When the mainstream press reviews of a game are released and they are pretty much 10's all across the board, I become a bit sceptical.
You just have to wonder if hype and hyperbole has kicked in; that reviewers have been carried along by a tide of hysteria. I mean, it has happened before with numerous Grand Theft Auto games, Bioshock: Infinite, and Metal Gear Solid V. Released to critical acclaim, once the dust had settled it was plain as day that they weren't so special at all. With the recent God of War though, things are different. It's deserving of all the perfect scores it has achieved. And then some.
A reclusive God (of war)
Reuniting us with Kratos many years after the previous God of War trilogy, he's now somewhat a changed man. Full of remorse for the things he has done in the past, he's trying to live out his days like a normal mortal. He has even settled down and had a child. But, being a God, it seems like he'll always be a target. When a stranger comes knocking at his door, seemingly aware of his sordid past, the journey he is about to take with his son, Atreus, becomes unexpectedly eventful. Though for us, that means it becomes more fun.
Honestly, the first few hours of God of War did little to excite me. Dialogue seemed forced, the combat shallow, and my journey linear and hemmed in. Even the first proper boss fight, as dramatic as it is, irked me. But the more I played the more the game sunk its hooks into me. It opened up, the story truly sucked me in, and the combat became the most satisfying I've enjoyed in a number of years. And somehow, it just kept getting better and better.
Up close and personal
With the action viewed over Kratos' shoulders, God of War is much more of an intimate affair than its predecessors. It makes you feel like you're with Kratos on his journey, rather than watching it from a distance. Combat is also made harder hitting as a result of the camera change. You're closer to the violence as it unfolds, and while sometimes not being able to see what's happening around you can cause frustration, it makes for battles that are more tense and strategic.
Combat in God of War centres around making use of space. You've got to be aware of what you're up against, and use the weapons at your disposal to eliminate them in the most efficient way possible. Indicators appear around Kratos to let you know if an enemy is readying an attack from behind. They also appear to alert you of any projectiles that are headed your way. When combat is in full swing, it's like a bloody ballet as you block, dodge and dole out punishment with your fists, shield and Leviathan Axe.
With Kratos abandoning his Blades of Chaos due to them being a relic of his past, the Leviathan Axe becomes his new weapon of choice. Imbued with the power of ice, it can be swung or thrown at enemies to cause damage, or even used to solve puzzles. It's not the only weapon in Kratos' arsenal but it's by far the most versatile, and calling it back with the press of a button after throwing it is always strangely satisfying. Of course, you can still unleash Kratos' rage too, allowing you to relentlessly pound on your enemies while regaining health. It's great for getting out of a tight spot, though perhaps the least satisfying of Kratos' combat options.
I'll get by with a little help from my son
God of War's father and son mechanic adds even more flavour to the combat, with Atreus doing his best to help out. Initially you'll simply command him to fire arrows at your enemies, causing little damage but distracting them. Over time though, he becomes a formidable ally. Later in the game it's not unusual for him to jump onto enemies' backs to strangle them, and you can prompt him to use powerful runic attacks or revive you when you die. He becomes a valued weapon in your arsenal, and his development lines up with the narrative of the story, too.
Narratively, God of War pulls the bait and switch so many times it's unreal. So many times you'll think you're nearing the end of Kratos and Atreus' adventure, but there'll be another twist and things will continue. In lesser games it would possibly be a problem. Here, however, the action is so epic that you're just thankful for more. It helps that new gameplay aspects are introduced piecemeal too, as well as the inclusion of solid RPG elements.
There's always something to do in God of War, whether to progress the story or develop Kratos and his son. The game's expansive hub allows for a great deal of exploration, and doing so is always a rewarding experience. You'll find new materials essential for enhancing your equipment, runic abilities that expand on your moveset, and items such as talismans that provide bonus effects. Even once you've completed the game you're likely to have things to do, like tracking down and testing your might against a number of Valkyries.
Use the force
It's perhaps the production of God of War that makes it the compelling experience that it is though. Visually it is stunning, with a wide range of environments complementing brilliant character models and animations. There are so many little details that catch your attention as you play; small touches that make Midgard and the other realms you visit on your Norse odyssey so tangible and lifelike. And then there's the audio. God of War's rousing soundtrack is only overshadowed by its stellar voice acting. Honestly, the game is a treat to be savoured for both the eyes and the ears.
What impresses me the most though, are the tricks that Sony Santa Monica has employed to give the game impact. When Kratos lands punches on his enemies the screen shakes forcefully, giving the sense that you've just landed a mighty blow which is then amplified by an audible thud. You'll also never forget the first time you talk to the World Serpent; his deep, booming voice loosening your bowels if your sound system does it justice. This is a game where the developers have gone the extra mile to push the genre forward, especially in terms of gameplay and production.
Gods on the mind
It has been a long time since a game has gripped me like God of War. It's the type of game that when you sit down to play it, hours pass by in the blink of an eye. It's the type of game that you can't put down; you always want to do just one last task. And it's the type of game that when you aren't playing it, you're thinking about playing it. Addictive, engrossing and compelling; it's epic, that's what it is. The previous God of War titles were solid action games played out on a grand scale, but this is more. It somehow humanises Kratos and develops his character. It makes you care.
When the credits roll after 30 hours or so you'll be left satisfied by God of War but also with more questions than perhaps you started out with. You'll be eager for more. I know I certainly am. This is a new start for Kratos, and I can't wait to see what's next in store for him and Atreus as they deal with their Norse adversaries. The God of War series has a bright future it would seem, one that many of us didn't expect or think was possible. And I'm extraordinarily happy about that.