Game Review | God of War
Game Summary: After wiping out the gods of Mount Olympus, Kratos moves on to the frigid lands of Scandinavia, where he and his son must embark on an odyssey across a dangerous world of gods and monsters. (IMDb)
This is one of those games that does so much right that the disappointments feel a little more irritating than they would do in a lesser game. A lot of my criticisms will sound like nitpicks, and, while it's not exactly death by a thousand cuts, there are so many small issues that they do stop God of War from fulfilling it's potential.
To start with, the game looks absolutely incredible, with the visual fidelity right up there with the best seen so far in this generation of consoles. Every single character, location and item is realised in the most breath-taking detail imaginable.
The issue I have with the games looks relates to the animations. In cut-scenes, where the movements are pre-scripted and crafted to look as good as possible. In actual gameplay though, the number of animations seems very limited and there are very few, if any, incidental animations.
Kratos always runs the same way regardless of environment or proximity to other objects, and animations are recycled constantly for jumping, climbing, or squeezing through narrow crawl spaces. Like I said, nothing major - but compared to other visually-stunning games like the Uncharted titles or even Detroit: Become Human from this year, still a noticeable step down.
But God of War isn't about its looks, it's about fighting and that particular gameplay mechanic is pretty much perfect for players of any skill level. It does seem possible to get through the game using a fairly small number of the available moves, but it would take you quite some time.
And you can't really be overwhelmed with the number of attacks either, as it's up to the player to spend XP on the skills they want to use. If you want to pace yourself, that's entirely up to you; I can't remember any sections that require unlockable attacks, and it would be pretty bad design if there were any.
Kratos' strength also increases with the armour, enhancements and runes you can find, craft and upgrade along the way. If you keep improving your equipment as you go, it's remarkable how you won't notice just how powerful you've become until you run across some weaker enemies that you missed earlier.
The growth in power tends to match how far you've got by that point of the story as new areas with new equipment open up, so things will always feel relatively even. It's a small delight then when you come across a fight against low-level opposition and absolutely tear them to shreds.
As an example, when I was at level 2, I accidentally started a fight with a level 5 enemy and was killed in one hit. I decided to leave that until later, completely forgetting about it until I was level 7. Remembering the one-shot defeat, I was still expecting a tough battle, so it was cathartic to absolutely annihilate the same enemy.
How the combat system and improved equipment intertwine perfectly with players growing more adept at the game is undoubtedly God of War's highlight and something a lot of games could look at to improve their own character progression.
The other highlight is the central story, with Kratos and his son, Atreus, setting out to scatter his wife's ashes from the highest peak in all the realms. How their relationship develops over time feels entirely realistic with how both of them change in their attitudes toward each other.
There's only one brief section that doesn't quite live up to the rest of the story, when Atreus starts to rebel against his father's authority, only for him to revert back to how he was very quickly and little is mentioned of it ever again. Strange, but also good as he does become quite unlikable very quickly.
It's a shame then that the world the story is set in doesn't live up to the characters who live in nor the story being told. This might sound like a strange and obvious thing to say about a videogame, but it feels very videogame-y.
By that, I mean that it doesn't feel like a world anyone could actually live in. You don't see any other regular people, and there are no real villages or towns. The settlements you do find don't really bear any resemblance to reality either.
It all feels very artificial and designed, with typical videogame obstacles like rotating saws and spiked walls and ceilings there to present problems for the player to overcome rather than those things existing for an in-world reason.
But there's a lot of other stuff like that, with just about all of the side content feeling similarly designed and not naturally occurring in a believable world. I know, I know - this is a world in which various pantheons of different gods exist, but very little outside of the main characters and story hold up to any real scrutiny.
The most obvious examples of superfluous content are the realms of Muspelheim and Niflheim. There are no story or character reasons to visit either location, they are simply extra areas that exist to... exist. Extra content for the sake of it.
Don't get me wrong, more content can often lead to a greater feeling of value for money. But in the best games, side content adds to or enhances the experience. The two additional realms do neither, instead simply offering up more of the same combat gameplay and opportunities for superior equipment through repetition.
Many of the side missions and tasks are the same, with lip service paid in terms of being given a reason to do any of it, but doesn't really add anything to the overall experience. It doesn't detract from it either, it's simply there to be done and, if you are enjoying the constant fighting, it might well be something you enjoy a lot more than I did.
For me, this extra content existing purely because God of War is a game, rather than because there is any purpose to it, might not detract from the overall quality of the title, but it did make the central pair and their story feel like it carried a little less weight emotionally the more aware I become that the world exists to service their story, rather than Kratos and Atreus inhabiting a larger world in which their story takes place.
God of War is a very good game that just falls short of greatness due to an abundance of minor flaws that ultimately proved to be immersion-breaking. Still extremely enjoyable, with absurdly solid gameplay mechanics and a well-told central story.