‘God of War’ is an outstanding video game that effortlessly blends old and new

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Let’s start with some TL ;D R advice :< em >< strong> God of War is a win. I’ve run out of my route to avoid spoilers in this review, but this is a game and a tale filled with astounds. If all you really require is a yes or no recommendation: YES. Play this game .

For those that want a fuller sense of what to expect, read on. Spoilers are kept to an absolute minimum .


Kratos isn’t angry anymore.

He’s no ray of sunshine or anything. But he’s older and big-bearded now. He has a kid. He has a wife. He’s mellowed, at least as much as anyone could after being tricked by the gods into murdering their own wife and infant( different wife and child, patently ).

Yet for all of that, this is still Kratos. The Ghost of Sparta. God of War gets a lot of things right — it is immediately a Game of the Year 2018 challenger — but developer Sony Santa Monica’s smartest move is not forgetting why the series is so popular in the first place.

Kratos leaps and pirouettes through his brutal combos with the same liquid grace he’s always had. There are monsters of all sizes, executings galore, and amazing visual consequences accompanying your every move.

You have more control over the camera now than ever before, and the world itself is designed for exploration — a dramatic change away from the linear, heavily scripted pathways of past God of War games. Everything is gorgeous , too, easily on par with the top visual powerhouses of this gaming generation.

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But Kratos still gonna Kratos. The impression of familiarity is virtually unsettling at first. God of War ‘s opening hours tread a safe track, reintroducing familiar, old mechanics in closed-off spaces while slowly amping up the pressure with tougher foes and more varied threats.

Even without your signature Blades of Chaos, the chained twin blades that once defined God of War combat, the new game’s early battles feel like a homecoming. Simple assault combos pour out effortlessly because even though the tools are different, we’ve been here before.

Then you reach the first proper boss battle, a blockbuster set piece that you’ll still be thinking about 20 hours later, and the gloves come off. In hindsight, the easygoing opening sprint is revealed as an understated tutorial.

Right away, God of War builds you feel like the all-powerful, half-man/ half-god Ghost of Sparta. Much like the classic Blades, Kratos’s new Leviathan Axe — which can be used in close quarters, as well as thrown and rapidly summoned back to your hand — has its own sense of identity. Even with all the new RPG trappings that allow you to level up and was increasingly of a badass, the axe immediately feels like a powerhouse.

Right away, God of War constructs you feel like the all-powerful Ghost of Sparta.

God of War smartly dials back the number of weapons you rely on( compared to past games) to a small handful. This depth-over-breadth approach works exceptionally well, with the larger world and longer narrative to make it possible to expend more hour learning the intricacies of each of your tools. Expect to spend at the least 10 or 15 hours coming to grips with the game before the barest hint of an axe replacing surfaces.

Even when your arsenal does grow, the additions are complementary. Much like the Blades of Chaos in the past, your Leviathan Axe remains a trusty go-to from beginning to end. It has a tale of its own that induces it important to Kratos personally — and thus, inseparable from the character — but its combat utility only grows as you delve deeper into the game.

The new tale picks up many years after the events of the original God of War trilogy. With all the gods and god-like beings of Greek myth slaughtered, Kratos has moved on and carved out a new life for himself in Midgard, the Earthly world of Norse mythology’s Nine Realms.

Names like Odin and Thor have a special place in the pop culture of 2018 thanks in big proportion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But they carry an entirely different meaning in this world, as we learn from Atreus, son of Kratos and a near-constant companion throughout the journey.

Given his history, Kratos naturally distrusts all deities of any stripe. But Atreus was largely raised by his Nine Realms-native mother. He knows the history of this place. He knows the lore, the local pantheon of divinities, the animals and threats. The in-game journal that maintains way of both the story and the lore belongs to Atreus, and the insights gathered throughout your journey are written from his youthful “I’ve learned about this world but not considered it for myself firsthand” perspective.

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In combat, Atreus amounts to another piece of gear in your toolbox. He’ll act on his own, but you can also command him to fire his arrows at any foe in sight with the press of a button. The arrows have different employs, but you’ll chiefly rely on them to disrupt foe combos and inch foes closer to being stunned, at which point Kratos can execute them in brutal fashion.

On his own, Atreus won’t turn the tide in combat. The injury from his arrows isn’t high enough for you to hang back and spam the “Atreus, go shoot this” button until a battle is won. But his abilities complement Kratos, and using him effectively is virtually essential by the time you reach the later stages of the game.

Atreus also devotes this new God of War an emotional core that past games absence. Again, Kratos isn’t angry anymore. He’s a gruff, emotionally remote parent who hasn’t spent as much hour with his son as he should have, but this journey the two embark on together changes that.

Kratos and Atreus both have a lot to teach one another, and their increasingly candid back-and-forth propels many of the game’s quieter moments. Both characters are shaped by their experiences together out in the world. They grow and evolve as characters, and you take that journey with them.

Atreus also dedicates this new God of War an emotional core that past games lacked.

There’s also a small-yet-essential cast of characters that you satisfy along the way. Dwarven merchants Brok and Sindri operate the in-game store, and your frequently comical encounters with them break up the serious tone of things. Afterwards on you satisfy Mimir, a known figure in Norse mythology who shares his wealth of tales about Odin, Thor, and the pantheon of the Nine Realms.

All throughout this new God of War , you’re encouraged to immerse yourself and truly engage with the lore. While each physical space is built much like the past games, with linear paths that often double back on themselves to unlock shortcuts and new roads( oh, hi Dark Souls ), secrets and tales are tucked away everywhere.

There are more open spaces as well, including a central, hub-like zone that leads organically to those tighter, consciously directed surroundings. But you’re “ve been meaning to” revisit old locales and hunt for things you simply couldn’t access earlier. There are plenty of tangible rewards for doing so, but the real elation is a growing sense of how life moves in Midgard.

Mixed in alongside all of that are the sort of massive set piece moments for which God of War is known. To tell more than that risks spoiling the fun, but if you appreciate the route past God of War games played with the sense of scale as Kratos took on the skyscraper-sized Titans of Greek myth … well … get hype.

It’s a trite thing to tell, but by the time the credits roll the biggest disappointment is that there isn’t more to do. Even in the early running, there are hints scattered everywhere of a deep and engaging set of activities to keep you playing long after the God of War tale is over. There are also heaps of loot, largely armor, divided up across each level of rarity( guess Diablo ). Each piece you equip confers stat bonuses and new abilities.

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Sadly , none of it matters all that much as you reach the most recent stages of video games. The toughest challenges hinge on pitting you against foes that just plain outmatch Kratos. Even if you’re able to contend with that, there’s also just not a whole lot to do. A couple of high-level challenges and then … done.

There < em> is a sense that more is coming to this game, as a number of areas on the map remain locked( and are apparently off-limits by design) even after the story is over. But that can also make false expectations. You find these locatings early on and start to anticipate visiting them at a later phase, but it never actually happens.

None of this is ever communicated explicitly, either. It’s just something you deduce as you tick off a string of late-game objectives that deliver more loot but nothing new to do with it. In general, God of War isn’t great at communicating how certain aspects of the game run. It’s the sort of thing that could potentially be fixed with a patch, but for now it’s frustrating to find plunder you can’t use and consider map locations you can’t visit, all with no explanation.

Let’s be clear, though: This is minor stuff. The shortcomings do little to mar the overall experience, and most merely become evident after you’ve spent 30 or 40 hours in this amazing world.

God of War is a special game. It’s the kind of experience that people are going to be talking about for months to gone, with a narrative that hits you right in the feelings and smooth, beautifully staged gameplay that clicks instantly like a familiar, old friend.

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