Or in this case God of War 4 since it references the events in the first trilogy despite being a quasi-reboot. It’s been a long time since that bloody cliff-hanger from God of War 3 after Kratos slaughtered the entire Greek roster. And he’s never returned to his former glory when story became more relevant in video games throughout the years and the layers of anger peeled away leaving what many gamers consider a shell of a protagonist. So series veteran, Corey Balrog, decided to go in an entirely new direction right down to gardening a beard on Kratos for five years. As a fan of the original saga, excluding the side stories like Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta, they’re some of my favorite beat em’ ups of all time. Sure Kratos isn’t the most relatable character, but then again none of the gods are saints in how they achieved their position. But getting back on subject, the over-the-top violence combined with hugely grand scope made it a right of passage on the Playstation 2. And this new entry is a natural evolution that leaves some important decisions up to chance, making it not bad but just missing that extra touch to reach the same universal acclaim everywhere else is showering on this. Spoilers will be brought up to justify the different overall score, so be warned if you haven’t played this yet.
Out of the old, cruel world and into the secluded Norse lands, Kratos spends his days looking after his son, Atreus after his off-screen wife passes away. And the two must honor her final wish to scatter her ashes at the highest peak of the nine realms. While trying to leave his past life behind him, a seemingly invulnerable man threatens to expose the truth to the God of War’s next of kin.
To address the elephant in the room, this does take many if not all its cues from The Last of Us in story and gameplay. From the harden father bonding with a child to the long journey with new characters, it’s beat for beat. There’s nothing wrong with cloned games as long as they can standout on their own. Just look at the legacy of Doom. And while it takes too long to get to the emotional moments, this still stands out on its own with interactions from the side characters. There’s a dwarf sibling rivalry that gets better every time they try to one up each-other and a hilarious severed head that establishes the lore through boat trip stories of his long and eventful life. The villain is also enjoyable and well developed by the end leading to a decent final fight with a complex outcome. And the father son bonding is tenderly handled from one situation to another leading to the best parts. But it’s hard to feel for Kratos’ loss when we hardly know what his life with his wife was like. There’s no flashbacks about it, which has been done in the series before. It’s all told not shown, which isn’t the best idea for such an important story element even if it does help the father and son connection blossom. God of War 3 summed up the first two games in a bombastic intro cinematic before the beginning of the end, why couldn’t this do the bare minimum for his wife? Especially since it wants to show a new side of Kratos. Plus, how did he get to the Norse lands after performing seppuku with the blade of Olympus? It feels like the side characters steal the development when some important story elements beg to be answered.
Throughout the 30 hours long experience, the story feels dissected for financial sake with the biggest slap in the face at the end. There’s a ton of build up concerning Odin and Thor that goes on for the entire campaign. Through gameplay and conversations they’re built up to be manipulative, egotistical, unforgiving and a force to be reckoned with to the point where you expect them to be the final boss. And just when you’re about to cross that satisfying bridge, the game cuts to black. Granted, there’s an encounter that’s just as pivotal to the plot and Atreus himself, but aside from that it’s feels like an entire trailer took over with an undeserved cliffhanger thanks to the gameplay that we’ll get into soon. The story has a lot of missed opportunities and unanswered questions, but the father son bonding is the glue keeping everything together.
Like it’s predecessors, this pushes the boundaries of the console’s limitations. It couldn’t be more beautiful seeing mountains literally shaped out of giants as one of the many vistas to overlook. The colors in the atmosphere pop, each realm has a different environment and some of the grand scale is still kept in tact with the serpent and expansive hub-world. Even at 30 frames per second on standard Playstation 4, there’s still so much to admire and appreciate. And to those who have a Playstation 4 pro, congratulations on the upgrade to 60 frames per second. Never say that it doesn’t do anything right when it comes to the graphics.
It’s a little sad to not have Terrance C. Carson reprise his role after all these years, but Christopher Judge fits both the motion capture and the aged voiced perfectly. He also has great chemistry with Sunny Suljic considering he was handpicked by the kid actor himself. The best compliment to give this game is that it never ceases to amaze in presentation. Don’t believe me? Listen to every choir that swoops in to elevate any situation whether sentimental or barbaric.
No longer on a linear path, the open world brings a fresh perspective to the series to the journey to highest peak of the nine realms. For less than three weapons, the light RPG elements go a long way in combat structure and upgrading, particularly the new axe that comes and goes at the command of Kratos’ hand. The side missions add additional challenges in preparing for whatever the main quest has in store for the future. None of them are Skyrim levels of length, but they get the job done.
Going from combo-building hack-and-slash to straight forward third-person action however yields mixed results. This is an evolution in the same tradition of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Metroid Prime. So any negative criticisms of the changes aren’t because they’re different, but rather mechanics that didn’t transition well into the altered gameplay. In copying The Last of Us’ third person camera the combat becomes very claustrophobic and cumbersome to manage even with Atreus’ warnings signals and the danger arrows switching from white to red. In a scenario with ranged weapons like snipers and revolvers, the third person perspective works. And franchises like Fable keep the camera at a reasonable distance when yielding swords and hammers against large groups of foes. Here, the tank-like structure is too much of a hassle to manage when trying to turn and see who’s attacking. So you’ll get gang-mauled by the last second and start over one too many times. It’s very frustrating and hard to live with.
Then there’s the boss variety, or lack there of when it comes to the trolls. In the past games, these would be normal enemies alongside all the other cronies. Here, they’re treated like bosses even if nothing changes aside from their elemental skin and it gets repetitive really fast going through the same motions of dodging the rock they take everywhere. There’s an entire pantheon of creatures to choose from to go up against and it’s disappointing to only be limited to a select few. And when the story constantly teases an epic final encounter Odin and Thor only to end the game at that final moment, it adds more salt to the wound having tolerated those cloned bosses for nothing. The Playstation 2 games were able to run the gambit with more wild life than this ultra-powerful next-gen console did. And while the final fight is still fun, it feels more like the penultimate encounter rather than the real final battle.
With all that venting out of the way, this game is still fun. No it’s still a good game. Evolution wise, most of God of War 4 has matured like a fine wine. It’s the most natural progression the series could’ve taken with the expansions. And give it credit for just wanting to tell a story rather than cram micro-transactions and overpriced DLC down your throat. It just feels a little empty with a few missed story opportunities and gameplay that suffers from the different direction. It looks amazing on a technical level, but at the end of the day games are meant to be played. Does it push the series forward? Yes. Does it push the industry forward? Not really. Not much is new here that hasn’t already been done in The Last of Us on an emotional standpoint. If you love the original games and want that tradition to continue, approach this with a grain of salt and try to be open to the new direction. However if you’re new to the series, I encourage you to give it a play without the memories of the first saga to hold you back. Hopefully the sequel will pick up what this lacked and I’ll probably go back to the original trilogy gameplay-wise, but this titan still stands tall among the exclusive library on the Sony console this year.