There are few gaming protagonists as archetypally angry as Kratos and To be fair to him, this ancient Greek antihero has every reason to be a bit ticked off. Tricked by the god Ares into murdering his own wife and child, Kratos’ never-ending desire for revenge has kept the muscular killing machine motivated across three God of War games and several portable spin-offs, leaving a trail of slain gods and mortals in his wake.
Yet, as fun as most of these violent screen-filling showdowns were, players eventually grew just as tired of the revenge-led bloodshed as poor old Kratos. By the time they watched the credits roll on the third game, our beloved antihero had slain nearly all the gods of Mount Olympus — and it began to feel like our tortured torturer had finally run out of deities to blame and blood to spill.
It turns out though, it was the Ancient Greek setting that was holding our hero back. After a five-year absence from gaming, Sony’s Santa Monica Studios has brought everyone’s favorite anti-hero back to PlayStation in the simply titled God of War (2018). But just as its fans have grown and changed since the series’ 2005 debut, players now also find themselves presented with a very different Kratos — and we’re happy to say, it’s a risk that’s paid off.
A Much-Needed Change
Right from the slow-paced introduction, it’s clear that this is a refreshingly different take on God of War. This time around, our Spartan soldier is not motivated simply by a lust for revenge, but by a need to change.
With Kratos now looking just as tired and worn as the series’ blood-shedding premise, we find our protagonist laying low in a frost-coated Nordic land, fleeing his homeland after the bloody events of God Of War 3. Predictably, this newfound solace doesn’t last.
After years spent living a peaceful life with his new family, the sudden death of his second wife and the arrival of some unwelcome visitors forces Kratos to face the ghosts of his past — and finally step up and be a father to his young child.
Dad of War
For a series all about bulging muscles and blood-soaked action, having Kratos tackle fatherhood may sound like a bizarre direction for God of War to go in. Yet, what could have easily been a character-ruining attempt at shoehorning in an emotional story instead feels like a surprisingly effortless and logical character progression.
It’s not just a chin-stroking narrative device either — learning to be a father is very much part of the core gameplay experience. Thanks to events beyond his control, Kratos has no choice but to bring his son, Atreus, along with him on this dangerous journey. While this could have easily felt like a bit of a drag, mercifully, Atreus is no slouch when it comes to combat.
Wielding a bow and arrow and brandishing his mother’s hunting knife, he’s every bit as competent a warrior as you’d imagine Kratos’ son to be. Thanks to his ability to distract nearby foes and the (much appreciated) option for players to line up Atreus’ shots, within no time at all Kratos Jr. cemented himself as one of our favorite AI companions.
A New Perspective
It’s a good thing you have Atreus helping you out from a distance too because, in God of War (2018), your field of vision on the battlefield is far more limited than it used to be. Doing away with the zoomed out perspective and frenetic combo-chaining of old, Kratos’ latest adventure instead offers players a far more intense and personal experience.
Here, the camera has been moved claustrophobically close to gaming’s most famous anti-hero, with this new over-the-shoulder view putting you literally and figuratively closer to Kratos than ever before.
This new perspective not only suits the tone of the game perfectly but impressively, the team at Santa Monica has managed to prolong that sense of tension by havin g the entire game play out in a single shot. Here, there are no hasty cuts or jarring scene changes — each transition from gameplay to cinematic cut-scene is jaw-droppingly seamless. Speaking of jaw-dropping, from start to finish, this reboot is nothing short of a visual tour de force.
Thanks to stunningly detailed texture work, beautiful animations, and almost suspiciously naturalistic lighting, Sony’s latest exclusive is a real graphical showcase for the PS4 Pro.
Still, it’s not all about aesthetics. This is a God of War game, after all, and as you’d expect from the franchise, it’s an experience that lives and dies on its combat. Thankfully, this more emotionally intense and grounded narrative tone is one that’s reflected in the new combat system.
This time around, battles feel just as raw and challenging as the wider situation Kratos and Atreus find themselves in. With age taking its toll on our once-unstoppable Greek god, the team has sensibly opted to swap the fast-paced and fluid combat of old for suitably clunky and intense skirmishes.
Playing like a mix of Dark Souls and Bayonetta, you’ll find yourself constantly dodge-rolling and attempting to parry enemy attacks, as opposed to the God of War of yesteryear, where players simply sprinted around the battlefield joyously juggling ten foes across their spinning blades.
That’s not to say that combat isn’t fun — it just has a very different cadence to what came before. Once it clicks, however, it produces some of the most satisfying virtual combat in recent memory.
Games have changed a lot in the five years that God of War has been on hiatus, but it looks like during that time, the team at Sony Santa Monica were paying close attention to the competition. Thanks to the shiny new RPG elements, you can vastly upgrade both father and son’s armor and weapons, helping them deal more damage and unlocking more skills for you to play with on the battlefield.
It’s not just the combat that feels like a different beast here either. The whole structure you’d usually expect from a God of War game has been turned completely on its head. Clocking in at over 40 hours, this is by far Kratos’ longest outing to date. Where previous entries in the franchise merely saw you sprinting from set piece to set piece, this time there’s far more player freedom. While it would be a stretch to call Kratos’ new Nordic surroundings an open world, it’s certainly sizable.
With a boat used to get you and Atreus around, locations you can fast travel to and even the odd sidequests waiting to be completed, this is a game world with a suitably epic amount of adventures for players to embark on.
A Tale for the Ages
Still, despite the many changes littered throughout this reboot, it was the more relateable Kratos that came as the biggest shock here. For a franchise known for its killer combos and unrelenting brutality, hiding under its violent exterior is a story that’s surprisingly heartfelt.
While this is a game that still offers gore and violence by the corpse-load, this cinematic adventure feels far more reminiscent of the father-daughter relationship in The Last of Us than the testosterone-soaked Devil May Cry challenger the franchise started off as.
While Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic opus did a better job of delivering high-quality dialogue through character interactions during gameplay, Sony Santa Monica has still commendably managed to keep Atreus’ and Kratos’ relationship feeling believable throughout their lengthy journey.
Is God of War Any Good?
This stunning reboot not only manages to set a new standard for combat in action games but equally impressively, it adds layers of complexity and depth to one of gaming’s most grumbling antiheroes – and all without ever making him feel unrecognizable. In short, God of War (2018) is a triumph, let down only by some unnecessary midgame bloat and a disappointingly lazy slew of boss fight repetition. Despite its fleeting flaws though, Kratos’ return is a highly enjoyable and surprisingly moving tale — and one that you won’t want to miss.