For something to be truly called a masterpiece, it shouldn’t just be strong in a few things. Instead, the different elements comprising it must be fine-tuned individually to complement each other and in the case of a video game, immerse the player into its world and make them care with the story it is trying to convey.
This delicate fusion that created an intense unified whole is the essence of God of War, which is evident in its deep narrative that works well with the fantastic gameplay. The environment is vast and expansive, which encourages players to explore and discover the intricate details that went into the making of this game. There is a moment, a little bit after God of War's first chapter, that everything clicked, which made me understand why it is getting the reception it is enjoying today. The overwhelmingly positive response of players and critics alike to God of War is a testament and proof that story-driven single-player games are still alive and kicking.
Set in a world inspired by Norse mythology, players take control of an entirely reimagined version of Kratos who finds himself older and roaming the Norse realm of Midgard. Before the game's release, several people were wary of the changes the character will go through, primarily how it will focus on Kratos' relationship with his son Atreus. Honestly, during the first few hours of the game, I found myself adjusting to Kratos' new persona. Gone were the days when he is your typical bloodthirsty warrior cliche that was vengeful and almost has no redeeming qualities. Now, the game is trying to make Kratos a likable character but not in a way that it seemed forced and unnatural, but instead it depicted a moment where he just matured, acknowledging his past, and struggles to be a better person ensuring that his son will not go down the same path.
The relationship between Kratos and Atreus began as the person linking the two suffered a tragic death. The loss of Atreus' mother, Kratos' wife, who were acquaintances at the beginning, signaled the start of their journey as they fulfill her last wishes by venturing off to the tallest point of the mountain. Of course, the path to the peak will contain all sorts of trouble from enemy threats to challenging obstacles, all packed in a 25-hour adventure.
One of the fascinating elements in God of War is how the relationship between Kratos and Atreus evolved as the game progressed. Of course, numerous games have already explored a parent-child relationship before, but the way it was woven into the God of War environment allowed the franchise to express itself in a new way. We see two characters, one an innocent young boy, and the other a wise, experienced warrior aware of life's harsher side, mourning over the same woman. Kratos' struggle to relate to his son, who he wants to become stronger but is afraid that he may turn out just like him, revealed his genuine affection.
A few hours into the game and after slaying multiple enemies, I was expecting that Atreus will be more of a burden that you'll have to protect as you battle beasts and other monstrosities. However, I'm glad to have my expectations shattered as Atreus turned out to be a helpful AI after all. During combat, he will fire arrows at enemies to distract them and will even coach Kratos on where enemies are coming from keeping the player from being hit by an enemy behind them. Kratos on the other hand lets go of his iconic chained Blades of Chaos and replaces it with an ax that has a neat recall ability, similar to Thor's hammer, that is extremely fun to use during a battle.
Timing and patience are critical factors to God of War's combat. It is always tempting to spam combos to defeat enemies. However, with the camera over the player's shoulder, it limits their view of the battlefield and prevents them from seeing enemies from all angles, which will put them at risk of getting hit. Due to the camera angle, the game will include proximity markers, which indicates the location of enemies surrounding Kratos and gives players an idea of where to anticipate an attack.
Combos and weapons can further be expanded by spending experience points on a skill tree, which rewards players with rune abilities. The game features a plethora of options and tactics to consider and will even encourage players to fight empty handed as some enemies are immune to weapons. The combat system in God of War does not overwhelm players with information all at once. It eases instruction as it will introduce combat systems one at a time as they become relevant to the game.
Although changes were made on Kratos' personality, God of War still offers the bloody and brutal action that fans were hoping the game would retain. True enough, the game is still every bit as brutal and gory as its predecessors. Players can expect to tear open rib cages with bare hands, break bones, and decimate enemies, after all, this is still God of War.
A few hours into the game and the world expands even further. However, this is still not a full open-world environment like Breath of the Wild, or Horizon Zero Dawn, but it's the biggest in the series and encourages in-depth exploration. Collectible items and hunting down challenging enemies are good incentives for players to backtrack unexplored caves and return to areas that they've explored previously.
When exploring the environment of a video game, players would not only look for items or enemies but are also hoping to be wowed by the game's design and visuals. As expected, God of War did not disappoint as textures are smooth and detailed. The most astounding visual element for me is the depiction of depth and distance in the game. Looking at the peak of the mountain that I'm supposed to go to gave me the impression that the end goal is just at hand, but at the same time, the notion of it being so far away also lingered.
Even more impressive is the overall look and design of Kratos and Atreus. The fine details featured in their skin textures are photo-realistic, even the fur and leather that they wear looks almost real and moves naturally with the characters. Combine the stunning visuals with the game's brilliant soundtrack completes the ultimate God of War experience.
A lot of the hype before the game's release has been centered around on changes in the franchise. However, as a whole God of War is still the God of War that veteran players of the series know and love. It still features epic battles, high-quality production values, and the brutal combat that fans would always look forward to. Of course, Kratos may have undergone personality changes, but that only signifies the development of his character, which is crucial in telling his story. Probably the only complaint I have is the minuscule in-game text, which forced me to stick my face on the screen just to read the codex.
This reboot of the franchise symbolizes the transition of God of War into a more modern gaming age. Every new feature that was introduced in this latest installment benefited the game for the better. In the end, the characters were well fleshed out, the story deep and immersive, combat is refreshing but familiar, and the environment expansive and alive that showed the passion and care that the developers put into God of War.