K E Y P O I N T S
God Of War is the latest game in the iconic series for PlayStation.
You play Kratos, a once-human soldier who, having been tricked into murdering his family, is forced by the Greek gods to become the god of war. Consumed by rage and grief, Kratos lays waste to all of Greek mythology in the series of games that first started almost 20 years ago.
In this new game, Kratos has escaped Greece, settled in Norway and is about to embark on a new journey with his son Atreus.
Unlike previous games, which saw Kratos engage in almost comically vast battles while the player frantically bashed the controller, this new game is much more tactical, focusing instead on the story and on the player's ability to fight.
The combat system is all-new, focusing on an intimate third-person fighting style where your shield and axe have to be carefully used and perfectly timed. It's hard, but also deeply satisfying.
The game's new setting is a breathtaking achievement in art and design. God Of War has always had scale, but this combines that scale with real beauty, too.
As impressive as the setting is the game's story. The storyline and Kratos' relationship with his son are the reasons you will keep playing.
V E R D I C T
There's a moment at the beginning of God Of War when Kratos is trying to wrap the thin pieces of blood-stained rag around his arm that make up his wrist-guard.
He doesn't rush, instead focusing on carefully looping each rag around his wrist and back over. The surrounding forest is quiet while light gently breaks past the leaves and it's clear that each movement is painful for him. Rather than suffering from any physical wounds, it slowly dawns on you that this is a person who is in enormous grief.
God Of War is then, in its simplest form, a game about grief and parenthood.
You could argue that previous God Of War games were about grief, too, and in fact it was the loss of Kratos' family at his own hand that spurred him on to become the rage-filled deity that we know today.
Yet this game shows us an entirely new side to him. Having escaped his old life in Greece, Kratos has settled down in Norway, the home of Norse mythology. He has become a father and now finds himself once again having to bury someone he loves.
Along with his son, Atreus, Kratos agrees to honour his wife's wishes to have her ashes laid at the top of the great mountain.
In the spirit of all physical and metaphorical plots, it's along this journey that you will discover just how different this game is to its predecessors.
For starters, you're going to have to actually pay attention when fighting. In the past, God Of War was always generally about frantically pushing buttons until you reached a point where Kratos would get so angry that you'd be able to perform some god-like act of rage.
This is no longer the case, instead of his chaotic twin blades, Kratos has a single axe and a shield (oh, and his fists). The combat system is far more intricate and tactical, with each enemy having their own level of difficulty and health bar. So while you are still able to unleash that iconic rage, you're going to have to work a lot harder to experience it.
If that sounds like a chore, it isn't. Kratos' overall fighting style is just as physical and satisfying as ever, and the developers have done potentially their best work yet in actually making the player feel like they are a god. When Kratos loses his temper, you feel every blow.
In terms of weapons, Kratos' Leviathan axe is a beast. Powered by magic and completely upgradeable, it hits like a freight train and contains a library of combos and finishing moves that you can unlock and learn. One of its best party tricks is that it can be thrown like Thor's hammer, pounding into an enemy and freezing them. A tap of a button and the axe will return to your hand with a satisfying thud.
Like so many games today, Kratos' weapons and armour can also be upgraded by collecting loot or supplies. It's a simple but effective system that allows you to focus in on certain attributes such as strength, defence or even the magical abilities connected to your axe.
In addition to your own weapon, Atreus is also here to help, thanks to his skills with a bow and arrow. You can command him to attack/stun enemies at will and interact with the environment. This adds an interesting new dimension to the combat, as you're not only having to think about your position, but that of Atreus as well.
In fact, as you progress through the game, it becomes clear that every single aspect of this game is constructed around the bond between Kratos and his son.
Atreus embodies everything that worries a parent sick when their child is growing up. He's overconfident yet fragile, unpredictable and inquisitive to the point of annoyance, but above all else, he's devastated at the loss of his mother and the realisation that he's stuck with his almost eternally silent father.
These powerful character traits bounce off the silent and brooding Kratos in a way that's compelling to watch. Kratos is a brutal creation who has done terrible things, and so watching him struggle to adapt into the role of a father is heart-wrenching, at times even funny, but always deeply moving to watch.
Finally there's the world itself. Now while I've been doing a lot of gushing, I should point out that God Of War is not perfect. The game's contains lots of hidden caves, or spaces to explore like any normal open-world game. This would be great except the map doesn't really help you explore in this way, instead you just have to remember where something was and pray that you'll find it again when you have the right abilities to do so.
That being said, you might not actually care if you get lost, because this is one of the best-looking video games I have ever played, and I don't say that lightly. Much like The Last Of Us, this is a world that uses its graphical fidelity not for kicks, but to make it feel real.
The attention to detail is mightily impressive, from the intricate runes carved into Kratos' axe to the way that the snow is half-melting on the leaves. What's perhaps even more impressive is that they've achieved this at real scale, so while you can be staring at the tiny grey hairs in Kratos' beard you'll then look up and see a the vast head of a fallen giant.
In many ways that perfectly describes God Of War as a whole. One moment you'll be quietly paddling across a mist-covered lake sharing a story with your son, the next you'll be sprinting head first towards a vast creature of Norse mythology. Achieving this balance of intimacy and scale is something rarely seen, and it is a joy to behold.
T A K E H O M E M E S S A G E
A game of monumental scale and yet heartbreaking intimacy, God Of War is a masterpiece.
For those who were worried about the change of pace or tone from previous games, be prepared because they have changed the pace and the tone – and in every single regard it has been for the better.
It's rare to find a game that offers the same calibre as, say, The Last Of Us, but God Of War can safely be uttered in the same breath. It is a fantasy epic in every sense of the word.
God Of War is available now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro.