Game Director: Cory Balrog (God of War II)
Writers: Richard Zangrande Gaubert & Matthew Sophos (Lost Planet 3) Cory Balrog (GoW: Ghost of Sparta & Chains of Olympus)
Music: Bear McCreary (The Cloverfield Paradox, The Walking Dead, Outlander)
Starring: Christopher Judge, Sunny Suljic, Danielle Bisutti, Jeremy Davies (American Gods, Twin Peaks, Saving Private Ryan), Nolan North & Troy Baker (Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End)
Plot: The Greek God of War travels with his young son, unbeknownst to his previous life, across a mythical Scandinavia to scatter his wife’s ashes atop the tallest mountain.
Rating: $40 CAD
Review: My previous experience with God of War was the epic but frustrating God of War 3, for my return trip to the series developer Sony Santa Monica has softly rebooted the series with a grounded camera, slower pace, and dropped the Greek mythology baggage of the previous games in favour of a Norse setting. Moment to moment, I enjoyed the gameplay of this installment more than the previous main game, it’s more intimate but less epic in scale and puts a lot of stock into a story that is functional at best and dangles unanswered plot threads at worst. For my money it doesn’t fully payoff the $80 investment.
For what it is worth, the game does look and perform great on PS4 with some minor frame rate hitches. The locked over the shoulder camera perspective originated from Resident Evil 4, & made good use of in last year’s similarly great Norse-Myth Hellblade, has gotten a lot of praise from a technical and story standpoint but also limits the game from scaling the marvelous epic heights of its predecessor. Coming off of Horizon: Zero Dawn & Uncharted: The Lost Legacy God of War doesn’t feel like the great state of the art graphical leap that God of War III was in the cell processor days following Killzone 2 & Uncharted 2. The visual results here do please but there is a disappointing plateau feeling for this generation’s capabilities. It’s a beautiful, highly polished and extremely well put together fun art-blockbuster, but there’s also nothing here you haven’t played before. Whether it is Atreus acting as a gameplay companion similar to Elizabeth in BioShock: Infinite or comparatively Ellie in The Last of Us, or the single unbroken take presentation style of Dead Space 2, the hub world of Batman: Arkham Asylum, the RPG upgradeable elements of the Elder Scrolls series, God of War even down to its mimicking title is a showcase for great ideas that have come before at the very least 5 years ago, when its development started. Santa Monica Studios has seemingly taken a few pages out of leading developer Naughty Dog‘s playbook to smoothly implement the best ideas from other games with more money and polish, and also serves as a mission statement for this generation of games as a whole.
Getting to the good part, about 28 of the 30+ hour story is great, with the final bit leading down a contrived path and a ‘so this is it?’ ending feeling. One final character reveal feels a bit cheap, but mostly all that precedes it is reasonably paced. One trip to Hellheim is memorable for how it begins by calling back series roots, leveraging character mythos without any of the baggage. It is one of the many moments where the game hits all the buttons the developers meant to push. Similarly a strange arrival in the first ‘major’ Boss Battle is an immediate classic, one for the books. Typical for the series repeated encounters along the same format wear out the effect’s welcome, but the other savvy move this game makes is to add some layers to its villain, wonderfully performed by Jeremy Davies, allowing him to become more than just a boogeyman. The voice acting around the board is great, it certainly helps that the animation work is stunning and smooth along with the particle effects, this generation’s favourite tool. The switch for the series to a less clean and stagey Norse setting does this game well. Further it is also a much better balanced and less numbing experience than its predecessor although I did have to take some button mashing breaks, perhaps at 24 I’m past my prime gaming days. My bias is that I had to take a week-long break from the game due to travel and found myself in fantasy limbo taking to long to beat the game similar to playing Skyrim and Zelda (not my favourite genre), I never got into the addicting groove. It is weird considering the size of the experience, how slow-paced the game is and how few characters there are, but it certainly makes God of War unique & memorable and as far as AAA gaming goes… sort of bold. The main problem I have with the story is that the climactic battle feels contrived and character beat wise doesn’t feel climactic. Finally, in the state of 5 year development cycles; dangling plot threads to sow seeds for future installments feels more punishing than it should. With Kratos’ luck and 5 million in sales already, you might have to wait for the PS5-era and drop big bucks on a new console before pressing play on a fully new God of War. And if you want something truly new and innovative, expect to wait even longer. Until then, at least you have a nice tour of Scandinavia.