Having brutally murdered ever Greek god on the roster, Kratos has decided to head north-west for a bit of peace and quiet. Little does he know, he has travelled so far north-west that he is now in Scandinavia. The home of the Norse gods. It seems as though Kratos can never escape the gods. I think you can guess where this game is going!
The latest entry to the God of War franchise is a complete reboot from the ground up. The cosy Spartan sunshine is gone and instead, we have the frosty mountains of the Midgard. The linear story has been replaced with a more RPG like open world experience. However, this is unlike other reboots we often see in gaming.
The latest God of War game (which I am going I am going to call God of War for the rest of this review) acknowledges the past games. In fact, it is technically God of War 4. The events of the first three games are referenced making this is a continuation of Kratos’ story.
This is not a cause for concern. In fact, this is quite possibly the best news the franchise could have gotten. God of War had fallen into a slump of repetition. Did anyone really want them to reset the clock and just have the same game with a Norse coat of paint?
A lot has changed since Kratos left Greece. For starters, he has gotten older and now has one seriously bitchin’ beard. If you look up close you can see the wind blowing the hairs, an incredible amount of detail has been put into this beard. Christopher Judge (Teal’c from Stargate SG-1) has taken over as the voice and holy shit is he good! Considering how Teal’c and Kratos have a very similar demeanour, it is surprising how this hasn't happened sooner.
To take attention away from Kratos’ beard, he has a son now, called Atreus (ay-tree-us). It's a bit of a tricky name. This is probably why Kratos only ever calls him “BOY”! The relationship between Kratos and Atreus is the primary focus of the story. It starts out with the death of your wife (your sons mother in case that needed explaining). You need to bring your wife's ashes to the highest mountain in the realm. Nothing overly difficult, but the gods don’t like giving Kratos a break!
The opening scene of the game sets the standard going forward. Kratos is an absolute monster and is going to kick the shit out of everything!
The combat has changed considerably from what it was in previous games. The Blades of Chaos have been ditched in favour of a frozen axe called the Leviathan Axe. The camera has been zoomed right into Kratos’ shoulder and weirdly, you can no longer jump!
For the first hour or so, the combat is quite dull. You have two attacks, light and heavy and that’s it. Your field of vision is limited due to the camera angle and you have hardly any powerful moves. Don’t expect to be tearing it up like Kratos did in the past. It is a difficult transition to make and it would have been better if they had given Kratos some additional attacks and combos early on.
The good news is that there is a talent tree to unlock new attacks and abilities. Each time you complete a quest or kill an enemy, you earn XP. This XP can be used to unlock new items from the talent tree. You should be able to max this tree out long before you beat the story and by the time you do, the combat is far more interesting.
The biggest and most surprising addition to the combat is your son. You might think at first that having to go on a long journey with a 10-year-old boy is going to require a lot of babysitting. The reality is the complete opposite. Atreus has yet to inherit his father's impeccable abs but makes up for it in many other ways.
During combat, Atreus wields a bow and arrow. He also possesses a dagger which he uses from time to time. For the most part, Atreus takes care of himself. He doesn’t do significant damage on his own, but the important thing is you do not need to take care of him during battles. You can instruct him to shoot an enemy with an arrow by pressing square. By the end of the game, you will find you will learn to value what he brings to the table during combat.
Atreus is useful in combat, but his strength comes from his passive abilities. To start off, Kratos can't read the Nordic language. He relies on Atreus to do all of the translations, but he gives far more to the player.
Kratos has changed over the years. He still has the rage within, but as a person, you can see how the events of his past have shaped him. He possesses some incredible wisdom and this plays very well with his son. During boat rides the son will often express opinions about the ongoing events. Sometimes innocent and sometimes ignorant. Kratos always has some pearls of wisdom to share.
One scene in particular (not a spoiler) the son expresses how he feels that a leader who leads his men to their deaths is “not a very good leader”. To which Kratos responds “Even great leaders make mistakes, what sets a great leader apart from a bad is the willingness to take responsibility for those mistakes”. I may be paraphrasing slightly as I am recalling this from my memory, but there are many moments like this that make you look at Kratos differently. In some ways, you feel compassion while admiring how he is drawing all of this from experiences rather than from books or stories. Scenes like this are what make the boat rides so much fun. You will find yourself waiting by the shore waiting for them to end as quite annoyingly, getting out of the boat, causes them to end the conversation.
God of War has never been a game that had low production values, but the bar has been raised considerably. The visuals quality is amazing. You will often find that you do not notice the transition between cutscene and gameplay. Several times I found myself waiting for something to happen only to find that the cutscene was over.
The game world is based around a lake called the Lake of Nine. This lake acts as the hub between all of the Nordic worlds. If you are new to Norse mythology there are nine realms with Midgard (aka earth) being where this game is based. We already know the earth is beautiful, but this game really reminds you of it. One particular forest, it’s probably a tad unrealistic, but man it looks amazing! There will be several points in this game where you just step back and admire how good looking it is. No detail was spared, the level of polish is just flawless.
The coolest thing about the Lake of Nine is that it acts as a central point for the entire game. This is no longer a linear adventure. You can return to any location in the game, whenever you like. This is required to some degree as you will often find chests, doors and puzzles that you can’t deal with yet. This gives you an incentive to go back and revisit locations.
From start to finish God of War gives you everything. Incredible visuals, solid combat, a large open world and best of all a kick-ass story. Watching the development of the relationship between Kratos and Atreus is something special that video games very rarely capture. Whether you have played other God of War games or not, you need to pick this one up. The switch to Norse mythology has blown a breath of cold mountain air into the franchise that has helped take the franchise to a new level.