Thursday, March 16, 2023

First Play Review: God Of War [2022]

Note: This game was originally released for the PlayStation 4 in 2018. It is not to be confused with the 2005 PlayStation game God of War. 

God of War wasn't the first title that peaked my interest when Sony PlayStation announced it's push into the PC game market in 2020 but it was something that I saw a lot of media about and felt it was worth investigating. Now as you may know, I really hate starting a series of books, TV shows, movies or games that have a serious 'history'. I need to start from the beginning of anything. However in this case I was advised by multiple sources that while the previous God of War games are referenced in the story, the new game presents it such a way that newcomers to the franchise are served the lore well. In fact some argue that not knowing the saga beforehand is actually an advantage as you learn Kratos' history alongside Atreus, Kratos' son. 

What I did know was that the God of War franchise in the PlayStation had three main games which detail the story of Kratos, a Spartan soldier tricked by Ares into killing his family. So Kratos killed him in revenge becoming the new 'god of war' in the process. He had another two games where he fought both The Titans (who betrayed him) and  The Olympians (with a special beef with Zeus) and eventually bogged off somewhere in in 2010. It was not until 2018's soft reboot that people learned that he went to Midguard of all places!

The new setting of Norse legend as opposed to Greek serves as a soft reboot of the series making it accessible to me as a new player. You're quickly introduced to Kratos and you discover you have three things going for you: you're voiced by Christopher Judge (Teal'c from StarGate SG-1), you have a stunning red beard and you have a "Leviathan Axe" that is part tool and and part weapon and returns like Marvel Thor's hammer! However a lot of this is instantly offset by the fact you also have an annoying whiny son and you have to tolerate him because his mother Faye just died and you're forced to give him attention now.

The game's intro prologue which sets your quest to bring Faye's ashes to the peak of a nearby mountain, served as a pleasant hand-holding exercise which was most welcome as this is the kind of game that wasn't originally designed for a mouse and keyboard. At the end of the tutorial prologue you are suddenly thrust into a major boss-battle with Baldur, Thor's half-brother, brilliantly portrayed by Jeremy Davies (for which he won a BAFTA to add to his Justified Emmy). It hammered home the point that your otherwise simple-sounding quest would be wrought with challenges and adventure.

God of War is played over the shoulder third person which is best for melee combat, and there sure is a lot of it. The Leviathan Axe is the main weapon for the vast majority of the game and in the hands of Kratos it is as powerful as Thor's Mjölnir hammer and can be thrown about just like it. This results in deeply satisfying combat with enemies that while are not overall as varied as I'd desire, are nonetheless fun to do battle with. Your skill with the axe increases as you gain XP and spend it on powers and moves, and you can even upgrade it with runes and materials you collect along the way. Gathering these materials to enhance your weapon and armour isn't a chore (unless you want to deliberately take on the higher level challenges outside the main game narrative) and you collect them as you follow the main and side quests.

God of War is not a game you can get lost in, your main path/goal is ever present but you are rewarded for exploring unknown areas of the the open-world map that becomes littered with icons as you unveil more tasks to complete. Most of these are optional but the more you complete, the easier combat becomes as you gain XP and equipment as well as flesh out the story and the world which is admittedly more interesting if you have even a passing interest in mythology. Some of the extra tasks are not unique in scope but are completed in different environments making it different enough to not be tedious. I was particularly happy with the puzzles which can only be completed after you've gained certain abilities. The rewards from such puzzles are appropriate to the level you have to be to have the feature to solve the puzzle - but so are the enemies you encounter as a result, if any!

As the game progressed I found that I began to get used to my "son" which ran parallel to Kratos' 'acceptance' of him. Atreus gains some moderate powers and abilities as Kratos actively levels up and the boy can be used as a passive companion in battle and can be ordered to use an active component by shooting arrows at targets designated by you for combat or puzzles as the situation demands. Atreus goes though his own character arc and emerges a much more tolerable and stronger character then in the beginning. In fact he gets far more character development than Kratos himself who barely progresses from grunting and shouting "Boy!" for the game's duration. It was however the relationship between father and son and their interaction with the ancillary characters of the story that made it matter much more than the purpose of the main quest.

Final Verdict: God of War is a masterclass into what a visually cinematic, well designed and polished adventure game is. It's progression systems are carefully calculated. It's environment, although fiercely linear for the main story, still takes place in a majority of an open world which begs to be explored. The performances from the games actors elevated the game's average story and making it more about the relationship between the characters than the achievement of a goal. It's only left for me to say that God of War soared above any expectations I had of playing it.

Technicals: 43.5 hours playtime through Steam. Full UW support granted 3440x1440/160FPS. Used Balanced DLSS 1996x836 to render 3440x1440/120FPS for greater stability. Custom settings favouring high end options with RTX3070Ti. DX11 renderer under Windows 11 and impressive HDR enabled though Windows implementation.

Bugs: Some instability occurred at 160FPS+ causing crashes. One bug workaround required full game reinstallation (with no loss of progress).

Availability: God of War is available from Steam for €49.99. Review copy purchased from Fanatical for  €39.42 in Feb 2022.


God of War series:

God of War [2005] PS2
God of War II [2007]
God of War III [2010]
- God of War: Origins Collection [2010] PS3
God of War: Ascension [2013] PS3
- God of War III Remastered [2015] PS4
God of War [2018] PS4
- God of War [2022] PC
God of War Ragnarök [2022]

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