Here at Thumbstix we have our finger on the pulse of all that’s new in the world of pop culture. Dave is having loads of fun with his new Rubiks Cube, Rich is enjoying Knight Rider on Saturday night TV, and Greg keeps going on about his Chopper. Its a 80’s retro bike apparently. Well, at least I hope that’s what he means? So, yes, we are a bit late with some things, this review of God Of War being one of them. But we are an independent gaming site, and we don’t always get review code, so sometimes we do buy our own games in order to review them. And when its a front-runner for Game Of The Year it is our duty to make sure that it is included and compared for our own end of year review.
God Of War is the eighth instalment of the God Of War series on the PlayStation and is the follow up to 2010’s God Of War III. It follows Kratos and his son Atreus just after the death of their wife and mother. Their goal is a journey to the top of the highest peak in the Nine Realms to scatter her ashes. It was designed as a re-imagining of the franchise and is loosely based on Norse mythology. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will witness many references to Thor and Odin, although the characters are treated with more distaste in this story. There has been a lot of high praise given to God Of War and that’s not changing here. With the ongoing trend towards ‘Games as a service’ and the seeming move away from Single Player, God Of War proves that a sole single player experience is still capable of challenging and inspiring us. Sony definitely has a successful blueprint for producing this type of experience, and with this, Detroit: Become Human and Spider-Man releasing in 2018 they are showing everyone just how to do an amazing single player game.
God Of War gets everything right. No, God Of War gets everything as close to perfect as can be. The story is simple, but filled with incredible moments that I couldn’t wait to discuss with friends. When a certain gameplay mechanic was introduced I swore with excitement EXTREMELY LOUDLY and messaged a friend straight away, as I suddenly realised he had hinted at that moment weeks earlier, and I couldn’t wait to share my feelings. The amount of jaw dropping set-pieces keep coming, the first of which happens in the first few minutes of the game as you face off against a mysterious tattooed stranger. At this point you know you are not only in for a wild ride, but a tough one as well. This first encounter introduces you to your main weapon, your Leviathan Axe, which is used not only as a melee weapon, but also, extremely satisfactorily, as a ranged weapon as well. Its throw and recall action is just glorious, along with the sound it makes as it thuds back into your hand on recall. I can’t remember a weapon that has been as enjoyable to use in any other game.
I had never played a previous God Of War title previously so the background and lore was all new to me, and there were a few moments where knowledge of the previous games would have benefitted, but this did not detract from my experience. Throughout the story Kratos continues to shelter and protect Atreus from his past, but interactions with the many NPC’s make this an impossible task. Not many games succeed in the implementation of an AI assistant, but – surprise, surprise – this does. Atreus accompanies Kratos through most of this game, and is very capable with his bow, helping defeat enemies and unlocking areas with his abilities with his stun arrows particularly useful against high level enemies. Their story is the driving force of God Of War, with scenes that brought out every emotion in me. At times I was happy, sad, angry and annoyed with the on-screen relationship. There is a lot of humour to be found, especially with the two dwarves, Brok and Sindri, whose frequency of appearing in new locations was an annoyance at first but soon became enjoyable. The dialogue of these two was just brilliant, with the bluntness of Brok and the squeamishness of Sindri becoming a real highlight for me. The introduction of another character – a non-metaphoric talking head if you like – is another real highlight, and also provides plenty of humour and plenty of background lore.
I previously mentioned the toughness of God Of War, and it is a real challenge, although there is the opportunity to drop down to an easier setting in order to enjoy the story. Some enemy encounters are designed for the endgame, when Kratos is all-powerful, and the Valkyries soon teach you a lesson if you try to take them on too early. There are plenty of attacks to choose from, with unlocks and upgrades of armour, skills and weapons, which when chained together can make Kratos a bit of a beast. There is more than a hint of RPG about all this as well, as choosing particular stats to upgrade can influence Kratos’ strength and weaknesses. I must admit that I did find these overwhelming and daunting at the start, with so many different materials powering different upgrades, and it did feel a bit too complicated. This was one of my two minor gripes with God Of War. However, once Kratos gets his combat on, especially when you power up his Spartan Rage, it’s extremely satisfying to dispatch a room of enemies.
Of course, there are loads of collectables as well, that can be tackled during the story or after you’ve seen the credits roll. The majority of these feel like they serve a purpose, with shrines to find that tell back stories of characters, as well as treasure maps, Odin’s ravens and Artefacts. What’s also a real bonus are the two extra realms, that provide extra combat challenges to complete for a good armour reward. Nothing feels out of place or forced and the conversations between characters all fit perfectly together. Story events and side quests are all referenced via dialogue whilst the characters are in movement, and it feels perfectly natural, just like real conversations happen in real life. In fact, there are no loading screens to be found here, the whole game of God Of War is like a one-take film, and the transition between gameplay and cut-scene is seamless.
God Of Wars main strength lies in its set pieces. I have never played a game that has taken me to so many iconic and varied locations. And I don’t really want to detail them here, for fear of spoiling anything for those of you that are yet to play it. But there are just so many moments where I have gasped in awe at what I am experiencing. The Uncharted series previously held this record but God Of War has absolutely blown it away. And it does it in the most gorgeous looking way. It is absolutely breath-taking, especially on the PS4 Pro. Kratos is as close to a photo-realistic character as you will ever see in a game. A few years ago we were in a situation where characters looked good, but they always looked dead in the eyes, but I swear sometimes Kratos is actually looking right through the TV screen direct into my soul! God Of War sets the benchmark high for future games to even get near.
So, just what does God Of War do wrong. Well, apart from the aforementioned bewilderment at the RPG elements, the only other thing I didn’t like was the travelling when you use the magic gateways, but I do understand that the seamless nature of the gameplay would have been ruined had this been changed. What does it get right? To be honest it gets everything else absolutely spot-on. Graphics, Music, Sound effects, Set-pieces, story, characters and gameplay are all perfect. And once you’ve finished the main story – and probably cried at the ending – you will head straight back to Brok and Sindri to mop up everything you missed. It deserves full marks so that’s what it’s getting! Over to you Rockstar!