God of War Review (Spoiler Free)

The latest God of War is a fantastic new beginning for the series. It’s expertly crafted world design, fun and engaging combat, and intriguing story take you for one hell of a ride, even without having played any of the previous titles. It’s not perfect and there are some bumps along the road, but nothing that isn’t overshadowed by the rest of what the game has to offer.

**This is a SPOILER FREE review**
**Played for ~40 hours on an original PS4 and only missed a handful of collectibles. I also have NOT played any of the previous games.**

 

God of War (PS4) is a 3rd person over the shoulder action game that follows Kratos, the Greek God of War, and his son Atreus, as they journey through Midgard to fulfill Atreus’ mother’s last wish; For her ashes to be spread across the highest mountain top in the land. Along the way, the Norse gods want something from Kratos, and they will stop at nothing to get what they want. Of course Kratos is having none of that and so begins his battle with Norse mythology. Throughout the story, the relationship between Kratos and Atreus evolves dramatically and goes through many phases. At first I was worried that Atreus would just get in the way of Kratos and drag down both the story and the combat but that wasn’t the case at all.

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The story is well paced with story beats presented at just the right time to keep you interested and motivated to see it through to completion. A few hours in, the world will open up for you to explore and take on side missions which reward you with gear, experience, and lore. The side quests are extremely well done and will take you to places that the main story will not. They are generally areas you would want to explore anyway so the side stories are just icing on the cake. It resembles more of a Dark Souls style branch system, one in which you can choose which linear path to explore as opposed to The Witcher 3 and Elder Scrolls level of open world. And trust me, it’s perfect the way it is.

Also, the supporting cast is absolutely fantastic and bring the world to life with their performances as well as to inform the player of the lore and story behind the places and people you encounter. The graphics are some of the best a game can offer regardless of some of the low resolution textures you’ll see here and there. What makes this all more impressive is that the entire game shot in one take. There are no camera cuts whatsoever. Now let’s talk about the immensely satisfying combat.

 

You play as Kratos with Atreus at your side for most of the game. Atreus runs around the battlefield on his own and attacks/neutralizes enemies for you, as well as you being able to command him to shoot special arrows by way of the square button. This will significantly help you stun/damage enemies over the course of a battle. Fortunately you don’t have to babysit him and it is not like you are escorting him around the whole game. He may get grabbed once in a blue moon and you have to help him escape, but it’s very, very rare.

Kratos himself is very fun to control in combat. His main weapon, the Leviathan Axe, is a frost based weapon that you can swing or throw at enemies. You can use R1/R2 for light and heavy attacks as well at holding down L2 to aim and throw the axe. The catch is that the axe doesn’t return to you unless you command it to with triangle. Without the axe, Kratos uses his shield and fists to attack enemies, mostly building up the stun bar. Once the stun bar is full, you can perform a brutal execution style attack by pressing R3. L1 is to block and parry if timed correctly, while X is to sidestep/dodge if double tapped. You also have a variety of powerful runic (magic) based attacks that have cooldowns.

 

A typical combat scenario can start by you throwing your axe and freezing one of the many enemies in place as you superman punch another only to stun them and rip them in half with an execution, then recalling the axe and watching it drag through a couple of enemies damaging them along the way. Then topping it all off with a big AoE runic attack. It’s much more awesome in motion.

It took me a while to get comfortable and fully grasp all of the options you have during combat, but once you do it feels amazing. There is plenty of enemy variety and thanks to the excellent camerawork, animations, and purposeful slowdown, you feel incredibly powerful taking them all out. Oh, did I mention there was a skill tree too?

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You gain experience by defeating enemies and completing missions. You can use this experience to unlock a slew of skills for both Kratos and Atreus. Kratos’ skills involve brand new attacks, extra hits during combo strings, and more defensive options as well. My only issue with the combat is that some of the later skills you unlock were tough to actually use during combat. Most enemies aren’t going to let you get off those long strings. Also, the combat can get a little hectic with multiple witches, Atreus arrow spam, and also having to worry about your axe/other enemies around you. It can be tough to keep up with everything going on. Sometimes there’s tons of particle effects all over and I couldn’t tell what the enemy in front of me was doing, but most of the time it wasn’t an issue.

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Another addition to the franchise is the loot system. You will find loot in chests and from certain enemy encounters that will vary based on rarity. The all too familiar color scheme applies here: green < blue< purple < yellow. There are chest pieces, waist wraps, and gloves for armor, hilts for weapons, and a talisman slot. The equipment will increase your stats and also provide bonuses in other areas as well. I’m honestly not too big of a fan of the loot system as I felt you could ignore 90% of the loot and just wait until you acquired epic gear to use your upgrade materials on. Maybe they could have come up with a more linear progression system or perhaps it is more balanced on the higher difficulties.

You will also encounter puzzles that will have you combine both your axe throw and Atreus’ special arrows to pass. Nothing too difficult, but you may have to unlock special story related items and come back to complete certain puzzles. This can get a little annoying because it’s not really that fun running through some of the areas again after you’ve already fully explored them. Also there was one particular side area that was easily the worst part of the game for me. It wasn’t difficult at all but just very time consuming once you realize what you have to do. You’ll know it when you see it.

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Overall this game is the total package. It delivers and excels in gameplay, story, graphics, and performances. Watching some YouTube videos recapping the story of the first 3 games will give you a better understanding of Kratos as a character, but it’s not necessarily needed to enjoy the game. The scope of the game continued to surprise me as more and more areas/stuff opened up over the course of the game. God of War is easily one of the best games this year, if not this generation.

Definitely give it a try.