Kratos went through major changes since the last time we saw him so find out how fatherhood and the frigid Norse world suit him.
It's been more than five years since the last time we've seen Kratos star in a new game and sadly, things aren't going very well for him. The story begins on quite a downer as Kratos' wife Faye has recently passed away, leaving him to tend to their approximately ten year old son Atreus. It's clear from the outset that Faye acted as a buffer between Kratos and Atreus, helping to keep the peace and do most of the child rearing. As you can imagine, Kratos isn't exactly father of the year.
The stilted father-son relationship is on display early on; from the reveal that Atreus had only ever been hunting with his mother but never his father to a poignantly awkward moment where a shook Atreus is at a loss for words and Kratos is unable to even minimally comfort his son by placing a hand on Atreus' shoulder. Reluctantly, Kratos and Atreus embark on a journey to fulfill Faye's final wish to have her ashes scattered at the top of a mighty mountain in Midgard, the snowy domain Kratos called home since his bloody encounters with the Gods of Olympus. As a result, the Greek mythology from previous games has been replaced with Norse mythology. However, Kratos' history has not been erased or forgotten.
Along with the shift to Norse mythology, the other major change to this God of War reboot is the over-the-shoulder camera that now follows Kratos everywhere he goes. This new perspective along with Kratos' traveling partner Atreus make it easy to see influences from Naughty Dog's super-successful franchises Uncharted and The Last of Us. While the actual gameplay is nothing like those two games, there's no doubt that God of War has traded in some of its juvenile stylings for a more mature and toned down narrative.
While there will always be a place in my heart for the God of War games of the past, the transition to more sophisticated storylines and a more mature Kratos was undoubtedly the right decision. I never expected a God of War game to provide anything but hours of unbridled vengeance but this tale is filled with thought-provoking themes and a complex father-son relationship that are an absolute joy to experience. The narrative guides you to explore wonderful lands and complete a variety of tasks that send you on an unforgettable journey. It's a little ironic that it took Kratos leaving Greece to experience his first truly epic odyssey.
The world of Midgard is massive and beautiful and the change in camera perspective makes it infinitely more engaging. The story follows a mostly straightforward progression and large chunks of it are presented entirely linearly. However, there are multiple opportunities to break away from the predetermined path and explore for secrets, upgrades, and new enemies. There are even times between key quests where Atreus will encourage you to explore and break away from the main story for a while. Overall, there's a shocking amount of content in God of War and it will keep gamers busy for far longer than any previous God of War title did.
Storytelling may play a pivotal role but combat has been and remains the center focus of the God of War series. The combat here is more nuanced, a bit less chaotic, and pops up a little less frequently than in previous chapters of the God of War saga but it's no less exciting. Kratos is still regularly swarmed by waves of enemies and he has a plethora of unlockable and upgradable abilities to take on the hordes. The Leviathan Axe, Kratos' main weapon throughout, is intensely satisfying to use and functions as both a melee and ranged weapon. Using R1 and R2, you can chop and slash creatures with light and heavy attacks then hold L2 to aim and sling your axe at enemies in the distance. A simple tap of the triangle button calls the axe back to Kratos' hand (like Kratos' fellow God Thor and his hammer).
Atreus is also available to lend a hand with his bow and arrow which are used mostly to distract and stun enemies while his father is busy fighting others. As the campaign progresses, Atreus can become much more powerful and be a significant asset in battle to the point where you'll rely on him to stun enemies so you can go in and rip them to shreds using Kratos' blood-splattering finishing moves.
Plenty of upgrades are available in God of War and at times, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the amount of items that are used to improve Kratos' and Atreus' abilities. Along with Kratos' axe and Atreus' bow, you can also upgrade 3 pieces of Kratos' armor, Atreus' armor, the axe handle, wearable talismans, socketable symbols, and powerful runes that provide Kratos with additional abilities. By using different armor types, symbols, and talismans, you can customize Kratos to your play style whether it's to be more offensive or defensive.
Weapon upgrades are completed at shops that appear across the world and are run by two humorous and foul-mouthed dwarves. You'll need plenty of hacksilver (the in-game currency) as well as a variety of different craftable materials in order to craft and upgrade your weapons, armor, and accessories. Character upgrades are unlocked with experience points that Kratos earns by killing enemies, completing gameplay challenges, and finishing main and side quests. Many weapons can only be crafted and upgraded if you collected specific types of materials that are generally found in treasure chests hidden across the world or by slaying powerful enemies. Speaking of which, my God! I can't recall a time I've opened so many treasure chests in a single game. They're hidden everywhere and in every new area you visit, you'll want to spend time searching out the multiple treasure chests that are assuredly hiding nearby.
Many of the best treasures are found hidden behind traditional God of War style puzzles. There are plenty of secret doors to open and walls to destroy as well as a few chests that are simply obscured by camera angles that you might not think to check. More complex puzzles will pop up from time to time and must be completed to progress but they're rarely so difficult that they'll cause you to spend an extended amount of time on them. One specific type of puzzle that hides health and rage mode upgrades is specifically enjoyable and involves using Norse symbols scattered around the area in different ways.
The only aspect of God of War that I found to be disappointing was the creatures and Gods throughout the campaign. While fighting large orcs and trolls was pretty cool, they were nowhere near as memorable as the Minotaurs, Cyclopes, Gorgons, and Cerberuses from previous installments of the series. The same goes for the selection of Norse Gods that make an appearance. This is at least partly attributed to my relative lack of knowledge of Norse mythology compared to Greek but I estimate that most gamers who come from a similar background as me will find the enemy types and Gods to be far less exciting than in previous God of War titles.
The God of War series has undergone a fantastic transformation. I'll miss the fixed camera and tales of revenge that previous titles provided but this new evolution makes for a far superior and profound experience. It's one of the best games of this generation.
- + Unexpectedly thoughtful storytelling
- + A truly epic and memorable adventure set in the gorgeous world of Norse mythology
- + Wholly satisfying combat and exploration
- - Creatures and Gods of Norse mythology aren't as interesting as their Greek counterparts