The past 2 years have been widely regarded by fans and even boldly by critics and journalists as two of the best, if not the best years in gaming history. In this current industry, there is no room for 7/10 ratings anymore. Flawless games are no longer a rarity, and it is becoming an increasingly vibrant yet competitive community of developers and creative minds alike. There is truly no better time to be a gamer.
One of the games contributing to that was 2018’s Game of the Year, a game released in April, God of War for the PS4. This is the fourth installment to the franchise, which has all been previously praised as amazing games. This game astonished gamers and reviewers alike, sparking 10/10 across the board from every gaming review site out there.
However, this game does have several glaring issues, to which I do not believe warrants this game in any way the wave of perfect scores and Game of the Year 2018 status I think it deserves. Many of my friends who both love the industry and work in the industry as journalists and reviewers have all been appalled that I feel this way about this claimed masterpiece. I have a feeling I will make a lot of enemies with these statements because despite everyone expecting I will go the opposite of these scores and hate it, I have to say I liked this game yet thought it was horrifically disappointing. This review is designed for those who have beaten the game to those who may or may not be a fan of the game/ series. So naturally, I’ll be spoiling some big plot points. You have been warned.
Spoilers from here on out…
Let’s get this out of the way because it is the very first thing your eyes and ears are exposed to. This is an appallingly beautiful game with an absolutely
gorgeous soundtrack and fantastic sound design. God of War has always been known for pushing the limits and capabilities of the systems they appear on, and this latest edition to the PS4 is no exception. The game, especially on PS4 Pro, reaches an impressive feat at running at mostly 60 fps in the middle of some of the most outstanding visuals and combat that came out this year.
God of War made a very bold move and has since been praised by reviewers alike to have the game take place in one single shot, the camera never cuts, and it succeeded with that. The soundtrack of this game, as well, had me taken aback. It’s deep roaring brass, and longing strings mixed with a booming vocal chorus not only perfectly captures the gigantic scale of the quest but also the setting.
The game wants to make you feel you’re in mythical Midgard and it totally nails it. The violence the franchise is famous for is there in absolute spades, and there is a great deal of attention to detail in this game. At the summit of the Midgard Mountain, you can look down and see the remnants of your journey to the point it’s virtually lifelike. If you take time to look in the background during your quest, you can see the towering at scale World Serpent mixing in with the mountains, fully animated into the scenery and alive with this world. The traps at the core of the mountain were built, so their makers to get around them without getting hurt. This allows for some setting-told lore but also for an easy path for Kratos’ son, Atreus, to get around while Kratos, who is too beefy and robust to fit in the small corridors has to go through the traps.
Around 70% of the gameplay in God of War was entirely imagined. If you have played any other God of War game, then you will not take long fitting in here. By combining light and heavy attacks with combos and dodging to avoid telegraphed enemy behavior. There is also a very satisfying guard and parry system which will make this game a more complex but equally satisfying Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, in terms of gameplay. However, in this game, you
can, of course, stun enemies and move them into a grab finisher and use their bodies to manipulate and attack surrounding enemies. Nothing is more satisfying than grabbing a few of the game’s giants and smashing everything in your path. In addition to the God of War formula, Kratos can now throw his new Leviathan ax and have it come straight back at the touch of a button. The fact this simple action is one of the more satisfying things in the whole game just goes to show how much they have nailed the gameplay. The ax is a great symbol of Kratos’ new life and family, making it a cool thematic touch and essential to the game.
The exploration element of the game as well has contributed to a brand new feeling of exploration, which is a step up from previous games. The Lake of Nine, your central hub throughout your adventure, get’s more and more open with areas to explore, even in areas you feel drawn to revisit. There are many optional yet grand in scale things to do in this game, and you definitely feel a desire to complete it. Mainly cause there are loot and gear to be found along the way.
However, the light RPG elements in this game were hard for me to get behind. I was alright with them overall. There is a lot more depth compared to the previous “going nuts” in the past God of War games. However, it completely misses the mark for me in how the game fails to be experimental with it. The potential was left a bit in the dirt. For such an in-depth system on the surface, it was actually very bare basics. No matter the stats on the equipment, the higher number meant it was better. In this game, if you are 3 levels below the enemies, they will likely kill you in two hits. This leaves you very limited in items you get to choose and if you and effectively makes 80% of the items in the game useless unless you want to sell them. It can be a horrible stain on the exploration when you are on a big quest and get gifted after the long journey with useless items. This middle-ground between a simple and complex system of RPG elements I found very strange in a game that didn’t seem to be built with that in mind.
Now onto one of the most praised elements of this game and a significant focus of it, the story. My summarized thoughts on it are as such, it’s entertaining and well- written but is nowhere near as deep as it likes to think it is. This game
is about a dad and his kid wanting to respect their dead mother/wives wishes and place her ashes on the top of the highest peak in their realm and the tribulations they run into. It ticks all boxes for a father-son journey a coming-of-age story and great use of themes on what parenthood means for different people and how someone like a god can deal with it. This, however, never goes above and beyond like pretentious websites like the to claim it is. Claims that this game has made everyone run for their money and start creating a story in games again saddens me when this game is obviously taking notes from previous games and adding very little onto the formula and even failing its goals in several instances.
However, I do enjoy the dynamic between Kratos and Atreus. Kratos is the Greek God of War trying to leave his past behind, making for a much more mentor and student relationship with a stone-cold aggressive monster at heart trying to be a loving figure. For such a weird relationship, however, it feels genuine and its helped by the voice acting for sure. The actors all did a fantastic job on their roles, especially Atreus. Look at any of the boat scenes between Kratos and Atreus if you are interested in the dynamic on a surface level, it is nailed in those portions. Regrettably, this relationship was only able to blossom after the mother of the family dies.
However, the biggest and most obvious comparison with this game to previous in its goal of story-telling is The Last of Us in terms of dynamic and complex relationships and dialogue in a dangerous world. In comparison to that, however, with its apparent goals of mimicking it and riding of the critical acclaim of that legend of a game, God of War does nothing extraordinary with it. This game overall has a lack of subtleties despite the game desperately trying to show the player them. The character motivations and development is mostly as flat and nonexistent as any other God of War game, which would be fine if this game didn’t try to present itself as a deep game. It is seen as a more emotional God of War and, with the dynamic of Atreus and Kratos along with an outstanding twist at the end, it manages to pass in the department but not excel and blow our minds with anything new.
The twist as well, which I will not spoil, needless to say, captures the idea of a monstrous man trying to steer his son in the right direction absolutely beautifully. Because in the end, it ultimately turns out to be for nothing. Nobody can escape their fate. However, the drive up to that point is lackluster. The Norse Gods, while fresh encounters along the way, are in the end nothing but roadblocks on the path to Kratos’ goal. Most of the story cutscenes in this game are redundant because there is so much of it. There are highlights like when Atreus slices Thor’s son’s throat because they are critical moments in the development. At the end of the day, though, it is a one-track mission with not much changing except for the things stopping your progress.
As a fan of the series, I absolutely prefer the new subdued and regretful, battered Kratos in compared to how he was on an average day. A gaming journalist friend who has a spot on the judgers panel for Game of the Year told me he absolutely hated Kratos in the original games at this new take on him was the only reason he bothered to pick up the game. He is by far my favorite take on Kratos, current voice actor and all. I can’t wait to see how this voice actor blossoms into Kratos in voice delivery in future developments, because in this one while he succeeded at the part, his range in delivery needs some work.
In terms of the game’s comedic delivery, the Dwarf brothers always trying to one-up each other by hitting your ax they both made together before spilling with their hammer was another highlight of the game. There was even a moment where I could ignore the game’s advice and get a very special death cutscene, which I thought was actually going somewhere, only to kill me. Mimir was also fantastic not only cause he’s a head hanging off your butt but because he is actually pretty hilarious, especially in comparison to Kratos’ cold nature. Another compliment I’ll give to the game is when Atreus found out he was the son of a god for the first time only to then turn into a complete arrogant little kid in dialogue and even gameplay. He would ignore specific prompts and attack
enemies on his own. Especially placed with a later understanding on why he did this in the game, it worked out extraordinarily well overall.
However, this game does have several glaring issues, to which I do not believe warrants this game in any way the wave of perfect scores and Game of the Year 2018 status I think it deserves. One, in particular, was the 3rd person camera. There were essential fixes implemented into it for the sake of a new view, like Atreus shouting where danger was coming from, the warning arrows around Kratos and even a quick-turn button. However, this camera angle made the game automatically more cumbersome and restrictive. If the camera were moved further back and not locked to your specific forward-facing position like in, for example, The Witcher 3 and Dark Souls, I would not have a problem. However, there are many instances where you gained into a corner or rush for a vital health pickup small fire and are killed by things you can’t see or feasibly react to. This is a considerable downgrade because God of War was one of the original games proving that this approach was the quintessential way to do it. You also cannot sprint around enemies, threats of arenas. You have to point the camera wherever you want to rush so you can never see all the action at once.
On top of that, the climbing is a very context-sensitive action, taking away the potential for aerial combos and jump dodges completely. Again, another downgrade compared to the original games. Why was this taken away? I have a simple answer. Because it’s the same control scheme as the Last of Us. However, the difference is the Last of Us was built around this idea while God of War was built on others and has since scrapped itself in an attempt to build off the success of the Last of Us. If you make the argument that this is due to the tone of the game, the Last of Us is a realistic survival story with cannibals and pedophiles in it. In God of War, you are an angry magic man with a boomerang ax cutting down the jaws of trolls and ogres. Let me jump, please.
My biggest complaint with this game, however, is that the game picks up and how it picks up. For a game as massive as this, the first chunk of hours of the game is way too slow. Not just because of the abundance of walking that doesn’t add anything new, but because this game is meant to be an emotional quest by
trying so hard to be God of the Last of Us it is genuinely painful. My favorite example is when you go to get some magic light from Alfheim, and Kratos goes into the light and gets lost for 2 minutes. While inside, we find out Atreus favored his mom over his dad, which was evident from the beginning. Then, Kratos comes back, realizes he’s been gone for hours and missed out on a gory epic battle I would have loved to have done myself. He then gets yelled at by Atreus for about 20 seconds for abandoning him saying we’ve never been there for him. It’s a right moment, but it only then is ruined by the fact that no more then a few seconds later dialogue and conversations return to the characters without anything changing despite what just went down. This does not warrant the praise of “God of War shows us we better get used to major games focusing more on complex emotional stories,” which was tweeted out by BBC Newsbeat upon the game’s release.
This is painfully noticed throughout the first few hours of the game where not only the story but the gameplay fails to pick up. This game is massive and will last you a good 30 hours of playtime on average. The first 6 hours of this game is jarringly slow compared to the rest of the game, and it is a noticeable glare that I have to judge when critiquing the whole thing. Even the gore, the staple of the series, doesn’t get nearly as intense until the later parts of the game. The drive of the game doesn’t pick itself up until you decapitate Mimir.
This doesn’t help that the first 5 bosses of the game are exact carbon copies of the same two encounters and the first significant change of bosses being in Alfheim. This enemy is basically a more powerful version of every other enemy you’ve fought in that area. Followed by 3 more bosses that are the same copy- paste boss from earlier in the game. This stone wielding ogre blockhead was overdone to the point of it being embarrassing. You fight this boss with different elemental attacks 9 times. Any other enemy from the enormous collection of Norse monsters are entirely ignored, and I don’t understand how no one is
talking about this. These games are famous for necessary, and bosses grand on scale and presentation, and this game 100% failed to deliver on that front, and I lost all excitement for future bosses to appear. The only exceptions are the brilliant fights with the dragon and Baldur’s many encounters. The dragon, however, doesn’t appear for 6-7 hours and the final battle with Baldur is at the very end of the game.
The biggest insult of this game, tying into its pace, is it is not a build-up to pay off thing. You feel the build-up. Despite taking forever to get there, when Kratos gets the Blades of Chaos again, it is not only a depressing staple that he will never escape who he is but is the actual turning point and a great callback to the other games. You know God of War as a series is about fighting and killing gods that get in your way. All the fights are memorable and epic in their own way. What happens at the end of these games? Well, for example, you fight Ares, who is the size of a skyscraper in the first game. You fight your own dad, Zeus. Bloody, Zeus. The whole game is designed around making bigger and better encounters that build up to a clash so epic in scale and anticipation to a final climax.
In the fourth installment of the series though God of War on the PS4, in the best time to play video games out there, you are not only fighting copy and paste monsters disguised as bosses, but you are warned about Odin and Thor. About the biggest gods that everyone has heard of and no one likes. You’re expecting them to be final encounters. You even kill both of Thor’s sons and even the son of Freya, Baldur. The wrath of Thor is warned to you continuously for what you’ve done. How evil Odin is throughout the game is alluded to you regularly. Freya even tells you she’ll get her revenge and leave you in a puddle of blood directly to you. I don’t think I am being unreasonable for an incredible set piece to cap off everything as Kratos has angered more gods that he has to defeat to protect his son. However, once you reach the end, scatter the ashes, go back to bed, only to then see Thor standing at your doorstep, and the game then stops.
Seriously? I cannot curse this game enough for it doing that. It did not earn a cliff hanger. This was built up throughout the game for 20 hours, and you end it there? Baldur was a fantastic fight, I’m not denying that, but the rest of the game and bosses were such a huge disappointment that I do not at all think this is even acceptable. This was a smug move from a team that knew this game would sell millions of copies and prepping for a sequel. Since I am a sucker for Kratos, I will undoubtedly get it not only to find out what should have been this games ending but witness all the apparent effort gone into this game thrown into a variety of Norse beasts and actual gods and a tangible, better sense of progression.
Despite it sounding like I hate this game beyond belief, I liked God of War, but that’s as far as it goes for me. Going into this game as blind and as low- expectations as possible, this game was a massive disappointment. It’s a well- crafted fantasy action-adventure game with a great protagonist and entertaining father-son quests with decent mystery, a lot of bang for your buck and tons of things to do, large productions and for the most part fun and brutal gameplay. However, there were way too many poor decisions and slow, slow, deliberate progression that keeps me from calling it one of the best God of War games of all time, let alone one of the best video games of all time, period. I have replayed the previous God of War games 3 times each and do I ever want to return to this game? No. I’m done with it. I only hope the sequel is better.