God of War can’t be as great as everyone says it is, can it? It’s just some crazy Greek dude stabbing everything, how amazing could it be? PRETTY FUCKING AMAZING.
First of all, God of War is unquestionably the most amazing looking game in existence at this point in time. The level of detail and quality of the visual design is almost unbelievable. It’s almost like we’ve suddenly skipped to the next generation. From the textures, to the animations of the environments and their inhabitants, to the insane lighting, and holy shit the colors. Never have I been so glad to have made the leap to 4K, because this game makes use of that HDR like you wouldn’t believe. God of War makes Horizon Zero Dawn look almost outdated, that’s how good it looks.
But does it play well? Um, yeah it does. The combat is typically brutal and fast-paced for a God of War game and has a great flow to it that never seems to get old. Despite the fact that you only ever get two weapons there’s still a lot of variety in how you can approach battles as each has their own large selection of moves, as well as their own sets of interchangeable light and heavy special runic attacks. You’ll also get various talismans that grant you another special attack and of course you still have the classic spartan rage mode in there too. (P.S. the combat is nothing like Dark Souls, I don’t know why some places are claiming that)
Your son Atreus becomes surprisingly useful over time too, eventually evolving from shooting near-useless little distraction arrows to gaining two special magic arrow types and a highly effective magical summon attack. He’s actually very helpful in the later parts of the game and it goes a long way towards helping sell the theme of the game as you watch him slowly transform from some nervous little tag-along into a capable battle companion.
Of course Kratos, being Kratos, doesn’t do a whole lot to help that process for what feels like the longest time. This older version of Kratos has settled down considerably from the nihilistic psychopath we knew and loved from the old games, but he’s still a bit of an asshole and much of the story hinges on the fact that he’s an emotionally repressed macho man that can’t even hold a normal conversation with his own son. This is what makes the story so interesting though, as it strings you along in the hopes that he’ll stop being such a dick at some point and make even a minimal effort to reach out to his son, who is so clearly troubled and desperately seeking his approval. Mild spoiler alert: he does eventually learn something through all this and even becomes something almost resembling a normal human being by the end, so there is a point to it all.
Back to that well-designed world though, there is more to this game than just screen after screen of vicious combat (not that there’s anything wrong with that) too. There’s a big semi-open-world to explore, full of hidden treasures, side quests, challenges, and puzzles, all of which kind of make this iteration of God of War feel like some kind of ultra-violent Zelda game. It’s a bit like Darksiders with better combat. There are also some extra special secret areas and quests like the trials of Muspelheim, the weird little mini-roguelike zone of Niflheim, and the ultra-hard secret Valkyrie bosses (good luck finishing those), if you want to really push your combat and exploration skills to the limits.
What’s really great about all this though is how unique all the various optional areas feel. This is not the kind of game that pads itself out with fetch quests and forcing you to revisit identical locations over and over again. Almost all of the side quests found in the game lead you to completely unique optional areas that aren’t just re-colored copied/pasted versions of other areas you’ve already been to. No, each side quest, or even areas you just randomly find through blind exploration, have their own little hand-crafted place to explore, full of unique challenges and treasures. There’s never a moment where you feel like you’re slogging through a cheap repetitive area just for full completions’ sake, it all feels very original and genuine, and I don’t know about you, but I appreciate that A LOT.
Unfortunately, there is ONE area where I feel like they got a little bit lazy and that’s the boss fights. One of the things the classic God of War series was best known for was their huge, elaborate boss battles, but this is almost entirely missing here. There’s one particularly huge and impressive boss fight against a dragon, but other than that it’s all smaller humanoid bosses or literally the same troll boss from the beginning re-skinned and recycled about four more times. They’re still fun enough battles, but they just didn’t have that “wow” factor to most of them. I hope this is something they make sure to improve on in the next sequel.
That one gripe aside though, I think this will still very likely end up being my favorite game of the year. It’s really that good. The production quality in almost every aspect of the game is just exceptional and I can’t imagine that anything is going to top this level of sheer high-quality gameplay and beauty within the next few months.