The original God of War series was, as you may remember, a violent trip through Greek myth featuring weird sex minigames, edgy one liners and fast paced action, as well as pioneering the quick time event. In the end, it left us with a Kratos who was still a ball of rage, but a completely irredeemable villainous ball of rage who decimated the Greek Gods and left his own fate up in the air. It was a hell of a note to leave on, and left people wondering where next for the series, if there could even be a next installment.
But, Santa Monica Studio said ‘actually, you know what? Yes. Let’s do that. Let’s do more God of War.’
And it was a darn good thing they did.
The latest installment in the God of War franchise is a soft reboot, meaning it features the same old Kratos but in a setting hundreds of years past the last entry, letting newcomers pick it up without needing to know the history. Which, for a newcomer like me, was absolutely great. I knew the bare bones of the old games, but I hadn’t played them. I was apprehensive of picking it up, but I quickly found that any mention of previous games is purely as a little nod and wink to faithful fans of the series while strongly focusing on the story at hand, rather than the past.
As stated above, Kratos has had a few hundred years to chill out. Literally, as he’s found himself in the realm of the Norse Gods, full of snow. He’s still pretty angry, but a more reserved anger. He also has a kid now. He had a wife, too, but the story opens just as she’s died and, naturally, her last request was to have her ashes scattered on the highest peak in all the realms. As you do.
This, of course, means Kratos has to set off on a grand adventure with his delightful son, Atreus. The ‘angry dad with a tragic backstory goes on an adventure with their child’ video game genre is one that has seen some success in the past, but God of War takes an interesting spin on the notion, creating a commentary on the Kratos that used to be, featured in the series, and how that angry man isn’t fit to be a father. Atreus is timid at first but grows more confident in his ability and in himself, and as a result, calls Kratos out on his gruff masculine persona, and in turn, Kratos realizes he’s in the wrong but is too set in his ways. But all the same, he wants to be a good father.
As you can imagine, it creates a lot of conflict, and Christopher Judge of Stargate SG-1 fame delivers an amazing performance as Kratos, but Sunny Suljic as Atreus is nothing to sneeze at either. Their banter is impeccable as they travel across the world together, with Kratos attempting to be a good father by telling stories (and hilariously failing at it), while Atreus always seems to mirror the players excitement at being thrust into new, gorgeous environments full of things to look at.
And there are so, so many things to look at. God of War takes queues from more cinematic games, such as Uncharted or Tomb Raider, mirroring the over the shoulder style, the sweeping views and the rather linear paths, but it also makes sure to include a lot of nooks and crannies full of bonuses for the player who’s willing to seek them out.
What God of War does differently to these games, however, is it shows that the fast paced combo-oriented action games like Devil May Cry or even the original God of War titles can absolutely work with modern day sensibilities and being put in a different control setup.
Kratos has heavy and light attacks to combo up as he wishes, an axe throw ability and a shield. Plus the ability to quickly dodge and move around. Combat flows naturally, with players able to chain abilities and attacks together in any way they wish to create devastating combos, as well as leveling Kratos up to discover new abilities and attacks. Not to mention the combinations of armors, axe additions and talismans which can further enhance all range of things so players can buff their Kratos to specifically favor their playstyles. And there are a lot of playstyles.
This isn’t even getting into Atreus. If you were worried the game was a glorified escort mission, well. Atreus is more than capable of holding his own and being an amazing assistant in battle. You can control him directly, using a dedicated button to have him fire arrows either at your nearest target or aim them yourself, as well as his AI scooting around the battlefield, either favoring attack, defense or healing based on what armor you buy for him and how you equip him.
All in all, God of War mixes up the notions we may have had of cinematic games being fairly standard shooty affairs and shows us that perhaps any genre could work given the right developer. I’ve met so many interesting NPC’s, I’ve heard all kinds of badly told stories from my new dad, Kratos, and I’ve decided against making a drinking game out of him saying the word ‘boy’ because I would wind up in hospital and then I’d have to explain it and it would be super embarrassing.
God of War is the kind of game I think we’ll be looking back on as a true example of the genre that changes the game just as its original did years ago.