Review: God of War (PS4)

Review: God of War (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: God of War
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (45.51 GB)
Release Date: April 20, 2018
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Santa Monica Studio
Original MSRP: $59.99 (US), £49.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 18
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 570 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
Kratos is back, and while the world around him has changed he can never rest. In this new journey he isn’t alone, he finds himself as a father once again.

The latest entry in the God of War series isn’t a reboot, it’s a continuation that keeps the core of God of War and builds a completely different experience around it.

One of the keys that makes this feel so different is the evolution of Kratos as a person. His anger is in check (mostly) and he is now protecting his son Atreus, a young boy whose mother has recently passed away.

Their story isn’t about revenge, it’s about fulfilling the last dying wish of Atreus’ mother which was to have her ashes spread across the top of the highest mountain in the land. Of course the journey will pit Kratos against monsters and maybe even some famous Nordic figures, but it’s not your typical journey for Kratos because his motivations aren’t coming from a a place of hate or revenge.

At its core, this is about the father and son relationship of Kratos and Atreus. Kratos is struggling to be a father as he balances his lingering anger and desire to raise his son into a strong, capable person that can survive on his own.

It’s truly amazing watching this relationship evolve. You can see Kratos trying his best to be there for Atreus, but he doesn’t know how to be there emotionally. This is both Kratos’ second chance at raising a child and his first time really doing so and he doesn’t know how to do it. He pushes Atreus as much as he can though Kratos lacks subtlety which means he can easily frustrate both of them.

Atreus struggles as he reacts to Kratos’ discipline. Atreus wants to do do his best but he has moments of anger and frustration and when this happens Kratos shows concerns because he know how that emotion can control a person. It’s a wonderful dynamic and their chemistry shines throughout the journey. I found myself hooked not by the journey and the fantastical places it goes and instead by the father and son dynamic. You really see a different side of Kratos and it’s refreshing.

Enough about the story, this is a God of War game and the gameplay is still king.

Let’s talk about the Leviathan Axe, the primary weapon and the replacement for the Blades of Chaos. This isn’t a normal axe, it has magical abilities that can freeze enemies and it can be thrown and recalled at will. The abilities of this weapon make it work both for close and ranged combat.

It can be used for crowd control and for puzzle solving and I found to be even better than the Blades. It’s difficult to explain without sounding like a psychopath because cutting through people using it is so satisfying and its many abilities lead to some creative ways to kill.

As for Atreus, he is an active participant in the journey. You’re not just escorting him to the top of the mountain. Kratos is teaching him how to survive on his own so he holds his own in combat. You don’t directly control him, instead you direct him where to shoot his arrows and over time he becomes more skilled and brave.

I never found myself having to go out of my way to protect him. Enemies do go for him, but he uses his arrows wisely and keeps himself out of trouble. Later on he even does a little more like jumping on enemies to slow them down and he becomes more of a partner in battle. It’s very reminiscent of Ellie in The Last of Us. We really see him grow as a character and become more capable proving he’s worthy of being the son of Kratos.

Expanding on the skill trees seen in older entries, this game dips its toes in the RPG pool with some new mechanics that might sound scary for non RPG players, but it’s a light addition.

The axe and bow can be leveled up with new moves and abilities using XP points and gems that are found scattered throughout the world. On the lower difficulties these gems never felt like a necessity though they can make it easier to combat enemies as they get tougher.

Along your journey you’ll run across a pair of brothers that will give Kratos and Atreus new gear by crafting and selling supplies. They provide a little comic relief and have side quests they will request help with. They felt like a forced mechanic to me and sometimes broke my experience, not because they are bad characters (they’re great actually), but they pop up out of nowhere and they don’t explain it well.

Kratos actually does question how they consistently pop up and over time he just accepts it. It feels like the developers wanted the crafting and leveling up mechanic and couldn’t figure out a way to cleanly implement these mechanics so they just used magic as an excuse to make their version of the Resident Evil 4 Merchant. Plus I wasn’t a fan of the menu system which I didn’t find very clear and easy to navigate.

The overall experience is still rather linear. The path to your destination is just wider than usual with small paths off to the side to search for collectibles, and there are a lot of collectibles. These vary from coins to items that you can equip and pieces of lore that flesh out the world.

I found myself spending a lot of time collecting because the game does a great job with visual cues letting you know a path or collectible is nearby. You will acquire several abilities along the way that can open up previously locked paths or chests. You can then backtrack to certain areas when the story allows.

I noticed that Atreus would occasionally ask if we had time to explore which was an obvious cue that new things or previously inaccessible things were now accessible.

There has been a lot added to the God of War formula and while that may sound scary to some, this still very much feels like a God of War game. The developers kept the core ideals of the franchise and have rebuilt from the ground up into something deeper which should appeal to both veterans of the series and newcomers.

Visuals:
You’d think Uncharted 4 or Horizon Zero Dawn couldn’t possibly be topped in terms of visuals and along comes God of War. It looks spectacular and it’s one of the most cinematic experiences I’ve played.

The camera makes all the difference here. Moving the camera tighter to Kratos gives the game a more personal and intimate feel that makes every hit that much more impactful. It’s a big change from the previous games and a welcome one at that. It still maintains the cinematic feel the series is known for, but puts players more “into” the action than ever before. Instead of being a watcher, I felt like I was much more involved.

From character models to the environments, everything is well detailed and of a high quality. Environments are varied with each location topping itself on a consistent basis preventing the game from becoming stale. The story goes from nature to more whimsical places that are on a level never before seen in a God of War game. The developers had a lot of new toys and playsets to use thanks to Norse mythology and they use it wisely.

For those wondering about how the game runs on the PS4 versus the PS4 Pro, I played the first six hours on a launch PS4 and it ran and looked great. And as expected on the PS4 Pro it runs and looks slightly better with two modes that favor performance or resolution available as options.

Audio:
Sony Santa Monica continues to excel in delivering a phenomenal audio experience. From the score to the sound effects, it all comes together for an audibly pleasing presentation.

The score by Bear McCreary matches the the Nordic setting with deep choir vocals set to strong instruments. Many of the key moments are made by the music when exploring a new area or coming up against strong enemies. I can’t praise the music enough.

As for the voice acting, long time fans will notice the change of Kratos’ voice actor from T.C. Carson to Christopher Judge. The change of voice actors was reportedly done for motion capture reasons but it also complimented where Kratos finds himself in life.

Christopher Judge’s performance gives Kratos a slightly older tone and one of a much wiser and worn down man. Judge does a really amazing disappointed/frustrated father voice whenever Atreus does something that Kratos must discipline him for which is something we might not have had without the change.

Sunny Suljic also turns in a great performance as Atreus, portraying him as a curious child that’s slowly having whatever innocence he had peeled away as the story progresses. I will say I was a little thrown off at first with Atreus having an American accent while everyone else’s varied, but his excellent acting made that a non-issue very quickly.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
This is the first time I’ve played a God of War game where I found myself more interested in the story than the gameplay. That’s not to say that the gameplay is lacking, because it’s not, but the story here is phenomenal.

The dynamic of the father and son relationship carries the game and it’s the first time I truly felt Kratos had depth. Before he only felt like he had one emotion, rage, and here he’s trying his best to be a father – though he still has some rage.

From a gameplay perspective the foundation is still familiar territory, it’s a violent game with epic over-the-top moments. It’s just that now there are some slightly deeper mechanics with light RPG elements and a bit more open world.

God of War re-establishes itself as a marquee franchise for PlayStation and this new direction was a smart move by Sony Santa Monica. They have rebuilt the series into something that both longtime fans and newcomers alike should be able to enjoy and get a moving experience from.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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