Santa Monica has done it again, and this time the studio has developed the best game that currently exists on the PS4. In fact, unfortunately for Sony, this could be the pinnacle of the PS4, and everything else from now onwards will just be compared to the most fierce, explosive and greatest adventure that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. I don’t know where to quite begin with God of War. Do I start off with its stunning musical soundtrack that helps magnify every emotion that Kratos feels as a father? Or shall I begin with the phenomenal script, which is just as good (if not better) than the greatest of Oscar-winning movies in history. In every single aspect, God of War excels far beyond anything that I have experienced on any console to date.
Every decision made by the team behind God of War feels purposefully made. It would be unfair to ever assume that the relationship between Kratos and Atreus just happened to work. If anything, depicting Kratos as a caring father would seem like an impossible task after having played through so many previous iterations of God of War. However, the relationship between father and son has never been so perfectly captured in any game that I have played. As the story progressed, along with the relationship between Kratos and Atreus, the game will send you through a whirlwind of emotions. You’ll feel for the kid’s anger when he’s angry. At the same time, you’ll appreciate Kratos’ tough parenting methods, even when most of the time he comes across as completely heartless.
God of War is set in a completely new world, reimagined for the PS4 and best enjoyed on the PS4 Pro. Before playing the game, you have the choice to enjoy it with performance at a maximum, or visuals. As I played the game on the PS4 Pro and on a 4K HDR projector, it only made sense for me to play through the entire campaign with visuals maxed out. Firstly, one of the most impressive aspects of the entire campaign is that it never changes the camera shot. Whenever you have control of Kratos and it is followed by a cutscene, the camera remains in the same shot and blends into the cinematic perfectly. You won’t even notice it’s happening, but because of this continuous shot, God of War becomes the most immersive single player game on any console. The only time you lose this continuous shot is when you’re restarting the game/reloading a previous save. Naturally, there is no cure for that! Due to this, the emphasis always remains on Kratos and/or Atreus. They are central to everything that happens in the game, and they are supported by some excellent characters who help you on your journey at various points. Every single character is perfectly voice-acted. Kratos and Atreus in particular are probably examples of some of the best voice acting I have ever heard in any game. Kratos in particular sounds incredible when playing the game in Dolby Atmos 7.1 surround sound, but perhaps that has something to do with the deep tone of his voice!
Whilst it always helps having played the previous games, God of War doesn’t require you to have played the prequels. This is a standalone story, and it is extremely easy to follow. I have experienced many other games that explore mythology in a variety of ways, and they end up overcomplicating things. Whilst God of War is depicted around Greek mythology, the actual story is very simple to follow, and the rationale behind Kratos and Atreus’ journey is well explained. As Kratos and Atreus attempt to travel to the highest peak of all realms in order to fulfil Atreus’ mother’s final wish, the game’s incredible visuals will often tease you. Throughout many parts of your journey, you’ll be able to see the peak from a distance. You know it’s there, and as you progress, it gets closer and closer. Of course, things never turn out the way you’d expect, and the 25-hour campaign will have Kratos and Atreus taking on terrifying monsters whilst learning more secrets of the realms. It is this journey that makes God of War the most relatable in the series. We cannot relate to the journey that the father and son duo have to take. However, we can relate to the emotions that they feel, the hardships that they have had to endure, and we can all in one way or another, relate to the motives behind their actions. After all, previous God of War titles have often focused around an angry Kratos killing various gods who have wronged him. Anger was the only emotion that used to drive Kratos. In this game however, you see sides to Kratos that you didn’t know existed, and this is why Atreus is such a perfect character to introduce to the franchise.
Atreus is not just a passenger either. The journey that Kratos and his son take requires both of them. Atreus’ mother taught him skills that clearly Kratos wasn’t interested in learning. Atreus is able to decipher certain languages, solve riddles and has a huge amount of knowledge around Norse mythology. These skills help the duo overcome many obstacles. In addition, Atreus’ skills with his bow and arrow are pivotal to fights. He will always be with you. Whilst you’ll always be fighting with Kratos, you can use Atreus at any point to distract and stun enemies. In many situations, Atreus is better equipped to take on enemies who are shooting at you from afar. Whilst Atreus has his bow and arrow (which also is infused with mystical powers), Kratos’ best friend is the Leviathan Axe. This is his main weapon, and continues to remain so throughout the whole campaign. As you progress, you can continue to upgrade your armour, skills and abilities using newly-bought or crafted materials. You can also choose to upgrade Atreus’ abilities and weapon. How you choose to do this is entirely dependent on the way you want to fight. I often found myself using Atreus a lot for distractions, so I made it my business to upgrade my son’s abilities before my own. It’s amazing how many combos you can perform with just one weapon. Santa Monica has centred the entire combat system around your axe and Atreus’ bow and arrow. It works perfectly and is a clear example of how you don’t need to constantly change your weapons to feel progression in the game.
The greatest aspect of God of War is the development of Kratos and Atreus’ relationship. They are very different people. They are both mourning the loss of someone they loved, however they do it in very different ways. Kratos at first seems completely soulless, which bothers his son. It is clear at an early stage that Atreus wasn’t close to his father, and this is often emphasized as Kratos continues to call his son “Boy”, and is continuously disappointed with the lack of care that his son takes when taking on enemies. At the same time, Atreus only longs for the acceptance of his father. Even the most minor pat in the back means everything to him. However, the moment Atreus is in danger, it is clear how much Kratos loves the kid. It is when you get to experience a different kind of anger in Kratos. We have seen him angry before, however this type of anger is on an entirely different level. Anyone who harms the “boy” feels a wrath of Kratos that previously hasn’t existed. This complex relationship is incredibly relatable. Often, fathers will do anything to protect their children, but will never directly show affection towards them. It is the first time in any God of War title, where Kratos is humanized, but by doing so, we are able to see the most destructive side to him.
The combat system is second to none. Kratos’ original abilities already allow him to throw his axe to take out multiple enemies. With the tap of a button, the axe comes flying back just like Thor’s hammer. It’s a feeling that never gets old, especially because of the combination of sound effects and D-pad rumble that makes you feel like a complete badass. As you progress and unlock abilities, Atreus will be able to heal you from time to time, and Kratos will be able to target multiple enemies to throw his axe at. Atreus will also often shout to warn you when you’re about to be attacked, and in desperate moments, even jump on enemies to keep them occupied. In many other games, your companion is often pretty useless, unless it’s a co-op game. Unfortunately, God of War is not a co-op game, but that really doesn’t matter as Atreus is a worthwhile ally who will help you. There are also very noticeable effects when upgrading his skill tree. As enemies are in a stunned state, it gives Kratos to carry out a very brutal execution. These executions also vary based on the type of enemy. It is Kratos at his best; these executions will remind veterans of the franchise of his older days. If blood is what you want to shed, Kratos and Atreus will shed plenty of it.
It took me a while to learn the combat system. Whilst some expert games would be able to master it with ease, it took me a while to use Atreus in the best possible way. I often started off by targeting enemies and having Atreus target them too. However, it left me open to attack by other foes. Later on, I used Atreus to target his arrows at foes that didn’t have my attention, so that they were less likely to attack me. It required me to learn how to juggle looking at various opponents, but pressing down on the D-pad really helped as it allows Kratos to immediately turn 180 degrees. I soon completely maxed out our skill trees, and were only limited by the weapons/armour we had, which require special materials and in-game currency. It was also important to remember that different enemies were beatable only in certain ways. Frosted enemies would only be killable through shield and fist attacks. The large variety of enemies often meant that I forgot such rules, but luckily Atreus will give you advice from time to time.
It wouldn’t be a traditional God of War title without epic bosses, and this game is no exception. From a very early stage, you fight creatures that are 10x your size. Each boss battle is unique, and challenging in one way or another. Sometimes I got lucky and I had skills that allowed me to defeat them with relative ease. I found that the main way to beat most bosses was to remain patient. Missing a swing with the Leviathan Axe is the worst thing you can do, as it really leaves you open to attack.
The game also has a huge number of puzzles, some of which did defeat me. Yes, I have to admit that I ended up using a few tutorials from time to time as I couldn’t figure out how to open a particular chest. The issue was primarily not being able to find one of the hidden bells to smash, and then the tutorial would prove how silly I was by not checking in a very obvious spot.
God of War is scattered with hidden locations and side quests. It is very easy to stay on the path of the story mode, however once you find yourself digressing and travelling to an optional part of the map, you’ll end up spending hours just exploring and unlocking new items. In fact, a lot of these locations have crafting items that help you unlock special gear. They aren’t technically needed for you to complete the story, but if you want to get the most out of the game, it is definitely worth exploring the hidden locations. I was sometimes frustrated that side quests that were supposed to end with rewards, ended up with the person (or ghost) that I was helping, backstabbing me. I suppose it’s not unexpected in the world of God of War! A lot of the hidden areas have enemies that are far beyond the level that you might be at. Even if you might be able to kill some of the enemies, it’s an extremely difficult task to beat waves of enemies who are two or three levels above you. Usually, your armour won’t be good enough to withstand the damage they dish out, and your attacks won’t be strong enough to finish them quickly. Therefore, it is worth exploring the map once you have levelled up to around 5.
Visually, God of War is the best looking game on PS4. There are other stunning games, but none look quite as gorgeous as this. I’m not just referring to the incredible scenic backdrops. It’s the small things that make this game so perfect to look at. As you’re walking through snow, you can turn around and actually see your tracks very clearly. Kratos’ tracks will be much larger than Atreus’. Things like blood splatter which remain on the rocks as you have defeated enemies, and the way Atreus’ fur on his outfit brushes faster as it gets windier the higher up he goes; these small details are what make God of War the most realistic game to look at. Considering this is entirely a fictional world, it looks more real than games that are set in the real world. Unfortunately, you don’t have the luxury of playing it in 60fps and 4K – this is the only real drawback, and something I wished the PS4 Pro could handle. It suggests that perhaps God of War has come ahead of its time, as even a console like the PS4 Pro cannot give us the best of performance and visual fidelity. It is worth noting however that framerate issues were very rare, and never diminished the experience, even when I played it in resolution mode.
I wish I could go into more detail about the actual story, however I am tied by certain restrictions that Sony has rightly placed on us. This is a game that must be played spoiler-free. The more I go into about the characters (including the villains), the more it spoils the game for the reader. It is fair to say that anyone who owns a PS4, must at some point play God of War. It is by far a console-seller, and this PS4 exclusive is why, as things stand, Sony’s platform is clearly where to enjoy the best single player experiences. God of War is only the beginning of a long list of console exclusives in 2018. With the likes of Spiderman, Detroit: Become Human and The Last of Us 2 still on the horizon, there has never been a better time to buy a PS4. It is only a shame that they all have to compete against God of War, which, despite it only being April, I predict will scoop up the majority of awards including game of the year.