Time certainly isn’t a healer. Nor has it softened up our man Kratos, who is just as curmudgeonly as ever in this latest God of War adventure. However, this brutal action game hides a surprising amount of heart, thanks to Kratos’ new parental responsibilities. Plus, this unlikely partnership adds a welcome extra dimension to the franchise’s notoriously gritty combat.
God of War’s creators have apparently given up counting the number of games birthed by this super-violent franchise. Thankfully that doesn’t mean this latest entry is a lazy cash cow. Quite the opposite. Every element of God of War feels carefully considered and balanced as you play through the lengthy and entertaining campaign.
Killer, torturer, father
The story picks up some time after God of War 3’s brutal conclusion. Kratos is now well into middle-age, sporting a bushy grey beard and more scars than Frankenstein’s Monster. His body may be a seriously tenderised piece of meat, but frankly those bulging abs still absolutely terrify us. Eesh.
More importantly, Kratos now has a son, Atreus, who lives with him in a cottage in the arse end of nowhere. At the beginning of the game we see them cremating Atreus’ mother, an event which sets into motion the grand journey of the game. Her last wishes were to have her ashes scattered at the top of the highest mountain in the land, a move which might well seem like a raised middle finger to her surviving family. What’s wrong with a nice little patch in the garden, exactly?
Kratos isn’t sure that his son is up to the excursion, but the sudden arrival of a mysterious stranger forces them to get moving. And so begins an enthralling adventure, and the best God of War game to date.
Going through changes
Presentation is absolutely stunning throughout, with beautiful vistas trumped only by magnificent beasts which fill the entire screen. Thankfully not all of them evil this time. Most of the characters and creatures you’ll encounter this time around are inspired by Norse mythology, most likely because Kratos has already slaughtered all of the Greek ones. It’s just one of many moves which helps to make this title feel fresh.
Also gone are Kratos’ spinning chains of doom, replaced with a massive axe. It’s less visually impressive during those frantic battles, although better suited to the older Kratos. To see him still spinning around like a sprightly 20-year-old might slightly take you out of the moment. Plus, you can still hurl it for ranged attacks and upgrade it with some seriously badass moves.
Atreus also helps out with his bow and arrow, taking on enemies from afar when commanded. He’s a very useful distraction technique, which absolutely must be used to better some of the more wily foes.
However, his biggest contribution to God of War is his back-and-forth interactions with Kratos. He’s the reason this game feels more grounded in reality, showing all of the shortcomings and weaknesses that we never see from the practically invulnerable God. Kratos’ lack of patience and desire to toughen the boy up can seem harsh, in contrast to Atreus’ emotional responses. However, some subtle body language and excellent voice acting hint that Kratos isn’t quite the concrete being we think he is. And in turn, our hero becomes more human and sympathetic.
Good n’ bloody
Combat is as fun and challenging as ever, often pitting you against several foes at once. Tougher battles will see you spamming the dodge and axe throw buttons, as blows will come from all directions in a relentless fashion. Still, you can always dial down the difficulty if you’re struggling. And God of War gives you the opportunity to upgrade every item you own, from braces to bows, to give you a fighting chance in combat.
These upgrades are made possible by the coins and artefacts that you collect on your journey, and this is one of our favourite aspects of the game. The map is more open-world than ever before, especially when you reach a massive lake which can be freely steered around and explored. You can find plenty of distractions and side-quests, from helping hapless spirits to releasing captured dragons. In addition to being fun, these bonus bits are also essential for gathering as much loot as possible. We especially enjoyed the occasional environmental puzzles, even if they’re not particularly taxing.
Some of these side missions are surprisingly involving, adding hours of extra gameplay on top of the main quest. As a result, you’ll be gaming for weeks if you hope to discover and unlock absolutely everything.
In a nutshell, God of War is an essential PS4 purchase. The engrossing gameplay and new-found heart make it a truly gripping experience from start to end.