With five years between God of War: Ascension and God of War fans were quite eager to return to the world of Kratos, in a foreign land with strange gods to war against that still has a familiar feel for fans of the franchise. God of War is an intense adventure that combines a rich story, satisfying combat, gorgeous open-world environments and of course, enough growled iterations of “boy” to last Atreus well throughout his life.
The biggest change to the formula of God of War is the fact that Kratos is accompanied by his son, Atreus. Atreus provides significance not only to the story and NPC interactions but also to the combat system of the game. While the player will control Kratos as he moves throughout the Norse world of Midgard and beyond, Atreus will operate independently, firing arrows at your foes. However, his bow use can be activated by the player throughout the game’s numerous battles.
It is almost as if you are playing both Atreus and Kratos.
For four main games, we have seen Kratos traipse a path of destruction and anguish across the lands of Greece but for the first time God of War takes you to the rich tapesty of Norse mythology and the Nine Realms. It is simply a beautiful experience no matter what you are doing and with the scope of the game, you could spend hours just wandering around and exploring the scenery without a care in the world. You know, until some form of undead rush out and attempt to tear Kratos limb from limb.
What truly gets me in God of War is that the assorted beasties of the game hold a regal majesty and gravitas that permeate whatever scene they are in. They aren’t simply there to be but they command attention and respect, adding depth and a true sense of wonder.
Being the ancient history and mythology geek that I am, I found myself in constant excitement at each new monster Kratos had to face, boss he had to annihilate and creatures he had to meet. You don’t simply play through a fantastical story, there is real lore and depth to the world heard through exposition or careful observation.
The exploration of the open world isn’t limited just to the story. There are so many hidden side-quests to find and complete, monsters to hunt and realms to explore. There are nine realms in Norse myth and I’m sorry to say, you don’t get to visit them all as part of the story. Each Realm is unlocked through translating rune tablets scattered around the world. You really have to work for it to gain access…or look up a Youtube video and RUIN THE EXPERIENCE. But I digress.
But the real hero of this story is, well, the story. With a gaming climate that thrives off multiplayer games and the ridiculous obsession with adding Battle Royale modes to everything God of War has a truly spectacular and at times, emotional campaign that always leaves you wanting more. It is why God of War is so hard to tear away from, and it is why I was almost late to work for several weeks in a row.
The story, as should be obvious by now, follows the journey of Kratos, attempting to protect his family and create a new life in a new land, away from the turmoil of his previous war-fuelled years. But the new land and its denizens definitely have other plans. The plot and indeed Kratos’ motivations throughout God of War are actually quite simplistic and it starts with an emotional tug at your heartstrings that in all honesty made me tear up quite a bit. It is hard not to. It is a testament to the writing, setting and animation to have so much emotion conveyed by someone who is known to be quite controlled and emotionless.
This, of course, is helped by the musical score of the game composed by Bear McCreary, which surrounds and envelops you, pulling you deeper into the story without fail and helping you fit into the role of Kratos. The music makes you feel as if you can accomplish anything, that you can take on the world and more besides that. It not only perfectly matches the unknowable nature of the God of War universe, but reverberates through your very being. My advice is to add it to your Spotify playlists, it helps tap into the perseverance of Kratos and Atreus.
Despite being in a strange land, full of mostly-hostile denizens and uncomprehensible secrets, players will discover first hand that Kratos cannot leave his past well and truly behind. Kratos’ past and future play quite heavily in the story of God of War and adds significant character development over the course of the game.
Nowhere is this truer than in the relationship between Kratos and Atreus. The game basically should be called Dad of War with the amazing emotional changes that occur over the course of the trials they face. Kratos sees his young self in Atreus which strains their relationship at many points in the story. Combine this with his need to see Atreus prepared and safe and we basically have the Dad of War.
I am a sucker for any great and intricately woven story and combining it with Norse mythology has only made my love for it grow even higher than Yggdrasil the World Tree. I was not kidding when I said that God of War pulls at your heartstrings, with an emotional story that is only made the more powerful by the intensity of Kratos’ and Atreus’ raw emotion.
There is even end-game content in God of War, besides all the exploration and uncoverable secrets hidden in every beautiful nook and cranny. Even if it is just from the hit movie Thor: Ragnarok you most likely would have heard of the Valkyries, female warriors in the service of the god Odin. Well, there are nine Valkyries to seek out and defeat in the game hidden in Secret Chambers Of Odin and while there is nothing stopping you from trying to take them out towards the start of the game, it will definitely be a struggle. Every attempt of mine to take down a Valkyrie has met with horrific and embarrassing failure but you best be sure I am going to win eventually.
While the story is masterfully woven and the open-world is a true masterpiece, the game isn’t called God of Sightseeing. You will encounter numerous foes in the Nine Realms, and defeat them all one by one with a combat system that feels fluid and complex enough to provide unique challenges.
But, while the scenery is mindblowing and the lore/mythology enveloping and all-consuming, Kratos didn’t come to the lands of Norse legend for a sightseeing tour. That is where the combat system comes in, with a simplistic style of play that many players would be familiar with. Hacking, slashing, slams and heavy swinging attacks all form part of Kratos’ core arsenal.
However, there is an underlying complexity to the combat system that makes the fights seem more animated and at times, strategic. Your main weapon over the course of your adventure is the Leviathan Axe, a magical blade that seems to be cut from the same cloth as Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. And when I say that, I mean it as the Leviathan Axe can be thrown in spectacular fashion, only to be called back with the push of a button.
I’ve found that you can get some wicked curve shots with the Leviathan Axe depending on how you throw it and how you move after its thrown. So if you facing a particularly difficult foe, you can hide behind cover and still deal impressive damage by playing the angles. Not only that but the Leviathan Axe’s ranged capability makes dealing damage to those pesky long distance enemies or even melee enemies as they are running at you but still too far away to be damaged by a melee attack.
Kratos can still tap into his Spartan roots with a special ability known as Spartan Rage, which requires barehanded attacks and finishing moves to charge. When activated it provides Kratos with a speed boost, damage boost and sends an incredibly angry bare-knuckled god to deliver devastating blows to any who dare venture too close. You lose the ability to utilise the Leviathan Axe while in Spartan Rage but who would want to? There is nothing more badass than beating the creatures of Norse myth to a pulp with your fists. Plus, the anger is quite relatable.
Speaking of range, Kratos isn’t alone in the battle with Atreus fighting alongside him with his trusty bow in hand. Atreus can not only damage enemies but stun them and all sorts of other cool things that you will discover over the course of the game. Atreus is a pseudo-NPC with Kratos being able to select a target for him to fire upon in combat situations. It is just a nice little mechanic especially when you are running around in circles attempting to dodge because you are having very off gaming day.
God of War, is, as I said in the title, a masterpiece. That is all there really is to it. The combat is initially simplistic but introduces new challenges and alternate ways to dominate the enemy and the setting is mind-blowingly stunning and holds that sense of wonder from the first minute to the last. All of this and more held together by an incredibly well-written story that features prominent character development, intense emotion and some notable attempts at humour from Kratos himself. It is a must-have for any gamer.