Saturday, May 12, 2018

God of War (2018) - It All Begins Here...Again

After God of War III concluded the story of Kratos’ run in Greek mythology, alongside the PSP game God of War: Ghost of Sparta later that year (which expanded on a one-off line from Zeus), Santa Monica Studio made the bold move of following things up with a prequel, God of War: Ascension, which set out to expand on Kratos’ actions prior to the events of the original 2005 game. Years later, a new chapter in Kratos’ saga, also called God of War and set in Norse mythology, was hyped at E3 and I was instantly hooked from the first trailer. I was, in fact, so hyped that I pre-ordered the Stone Mason Edition, which includes several physical and digital items, among them a cloth map of the game world and a statue of Kratos and his son Atreus. After spending some time with the game following release day, I would say that this new God of War was overall worth the hype and proved to be an interesting learning experience on Norse mythology.

Some time after the events of God of War III, Kratos is in the land of Norse mythology teaching his son Atreus how to survive in the wild. After giving his late wife a Viking funeral, Kratos and Atreus go on a journey to fulfill her last wish and spread her ashes from the highest point in all the realms. This is compounded, however, when the Norse Gods start going after them for reasons Kratos had been keeping secret from Atreus.

The story is not only excellently pulled-off (the secret ending is worth it), it also explores Kratos more as a character beyond his admittedly flatter portrayal during the Greek Era. His bonding with Atreus on their journey has him acting more subdued and wiser, as well as trying to be a good father to his son to the best of his ability, though his stoicism can still lead to some funny moments. In any case, it’s interesting to see a more three-dimensional Kratos, aided by Christopher Judge’s talent and the way Atreus is handled in-game, and I can’t wait to see what more they can do with this in future games.

The graphics are absolutely spectacular, surpassing even God of War III and pushing the PS4’s capabilities as far as they can. The backdrops are gorgeous and everything manages to have lots of detail without being off-putting (unlike its PS3 predecessor, God of War: Ascension). A notable aspect of the game is that, outside of menus, the visuals are presented in one continuous shot, an effect that, along with the graphical quality, helps make gameplay and cutscenes indistinguishable from each other.

The visuals are spectacular. (From left: Kratos, Atreus)

The gameplay is both similar and different to the previous entries, different in that Kratos instead wields a new weapon known as the Leviathan Axe. This weapon has its own useful features, mainly in the ability to throw and retrieve it (much like Thor’s hammer Mjölnir, as many have noted) to pull off some crazy combinations, in addition to some different abilities you can equip to the Axe for a more versatile play-style. Kratos also wields a customizable Shield (though your pre-order dictates how many options you have at the start) that works in tandem with different abilities in addition to blocking, plus his son Atreus can shoot arrows at enemies on command along with different summons for holding the button down. What makes the gameplay similar in this regard is that, despite the changes to combat, it still feels like a God of War experience, just at a somewhat closer camera angle.

A new armor and crafting system has also been introduced to the series, wherein you can customize Kratos and Atreus’ armor and weapons, as well as equip Kratos’ armaments with various Talismans that actually affect gameplay in addition to stats. Choosing the right combination can mean life or death at certain points in the game, however the exact loadout you want is entirely up to personal preference in the end. The game also features a somewhat different game world, in that it is still linear with some non-linearity, leaving itself open to including various side quests and hidden treasures to find. There’s also different realms to explore, two of which are optional, giving the player even more things to do in the game world. In general, there is so much to do in Midgard alone that after the playing through the story you’ll want to just keep exploring more and see what you get. So much so that there is now a fast travel system that involves activating special gates to warp between specified locations; whether or not this works well is up to the player.

Among the things you can find are different types of chests, each of them designed such that you can easily tell what sort of thing you will get. One of these types is the Nornir chest, which requires undoing three well-hidden seals (runes) to open, which encourages exploring the environment to see if you can find them (until you resort to a guide in some cases). One type I was not particularly fond of, though, were Nornir chests that required ringing three bells in order to undo the seals, often requiring several tries to get the timing just right. Regardless, the rewards inside are usually worth the trouble.

One thing I commend the game for is that, much like its Greek-centered predecessors, it serves as a great, if unconventional, way of learning about Norse mythology. The game is packed with information on the subject, largely contained within side conversations and hidden shrines throughout the game world that present this information in the form of stories. The way the story utilizes aspects of Norse mythology contributes to this, since, once you know more about said mythos, it’s interesting to see the game put somewhat of a different spin on certain elements. While there is so much to learn from this game alone, the way things are presented makes me want to see what else they can put into any subsequent installments.

God of War (2018) is an excellent entry in the God of War saga that should not be missed by fans and PS4 owners alike. It tells a very intriguing story that explores a different side of Kratos’ character, as well as featuring a glutton of information regarding Norse mythology that many will find interesting to learn. The quality-of-life changes to the formula help keep the series fresh and, alongside the introduction of Atreus, opens up a lot more options during combat. This game can be a good jumping-on point for newcomers, however certain aspects of Kratos’ character make more sense for those that have at least played the main entries in the series. Regardless, it’s an amazing game on its own merits that will leave players wanting more.

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