There is something special about completing the final hours of God of War’s main story. The game tells a tale of epic scale by utilizing the father-son relationship of Kratos and Atreus as a powerful and emotional vehicle. By the time I finished my 20 hour journey, I couldn’t help but to reflect on the twists and turns on the way and how at almost every moment, I felt fully invested in the world and the characters. God of War takes a lot of lessons learned in the action-adventure genre and pushes them further by putting more emphasis on both the action and adventure.
At the heart of God of War is its excellently crafted world based in Norse mythology. This is perhaps the biggest departure from the previous games as this change in setting comes with thematic change as well. Gone are the Greek gods and the ruthlessness of Sparta. This time around Kratos is accompanied by his son, Atreus, in a world which emphasizes destiny and inevitability. This change of setting provides an interesting change of pace. Atreus serves the purpose of being a conduit to this new world as Kratos isn’t from Midgard and thus doesn’t know how to read the language among other things. The game’s story revolves around a journey to the top of the mountain and this clear, straightforward goal is what carries all of the surrounding elements of the plot forward.
The world and characters of God of War are deep, multi-faceted and throughout the course of the game develop in unique and interesting ways. Along the journey, dialogue between Kratos, Atreus, and other characters gives detail of the stories of Midgard, what the gods are like, tales of the giants, and more surrounding God of War’s version of Norse mythology. The way all of these tales and details are fed to the player is done in an engaging way because not only does Atreus’ childlike curiosity spark a wonderful framing for these info dumps, but with every story, character trait, and piece of lore, the world is colored in. Every detail feels like it matters. The characterization of the world paints a brutal picture of the Norse gods which becomes layered when Kratos’ past in Sparta is factored in. It all plays together dynamically and makes for a world worth exploring.
Kratos and Atreus’ relationship factors in God of War both narratively and in the gameplay as Kratos plays the role of the tough dad who is often hard on his son. The evolution that takes place during the course of the journey sees different aspects of the father-son relationship play out in a way that feels sincere and true to the nature of real father-son relationships. Atreus definitely acts like a kid but it feels more true to character than annoying. This reflects in the gameplay as you can command Atreus to attack enemies using his bow and arrow. Atreus never got in my way during the game and in fact is my favorite part of the combat as he serves as the perfect distraction. Even while casually traveling the lands, the speed at which Atreus will hop on Kratos’ back while climbing or follow Kratos’ lead makes him a likable and useful companion.
This God of War is a game that has evolved way past the previous games and this is especially evident in the combat as the Leviathan Axe takes front and center stage as Kratos’ weapon of choice and using it is satisfying. The Thor-esque throw and recall is one of my favorite gameplay mechanics in a very long time as it serves the purpose of managing distance, getting critical hits, and even non-combat related tasks such as solving puzzles. The recall also feels good every single time. The combat itself can be challenging at times as God of War takes a page from other action games of the current era and opts for a slower, methodically paced system instead of the top-down, over the top approach of the previous games. That doesn’t mean God of War doesn’t get violent. It does. However, the violence this time around is a tad bit more contained.
The toned down brutality of the violence doesn’t make the game less enjoyable as this is made up for by the variety and vibrancy of the enemies and their design. The different strategies that the enemy types require keeps the combat from becoming stale. The combat options for Kratos are numerous and diverse thus lending this same variety to the methods through which the enemies need to be taken down. Orcs and trolls along with higher tier bosses help mix things up. The visual design of these enemies is also impressive. Colorful and vibrant design makes each unique class of enemy stand out from the rest.
God of War comes together in a wonderfully crafted package. Its cinematic approach to cutscenes coupled with its brilliantly written and performed dialogue compliments an impactful and personal narrative. Its combat is largely scaled and diverse and it provides a wonderful duality to engaging with God of War’s spirited, highly explorable world. The game has a lot to say about the nature of family and relationship. It also subtly has a lot to say about game design as the game doesn’t necessarily succeed in bringing something brand new to the table, it instead succeeds in taking elements that have worked elsewhere and figuring out how to innovate certain ideas and bring them together in ways that work phenomenally. God of War is a game that I’m actually surprised hasn’t been made already in some sort of capacity. It feels like the natural progression of where the medium is headed. It’s an incredible game that I would urge anyone to play.