*This review originally appeared at wizarddojo.com*
Appeasing the gods…
God of War will stand as one of greatest reinventions in gaming history, breathing distilled life into a dormant franchise and reconstructing the preconceived notions of an established anti-hero. God of War is a brilliant thought piece that blissfully ripens with each passing moment, embodying the very foundation of the snowball effect. Its true brilliance lies within the sum of its parts and how each element is seamlessly weaved to craft an impeccably paced experience that rivals the meteoric heights of literature’s finest. Each exceptional element stands audaciously on its own but are beautifully accentuated as an ensemble, personifying a melodic orchestra of sorts. From its profound deconstruction of the familiar, redefinition of established characters, and completely revamped combat system, God of War is a blissful experience that constantly evolves and is exquisitely surprising. Its effortless transition from tranquil exposition to impeccably constructed gameplay is a pristine work of art, encompassing its creative theme of seamless harmony. Whether if you bask in the glory of its exceptionally gorgeous world, delve into the tantalizing water of its Norse mythology, deviate the beaten path in a rewarding sense of exploration and discovery, or partake in one of the most brutally satisfying combat systems to ever grace the medium, no single piece of the puzzle ever outshines God of War’s greatest triumph: its poignant story of paternal love, acceptance, discovery, and redemption. God of War is indicative to the strength of the single-player experience and their importance to this growing infrastructure, a bold proclamation to their sense of hopeful permanence. Its enriching sense and scale of world building, level design, and creative direction is an exceptional achievement that rightfully surpasses the likes of anything that came before it. God of War is a masterpiece in every meaning of the word, as it impeccably redefines the conventions of this established series, crafting a new powerful identity that is quintessentially more resonant and accessible, all of which is captured in one continuous camera shot of glory.
Aside from its obvious shift to Norse Mythology, this reinvention incites a heavy emphasis on the quaint and personal, constructing a narrative that acts as a departure from the bombastic and gargantuan scale of its predecessors. Delving into uncharted waters, God of War’s narrative brilliance lies within its simplicity; a powerful story of father and son, and their arduous journey to the highest peak of all the realms. With his past playing a defining factor in his reinvention, Kratos’ developing relationship with his son, Atreus, accentuates his ability to display a wide array of emotions, evoking a surprisingly empathetic reaction from the player. In God of War, we see Kratos at his most vulnerable and display a keen sense of desperation, love, remorse, pride, and empathy, all of which are equally as alien to the franchise as the newly explored Norse Mythology. Having the previous knowledge and conceptual understanding of this character makes his evolution and self-reflection more empowering. God of War is simply a whirlwind of emotions, all of which is beautifully tied into a glorious presentational package thanks to the brilliantly somber, yet subtle, score composed by Bear McCready. It’s an extremely poignant tale that strikes resonating chords of empathy and relatability, with the repercussions of suppression and denial stemming a heartbreaking implementation of character development. Their subtle, yet stirring dialogue and intriguing rapport is surprisingly realistic, catering to that keen sense of relatability; I often found myself reflecting on my own experiences with my father, understanding Kratos’ stance of stubbornness, arrogance, and uncertainty, while finding solace in Atreus’ sense of naivety, optimism, and wonder. God of War’s moments of tranquility can even rival the emotional heights of Naughty Dog’s repertoire. Its approach to lore exposition is also a surprising refreshment, as each story told is informative, yet personal – mirroring the engrossing qualities of a bedtime story. On top of the newly improved Kratos 2.0 and the heartfelt Atreus, God of War also features an excellent supporting cast, all of which compliment God of War’s pre-established realm of quality. With approximately eight characters that make an on-screen appearance and excluding two poorly developed, albeit fun, cameos, God of War’s characters rely heavily on a profound sense of quality over quantity. From the impeccably charismatic Mimir – one of the greatest storytellers in any form of entertainment – to the tragic surprise of the main antagonist, each character is immaculately fleshed out, displaying an idiosyncratic form of charm and depth. While some notable characters never make an appearance – only to be spoken of in lore – God of War’s excellent writing and deliverance gives them a weighted presence that is arguably more powerful. It’s at this personal and dynamic level of execution that God of War succeeds in its ability to evolve and form a nuanced identity. It manages to blend both story and gameplay in such an impeccably seamless manner, with each element heavily relying on the other and further cementing a pristine sense of harmony and equilibrium. The biggest character of sorts introduced in this iteration is the fully realized Norse world, which is exceptionally beautiful inside and out. Midgard is a brilliantly crafted work of art that is exceptionally dynamic, an expansive vessel that furthers both the narrative and God of War’s rewarding sense of exploration. Its vistas are extraordinarily gorgeous and exceptionally diverse, catering to a vibrant colour palette that’s notably foreign to the core series, and its expansive nature is absolutely jaw-dropping. God of War’s illustrious Nordic universe might be the greatest video game world ever created.
While its poignant, pitch-perfect, narrative is a relatively alien element for the renowned series, God of War still follows the one significant rule of the franchise, boasting impeccable action gameplay. Adopting a new, over the shoulder perspective, the revamped combat system mirrors the methodical template of modern gaming’s finest such as Dark Souls, Nioh, and/or Bloodborne, shifting away from the arcade-y tendencies of the traditional hack n’ slash while retaining the franchise’s keen sense of addiction and polish, possibly crafting the best combat system I have ever experienced. Its lack of grand spectacle is remedied by its superb level of depth and complexity, boasting a robust set of developing skills and enhancements tied to each piece of equipment, resulting in immensely satisfying combinations. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of depth and dedication that was put into God of War’s RPG mechanics, another novel element that was executed extraordinarily well. An excellent slew of diverse upgrades and visceral skills are progressively unlocked and utilized to deliver an elegant flow of methodically constructed combat. Combat still retains a visceral sense of quality and weight, while transitioning into a melodic orchestra of brutality and gratifying action. Kratos’ primary instrument of destruction is his handy-dandy Leviathan Axe, a satisfying weapon that slices and dices with severe frost impact – intact with magical Runic abilities and the ability to summon it from any distance after each satisfying throw, in similar fashion to Thor’s hammer Mjölnir. Each weapon is fitted appropriately with its own set of skills and unlockable attacks, ranging from an immensely satisfying counterattack to an illustrious chain attack that targets multiple enemies in a single Axe throw; this lavish system is extraordinarily robust, evoking a distinct imprint on Kratos’ various tools of murder. Another understated implementation in God of War’s design is its excellent enemy variety, with each relying on a different tactic and/or strategy, encouraging players to adapt to different, pressuring situations; larger scale fights, with varied enemy types thrown into the mix, result in some of the most intense and strategic battles in the entire game. The novel, yet familiar stun mechanic is another addition that further cements God of War’s layered and complex structure. Each enemy has a stun bar that accumulates with every taken hit – hand to hand combat is notably proficient at building stun damage. Once the meter is completely filled, Kratos can perform a brutally satisfying execution, with each different enemy type having its own idiosyncratic execution animation. Kratos also has the ability unleash his Spartan Rage, giving him a temporary boost in damage, speed, and health regeneration via a flurry of vicious attacks, which have their own upgradable skill tree as well. Atreus, while not offensively capable to the same degree as Kratos, boasts his own set of supportive skills and attributes, and will fire his bow at your command, appropriately showcasing Atreus’ importance in not only story, but strategic gameplay. From the Leviathan Axe’s entrancing levitation abilities to the brutal satisfaction of Kratos’ fisticuffs, God of War’s gratifying action combat mirrors the essence of a rhythmic dance, where placement and movement are deliberate yet harmonious.
Impeccably designed combat set aside, God of War harbors two other significant gameplay elements: exploration and minute puzzle-solving. While the puzzle-solving is competent and acts as a nice pallet cleanser to the intense combat, God of War’s exploration is the standout element as it clearly assembles inspiration from Metroidvanias and the sandbox structure of contemporary titles such as Tomb Raider. God of War never truly assimilates into an “open-world” game, instead it contains an interconnecting series of various locations that implore rewarding discovery, many of which are fixed-off by particular story moments or the requirement of a specific item, encouraging a sense of backtracking in true Metroidvania fashion. Deviating from the beaten path could lead to exceptional combat challenges, optional quests ripe with engrossing lore, a slew of practical collectibles and runic abilities, or resources to craft new armor and equipment upgrades. God of War even houses a surprisingly complex and addictive roguelike mode, hidden within the confines of the nine realms. There’s plenty of freedom to digest in God of War, with every nook and cranny offering something interesting, as some of the best encounters and events in the game are solely experienced through the discovery and exploration of optional areas. There’s a notable sense of diversity swimming within God of War’s explorative element, as each activity offers a profound level of variance that accentuates its pacing immaculately. The cherry on top of all this additional content is the optional Valkyrie challenges, which serve as the game’s toughest boss fights. Valkyrie movement and attack patterns are intrinsically meticulous and calculated, similar to the methodical nature of From Software’s repertoire. These battles are relentlessly intense and highlight the brilliantly strategic nature of God of War’s deliberate combat.
Director, Cory Barlog, reflected on his own paternal experiences while working on God of War; his own journey into fatherhood is heavily reflected in the thematic elements of this masterpiece, and this vitrine of love, sweat, and sacrifice – integrated into God of War’s newfound identity – is one of the infinite reasons as to why this experience resonates on such an unprecedented and personal level. Its powerful thematic elements of family, self-reflection, acceptance, and redemption are testaments to God of War’s profound ability to adapt and evolve, a development that will surely return in the inevitable iterations to come. With a heartfelt narrative that is complimented efficiently with stellar performances and an emotionally orchestrated musical score, God of War transcends into pure presentational gold. Its reinvention from both a creative and gameplay standpoint ushers in a new, ground-breaking standard for any type of reimagining for any form of entertainment. God of War is a breathtaking experience that meteorically improved with each passing moment, collectively weaving perfection upon perfection to create such a holistic monument of a game. The gorgeously vibrant and expansively complex world of God of War is a constructed work of art, and its profound execution of environmental storytelling is the best of its generation, with each exceptionally detailed location unravelling a story of its own. The combat is a gratifying hodgepodge of elation, constantly layering one complex system after another, and exploring the intricately constructed world emanates an ineffable sensation of satisfaction and fulfillment. God of War is the necessary evolution of a franchise that was arguably considered stagnant, one that offered an addictively fun experience but lacked emotional depth. Kratos’ transformation is one of my favourite gaming experiences of all-time. As an engrossing 30 hour experience, God of War is exceptionally riveting from start to finish, with no loading screen or cut breaking away from the one seamless and immersive camera shot. God of War is an unforgettable rollercoaster ride that is unequivocally surprising and admittedly heartwarming. The conspicuous amount of love and dedication that went into each moving piece of the puzzle make this new chapter the most memorable and beguiling entry in the series. It’s an absolute masterpiece, in every meaning of the word.