Grade: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
System: PlayStation 4
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developed by: SIE Santa Monica Studio
ESRB Rating: Mature
Grades: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Outstanding; ★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good; ★ ★ ★ Good; ★ ★ Fair; ★ Poor
A massive, magic-imbued deer lay dying in the pristine snow, but the hunt isn't complete. In an authoritarian tone, Kratos instructs his son to finish the kill and put the animal out of its misery.
Young Atreus cries, the precipice of adulthood and responsibility weighing heavily on him in the form of his knife. He hesitates, prompting Kratos to take his child’s hands in his and finish the deed. The animal dead, Atreus weeps and Kratos moves to comfort the child but stops himself. Kratos distrusts his instinct to console the boy and remains gruff and emotionless.
I never thought a God of War game would have something to say about the harsh reality that is the father-son dynamic, but there it is: making me relate to this bloody, beautiful tale through my own experiences.
The new God of War is a far cry from the original trilogy, whose over-the-top, sometimes absurd violence felt like it was out of a 1990s action movie. Long removed from the past game’s setting of Greece, Kratos is older, somewhat calmer, and in the icy realms of Norse legend.
The change in setting isn’t just an excuse for giving Kratos new gods to slaughter. His journey from Sparta has brought him peace in the form of a wife, who has died at the onset of the game. Running from his past and preparing his son for a life of violence, Kratos and his son begin their journey to fulfill her dying wish: to have her ashes spread from the highest peak in the realms.
God of War is an expressive tale of how two very different people mourn a loss and cope with an inability to understand one another. On many occasions I found tears welling up in my eyes, as the game juggles this violent world with heartful storytelling. There is a shocking amount of heart here for a franchise whose cultural touchstone before this was ridiculous violence and eye-roll inducing sex scenes.
The dynamic between Kratos and Atreus is the key to what makes God of War so fantastic, as their connection in combat bolsters the emotional moments of the plot. Players can call on Atreus to support Kratos at any time with a distracting hail of arrows, but the child never gets in the way or requires saving.
Atreus isn’t much use at first, leaving the heavy lifting to Kratos and his new magic axe, but as the boy learns and grows he becomes a pivotal part of combat. The gameplay in this God of War is more Dark Souls than beat-em-up, with the camera never leaving your over-the-shoulder view. While combos and juggling via over-the-top moves are still par for the course, this new combat engine is much more about strategy, distraction, and counter-play than mindlessly mashing buttons while cool stuff happens.
A screen grab from the ‘God of War’ video game.
Sony Interactive Entertainment Enlarge
I was frustrated early in combat because I felt as if I were constantly being overwhelmed. I soon realized that I needed to focus more on parrying and staying safe, using the commands to Atreus as a way to create openings. Once Atreus gained a suite of abilities that made him more useful, I realized that his advancing skills allowed me to play more aggressively. In a way, it felt like Kratos was more confident in his son’s ability to be useful and could finally let go of constantly needing to protect the boy.
The land of Midgard and beyond is as beautiful as is dangerous, and one thing carried over from the past games is the world’s sense of scale. As in past God of War entries, there are impressively large set pieces that create a true sense of size in this world. From cascading mountains and golden temples to gigantic beasts and foreboding strongholds, God of War paints a colorful, interesting landscape.
Engaging combat, a fascinating world to explore, and a wealth of quests aside, I can’t say enough about how much I loved the main story. In the same way that the 2017 Marvel film Logan frames beloved superhero Wolverine in a new light, God of War makes me rethink everything I know about Kratos as he searches for a place for him and his son, somewhere past the violence.
Long after the credits rolled, I find myself thinking about that early scene with the deer. The best games are the ones that leave an emotional mark on the player, long after they’ve put down the controller. Thanks to God of War, I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about Kratos and his son for a long time to come.
A copy of the game was provided to The Blade by the publisher for the purposes of review.
Contact Will Harrison at: DoubleUHarrison@gmail.com or on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.
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