Now that the dust has settled… Salman takes a thorough look at the latest entry in the God of War series. Is it as great as critics claim? Let’s find out what he thinks!
I’ve been dreading the release of this game ever since the reveal back in E3 2016. Something about a God of War game that tries to transform a character that I once considered to be a psychopath into a father figure that I should sympathise with rubs me the wrong way. In my opinion, going the route of something along the lines of The Last of Us and other heavily narrative driven games feels disrespectful to the original franchise that was once so brutal and unapologetic that it bred a new trend of cool brutal characters with its simplistic yet satisfying gameplay. More than anything, it feels very safe to go for this design choice as it is clearly somewhat reviewer bait. When the reviews of this game came out, I was unsurprised at the positive reception. After playing it for myself, I can safely say that it is not a masterpiece. However, it IS a good game nonetheless – One worth most people’s time.
Let’s get to the good stuff first, I can safely say that this game is one of the most technically impressive games I’ve ever seen run on a PS4. It is absolutely gorgeous and it runs at a stable 30FPS on my launch day PS4. In addition to that, the game does this neat little thing where it doesn’t have any loading screens or any camera cuts or sequence breaks, which is admittedly pretty cool. It’s neat not having to look at a loading bar or icon every new area you explore or go back to. The only time you really do look at some kind of loading screen is after you die, and even then it takes less than 2 seconds for you to get back in the game, so in that regard the game is absolutely amazing. It has really set a new standard for the quality of AAA PS4 exclusives for me.
The story was something that I knew was going to be pretty stellar and it definitely lived up to my expectations. It can take itself a little too seriously however. Without going into too many spoilers, there are a couple of characters I wish were fleshed out better, but there were two characters in particular who I thought were really good, regardless of how much screen time they got. Admittedly, the whole premise of Kratos, an absolute bloodthirsty Spartan warrior who murdered his father (Zeus) and basically brought the end of Greece and Olympus, now trying to live as a hermit in another land is pretty cool. But my main issue was how they could suddenly make this character a sympathetic father figure who you actually feel for. Because, if I remember correctly, he ripped off Helios’ head to use as a glorified flashlight. Someone portrayed as borderline psychotic in how he meets his goals cannot be instantly rewritten as someone who is sympathetic. As a result, during every great moment that played out in that game regarding the story (Which there are a lot of) I just couldn’t help but remember what happened in the previous games and laugh… But maybe that’s just me.
Kratos’ son, Atreus, is an interesting character. He’s a kid who somewhat resents Kratos for not being around too much, and now that he has to spend the rest of his life with him since his mother died, it makes him miss his mother more. The father-son dynamic really works well as they both slowly get to know each other better and understand their own way to handle things. One of the better aspects of this game is that Atreus has some anger issues the same way Kratos did (And does) and he doesn’t know how to control it; seeing Kratos look at his kid and see a reflection of himself not so long ago is scary for him – He doesn’t want Atreus to be like him, he wants him to be better. Even though I do like Atreus throughout most of the game, I have a pet peeve with characters who try to comment on every single thing and a lot of games like God of War can overdo it on occasion. I don’t mind it when they do it sometimes but when they’re constantly giving him dialogue at every possible moment so as to say, “LOOK AT HIM. LIKE THIS ALREADY LIKEABLE CHARACTER” it gets on my nerves a little bit as it feels shoehorned in, and not like a natural interaction between people.
Overall, the story goes to some really interesting places and the interaction between Atreus and Kratos is for the most part quite heartwarming and nice. Again, keeping the spoilers to a minimum, you go through multiple realms which all look cool and the lore tidbits you pick up are pretty neat and flesh out what’s been going on in the land of Midgard and the Nine Realms.
Now let’s get to the gameplay. The biggest compliment I can give to this game is that the combat feels nice. But over time it gets boring and annoying. I don’t really understand why I feel this way since one of my favourite games is NieR Automata where the combat can be just as repetitive and is disappointing for a fan of Platinum Games, but yet it still felt more engaging for me than this game does.
To elaborate, initially the combat is pretty fun. Using your axe is satisfying and calling it back looks cool as hell. On one hand, the third person camera is nice as you always have to watch your back, but I feel like it’s pulled in way too close during combat for you to be aware of what’s behind you and because of that you’ll be eating a lot more cheap shots than you’d find tolerable. There’s a lot of variety when it comes to special moves, but there are so many that a considerable portion of them feel unsubstantial and it ends up being a case where you end up choosing one move you like most and stick with it throughout the rest of the game.
The combat is a mix of skill-based combat with a hefty dose of inspiration taken from Dark Souls. But then you have the horrible, crappy tacked-on RPG elements that do nothing but slow down the pace at which you can enjoy things and ultimately leave a foul taste in my mouth. I feel like they needed to hit every checkbox in the list of “Modern Video Game Design Tropes” and this one is probably my most hated one. Tacked-on RPG elements remind me of soulless cash grab titles that studios know will sell, when in fact this game has had a lot of love and devotion put into it.
It just puts another thing on my already-huge checklist of things to do, as I now have to worry about finding materials to get new armour so I can fight that one level 7 enemy to do the side quest otherwise I’ll just get killed in one shot. It’s really annoying how that determines whether or not you get to progress in some of the side quests. The last thing I want from my God of War game is to press the pause button and feel like I’ve been transported into a goddamn Ubisoft game.
So aside from the combat you have puzzle solving. Some of it is fun and interesting and a lot of it is boring and brain dead. There are some cool puzzles where you have to throw your axe at things to freeze them in place, or move a door open or something, but most of the puzzles are just based on throwing your weapons around a lot – It gets predictable and repetitive.
There are tons of puzzles around and a ton of hidden areas to explore. As a result, the environments feel very rich and dense and they’re a joy to explore (Most of the time), but sometimes, exploring around means having to climb around stuff, which I hate doing since it’s literally you holding the up direction and doing nothing else. At least most climbing sections in the previous God of War games had either platforming challenges or combat elements in them, but in this one you just hold up and wait a while – Which would be fine… If it wasn’t so damn common in this game.
Speaking of holding up, how about that boat huh? The boat is probably the most boring thing in this entire game and you have to use it a fair amount. I do enjoy the banter between the two characters as you’re rowing around the Lake of the Nine, but I could have much rather thrown that all away for something that wasn’t so mindless and pointless. The game has many side quests which require you to use the boat a lot. Although that being said, the rewards for these side quests are pretty good and if you’re a completionist you can certainly enjoy going through ’em.
My main gripe with these sidequests is that they have really bland stories and end up feeling like padding for this already extended game. I don’t understand why games can’t be linear anymore. While the extra content is appreciated and nice, I can’t help but feel that this game would have been so much more engaging if it didn’t have all this pointless garbage. In the end, all the loot and upgrades didn’t even matter as I just got a decent armor set and ploughed through the whole game with that.
For every interesting and cool thing this game does with its narrative and characters, it ends up being a really lame game to play except for a couple boss fights. The way all the systems and mechanics of this game have been handled feel like they were “boardroom decisions” and a lot of the modern game design trends this game follows makes it a really predictable and unexciting game to play. I think the story is the main selling point of this game, not the gameplay.
I do still think that God of War is a great game and I think it should be supported since a lot of passion went into it. But for me, the gameplay really turns me off after a while. I know that’s not the case for many people. A lot of people I know like it a lot. I probably will check out the sequel when it comes out (Of course this game has a sequel bait ending). It’ll probably be more of the same, but with prettier graphics. Unless they make substantial improvements to the gameplay however, I’ll stick for the story and not everything else.
Anyway, I think I’ve talked enough about this game that everyone seems to disagree with me on. I give God of War a 7/10.