In preparation for the release of the highly anticipated God of War for the Playstation 4, I took a trip down memory lane. I went back and read old reviews of previous God of War entries and realized to my own surprise that I had reviewed almost all of them. That confounded me as I hadn’t even realized I had. And then it hit me; as much as I’ve enjoyed the God of War games, it’s not a series that I have much of a connection to or identify with. Unlike many other Sony first party franchises (Uncharted, The Last of Us, inFAMOUS, Resistance and Horizon Zero Dawn), it’s not a series that I can say I’ve given much thought to after playing.
And then came the God of War reveal at E3 2016, and we saw a new refreshing take on the franchise. God of War appeared to be a game ready to alter the conversation about the God of War legacy and even more specifically, the character of Kratos. That’s a long-winded way of saying that God of War appeared to have grown up, and after completing the games lengthy campaign, I can tell you it’s a beautiful thing.
I want to make it abundantly clear that I will not in any way be discussing any parts of the game's story or spoil any story beats. This game revolves around its narrative and as such I want to respect you, the readers, to enjoy this game on your own.
Story beats aside, God of War is a game about the relationship between Kratos and his son Atreus. Without getting into any specifics, you’re meeting these two at a rough time in both of their lives and are forced to leave the safety and solitude of their family home and venture out on a journey. The relationship between Kratos and Arteus is the crux of what makes God of War a special experience. Taking cues from The Last of Us, a lot of the time in-between action beats is spent with Kratos and Arteus discussing life, family, loss, fighting, and life experiences. Unlike the previous four console releases of God of War, this is the first time that they’ve ever let you into Kratos's mind and heart. And as the game explores both his and Arteus’s inner workings, it makes for some of the most memorable moments in video games I’ve ever experienced.
Coupled with this is combat which will be familiar to anyone who’s played a God of War game in the past. Kratos has light and heavy attacks, as well as the ability to dodge and parry enemy attacks. His weapon of choice here is the Leviathan Axe. Similar to Thor's hammer, you can call it back to you. There’s nothing more satisfying in the early goings of God of War than throwing the axe and having it come back to you, killing enemies along the way. During combat, you can also command Arteus to help out by having him shoot his bow at enemies to distract and deal light damage. The boy is thankfully an extremely competent companion on his own and never gets in the way. And when times get tough, which even on the normal difficulty they do, Arteus can be the key to distracting enemies and giving you a chance to find health power-ups.
One of the most impressive feats Sony Santa Monica was able to pull off with God of War was their ability to make the game one continuous experience. There are basically no loading screens once you start the game. There aren't even any hard cuts from gameplay to cutscenes. From the time you begin the game to the point the credits run, it's all one continuous shot. It’s this level of intimacy with Kratos and Arteus that goes a long way in bringing you into their world and letting you be a part of this journey and not just feel like you’re getting the highlight reel.
I reviewed God of War on a Playstation 4 Pro and can say that there are only a handful of games that are even in the same ballpark with it. Kratos and Arteus are beautifully rendered. I can’t tell you how many times I stopped and stared at Kratos's old man beard. But even more impressive are the diverse and beautifully designed environments that are downright stunning. I did experience a slight dip in framerate a few times in the nearly 30-hours of God of War but that was the exception, not the rule.
Although God of War is mostly a linear experience, there are opportunities to go off the beaten path which is often rewarded with loot and interesting experiences. Some of my favorite parts were riding in a small canoe and finding a place to wander off to. Unlike many open world games, though, there isn’t a deluge of side content to overwhelm you with. Never once did I lose sight of what my main objective was or where I needed to go. That ended up being an important distinction to why the story continued to hit home so strongly. As I progressed throughout God of War, I kept wanting to reach my final destination and see how it all played out and that fueled me throughout the entire game.
God of War is the perfect trifecta of innovative gameplay, gorgeous visuals and engrossing narrative. It’s a game that grabbed me from its opening moments and had me holding my breath for almost 30 hours. Like The Last of Us, God of War is able to connect you with its two main protagonists but not rushing the experience but instead letting it all marinate. This is a beautiful game and one of the most engaging experiences I’ve ever had. Unlike previous God of War entries, this is one game that I will be thinking about for many, many years to come.
I'm the Owner & Editor in Chief of Darkstation.com. After spending seven years as the reviews editor I took over the site in 2010. The rest is history. Now I work with our amazing staff to bring you the best possible video game coverage. Oh and I really like sports games.