For adults that may be reading this, it’s safe to say no one was the same person they once were when they were younger. Life changes, things happen, everyone meets people or experiences the kind of events that reshape their perspectives on life, society, and their outlook on existence. In short, people tend to grow up.
“God of War” appears to have a reached a crossroads. People remember the series for wanton violence, vulgarity, and an unbridled rage towards the world as a whole. But this new entry to the main series from Sony Santa Monica stars a Kratos who has clearly grown up, while hanging on to the root of what made him such a badass character. It’s the former that makes this one of the best stories I’ve seen in a Triple-A game in a long time, while the latter makes it a whole lot of fun.
SINS OF THE FATHER
It’ll be tough to tiptoe around the story of “God of War,” because honestly, there are a lot of twists and turns that should be experienced first-hand. But anyone who has followed the development of this new chapter is familiar with the central premise. Kratos is suddenly a single father, raising young boy Atreus and bringing him along on a dangerous journey across a world full of monsters, both alive and dead.
The Kratos at the start of the game isn’t the Ghost of Sparta that everyone remembers. He’s very much settled into family life, but circumstances see him suddenly embark on this adventure through the Norse land of Midgard with Atreus. What follows is a dive into the question of fate, maturity, and the ability to choose one’s own path. Is it possible for people to change who they are? Or are they destined to always go down a certain path, especially when people judge them for past actions?
For Atreus, this theme also affects him as someone who’s looking to stamp his own place in the world. Without spoiling the finer points of the Kratos/Atreus dynamic, “God of War” proves to be a fascinating look into what it means to try and be better, knowing they won’t always be perfect, but that they have the means to sincerely endeavor to live on their own terms.
The “God of War” combat formula returns, but with a greater degree of complexity. The biggest addition is the Leviathan Axe, which is basically Kratos’ answer to Mjolnir. The Axe can be used as a melee weapon or flung at enemies in the distance. Kratos has multiple ways to fight, both with weaponry and bare-handed, with each style offering numerous upgrades and unlockable attacks.
Atreus can fight, too, but he’s mostly off at a safe distance. For the most part, he can’t be harmed, though I did bump into a few fights where he could be left momentarily incapacitated. Those are the difficult ones, because Atreus’ help can be invaluable. His arrows can be upgraded to cause significant damage or cause a valuable distraction. The little guy will even jump into the fray himself, trying to strangle enemies and giving Kratos an opening to tear in with a combo.
As much fun as it is for Kratos and Atreus to fight together, there were also several moments in the game where they noticeably bonded through certain activities. There were a couple of instances in the game where Kratos would teach Atreus how to hunt with the player directing his arrow while proud papa kneeled over his shoulder or Atreus would get boosted into an unreachable area and solve a puzzle for his father. I particularly enjoyed these moments and thought more of them could have been incorporated into the story. As it was, I came to appreciate the two learning to fight together, especially when hitting the final set of boss battles.
Speaking of which, I remember citing during my preview in March that I barely noticed any quick-time events. That’s much less the case with the rest of the game as a whole. Quick-time events are indeed here and while they feel less intrusive than past “God of War” games, they did start to feel unwelcome at certain point.
FATHER/SON CAMPING TRIP
While past “God of War” games felt noticeably linear, “God of War’s” PlayStation 4 version is very much not that. While the first couple of hours feel like Kratos is going down a set path, the world soon opens up in a huge way. It’s not even just the main map, either, as players soon get a chance to check out multiple worlds, each with numerous puzzles, hidden areas, and collectibles.
If I have a criticism for “God of War,” it’s that it sometimes feels like there are too many minor collectibles. There are multiple currencies, lore pieces, tokens, and the like, all of which contribute to different things. Some are used for customization at a dwarf shop, others are used to fill out Atreus’ journal, and others just feel like collecting for the sake of collecting. For example, I don’t feel the need to take out 100 ravens and it’s hard to imagine anyone who would.
But many of the divergent side paths feel worthwhile. While some players will explore hidden temples to scoop up legendary items for Kratos, these will also contain ample challenges. Those who think the main game is too easy will dig these extra puzzles and battles.
BOYHOOD TO GODHOOD
“God of War” was never the deepest experience, especially with what feels like limited enemy types. But the PlayStation 4 makes up for this in spades with an incredibly vast world and a heartwarming story. Beyond Kratos and Atreus, the game is filled with some surprisingly lovable characters. On top of that, finishing the main story doesn’t truly feel like the end. While previous games made it feel like treading old territory to find everything, the post-game in this “God of War” makes it feel like the world has truly opened up.
“God of War” feels like a breath of fresh air, thanks to a reimagined world and some deeper customization features. But at the root of the game is the classic “God of War” combat, slightly less gory but only slightly less grisly. Tearing monsters apart bare-handed is just as much of a rush as it ever was. And that’s good, because even if it’s time to grow up, it’s okay not to change too much.
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This review is based on a PlayStation 4 download code provided by the publisher. “God of War,” available on PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation Store for $59.99 on April 20. The game is rated M.