You play as Kratos, who has starred in previous God of War games. Playing them will undoubtedly give you some backstory and allow you to appreciate certain aspects more but it’s by no means required. The plot is fairly self-contained and enjoyable even if this is your first outing with Kratos.
The story is well written, and the voice actors do a great job of bringing the characters to life, the entire game is done through the perspective of a single take. This means you see and experience everything as Kratos from beginning to end, no cuts, and no visible loading screens. The game is very cinematic, but without alienating the gameplay, it keeps the player engaged at all times and is one of the best ways I’ve seen a story told in a game.
God of War looks graphically beautiful, but some of the facial animations seem stiff and awkward. The sound is also excellent, but the music stands above it, the musical scores are incredible and enhance the most intense scenes.
The combat is very weighted, Kratos is not the most agile of warriors but is a complete powerhouse and you can feel it. Attacks feel solid and you can knock enemies off of ledges, into destructible objects, and into each other and walls. God Of War also has RPG elements where you gain XP and can craft new gear. You unlock a variety of abilities in the game and have a wide array of ways to dispatch your foes.
Enemies are also varied and can be resistant or immune to certain damage types. By the time you reach the games end you will have unlocked most attacks, however, you can only equip a limited number of runic attacks. These are special and flashy moves with elemental properties. Your gear can also be customized to increase a variety of different stats.
These two systems combined let you forge your own sort of playstyle within Kratos. You can make him stronger or able to tank more damage or deal more damage with Runic attacks while giving them shorter cooldown for example. It is very flexible.
Combat boils down to light and heavy attacks combos, throwing attacks, dodging, blocking, and parrying and countering. You can throw your axe and recall it back to you causing it to strike enemies with the initial throw, and on the way back. It makes you feel like Thor in a way, and the feeling of weight when recalling your axe never gets old. Without your axe in hand, you can also throw down with unarmed combat opening up an entire brand-new set of combat moves.
Switching between these styles, clever use of throwing your axe and working with Atreus is key in combat. On higher difficulty settings, button mashing will not get you anywhere.
Dad of War
Throughout the game, you also have the young Atreus with you. You can unlock skills for him and equip him with gear. Not only are you connected with Atreus as a character during the story but you will also value him in battle. In some games an AI companion is often invisible to enemies, not actually existing inside the game world. This can break immersion incredibly fast.
At the same time some games can also cause AI companions to be an annoyance that needs babysitting, or they will die and cause you to reload a save. Atreus is neither of those things and his design from a gameplay perspective is nothing short of brilliant.
He is not invisible, he exists in the world and can hit by enemies, and they will split their attention between the two of you. Without him, combat would likely be too crowded to enjoy. However, he does not have a health bar. He can’t be killed in a normal sense, so he does not require you to constantly watch over him or face a game over screen. A few enemies can grab him specifically and require you to break him free but that’s it.
Meanwhile, Atreus deals real damage to foes and battles alongside you. He knocks them down, stuns them, and supports Kratos in battle as an effective ally without taking away the challenge from the player. He is simply another tool at your disposal in a fight.
The combat is incredibly fun, and when you get the hang of it, looks really cool to boot. Executions get very repetitive though, usually a single animation or two per enemy type. But you can use them as much or as little as you please. Sending enemies flying is a lot of fun and makes you feel Krato’s incredible strength.
However, juggling enemies is strange, it is a staple of the old games and many other action titles. With God of War’s more grounded aesthetic and feel, it looks awkward and out of place. The game also has some spectacular big boss fights but repeats mini bosses too often. You fight one type of mini boss no less than five times, with only a minor variation each time.
Semi Open Back Tracking
The game is linear by nature, but the world is semi open. You can explore each zone at your own leisure and they each have a ton of secrets that grant you gear, money and runic attacks. Many places you find will require a special ability or two you can acquire later in the story. This leads to a lot of backtracking in past areas to access loot you couldn’t earlier.
I’m not a huge fan of backtracking in games, and in God of War, it can feel tedious at times. On higher difficulties (which is what I enjoy and recommend playing on) it’s somewhat required to give you every advantage on late-game battles.
The game also has a few side quests and optional bosses for you to face down, the main campaign is mildly lengthy, and you can likely double it by doing the side quests and bosses. So, in the end, the backtracking is a mild inconvenience for all the extra and solid content the game offers.
God of War also has numerous puzzles that you need to complete to progress in the story or during side activities. They are clever by design but aren’t at all that difficult. So, at times they simply feel like a time sinking hindrance blocking your way to the next fun part of the game.
The game looks good, sounds good, and plays even better. The story is engaging, and you will enjoy watching how the relationship between boy and father develops. God of War has extremely good big boss fights and the RPG elements are satisfying. It suffers from some repetition in animations, puzzles, and backtracking. But overall, the game plays and performs great. Even on the base PS4 I never noticed any frame rate drops, even in the most intense scenes.
- Great graphics and sound design
- Well written story performed by talented voice acting
- Weighty, powerful, tactical and thrilling combat
- Atreus is a great companion in the story and in battle
- Epic major boss fights
- Lots of content and side activities
- Multiple difficulty settings
- Single take cinematic design keeps the player engaged
- Stiff facial animations
- Frequent backtracking
- Repetitive executions and floaty enemy juggling.
- Some mini-bosses are repeated too often
- Puzzles tend to be easy delays rather than fun obstacles