God of War manages to present a tale of stoicism, emotional turmoil, and visceral violence through one continuous shot. The sense of immersion provided hits immediately, as the interruptions that most games shares are entirely amiss as one explores an open world of adversaries and mystery.
Although players adopt the role of Kratos, the uncertain journey begins with little direction. Players maintain the ability to command Kratos, but ultimately, are unmatched by his knowledge of upcoming events. Instead, players initiate the journey in a state of misdirection, unsure of where to turn, or who the adversaries are. Atreus, Kratos’ son, follows the player as they begin on foot, questioning his surroundings, and standing unsure of how to properly utilize his bow.
Atreus’ infantile curiosity and inexperience are often ridiculed by Kratos, as his son appears to be more of a detriment than a valued companion. While it’s rational for Kratos to have a short fuse, it’s difficult to not feel as though he is berating the player for not beginning the journey as an expert.
The Norse tale quickly divulges into a familial drama, separated by axe throws and charismatic non-player characters. While he appears harsh, Kratos is not to blame for being quick to critique, as the relationship he shares with his son is highly estranged. It is evident from the beginning that the Kratos imagined in this iteration differs highly from previous installments. Once a blood-thirsty war machine, Kratos now wrestles with internal conflict and moral judgments.
The complex relationship is put on pause during combat, which stands as the game’s main strength. Kratos’ weapon is the Leviathan Axe, operating as a dynamic, upgradable, tool that must be thrown and recalled by the player. Although no other weapons may be used, the axe isn’t boring for a second, as it may be utilized in melee or ranged combat, and can be imbued with various effects.
Subtle, useful controller vibrations are rarely used for a worthy purpose in most games, other than to denote a fall or hit, but God of War is certainly the exception. The controller will begin to vibrate more actively as you return to your thrown axe’s proximity, which is quite useful after realizing you started to walk away from battle without it.
Although the feel of the weapon is satisfying, and the changes you can make to it keep the gameplay feeling fresh, although there’s not much at stake in battle. Even on the hardest difficulty, enemies may be strafed reflexively as their movements are clearly telegraphed, making shields rather ineffective. A difficulty spike in combat is usually emulated through mobs, which reads more as busy work than engaging dangers.
Bosses are sometimes re-skinned, with the backtracking between them offering pits of dull interactions. While most of the journey is invigorating and fresh, it’s sometimes better to cut content rather than repeat it. Enemies tend to remain humanoid throughout but have significant changes from one another depending on the region they are found in, allowing players to readapt their combat skills. Puzzles, which are few and far between, range from elementary to intermediate — unless players hold the Leviathan up around them, as the solutions will begin to glow in its presence, removing any sense of apprehension.
What may come as a surprise to many who have played the game is the 30 frames-per-second capacity lock. The slick gameplay leaves no indications that it does not run at a native 60 frames-per-second, with the visuals leaving no indication either. Kratos’ breath can still be seen cutting through the air in vivid movement, and trees sway believably throughout. The capacity lock may cause a momentary slowdown, which many, including myself, failed to see, but it doesn’t affect the overall aesthetic look or feel for the most part.
God of War offered much more than anticipated. As a player of the series, one aspect was expected, which was certainly delivered: good action-based gameplay. Beyond that marker, this new installment to the series offered an engaging story told through sheer immersion. With no loading screens, players are seamlessly integrated into the plot, with few lulls in between.
Kratos, who previously stood as a one-dimensional deity, displays a range of complex emotions, which teeter into a despair that players cannot break away from. This iteration stands as the most dynamic and profound in the series, with fascinating characters and gameplay as robust as ever.
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