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God of War (2018) [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

God of War is a title that not only rewards fans of the original franchise, but will bring in gamers en masse thanks to a simply ridiculous amount of dedication and finesse from the developers. It is a title sure to be remembered as a landmark moment in video game history.

The Pros: 

+Stunning graphics and grandiose scope
+Powerful and compelling storyline/main quest
+Playful use of tropes and evolutionary gameplay
+Oscar-caliber soundtrack
+Subtly, attention to detail, and innovation through out all parts of the game (mechanics, story, world creation)

The Cons: 

-Kids can be little shits some times

ShogunGamer.com Rating : 
10

On the run up to the launch, there's been a lot of backlash towards the changes the crew at Santa Monica made to the storied franchise that is God of War. Change is a scary thing, sometimes it pays off but a lot of the time it doesn't. As you might have already guessed, based on numerous other reviews that already published last week, the gamble Santa Monica made with God of War have paid off, in a very big way.

For my money, I was sold at the first trailer. I like the new weight to the franchise and as a bit of a lore-whore I was excited to see the development team take on a new mythos. The only concern for me was the potential for the game to be one long, drawn out escort mission. Well, that and the fact that Thor has pop-cultured the Norse mythology so much over the last couple of years that maybe people might not get a different interpretation.

All of my fears have been abated thanks to about 40 hours with the game.

Kratos Axe and Shield

Fans of the franchise, or just action/adventure games in general, won't be surprised to learn that the Leviathan Axe isn't the only weapon you'll utilize over the course of the game, but it is one that I never got tired of. Whether it's the weight you feel when you drop it on someone after a 'charged' heavy attack, or the simple thrill of recalling it Mljnor style after slamming it into a wall three rooms back. Poop

Which reminds me, the crew behind the game did an absolutely stellar job of giving you everything you would want out of the Thor-like mega-melee weapon. One of my favorite reoccurring things was hearing the axe bounce around and smash things in the distance on the return trip.

It's attention to detail like that little nod that always really excite me in video games, and every little bit of God of War feels like it has that level of attention brought to it. Start to finish, you'll constantly be impressed with how much thought went into the story, the world, and the weapons as you progress through the game (if you're paying attention).

Of course character progression is key in any game, or story. God of War not only develops the characters of Kratos, his son, and those you encounter in the world through the finely-crafted story of the game but through the use of a fairly common gaming trope: the skill tree.

Like similar games in the genre, there is always the option to get yourself in over your head. When the game starts you'll basically just have a couple of straight forward attacks/combos, but as you progress you can use your XP to purchase new attacks, new combos, and eventually unlock some pretty large scale magic attacks to clear foes with ease. Making those high-level skull-marked bosses that'd one-shot you at the start of the game feel like minor annoyances by the end of the game. Poop

Troll Slayer

None of that is new of course, plenty of people have used this system in action games, adventure games, and especially RPG titles. However, what is worthy of noting for God of War in specific is how the player evolves along with the character.

How they did it, is beyond me, but somehow Santa Monica has perfectly paralleled the skill of the game with the evolution of the character. As you become stronger and learn more abilities, you also come to realize the depth and finesse of the core combat. Timing is a huge part of it, but not all.

In example, you can always charge your fierce attack for a strong downward strike that embeds the axe in your foe for major damage... but the timing for windows is different for all the enemies, and as you advance through the game there are permutations of those flavors of villains. As you grow to understand your enemies, their weaknesses, strengths, etc. you also learn when are your opportunities for maximizing damage.

Honestly, it's hard to pin down why it all works so well. I lack the words to describe it properly (what else is new), as it sounds a little too linear and commonsensical as I read it back now. There's an X-factor here though that makes everything just feel smooth and logical.

The one piece of this that is entirely unique to the story of God of War is how Kratos approaches combat in conjunction with his son.

While Kratos does have the ability to throw and retrieve the Leviathan Axe, the majority of the ranged combat in the game focuses around his son, who's weapon of choice is the bow and arrow.

Kratos and Atreus

Atreus (his son), is also more adept in magic. Meaning that a majority of the platforming puzzles and triggers in the game require the use of your son's abilities and bow (which are all used through a single button press, the square button). It's again something that is insanely simple in concept, but branches out and evolves over the course of the game to become something beautiful when you reach "end game."

I personally did not care for Atreus at the start of the game, but by the end he was necessary without feeling forced. The beefy and flamboyant combos I'd learned with Kratos were given an elegant modifier by timing shots with the boy (via Kratos call outs to his son, and the aforementioned square button) to extend combos or open up new windows of opportunity for more meaty strikes. Once everything is working in concert, not only will you feel like the biggest badass in a world filled with Gods, but have the sweet sensation of a truly synchronistic team-up combat mechanic.

Bouncing back to the viral outcry not to change the franchise vs. the Game of the Year contender we now find ourselves enjoying, I wanted to talk a little about the difference (as I see it) between a rebooting of a franchise and a true evolution.

The obvious comparison here is to Square Enix's Tomb Raider. (Time for a pointless detour)

A couple years back the game was rebooted and it received all manner of worthy praise for how it took the story back to square one. Showed us the origins of Laura and made her feel iconic once more through a new lens and a fresh take.

Kratos and Son in the Boat

God of War, alternatively, doesn't feel like a reboot. The character wasn't broken down or restarted per se, but more evolved upon. The same themes and mechanics of the predecessors are still there, in its DNA, but they are far more refined and elegant now. The hack-and-slash of the previous games, which made it feel perhaps a little arcade-y are still there, but like I said there's a lot more finesse now.

That's an idea that flows through the game like the mighty Rio Grande.

The story echoes the themes of the past, while bringing in a new weight to it through the eyes of Kratos' son. Those who played the previous iterations of the games may recall that Kratos' family was little more than cannon fodder serving as his push on the road to revenge. Instead here we get to meet Kratos family, explore with his son, talk, learn, and advance together which gives the whole thing a lot more human feel.

Likewise, the combat, the cinematography, the puzzle/problem solving, the sense of scope are all here but have evolved.

It's really hard to talk about all the ways this game has advanced each and every component of the ideas of the original franchise without getting into spoilers, but suffice to say that you could lay the PS4 iteration along side of the original trilogy of games (and yes, there were more than three, but I'm talking here of the staple 1/2/3) and see exactly how it takes everything that made the originals classic, ironic games and innovates it; bringing Kratos into the modern era and making it an all-arounder that will be near the top of everyone's game of the year list by the end of 2018.

jeeze this review is long winded   

A comparison I would draw here is that to the idea of film. What if Fast and Furious all the sudden was nominated for a Oscar? The blockbuster evolved into something more. Sure, it's still a story about family and cars with a liberal application of NOS, but you're no longer watching it ironically or placing it on your guilty pleasure list. It's a weird idea to get your head around and it's understandable why the community/fans were thinking that this might be for them and that they were left in the dust as the game was retooled for the modern era.

However, as mentioned, everything is still there. The game has simply evolved. You still get everything you want as a fan of the franchise, it's just provided in a more refined package that I feel like absolutely everyone can fall in love with.

Kratos Bandages

In no way is this evolution more evident than in the story itself. Obviously the decision to switch mythologies is a big one, changing from the Greek stories of old to a Norse mythology which kind of starts the story anew. But it's also a lot more subtle and complex than that.

Where the story is most impressive is with the Father and Son plot of Kratos and Atreus. Similar to other family-focused stories before it, like Last of Us, which the game was drawing a number of comparisons to prior to people actually getting hands-on with the full-release, the game spends a majority of the game having the story of family backlit by family issues. While this isn't generally my jam, considering it means you have to deal with the fluctuating emotional state of a child, it's something that works well over the extended duration of the game.

At moments I did hate Atreus, but by the end of it I was kind of impressed with the kid's character progression. He was everything you would expect from a child set out on an adventure with his world-weary father. At moments a snarky little shit you wished would have stayed at home, at times the obedient son who is trying desperately to appease his distant-feeling father, and by the end of it a fully rounded and realized character with his own distinct personality, abilities, and identity.

As a (hopefully) final aside, I want to take a moment out to talk about how the game plays with pretty established tropes, both of the franchise history and video games in general.

There are moments woven throughout the game that touch on these things in new and interesting ways that make it a truly landmark experience that pushes game development forwards as a whole. Things like the fact that glowing red points on a enemy that would generally serve as critical hit markers are a little deeper now, instead of it being something to hit for additional damage its a forecast for where attacks are coming from and will let you know how to counter the enemy intelligently.

Kratos in the Mines

Likewise, one of the staples of the game series, the QTEs, still exist but are generally well hidden. Moments like blocking an attack and countering it with your own attack are only alluded via time-slowing cinematography. It might have been shown once or twice to let you know its a thing, but throughout the majority of the game you're not going to get a massive flashing indicator to press a button now. You have to pick up on context from the get go to utilize the mechanics to their maximum effect.

Nowhere is this put on better display than one of the first fights in the game. About 15 minutes into the game a stranger comes to pick a fight with Kratos and it will spoon feed you these ideals by slowing down time significantly after things like a blocked bunch with the shield that Kratos now rocks on the regular.

It results in some of the most cinematic and visceral fight moments I've ever experience in a video game, furthermore it is the most "superhero" I've ever felt in a video game and it's not even about superheroes! That first introduction fight will have you throwing the axe, blocking massive hits, and sending your foe through trees that shatter and explode like glass. All used to great effect as you feel scope of these clashing titans to a degree that makes you feel as though you're Thor and Captain America all rolled up into one.

Those first thirty minute of gameplay, for my money, are better than any video game adaption of any of the individual Marvel Movie tie-in games ever we and you're getting to experience it all at once. The concept is as grandiose and bold as it is ambitious and somehow the development team was able to pull off all these plays with a level of refinement that borders on obsessive.

Kratos about to Block

Simply put this game was a passion project of a lot of people who both loved the franchise and wanted to make something new, something completely original that would moving gaming as a whole into its next evolution. It's big, it's bold, it changes staples we've accepted for decades now and makes it all feel natural. It's that level of insight and forward thinking done with dedication and honest passion that we get to see every couple of years that gives the whole industry a shot in the game.

God of War is not only a title we'll be talking about at the end of the year as one of the best, but feels like a title that will have to go down in history as a truly landmark title worthy of inclusion on most anyone's most important games.

Review is based on a retail version for Playstation 4, provided by the Publisher.

God of War
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Santa Monica Studio
Platforms: Playstation 4
Release Date:
April 20th, 2018
Price: $79.99, or $169.99 Collector's Edition (CDN)