The swan song of a prosperous console generation
August 1st, 2022
Following the success of God of War, David Jaffe stepped down as director while Cory Barlog took his place for the sequel. An enormous amount of pressure laid at Barlog’s feet with people who were promoted to higher positions. By this time, the studio rearranged its office so everyone communicated with one another to bring a singular vision to life. In addition to pushing the studio’s capabilities during development, the Pegasus segment proved stressful as the team wanted to use it for the E3 demo.
At the time, the PlayStation 3 would launch in a few months, but the studio stuck with the PlayStation 2 where the majority of gamers played. This did not hinder the game’s success as it won many awards and sold four million copies by 2012. Many cited God of War 2 as the swan song of the PlayStation 2, but is that still true after 15 years?
After being crowned the new God of War, Kratos wages a battle with the gods against Athena’s warning. But Zeus sets a trap and kills Kratos with the blade of Olympus after the wounded spartan refuses to serve him. Following his escape from the underworld, Kratos journeys to the sisters of fate to exact his revenge on the ruler of Olympus.
The story relies more on gameplay which is a pro and a con. It’s easier to follow, but there’s not much development for the main lead who gets overshadowed by the backstory of the titans, Zeus, and other Greek legends that add to the world building. They’re entertaining obstacles in narrative and gameplay while continuing to suffer the consequences for not letting Kratos take his life into his own hands. They even turn on him in the beginning despite Athena’s mediation. Just like the first game, there are no likeable characters. Everyone is out for their own gain, even going so far as killing others. Look no further than when Zeus destroys Sparta out of spite even after killing Kratos:
In his continuing defense, Kratos shows a growing self-hatred as he becomes consumed with his war on Olympus. Given his Spartan background, it makes sense that he hides his true self behind his growing brutality. During the moments where he’s not tearing down everything, he shows his draining humanity like when he reunites with his deceased wife. This is just as deep as his character arc in 2018, unlike what gaming journalists claimed when that game first released:
Many consider the ending to be on par with Halo 2, in that it built to a conclusion that is not resolved until the next installment. However, it contained a worthy final battle for its narrative, unlike the 2018 game that teased the presence of a much bigger threat only to cut to black before it delivered. It also muddies the water on who the villain is when most games remained black and white about the subject. One can enjoy the power trip as a fallen god or feel queasy about becoming a monster in a world of selfish gods, but one cannot deny that both perspectives lead to an enriching recreation of Greek Mythology. Although, the story in the first game flows better because it stuck to a more cohesive narrative where this feels like waiting through traffic with all the roadblocks. One could argue that the first is guilty of this, but the roadblocks lasted 15 minutes at most whereas they clock in at an hour per intervention here. But to make up for it, this contains more memorable moments by embracing the setting. Flying on the Pegasus; the giant horses; the past catching up to Kratos; “reasoning” with the sisters of fate. The list goes on. While it feels stitched together because of the roadblocks, it knows how to embellish the setting for this unpredictable journey.
The original God of War pushed the console to its limits. This builds upon that ambition. Environments are bigger and have more going on during gameplay and cutscenes. The fixed camera angles display the vast environments as if they were in the Louvre Museum, unlike the 2018 game. The enemies are more diverse in each area (One in particular summons enemies and fights alongside them). The sisters of fate stand out the most, even if they have grotesque features. Purists will be angry at the liberties taken from Greek Mythology to serve an over glorified violent experience. Anyone who knows the real Clotho can attest this.
The music crescendos into the stratosphere with each new encounter. With a fully back orchestra and choir going all out, it heightens the stakes with a faster tempo with each new path. Without the soundtrack, the journey would not be as impactful when the odds are stacked against Kratos.
In addition to Terrence C. Carson, this expands on the voice cast to Hollywood levels of professionalism: Carole Ruggier, Linda Hunt, Michael Clarke Duncan and Corey Burton to name a few. These are big names that bring a grandiose presence to their roles as they attempt to reason with Kratos. The fact that the quality is retained on the remastered PlayStation 3 edition speaks volumes on how it holds up 15 years later.
Going off of the first game’s mechanics, everything is a step up. This contains one of the best opening segments in video games as players battle the Colossus of Rhodes inside and out. The tutorial never halts the gameplay as players are reacquainted with the combat before suffering a Metroid curveball. But from there, building upon what is taken away is part of the joy in being the God of War.
Not only are the existing powerups more refined, but there are new abilities that make the gods tremble in fear. Weapons are more varied as Kratos robs each opponent of their arms before delivering the killing blow. Bosses are more prevalent and vary in species from humans to mythological beasts. Finishers make the most frustrating encounters worth the trouble, but there are more quick time events as a tradeoff. On the one hand, they end each fight with a satisfying climax. On the other hand, their implementation extends beyond finishers, making them harder to master. Depending on preferences, it can be a make-or-break scenario. But because some fights, like the Barbarian King, are the best in the series, this is forgiven.
Add improved combat controls, more precise button inputs, faster platforming with the added jumping mechanic, and puzzles with sadistic solutions, and this becomes one of the quintessential experiences on past gen consoles. For all the roadblocks in the story, the gameplay is refined to make the experience more enjoyable.
Everything about God of War II surpasses the first, even 15 years later. The environments are bigger, the story is more at home in its setting, the presentation go out with a bang on the PlayStation 2, and the gameplay improves on the flaws in the first entry. So why isn’t this as remembered as the original? Especially given how it does everything better? Probably because it’s not the first entry and because it works more as a series of events stitched together instead of a cohesive flowing narrative. That being said, the nostalgia of the first game does not compensate for its flaws that are fixed here. For those who still have a PlayStation 3, there is still time to purchase this digitally while the PlayStation Network Store remains open. At the very least, they’re taking more steps in allowing gamers to preserve these endangered titles. This is more than just a swan song to the PlayStation 2 era; this is a phoenix that rises before the dawn of a new console generation.