More than just one of, if not THE greatest game of this console generation; God Of War is the benchmark for what Sony’s gaming philosophy has stood for over the last 8+ years.
You’ll remember that the launch of Playstation 3 wasn’t anywhere near as successful as Sony wanted, a luxury priced machine with clunky online functionality wasn’t going to cut it when Microsoft’s Xbox 360 was reinventing multiplayer gaming, introducing achievements and bringing digital games to life.
But Sony’s faith, attention, and emphasis on single player experiences such as InFamous, Metal Gear Solid 4, Heavy Rain, Uncharted, and The Last Of Us kept the PS3 in the fight with the 360 – despite receiving a few hay-makers in the early going.
As we fast forward to 2018, the Playstation 4 has had one hell of a run in its near five year life span, and the tide has most certainly shifted back in Sony’s favour. A large component in this shift has without a doubt been, once again, a focus on single player experiences: Bloodborne, Horizon, Crash Bandicoot, Nioh, Uncharted 4 (you get the point.) But nothing speaks of the success of the Playstation 4 quite like God Of War.
For context on the success of the game thus far: Gran Turismo 5 was the PS3’s greatest selling exclusive – clocking in at around 12 million copies. God Of War sold 3.1 million copies in 3 days. Reaping the rewards of the huge install base that was there to appeal to, the games developers Santa Monica have taken what seemed to be a tired concept, and reinvented it to what could be looked at as a stand-out moment in the annals of gaming history.
Light spoilers will lie ahead here, nothing that gives any of the twists and turns of the game away (there’s plenty) but some of the combat elements and story ark will be discussed.
Story and characterisation are two organs of the anatomy of a game which cannot be understated in terms of importance – especially when it comes to single player experiences. You remember the first time you played as Solid Snake, Marcus Fenix, Commander Shepherd, Nathan Drake, the list goes on. But for all the success that God Of War had experienced in its ferocious combat in previous years, Kratos was rarely a protagonist whose character and back-story were particularly compelling besides him being a super-human Spartan who got angry quite a lot.
With this latest iteration of God Of War, Santa Monica have taken Kratos from his high-horse of emotive ignorance and have turned the Spartan into a tired monster among creatures, but more than that: he’s just a father acting out his wife’s final living wishes. Accompanied by his young, wide eyed son Atreus; this isn’t just a journey into the trials and tribulations of a god-like Spartan, this is front seat viewing of a connection, or seemingly lack thereof between a man and his child.
History confirms that ever-present sidekicks can be more of a hindrance than an addition in gaming, but the story between Kratos and Atreus is so insatiably fascinating that the imaginary thought of this being a solo mission almost doesn’t bare thinking about. You sink into every ounce of dialogue between the two, you have an unquenchable thirst for more knowledge on their back-story; it’s all fed to you in a way that is terrifically paced and Kratos’ mentor over father attitude makes every occasional micro second of affection between the two live long in the memory.
Newcomers to the franchise are more than welcomed here, and Santa Monica employ the genius tactic of feeding you enough information about the characters involved to make you feel a personal connection – while still leaving enough room for you to be curious about certain aspects of their lives. Each participant in God Of War’s 30+ hour story feel absolutely vital to its make-up, and while the main story only involves around 7 characters, they are explored tremendously; from Kratos himself to the dwarven merchants – everyone has a cemented place in this tale.
Despite the flawless story between man and son, combat is where God Of War shines at its brightest. Moving on from the hack and slash, Devil May Cry-esque styled combat of the previous games in the series into a more strategic form of combat, this iteration of the game is some of the most satisfying combat you will ever experience. You sense the power of a univerise at your disposal, and dishing it out on your foes is immediately gratifying.
The Leviathan Axe is your meat clever in a butchers shop, and the way it slices through enemies with unmatched gore never stops being a thrill ride. Each new skill you learn or purchase comes with the added bonus of seeing the obliteration of your enemies in another way; throwing your axe into an enemies skull is just as fun as summoning a river of ice to rip them apart.
The Souls like element of being handed a shield and a button for dodging adds to the glamour too, the moments where you’re surrounded with enemies makes for tense chess battles of combat; dodging or parrying just in time before getting a few strikes in and repeating manifests itself into duels of bravery and timing.
Atreus is more than just a character with an intriguing story too, his presence in combat is not only a pleasant addition – it’s a necessity at times. Summoning mythical animal attacks, distracting enemies with arrows, or holding them in position while you decapitate them – Atreus is a vital part of what makes God Of War’s combat as smooth as silk, and the ability to level him up while you go sets in a subconscious mindset that you are part of his growth along this journey.
Perhaps God Of War’s greatest, and possibly unnoticed by some’s masterstroke though is in its camera angle. Yes the visuals are beyond stunning, and the vibrancy of certain areas in the vast world of the game are so breathtaking you’ll be legitimately staggered, but the fact that the entirety of your adventure is done from one entire shot is the cherry on top of this ten tiered cake of excellence. It feels like you’re a first hand witness on this twisting journey, there’s a level of escapism bought with that you may never have felt in a game before. Every boss fight feels extra climactic, every rage burst is a true adrenaline rush. This is a first hand experience of Norse mythology unlike any other you’ll find.
As season passes and micro transactions continue to become ever-present in the gaming world, God Of War is a reminder of the power a single player experience can hold. There’s no other way to dissect it – Cory Barlog and co at Santa Monica Studios have taken a franchise that seemed to be running low on steam and turned it into the Mona Lisa of this console generation.
A story of scattering your wife’s ashes manifests itself into a touching, vivid, incredibly deep journey which stands out as the pinnacle of storytelling over the last 5 years. Several games have paid back Sony’s faith in solo experiences in the last decade or so, but arguably none more so than God Of War. Prepare for shocks, blood, anger, twists, and to immerse yourself in the greatest story on Playstation 4.