God of War Left Me Unenthused
Perspective on Kratos' latest adventure from a first-time player
It has been quite a while since I’ve been able to play anything on PlayStation. Far too long, really. Historically, I’ve always been one to own multiple consoles per generation, but still, focus on one as my primary console. For the longest time since the original PlayStation, I was very much in Sony’s corner. When it came to the last generation though, I initially switched from PlayStation to Xbox - unfortunately though, I never got around to grabbing a PlayStation 4. As you can imagine, I missed a ton of exclusives - including the 2018 Game of the Year, God of War.
As a big Rockstar fan, I was surprised that God of War won it over Red Dead Redemption II in 2018. I had no way of really protesting the result though, and I didn’t particularly mind it either - especially since Red Dead Redemption II had taken home a plethora of other rewards in the first place. I vowed that if I had ever got my hands on a PlayStation (and I really intended on doing so) that I’d give God of War its fair shake. Thankfully, after a lot of painstaking waiting, I was able to acquire a PlayStation 5.
Because of my weird console history, I’m actually familiar with the God of War series. I played through the trilogy and loved it a lot. I really enjoyed the hack-and-slash gameplay melded with the Greek mythology theme of the series back in the day. Hearing that this God of War was a soft reboot in many ways, but still continued on with the same Kratos was something I was excited to experience.
So what did I end up thinking about God of War? Well…
A Pivot in Gameplay
Let’s start simple and talk about the gameplay a bit.
The God of War games I remember were highly focused on hack-and-slash gameplay, along with puzzles intermittently peppered throughout. It was a trilogy very representative of the PlayStation 2 era. Personally, when I think about games from that era, games much like God of War’s vibe come to mind. Where the internet presence is much smaller, and people have to figure things out on their own for the most part, those games on that console really meant a lot to me.
In a lot of ways, God of War 2018 on the PlayStation 4 is much more representative of the current era we’re in, perhaps more so PlayStation’s approach to console exclusives. There’s this angle of a more third-person, cinematic experience as opposed to the games of old. That isn’t a bad thing, though. This is just the era we're in, and as gamers, we should accept these games for what they are.
I have to mention, that it was a bit jarring to boot up God of War 2018 and see a Marvel Cinematic Universe-styled intro reel that highlights all of PlayStation’s exclusives. It got a chuckle out of me in disbelief for sure.
What I’ve noticed in the gameplay right away is that it feels much more fluid than anticipated. Seeing this game at E3 or in videos online, I always got the idea that the gameplay was super stiff, almost on rails. It was the impression all of Sony’s third-person exclusives gave off to me, except for the ones made by Insomniac. Playing it myself, it wasn’t nearly as stiff as expected, but not quite the way I really wanted it to play. I was looking for something a bit looser. The camera being placed over the shoulder feels fine once you get used to it, but I think I would’ve preferred it to be entirely third-person with more freedom to move the camera around. The camera, if not the gameplay itself, contributed to the stiff feeling that kept me from enjoying the experience to the fullest.
Combat feels fine but repetitive. I didn’t really enjoy using the axe at all, and for half of the game, you’re pretty much forced to use it unless you want to use your fists alone. I do like that some enemies are immune to the axe, since it adds some variance to the combat. Once you get the Blades of Chaos back from the original games, though, the combat immediately gets better and familiar once again, since the game takes inspiration from its roots. I personally refused to use the axe for the rest of my playthrough, with the blades just enhancing my enjoyment.
The armor system and leveling in God of War 2018 reminded me very much of the Light system in the Destiny games. I haven’t played Destiny in a very long time, but it is the only thing I can name that’s really close to this. The problem is that God of War 2018, to my knowledge, never really explains this well. And if they do explain it, it’s likely something that’s easy to gloss over, because I didn’t see it whatsoever while playing this game. What I ended up doing is merely searching online for what the best armor type is, and going for that.
My quest for the best armor in the game led me to Niflheim. At least barring New Game +, the best armor I could apparently get was here. I was surprised to find that Niflheim wasn’t merely just any world - it was a whole rogue-like labyrinth, where you had to do “runs” through it to collect the materials needed to craft special items.
See, God of War does something neat with the realms it has. While you’ll be visiting realms outside of Midgard throughout the storyline, there are also unlockable realms that function as the other game modes. Niflheim as mentioned above is a labyrinth experience similar to a roguelike where players have to grab a certain amount of desired materials before their timer runs out. Those materials can then be used to craft armor pieces and enchantments that can protect you against the fog of Niflheim, increasing the time you can spend in the labyrinth.
Muspelheim, the realm of fire, functions as God of War’s arena or challenge mode. There are six levels of challenges in each section of this realm, where players have to complete certain conditions in order to succeed in each one. Killing enemies alone isn’t enough. You’ll get challenges where you can’t get hit for five minutes or one where you can’t let Atreus get captured. After beating the boss at the end of this realm, you’ll unlock even more to do.
Thankfully, getting around to different spots in Muspelheim and Midgard isn’t too difficult. The fast travel system lets you teleport to different locations where fast traveling has been unlocked. While walking through the realm between realms is a cool touch, I was a bit annoyed with it by the end game. When you enter through a fast travel door, for context, you’ll walk around the fast travel realm for a bit before the portal to reach your destination appears. Sometimes, you’ll even have to wait for dialogue between Kratos, Atreus, or Mimir to end before the portal even appears. Even once you exhaust all this dialogue and the trips between fast travels door become silent, you still have to do this walk.
Hey, I get it. Immersion and all that. It is cool, but I wish there was an option to turn this off by the endgame. I just want to click on my destination and load in there, like other games.
Back to combat, I loved the enchantments and runes, along with the talismans. Some of the moves you can do with runes are awesome, and I love that they’re just on a cooldown, and not on a mana bar or something similar. Added to the fact that you can influence that cooldown via your armor choices and enchantments, it’s an awesome nuance to the combat in this game. I ended up going for the Shattered Gauntlet of Ages, a talisman reminiscent of the Infinity Gauntlet with the “stones” you can use as enchantments. As a big Marvel fan, I just had to use it.
Atreus, the son of Kratos, tags along through combat as well. His bow comes in handy for stunning enemies, and with some upgrades, he becomes extremely useful in combat by pinning enemies down. Later with the shock arrows equipped, the lightning will chain to enemies for even more stunning. Having Atreus woven into God of War’s combat was a unique decision that worked really well. They could have just as easily had Atreus be a generic following companion through the game, but being able to control where he shoots really feels like you’re commanding him and that he’s part of the journey himself.
Exploring is fine enough. There are some puzzles in the various dungeons you can reach, and the map isn’t too big either so it doesn’t feel overwhelming to see everything. It does get a bit repetitive to climb up walls, shimmy along a ledge, squeeze through a tight space, etc. It is very reminiscent of a series like Tomb Raider. It’s the type of exploration you enjoy the first few times but then kinda roll your eyes by the endgame when you have to do it. Nothing here to write home about in my experience.
Same Character, New World
God of War forays into Norse mythology instead of Greek, where Kratos has moved to Midgard since the events of God of War III. The game starts with a somber tone, where the mother of Kratos’s son, Faye, has recently passed. Now, you have to guide Atreus on a journey to spread Faye’s ashes atop the highest mountain possible. It’s here we see the most radical shift since we last saw Kratos - he’s a father now. And then your mind flashes back to scenes in the original games, like where Kratos rips the head off of Helios or is battling the Hydra at the beginning of the original God of War… and you’re taken aback by the idea of that guy being a father.
But without spoiling too much of the game here for those who haven’t played it, I really love this take on Kratos.
I love a good redemption story or significant character development where they do a 180-turn on who they originally were. It’s part of why I loved Red Dead Redemption II so much. It was really touching seeing the arc of Arthur’s story, and how bittersweet the results are in John’s story in the original game. Kratos is treated extremely well in this game, and I think Christopher Judge does an incredible job of portraying this older Kratos. He deserves all the credit for bringing this character to life.
You can really feel the hesitance that Kratos has in his voice throughout the game. You feel him slowly warming up to Atreus after apparently being so flaky as a father. He’s a soul who’s done a lot of terrible things in his past that he still has on his mind and is reluctant about talking about to people he meets. Atreus doesn’t even know that his father is a God, and that’s something used as a plot point later in the story. This is all a different take on the Kratos we knew, and it makes him more likable as a character. Because while I did enjoy the original God of War trilogy, Kratos never struck me as someone who was interesting at all. I was more captivated by the gameplay of the original games.
God of War 2018 is truly a different take in this sense. That’s fine, of course. However, through this story, I just found myself utterly bored. And I’m honestly still struggling to figure out why that is. I really wanted to like this game, but there was some nagging feeling of disinterest the more I played it.
While I did enjoy the changes to Kratos, I felt bad because I really didn’t care for Atreus. There’s part of this game where he becomes rather annoying personality-wise, but most of those cases can be chalked up to him merely being a kid. There’s a moment for example where Atreus gets rather sick and Kratos, being a father, has to find a way to cure him. You’re supposed to feel motivated as a player to do this, to put yourself in the shoes of Kratos as a father, but I felt none of that. I couldn’t care less about what happened to Atreus in that instance. I still feel bad for thinking that way and I’m not sure why I do.
I know some people may believe that I’m implying that I desire the murderous god-killing Kratos from the original trilogy of games, but no, that’s not what I want. I just felt that this game was not really grabbing me despite some good things it does gameplay-wise, and character-wise with Kratos himself. Other than Kratos and perhaps Mimir, I don’t believe I really enjoyed any of the characters in this game or felt a reason to care.
Side note before we wrap up: I love Mimir’s stories as a way to add some lore to the game without forcing you to read stuff in a menu, or watch a lore video about it. I appreciated this as someone who’s somewhat familiar with Norse mythology, but not particularly well-versed in it. My only issue with it is that most of the canoe stories start up too late or are too short. Most of Mimir’s stories get cut off by the time I’m at the place I intend to get to, so they’re constantly fragmented unless I stop the boat to hear them. I’m not sure what they can do to fix this other than maybe condense the length of these stories, but I understand how vast mythology can be as a subject, so I don’t envy the decision-making there.
Winter Is Coming
Fimbulwinter in Norse mythology is a prophecy consisting of a three-year-long winter filled with heavy snow, blizzards, and sheer cold that preludes the events of Ragnarok. Ragnarok is an important event in Norse mythology where the world is destroyed via battles, natural disasters, and more. At the end of God of War, we see snow - which seems to hint that Fimbulwinter is coming, and in turn… Ragnarok.
There’s a big reveal at the end of God of War that I thought was pretty cool. Although I have my gripes with the story, I think they do an excellent job at worldbuilding around their characters, and the idea of Ragnarok coming, with Kratos and Atreus in the thick of it, is something I am intrigued about. I’ll be looking forward to God of War Ragnarok to see what this leads to, and what the result of it is. I’m worried that this may be the end of Kratos, but we’ll see. Kratos has died like 4 times already, so I’d be surprised if this coming game was his definitive end.
Exploring other types of mythology in the format of God of War would be interesting as well. They allude to an Egyptian pantheon a few times in this game, which definitely piqued my curiosity. I’d love to see that explored as well.
That all said, I really wanted to like God of War 2018 after so much praise was heaped upon it. My expectations were pretty high for it, but I came out of it feeling like it was just sort of alright. Nothing that blew me away or anything of that nature. I’m still struggling to figure out why exactly, but my hunch is that I was unenthused due to these high expectations I had going in. And I think more so, it should be a lesson to temper expectations before beginning a game. All games are different. Not everything is going to give you the same type of experience or blow you away from the way other games do. It’s more healthy to tackle each experience differently.
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