April 26, 2018

God of War - Review

The return of Kratos was always going to be a special thing, but with how much changed in this latest entry, is that a good thing?

Kratos finds himself in the realm of Midgard, and now has a young son named Atreus and after collecting a tree, we find out their Faye, the boys mother has passed away. Her final wish was to have her ashes scattered atop the highest peak in all the realms, if you have seen any of the Thor movies, you will understand those. Kicking off the adventure is the arrival of a stranger, who seeks something from Kratos and while he does not name it, he sparks a fury inside of Kratos, the resulting battle forces to take Atreus on the journey with him. While Kratos may not be the most approachable person, during the journey you can see him attempt to relate to his child in a way that proves while he maybe a god filled with rage, he still suffers from human fears. As they begin their journey, they will encounter some enemies and friends that help along the way.

After they reach the top of the mountain, they discover Mimir, a man cursed by Odin, who tells them that the highest peak in all the realms is not on Midgard, but on J√∂tunheimr, the realm of the giants and not one that is easily accessed. Kratos agrees to journey there and this kicks off a lot more than either could have predicted. The problem with the overall story is that it’s just a father and son journey and while Kratos evolves slowly, his hesitance of dealing with his son showing in almost all of his actions, Atreus barely changes from beginning to end, what change he does go through is so fast, you would not be mistaken in that he becomes a different person at one point and while they try to show why it happens, it's such a change that it defeats any growth he has at the end.

Thankfully, the gameplay is far stronger than the story and given just how much more relatable Kratos is now, that was something I found hard to believe. As with almost all of PlayStations first party efforts of late, the game is played from a 3rd person view and puts a lot of emphasis on Kratos and his actions. Gone from the old games is Kratos running everywhere, instead he now just meanders along, only running when you want him to, that action alone helps set the pace that the game is going for. Each action Kratos does perform has a sense now, if he can he will avoid people or dangers, if they don’t concern him and while the world is not fully open, you can make agree to that as well, if you want.

Combat, the core of the series, remains as fast paced as people will remember it, but the addition of the axe and location awareness, changes things up again. You can keep your axe in your hand, dealing out light or heavy attacks when enemies get close to you, or you can throw it at them, dealing damage from afar. What makes things interesting though is that when you recall the axe from whence it was thrown, any enemies between you and it will take damage if it connects but given that you can also bounce it off walls, to catch enemies from behind and such, it becomes quite the versatile tool. As you journey onwards, you will collect materials, which you can use to upgrade your axe and armours, letting you deal more damage and such, but the addition of Runic attacks can make you feel like, everything you do is your choice.

You can add runes to everything you can equip, and some will provide better protection from certain enemies, others will allow for things like faster cooldown of the powerful weapon attacks. While the game does not fall into full RPG territory, the options it gives do allow for players to change the game to suit their playstyles. Not all players will enjoy this, as getting some of the high level gear does require a fair amount of combat and item obtainment, but for those who enjoy that, will enjoy the levelling. With everything that you can do to change how the game plays, you might think there is an easier way, but you would be wrong, the game constantly challenges you, with each boss type encounter and challenge room keeping you on your toes, the concern with this though, is the game can feel inconsistent. There were some rooms, I would enter, only to find myself dying without dealing any damage, but then a room or two later, I would decimate the enemies on screen, without breaking a sweat. The biggest downside to the combat is when Atreus runs into battle, he does not do it a lot, only a few times, but when you are wanting a few minutes of peace, to have to fight because he triggered a baddy, is nothing short of annoying.

The games presentation is where things really shine though, from the incredible attention to the characters, to the world itself, there is a lot to see and enjoy here. Perhaps the most striking element and the one that really impressed me, was the fact that there was not a single camera cut, each time the camera moves back to Kratos after a cutscene, its seamless, when a cutscene is triggered, the camera will pull tight, swivel around and all manner of motions, without a break. The only way you can notice the change from playable action to movie, is the lack of hud and given how small it can be at times, you might be delayed a bit in noticing it.

Of course, the visuals themselves really help sell the story and setting, the entire time Kratos is on screen, he feels believable and not because of his actions, those can be larger than life at times, but because of the small little touches that show on his face. One of the most tender moments is when Kratos reveals his true nature to his son, the movement of the eyes, before he even speaks, sells the struggle more than any words he speaks. Arteus is much the same and the dynamic between them both is crazy. Characters like Freya and the Dwarves are equally compelling to watch, sadly the Aesir gods that you encounter are less so, and sadly the opportunity is wasted when you don’t encounter any of the ones you expect.

The world itself teems with life, and while it is not open, it is far less restrictive than games past, the lake is your hub and getting out and exploring it, will reward players, same with revisiting old locations. Each of the locations are varied enough that you will find something new to look at in each spot, the varying realms also help there, with Hel looking so different from Midgard, which also looks so different to Vanaheimr. Each location has a look that you will come to recognise, though the consistency of the world comes from the Norse theming, with runes, glyphs and such scattered around.

The score is something that anyone who has followed the game will know, that presentation when the game debuted, had the biggest impact and the full score is just as good. Each realm has a distinct sound to it, but when the score is layered atop it, it makes the world sing. The themes for the characters are also wonderfully crafted, though, there are times when the mix can get in the way, over shadowing some. When the world gets dark, the music can almost drop out completely, leaving you with nothing but the sounds of your surrounding

God of War is a game that changes the series and for the better, instead of Kratos the rage monster, we get a man who is doing all he can to change and leave that life behind. The addition to the game of Atreus, makes an impact, but there are times when the impact falls into the negative, which is a shame, because when the combat kicks in and he jumps into the fray, things become magical. If you own a PlayStation 4, then you absolutely play this game, if you miss it, you will be missing something incredible.

Review copy provided by PlayStation Australia

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