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God of War Review

Kratos returns and he's brought his son along with him for the journey. Has Sony Santa Monica found a new beginning for God of War? Find out in our God of War review.

Review by Mike Williams, .

A reboot is part craft, part magic. It's about finding the core of what made something good in the past, while providing enough that's new to keep long-time fans and new players interested. If you don't go far enough, you've just made another sequel. If you go too far, you risk straying from what people liked about the property in the first place.

The new God of War threads that balance very well. It knows what worked about God of War—solid action combat with mythical battles of massive scale—but it's not content to just rest on that foundation. Let's be honest: when God of War: Ascension rolled around in 2013, fans were a bit tired of Kratos. He had killed every figure in Greek myth and lost the original point of his roaring rampage of revenge. It wasn't about avenging the deaths of his wife and daughter, it was just...killing. The God of War franchise lost focus.

Father and son. [All images captured on a PlayStation 4 Pro for God of War review]

Father Knows Best

God of War (2018) finds focus by returning to the original concept of family. Kratos is joined in this game by his son, Atreus, who accompanies him on the journey. Their collective aim is a simple one: to place the ashes of the boy's dead mother, Faye, on the highest peak of Midgard. A lot of things happen to Kratos and Atreus on their odyssey, but this is the main goal. Not revenge, just the placement of a loved one in their final resting place.

This works because the relationship between Kratos and Atreus is a believable one. Kratos is not a good father. He is a god, the son of Zeus, who tore his way through his world and his mythical family. He was not there for Atreus and it's clear early on that neither character really knows how to deal with the other. Atreus wants to connect, and Kratos mostly wants to be left alone, even by his son. He's a bad dad.

You see some amazing sights (God of War review)

But over the course of the journey, the relationship between the two grows. It's not rooted in just the father-son dynamic, as family is a running theme throughout the supporting cast. The dwarves Brok and Sindri upgrade and craft your gear, but neither occupies the same space because they're not talking to each other. Another character is in exile, mourning the loss of her people and her own child. And the family of Odin paints a dark light over the entire journey; Kratos is essentially a guy who stepped into the wrong neighborhood.

It works as a theme. The tale didn't make me cry or make me think about calling up my dad, but I bought what Sony Santa Monica was selling here. Kratos and Atreus both get things horribly wrong, they hit a few snags, they learn more about each other. Kratos begins the game as a gruff, intense presence barking orders and holding back his feelings like Tsundere Dad and by the end he's... well he's still the same, but Atreus at least comes to understand his father and his place in the world. It's a family, just one where the dad is the former God of War.

Did we say that God of War is beautiful? (God of War review)

Getting Even with Dad

God of War was originally envisioned as taking the action of Capcom's Devil May Cry and mixing it with Western sensibilities. Kratos has wielded a number of weapons over the course of each game, but his signature weapon was the Blades of Chaos, massive knives chained permanently to his arms. God of War's combat was always fast and fluid, with the chains cutting a burning path as Kratos swung them around to dish out pain.

The new God of War looks to replace the Blades of Chaos with a new weapon, the Leviathan Axe. It's not as visually iconic as the Blades, but it makes up for it in feel. Kratos can swing his axe around in melee, but you can also throw it to deal long-range damage. When thrown, the axe can be recalled to Kratos' hand at the press of a button. This is immensely satisfying: there's a welcome thunk when the axe lands in a target and another when it returns to Kratos' hand, accompanied by a shake of the DualShock 4. It just feels good to throw the Leviathan Axe and recall it over and over again.

Combat with the axe is a bit less fluid than God of War players might be used to, but it's a bit more tactical. In melee range, light and heavy strikes set up combos on single targets. When thrown, the light axe attack can be used to trip up enemies who are using shields, while the heavy attack freezes many enemies in place. When you're not holding the axe, Kratos switches to bare-handed punching, which does a good bit of damage and can stun foes. You have options: you might want to throw the axe to take one enemy out of the fight for a bit, while you soften up another with your fists. You can swing wildly, but you're not going to get much out of God of War like that.

The Leviathan Axe is backed up by equippable Runic abilities, which are magic spells bound to Light and Heavy attacks. You'll find a number of Runic abilities during the journey, offering all sorts of area-of-effect and single-target attacks suited to your playstyle. I myself found two and never waivered.

You're also in control of Atreus with the press of the Square button. (Yep, press Square to Son.) Atreus begins helping Kratos using only his trusty bow and arrow. This can deal minimal damage, but it also stuns enemies a bit and can draw the focus away from Kratos. (The kid is invincible. Don't worry about him.) So while you're axing enemies to death, you can also hit fliers or delay enemies with the kid's arrows. And using bare-handed attacks and Atreus' bow together is more likely to put enemies in a stunned state, allowing you to use God of War's executions.

Little and Large (God of War review)

Yep, Kratos' unique style of making enemies deader than dead returns here. By the end of the game, you may tire of certain execution scenes because the total tally of enemies feels a bit smaller than the original games—different flavors of the same enemy die in a similar manner—but every single one looks great and lives up to God of War's history.

Underneath the combat is a system of gear, either found out in the world or crafted by Brok and Sindri. Kratos can upgrade his axe with new pommels, or equip new armor on his chest, waist, and wrists. Atreus also has optional upgrades for his bow and armor.

Crafting armor requires resources that you find on certain enemies or out in the world, normally in the form of Hacksilver, the game's basic currency. The upgrade system is surprisingly detailed, with armor not only feeding six different states, but also having sockets for enchantments and their own upgrade paths. I admit, that I almost felt the system was a bit too obtuse. I found myself paralyzed early on because I didn't want to make the wrong pick with the limited resources and wide variety of choices I had available. There are so many things to upgrade, you could find yourself getting lost in stats, which feels like a drag.

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the ice covered stream (God of War review)

A Father's Journey

While previous God of War games were a linear affair, the new title is something else. It's not an open-world, though there is a pretty significant central hub. The closest analog is another reboot: Tomb Raider (2013). Everything flows back into the central hub in one way or another and as Kratos and Atreus go on their adventure, you'll gain new abilities that will open up new paths outward.

It's somewhat Metroidvania in composition, but not entirely. You'll run into objects and landmarks that you can't do anything about until you get the unique widget that clears them away. Many of these new abilities are also immediately useful in solving the puzzles that are littered about the world. Backtracking is up to you, but if you're serious about upgrading Kratos, it's something you'll want to do.

What I really enjoyed about God of War that I haven't really seen in another game of this type is the shifting nature of the game's central hub. This hub is a lake, which changes significantly as events cause the water level to change. It's an impressive visual on the part of Sony Santa Monica, acting as a marker for your current quest progression, while also offering new puzzles and interesting paths.

Thats a big hammer! (God of War review)

East of Eden

Sony Interactive Entertainment just keeps getting better and better at this. I thought Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted 4 stood as amazing benchmarks in visual fidelity and art design, but God of War impresses me even more. Part of that is the ability to go wild in terms of environment design. Kratos and Atreus are tromping across all of Norse mythology here, allowing players to see a wide variety of sights.

Playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro, I actually found myself a bit stunned at some of the things this game was doing. Yes, the semi-linear maps mean that Sony Santa Monica could focus their craft on what's in front of you, knowing that they can hide the next room behind a door or a turn in a corridor, but it's still damned impressive.

You will see other realms in God of War, and each of them is simply a visual splendor. This is bar none, one of the best looking titles on the PlayStation 4. I have to wonder if Sony's first- and second-party studios will continue to top themselves with each new game, because it's getting absurd. (Probably not, as my PlayStation 4 Pro sounds like a jet engine on certain sections of God of War.)

Part of God of War are the centerpiece boss fights and it's here that I'd say God of War only matches its predecessors, instead of surpassing them. God of War III's Cronus and Poseidon are very high bars though, so I'm not surprised to see this is the case. God of War 2018 can go big, but I felt that most of that effort was used for the environment instead of trying to up the scale of boss fights past. There are some winners, they just... don't hit as hard.

Sad dad (God of War review).

Daddy's Home

Playing through this game overall has been an odd experience. For much of the game, I felt God of War did a lot of things right while feeling like something different from previous God of War titles. The interaction between the new Kratos and his son is much better than angry Kratos wandering through everything alone. The supporting cast is likewise enjoyable. Combat has a different flow, but it's a good one.

But at some point, it begins to slowly bleed classic God of War into the experience. It's like meeting a new friend, talking with them for a while, and then realizing they're someone you knew in high school.

God of War starts "new" and finds it footing before it begins to blend in the "old". And it works. By the time everything finishes up, Sony Santa Monica has set God of War on a new path. It's a strong one that hints at further adventures in other places, even if players won't be going there anytime soon. When God of War: Ascension dropped, the series felt trapped in what came before, but with God of War 2018, the possibilities seem endless.

And that's how you make a reboot work.

God of War on PS4 was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for this God of War review.

This is how you do a reboot. After Kratos lost his way, Sony Santa Monica has set the God of War on a new path. A more measured, nuanced character, a great supporting cast, an excellent combat system, and some of the best graphics in a PlayStation 4 game to-date, add up to a winner.

5 /5

God of War Review Mike Williams Kratos returns and he's brought his son along with him for the journey. Has Sony Santa Monica found a new beginning for God of War? Find out in our God of War review. 2018-04-18T07:46:00-04:00 5 5

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Comments 22

  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #1 Flipsider99 3 months ago
    Well you gave it 5 stars. But despite that, everything you wrote makes me feel pretty skeptical about the game. The combat systems really doesn't sound like it's doing anything all that interesting. There are no combat mechanics mentioned that made me go "oh that sounds cool." Just standard stuff, throwing your axe, your son can stun enemies, and he's invincible so don't worry about him.

    You said the visuals are some of the most amazing on the PS4, but I guess this doesn't translate very well in still shots. I have looked at a few videos and I guess I just didn't happen to see anything all that interesting or imaginative. Hard to believe this is one of the best looking games on PS4... it's okay, but I feel like in terms of art design I've seen much better.

    It sounds like an okay reboot but God of War was never all that amazing of a series in the first place. It was a fun hack and slash game that still paled in comparison to the games that inspired it, the truly great action games like Devil May Cry. In order for this game to be amazing, it would have to FAR surpass those games. It doesn't really sound like it does. I'll probably not be making this a priority.Edited April 2018 by Flipsider99
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  • Avatar for DedicatedDark #2 DedicatedDark 3 months ago
    @Flipsider99 You put everything I wanted to say into words.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #3 chaoticBeat 3 months ago
    Wow. This game looks amazing. The feel of the Leviathan axe sounds really fantastic. I have been using my ps4 to watch netflix for the past few months though I downloaded a couple of Devil May Cry games when they were on sale. Character action games are one of my most favorite genres.

    This game feels incredibly hard to ignore even if Kratos' design was never attractive to me. I'm sold. I'm glad it turned out so well. I could really use a distraction from real life at the moment.Edited April 2018 by chaoticBeat
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #4 The-Challenger 3 months ago
    Oh, the kid is invincible. I like that choice. Does Atreus aim in third person or first person?
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #5 Kuni-Nino 3 months ago
    Aww man. I was hoping for another contrarian review. Oh well. The game sounds good. I’ll play it.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #6 MHWilliams 3 months ago
    @Flipsider99 Edited April 2018 by MHWilliams
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #7 Mooglepies 3 months ago
    Not entirely sure I'm on board with the combat changes. Part of what I loved about the previous games I played was the contrast between the brute force and violence of Kratos personality and the elegance of the moves used to carry out that will, shifting from enemy to enemy, into the air in graceful fashion. The combat I've seen doesn't really follow that gameplay loop anymore, which seems to be borne out in the review. Most of the other changes I'm neither into nor particularly against (crafting systems and level-ups, yawn).

    I don't suppose there's going to be a demo of this is there? I REALLY miss the days when I had the opportunity to try before buying.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #8 Flipsider99 3 months ago
  • Avatar for AndreasStalin #9 AndreasStalin 3 months ago
    Have to agree with@Flipsider99. This sounds just like any other big blockbuster game out there. They are really playing it safe with those aren’t they? I will probably get it, play it, enjoy it and forget it anyway.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #10 SuperShinobi 3 months ago
    Can't wait to play this. What for me puts it above most other action games is the atmosphere that transports you to a mythical ancient past. The boss fights, soundtrack, writing and how it draws from mythology together create a uniquely muscular, grand feel for the series.
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  • Avatar for NateDizzy #11 NateDizzy 3 months ago
    This sounds cool and all, but there's another ass kicking paternal figure named Kazuma Kiryu waiting in the wings for me. Perhaps when I'm done beating the crap out of gangsters and throwing babies, I'll jump on Dad of War.
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  • Avatar for Luna-Moth #12 Luna-Moth 3 months ago
    @MHWilliams LMAO. God I hate when people tell me this haha. It's still funny though.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #13 MHWilliams 3 months ago
    @NateDizzy I can't argue with this choice in the slightest. Either Dad Adventure is worth your time.
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  • Avatar for docexe #14 docexe 3 months ago
    I have to disagree with commenters above in that I do find the new combat system interesting. I think the combination of elements (the over the shoulder camera, a throwable melee weapon that doesn’t automatically returns back to you, the possibility of still pummeling enemies while barehanded in order to stun them, a companion character that can attack from long distance or stun enemies), could all lead to some interesting combat scenarios.

    I also like what I have read about the design of the game’s world. It’s not often pointed out, but the original God of War games weren’t pure hack and slash games, but rather a hybrid of sorts between a character action game ala Devil May Cry with an action-adventure game ala Legend of Zelda. The level progression was linear, but levels were often intricate in their design and occasionally required you to backtrack in order to solve puzzles. This new game being more of a “Metroidvania” of sorts seems like a logical design progression of the old style.

    And the graphics just look gorgeous. It’s not exactly breaking ground in terms of the art style (it’s pretty typical “fantasy stuff” to be honest), but the attention to detail is great. The videos and photos I have seen definitely convey the sense of a magnificent mythological world, which was the trademark of the series in prior entries.

    On the whole, this seems like a pretty successful sequel/pseudo-reboot. I’m definitely playing it as soon as I get a PS4.
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  • Avatar for Drachmalius #15 Drachmalius 3 months ago
    Yeah, I dunno. I've sat out on this franchise from the start and nothing looks to be pulling me into this one either. The reviews are great but I'm just not into the aesthetic or the looks of the combat. Hope people who are into it get what they want out of the game though, glad to see it seems to deliver what fans want I guess.
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  • Avatar for lacerz #16 lacerz 3 months ago
    Looking forward to this! 2018 is becoming more epic than 2017!
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  • Avatar for ElectricBurgers #17 ElectricBurgers 3 months ago
    @Mooglepies is renting available in your area? With a coupon, you could get a 1-day rental for < $3 at [BRAND] entertainment disc rental kiosk
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  • Avatar for gsekai #18 gsekai 2 months ago
    thanks for review
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  • Avatar for PerfectUgly #19 PerfectUgly A month ago
    @Flipsider99 I bought it, myself a middling admirer of the property. I enjoyed it as a mindless hack and slash game with some well-crafted and interesting set pieces. This reboot, however, is comparable to, say, The Last of Us, if you enjoyed that particular game.

    It sets itself apart in terms of parsing a much stronger, empathetic narrative that so completely understands its main character that every element built into the game serves as an expression of that character (for instance, Kratos doesn’t open chests, he crashes through them; he doesn't cradle health shards, he stomps on them, etc.). This particular element is contrasted by his relationship with his son and his efforts to become ... well ... the kind of man that he simply is not. Really, if the previous God of War games are all about toxic masculinity (they are), then the narrative of this game is a rebuke on those messages and a turn in an more interesting direction—away from mindlessness. This game is respectful of its past, but adds a layer of narrative that's really well-considered and thoughtful.

    From my vantage point, I never thought I'd enjoy a game as much as Bioshock. I loved the philosophical narratives parsed into hard sci-fi and horror in that game combined with artful game mechanics. But this God of War is better comparatively.

    I’d urge you to give it a more careful look, particularly if you enjoyed The Last of Us. If not, to each their own...
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #20 Flipsider99 A month ago
    @PerfectUgly That's fair, but we pretty strongly disagree. First of all, I don't like the term "toxic masculinity," because I think it's a bad idea to genderize certain traits. Even if they ARE more common in one gender than the other, creating this labels only reinforces negative stereotypes and keeps us more confined in traditional gender roles. Which we should be trying to break free from, in my opinion. Of course, if you disagree and you enjoy traditional gender roles, that's fine.

    Secondly, I agree that the new God of War is TRYING to have a "stronger, empathetic narrative." I just think it's failing because of the quality of the writing. It's doing what a lot of big budget games are currently doing, which is to mimick the way big popular movies are written. So it SEEMS like it's better written than older games, but in reality the themes and ideas of the storytelling are all based on stale tropes and are creatively bankrupt. For example, the son should be a pivotal character, you could easily say that this game's story lives or dies on the strength of his character. And yet his character, as written, is flat. There is nothing interesting about him. His "arc" is as cliche as it comes, and the way he's played is as one note as possible.

    In contrast, I think the older God of War games were more successful at what they were trying to do, because they weren't trying to be "important" story games, they were just trying to be fun. There is more of a focus on gameplay. Granted, they are shallow action games, but still the approach works better for the type of game it's trying to be. The new God of War, like a lot of modern story focused games, can't make up it's mind what it wants to be, so it kind of feels mediocre in everything it tries. That's my take on it.

    Of course it's fine if you have a different point of view, I'm just trying to explain why the story of God of War is very uninspiring to me. Hope I at least kind of managed to convey why I think so, at least a little bit.
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  • Avatar for PerfectUgly #21 PerfectUgly 6 days ago
    @Flipsider99 Absolutely. To each his own. We're clearly just looking at the game from different vantage points, neither better or worse than the other. From a more pragmatic perspective and to clarify, I’m not partial to more traditional gender roles, but it seems important to note there's a distinctive different between social elements and natural elements. While the sexes are inherently different, socially the struggle to apply a more level-playing field to a historically embattled gender is a good and mostly liberating goal.

    Sadly, toxic masculinity is a thing. But this is not to say that I haven't, in the past, encountered toxic femininity. We are, all of us, flawed in countless ways. I'd add that's part of what makes us 'human'.

    Concerning your observations on contemporary gaming narrative aping film narrative: I see that. Thus far, in my mind, the worst offender was Uncharted 3, which upended the interactive components with narrative structure and cut scenes to the point that it felt as though the game actually resented you playing it and tarnishing its narrative structure. This is a problem. One of the fundamental advantages of gaming over film is that film is a (mostly) passive experience while gaming is (mostly) interactive.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #22 Flipsider99 5 days ago
    @PerfectUgly Yeah, toxic femininity definitely exists too. And possibly is an even bigger problem than toxic masculinity these days. Still it's better not to throw those labels around too liberally, especially as I don't think it really applies to any of the God of Wars, or other forms of harmless escapist entertainment.

    The thing about Uncharted 3 is that it would have been fine if the narrative were actually better, and I feel the same way about God of War. I don't think being "interactive" as far as narrative goes is really all that important, unless role-playing is your primary goal (it's not mine, I've never cared for it much.) What I think is important is that the game part is good as a game, and the narrative part is good as a narrative. And just like Uncharted 3, if you life the narrative parts of God of War out and just evaluate them on their own, they do not hold up to even the mediocre movies which come out today. Lots of weaknesses in the writing, IMO.
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