“How bad is it that I’m seriously considering preordering a regular version of GoW so I don’t have to wait to play?”

This is a conversation I had on April 19th. A good friend had preordered the collector’s edition and it wouldn’t be arriving until Saturday. Having played the other games, he really didn’t want to wait, but couldn’t justify buying a second copy for the sake of a day. After offering, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I absolutely should buy it … for myself.

So, I did.

It didn’t take a great deal of persuading. The people around me at TCT were raving about it and I knew I would probably pick it up eventually. I had been sent articles celebrating the game and lauding it as the best game on PS4 in, well, ever. So, at 1 am on the 20th, day of release, I ordered it to arrive on Saturday (thank you Amazon Prime).

It arrived at two o’clock in the afternoon and I was itching to get on and play. But I was patient and waited to start the game with that friend. After all, he had talked me into buying it and everyone else was already playing it.

I would be lying if I said I did not regret starting the game that very second. What followed was a weekend, and then a week, of near-constant play, spending every free moment I had on a game that, until then, I had not been all that excited about. I was proven wrong and have not looked back since.

DISCLAIMER: Some mild spoilers ahead.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I had no idea what to expect when I first launched God of War. The original loading screen was a gorgeous landscape and after a series of visually stunning games on PS4, I had high hopes. I adored Horizon Zero Dawn and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice in part due to the level of detail that had gone into the games. It was something that had kept me coming back to Skyrim, even if newer games had closed the gap in terms of immersive worlds. God of War did not disappoint. It was immediately clear from the outset that a lot of care had gone into the character and world details. This was a world I knew I would get lost in.

Starting a new game had the usual opening cutscene idea. I expect and like that initial introduction to a game. God of War went further though. You can’t just walk away in a cutscene as there are moments to interact and progress them. I loved this concept from the get-go. It gave me something to do other than watch and it kept me engaged with those parts of the story.

The more I played, the more I wanted to play and see. Being new to the games, I had little to no knowledge or Kratos’s history except that there was some (something about Spartan with the Greek pantheon and all that). Within moments, I wanted to know what those bandages on his arms were about; they made a show of him tightening them so they had to be relevant, right? (Spoiler: they are!)

The entire opening sequence (I am counting up to the encounter with The Stranger) drew me in, serving as a tutorial as well as a set up for the rest of the game. I don’t think I have ever been so quiet while playing a game as I have been with GoW. My love-hate relationship with Atreus constantly fluctuated, and that that was something that would continue as I played. There were bonding moments that touched me and other frustrations that irked me. But I feel this was done in a good way; I felt as though I was dealing with Kratos’s struggle with Atreus directly. I wanted the kid to be better, to listen to me, to just…. do as he was told sometimes. I also learnt the value of exploring and I love to explore. I found three toys of four before facing the stranger but it wasn’t until later that I realised just how much I could, and would, collect.

I took a moment here to look at the skill trees and armour/weapon options. There wasn’t much to see early on, the nodes locked behind weapon level requirements. As I gained experience. I could start with those early perks, but I was collecting up hacksilver like nobody’s business with no idea why. The game was very good at giving you ‘stuff’ and not telling you why or what it was for. There were also quest subsections (okay… goals) that reminded me of other RPGs and I started to fear for my sanity. I hate leaving areas half finished. As it turns out, I had to get over that pretty fast when faced with a locked door, followed by being unable to return to the hunting grounds to find that elusive fourth toy. I got it eventually when free roam was unlocked at the end, but that shut gate gave me more anxiety than Outlast did when trying to make me enter the scary building!

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STORY

To say the story was immersive would not do it justice. I worried about feeling left behind as a newcomer to the franchise and knowing there was a lot of history, I wondered if I would be able to catch up or keep up. Games in the past have burnt me that way; I have felt lost when coming late into an established story with no history or recap to fall back on. There were videos summarising the story and I considered watching them. I had a good one sent to me but didn’t get around to it.

God of War did not start with a recap or a history lesson. Instead, we came to view the story almost through Atreus’s eyes, rather than Kratos’s. The feeling of ignorance to what was going on did not feel jarring. Some good writing clearly went into this instalment, giving enough nods to the old games, from what I am told, while pulling in the newer players and ensuring we were not lost in the process.

Without giving away any major spoilers, learning Kratos’s backstory through hints and the progression of this particular game felt very fluid and dynamic. His past really haunts him at times and when it begins to affect his son, we get a lot more without a major info dump. All those closely guarded secrets start to come out and, just as Atreus is learning, so are we. But there is more than just Atreus’s understanding. Other hints are dropped by some of the other characters. Comments here and there are slipped in that allude to the protagonist’s true nature. Having finished the story, I feel like there is still a lot I don’t know, but I learnt enough to understand. I was never overwhelmed but not left in the dark either.

In addition to this, God of War has its own story. A new tale to tell. It does this well, not only through the main chapters but through side missions and some of the other items present in the world. Finding all the Jötnar shrines, for example, provide some of the mythoi beyond the base tale, adding depth to the world Kratos has found himself in.

The story is very linear; as you complete each objective, more of it comes to light and, provided you carry on to finish the main objectives, you won’t miss anything. It caters to a lot of players in that respect; you are rewarded for exploring further and taking on other challenges but you are not penalised if you do not.

I enjoyed the full story and the character development for the most part. I mentioned my love-hate relationship with Atreus and it turned to hate for quite a while at one point. That kid got cocky fast and it was somewhat frustrating because he seemed to lose a lot of his values along the way. I get that he is a child and children have phases, but that didn’t work well for me. However, the balance was later restored.

There is a major reveal in Jötunheim, right near the end. I stopped there for a while. I had friends wanting to talk about it for a couple of days before I got there and it lived up to the hype. Kratos was not the only one with a lot of secrets and I had to stop and message people with a mini freak-out. The thing is, looking back, it made a lot of sense; while the game has used creative license to great effect, the ending tied back to some key parts of Norse mythology. Not in the way you might expect, but those hints were there throughout much of the game.

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GAMEPLAY

It is hard to describe how God of War plays without playing it for yourself (something I highly recommend that you do). However, I will do my best. I confess now that I am not a hardcore gamer and so this reflects my impressions as a casual who seeks fun over substance much of the time. Also, I have my controller set up permanently as close to Southpaw Jumper as I can get (sticks swapped and X on L1) so how the game played for me may have some key differences.

Combat

Combat makes up most of the game and it makes sense, as such, to start here. I struggled at first; I have a tendency to switch from overcautious to Leeroy Jenkins in a moment and immediately regret it. I get stuck in, button mashing and forget that there are more intricacies to combat mechanics… such as retreat and dodging.

Kratos is not built like a tank. Especially on harder difficulties. Dodging is vital in any major encounter and once I got my head around that, it got much easier to progress. I found that switching ‘interact’ to X in the game settings compensated for my controller set up, moving dodge to circle. This was more intuitive for me anyway as other games have dodge/crouch/roll or similar on circle and I was pressing that even before I made the switch.

Early on, your attacks are pretty basic. The Leviathan Axe has a light and heavy attack (R1 and R2 respectively) and can be thrown in the same manner when L2 is held to aim. Throwing the axe made life easier in places, allowing some distance between Kratos and his enemies. Atreus can be a big help, especially once his tree is upgraded, firing arrows to distract or stun enemies. He got me out of a few very tight spots. Bare-handed attacks also have light and heavy attacks and the switching between weapons and fists is quick and pretty seamless.

I can’t get enough of runic attacks, however. Especially chaining all four, one after the other while Atreus summons a swarm of vicious lightning crows. During the runic attack, if executed successfully, Kratos is invulnerable. Some leave hem more open than others, though, and being ready to move immediately after is something I had to get to grips with. I did have some issue triggering my heavy runic attack on multiple occasions and that inconsistency sent me back to a checkpoint on more than one occasion. However, with some practice and perseverance, I think my teething issues are behind me.

I actually found the boss battles easier, overall, to manage than areas with lots of enemies. Even if one or two Draugr spawned in, with a boss it was easier to stay in control. There were some moments with multiple enemies (particularly when Revenants wanted to have fun) where I found myself getting flanked. The lock-on feature was worst here for me and getting to a position where I wasn’t getting attacked from behind would put me in a corner. The different colour arrows helped to some extent, but while I remember purple being a projectile, I keep ignoring the others. At times there is a lot going on.

If I had to sum up the combat experience, I would probably liken it to my short time playing Bloodborne. It is far more important to get in a few good attacks and get out again, blocking and evading to minimise damage. I tried using the lock-on feature (R3), but I didn’t get on well with it when there were multiple enemies and by the time I reached the next boss battle, I wasn’t using it at all. I prefer to manually move the camera in combat in most games but can see why others might take advantage of it.

All in all, it didn’t feel clunky, but it took some getting used to. Timing is key for a lot of your skills (last minute blocks are very hit and miss for me) but the set up ‘makes sense’, so to speak.

Puzzles

Now, it is my understanding from talking to loyal fans of the franchise, that all the games have a strong puzzle element to them. This is probably my favourite aspect of this game in particular – I love trying to work things out and being baffled for the longest time. The puzzles are not inherently difficult, but when it’s late and you’ve already lost more time than you care to admit to the game, they provide enough challenge to inspire a little frustration.

It is all about finding the right angle or doing things in the right order. Sometimes the bells for Nornir Chests would take me upwards of 15 minutes (if you have been to Alfheim, you will understand my pain). Sometimes, finding the right runes had me travelling quite far from the chest.

There were also moments in the main story that had me scratching my head for a while. Usually, I was missing something so incredibly obvious, but after circling around inside The Mountain a few times, trying to go up, I found some great satisfaction in working it out, coupled with no small sense of stupidity that it had taken me as long as it did.

Progression

The skill trees and your character level is tied to your gear: upgrade the Leviathan Axe to level 2 and the level 2 perks unlock. The same applies to Atreus and you are going to want a lot of hacksilver to get him to his best (see, it does come in handy!) and soon enough, those arrows will be invaluable. Upgrading skills costs experience points and the gains are slow to start with. Every couple of thousand I had to spend on a single left me empty. However, later in the game, I have so many and nothing left to use them on. Those points become redundant and it would be nice to have some other purpose (even if it was just a trophy for having x amount stored).

Better gear sits at a higher level. As far as I can tell, the maximum level is 8. I haven’t yet filled level 8 (I need to upgrade two pieces of Ivaldi’s armour one more time), but I am getting close. Levelling up weapons increases your strength while your armour carries other stats. Legendary and Epic armour pieces also have enchantment slots so you can better boost different stats. Armour and enchantments can all also be upgraded two or three times, requiring a host of different materials to do so. A nice touch is that most of the upgrade materials required for each set are somehow linked to the item itself.

Getting to endgame levels, at least on the standard difficulty settings, seemed a little too simple. It was not a huge challenge to get better gear. Having spoken to a couple of players on harder modes, their experience was the same. Personally, I found that a little disappointing, but it isn’t game-breaking by any means. There is enough challenge in God of War without making the gear hard to get your hands on.

Cutscenes

I mentioned this before, but a really nice touch is the interactivity in the cutscenes. Neglecting to interact would halt progression and not change what was happening, but it was something more than ‘just sit back and watch for now’. I would like to see this in more games moving forward – if I want to pause a game, I can pause it. I don’t need to be grabbing a drink in a cutscene.

One drawback of this is that the cutscenes are not skippable in any way. Even on a second playthrough – you have to watch and interact with them. Also, the nature of the game would sometimes force a camera angle in places. A minor annoyance. In some ways, it worked really well without breaking immersion but there were a couple of moments where I wished I could just carry on.

Goals, Collectables and Miscellaneous Observations

In addition to the main questline, God of War has a whole host of side goals and missions. From favours for the dwarves and spirits to hunting down treasure, even once the story is done, there is no shortage of things to do. I took a break from the ‘Journey’ before I left Midgard for the first and second time, instead exploring and furthering my progress on some of these side activities. I am lacking on most of my Labours (I’m not sure how I managed to pin any enemies to the wall, let alone 11) but it is still something more to do and a small encouragement to try different fighting styles.

The Mystic Gateways make getting around a fair bit easier. As Sith pointed out to me, the tree is effectively a loading screen but done in a way that it doesn’t feel like a loading screen. As soon as I was told this, I stopped running around it and even ran backwards a few times just for kicks. It has a relevant place in the world while getting you from one location to the next.

Collecting up treasures and artefacts (and hunting down those really annoying ravens) has kept me occupied for hours. Most of my time has probably been devoted to these side activities, rather than on the journey itself. But the game is practically begging you to do so, leading you off on all these other activities and showing you more of the world the developers have created. This leads me into my next point:

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CONTENT

If there is one area God of War is not lacking in, it is content.

Niflheim and Muspelheim both offer a challenge separate from the main game. I love deadly mist and traps so Niflheim quickly became one of my favourite areas. But the trials on Muspelheim… I loved the challenge they gave me and most were not too bad. Killing 100 enemies took me a while, but I managed it. However, 20 enemies without once taking damage? I don’t think I should admit just how many attempts that took. Both locations have made me a better player though, I feel. I can’t run and gun and pray that it will work out and, instead, have to take a bit more time.

Treasure hunting also took a while, not least because I saved all my maps until the end before realising I was constantly going back to the same places. Artefacts were also something that appealed to the collector in me. I loved Odin’s Ravens, even if it meant throwing my axe at the sky constantly for a few minutes hoping to hit the bugger flying above my head. Some were really hard to see, but I could always hear them and used that as a guide.

Realm tears are a nice touch that fit with the lore while also providing a good challenge. The first time I opened one, I was dead before I could see what hit me. A big purple bar that one-shot smacked me into oblivion. I waited a while before trying that again. Not all of them have enemies to fight – some were more of a puzzle to reach. The variety has kept it interesting.

The Valkyries have to be, by far, the most fun I have had while simultaneously hating my ability, or lack of. At the time of writing, I have taken out seven of them and their own story has been really nice to follow. The one at The Mountain is all that stands between me and the queen but damn, she is tough. I will get her though. I have never felt this need to 100% something beyond just the story, but I’ve come too far to stop now!

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CONCLUSION

There is very little I can fault with God of War. I have actually come to regret not playing the earlier games sooner. Not because I feel like I needed to, but because I feel like I have missed out on a franchise that would keep me involved. I’m a sucker for a good story and puzzles. Everything else comes second to that.

If I would suggest anything for improvement, the story felt a little short and, aside from the big reveal, the ending was underwhelming. Even the extra ending with the dream. Maybe I had hyped myself up for bigger. That said, I am incredibly excited to see what comes next! There are hints at amazing things to follow.

I have not been shy in recommending it to others as well and will do so again. It is well worth the purchase at full price which isn’t something I will often feel about games. While I will buy at launch quite often, when recommending them to others, I look for sales or advise waiting on price drops. Not this time. God of War has been an experience from beginning to end. It reminds me a lot of Horizon Zero Dawn in that respect, keeping me involved from start to finish. It is an experience I think everyone should share in and I see little room for disappointment.

Trophy hunting has become my endgame, with two Valkyries and two realm tears to go, along with the ‘Impossible’ Trials on Muspelheim. Then I get to start the game all over again and see how badly I fail on the ‘God of War’ level of difficulty. Place your bets now! It will at least be entertaining.

~Hanxa

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