and Mimir’s cheeky one-liners from his place on Kratos’ hip all provided laughs. The complex relationship between Baldur and Freya gave the story a more serious tone and made for an interesting comparison to the parent/child dynamic of Kratos and Atreus.
But, at the end of the day, God of War has been a franchise steeped in action and gore, and the 2018 iteration does not disappoint. The 2018 sequel replaced Kratos’ iconic Blades of Chaos with the Leviathan Axe, an axe imbued with frost magic that, like Thor’s Mjolnir, can be recalled to Kratos’ hand from wherever it had been thrown. While early enemies in the form of weak and ineffective Draugrs are easily chopped down with a couple of swings of the Leviathan, the different monsters and creatures that the two gods encounter on their travels force the player to utilise the Guardian Shield and Leviathan Axe together, while also relying on assistance from Atreus’ Talon Bow.
Atreus works mostly independently in combat but can be called upon to fire arrows with the square button, stunning enemies for a second and drawing their attention away from Kratos. While some encounters had me forgetting Atreus was even there, his arrows proved incredibly useful in more challenging tests. Of course, there are opportunities for brutality in true God of War fashion, with a press of R3 (when prompted) delivering a finishing move to an enemy that almost had me feeling bad for the creature Kratos had just massacred. Almost.
Graphically, God of War is nothing short of stunning. I played on PlayStation 5 after the patch that had the game running at 60 FPS – coupled with the 4K graphics that were present on PlayStation 4, this was a beautiful experience. To make a hard sell on the graphics, my dad walked into my room while I was playing and casually asked what film I was watching. Seeing him try to comprehend that this was what a video game looked like in 2021 gave me a good laugh.
God of War isn’t shy of content after you complete the main story – two new realms become accessible after completing certain criteria, both of which provide challenges for the player to overcome. Collectibles are plentiful and well scattered across Midgard, while battling the Valkyries provides a true challenge and should be the last thing the player does to wrap up their experience.
God of War provided a joyous and enriching experience and is an unbelievable starting point in Santa Monica’s new era with the series. A sequel – God of War: Ragnarok – was teased at the end of the PS5 showcase in September and is slated for a 2021 release. Given how much I enjoyed this game three years after its release, I’ll be much quicker in continuing Kratos and Atreus’ story.