I have never played any of the previous God of War games. While I had a mild interest in Greek mythology, it was never enough to get me to invest into a game that looked to be a pretty senseless hack and slash game. However, when it was announced that the new game would be based on Norse mythology, well then, there was something I was interested in enough to convince me to give this game a try. So, I came into this game without any expectations about what I’d find. No preconceived notions about how Kratos should behave.
The bulk of the game takes place on Midgard, which if you had watched any of the Thor movies, you’d know that Midgard is one of the 9 realms in Norse mythology. The story starts out with Kratos and his son, Atreus, making preparations for Fey’s funeral. While Atreus is definitely the son of Kratos and Fey, I don’t recall them ever mentioning the relationship status between Kratos and Fey. There is some mention by Atreus that Kratos was hardly around, but there really isn’t any backstory on what happened with Kratos between God of War 3 and this God of War.
The main story of God of War is that Kratos and the Boy have to take Fey’s ashes and spread them from the highest peak. This was Fey’s final request. Early on, as I’m facing peril after peril on this quest, I did ask why in the world would she be sending us on such a dangerous quest. But there lies the mystery of the game. Why did she send Kratos and Atreus on this quest? Because it’s not as simple as just climbing a mountain and tossing ashes with the wind. (Never throw ashes into the wind.) Since this is going to be a fairly spoiler free review, I’m not going to go into details. Just know that that question does get answered.
The pacing of the main story made it difficult for me to take a break from it to do the side quests, but I don’t view that as a negative. Too often with open world games, the main narrative suffers because there’s no driving force to get you to chose to do the main story quest, rather than the side quest. With God of War, there is always some driving motivation to go onto the next objective. Something stronger than, well, you just need to go talk to this person that is conveniently over in this new area. Now, I like meeting new people in games as much as the next guy, but it doesn’t really get the adventurous juices flowing. Although, maybe that’s just a blind spot for myself, as I try to expand my gaming experiences.
Along the way, Kratos and the Boy come across many interesting characters, but I’ll let them be pleasant surprises. The one I want to highlight, because of how enjoyable he made traveling, is Mimir. In Norse mythology, Mimir is essentially a head that Odin kept around to offer advice. Sure enough, in God of War, Mimir is a head that hangs on Kratos’ belt, offering advice on your journey. But where Mimir really shines is when you are traveling. A lot of the long distance traveling in God of War to get to new areas is done by boat. While in the boat, Mimir will tell stories about the Norse gods and the 9 realms. If you happen to get out of the boat mid-story, then Mimir will tell you that he’ll pick the story up later. Sure enough, next time you’re in a boat, Mimir begins where he left off. Although, there were many times when I would just sit in the boat next to the dock I needed to stop at, and just wait for him to finish. Not only were they entertaining, but the voice actor playing Mimir was an excellent story-teller.
Now, since this is a video game, I guess we should talk about the mechanics a bit. Your main weapon is the Leviathan Axe. This is a lovely axe with some ice enchantments built in, that you swing mercilessly at your foes. The hand to hand fighting is built around a system that forces you to dodge and attack, or parry and attack. Sure, if you’re playing on easy like I did, then you can frequently charge into battle, swinging your axe wildly. But bosses will still require some bit of dodging, or using your shield to repel an attack. You can also hurl your axe at your foes, and fight barehanded. With some enemies, it’s actually beneficial to not use your axe, as they may be strong against ice.
The fighting always felt fluid. It never seemed like what I was trying to do with the controller was out of sync with what I was seeing on screen. I always felt in control of the battle. Sure, a difficult fight may have been getting the best of me, but it never felt unfair. It was always a matter of, well, I need to come at this fight a different way. Or, I need to play a bit more defensively, and not just go in all axe a-swinging.
Atreus was more useful in battle than I thought he would be. AI sidekicks in games can always be hit or miss, but the Boy is pretty useful. Simply put, using the square button, you can have him fire an arrow at whichever enemy you are targeting. As the game progresses, you can unlock abilities for combos to use with Atreus. So in the end, it’s just a matter of how much you want to use him.
Speaking of the Leviathan Axe again, it’s not just for cleaving your enemies in twain. It is also a tool that is important for solving puzzles. There were a few different types of puzzles in the game. A common type of puzzle was breaking/ringing three runes to unlock the Nornir chests. With these, you had 3 runs on the chest that matched up to runes that appeared in the area. There were 3 types of challenges with this: breaking the runes, ringing bells with the runes, and hitting switches to match the runes. The most challenging of these was the bell ringing. The time to do this was limited, so it was important to figure out a strategy on how you were going to hurl the axe at the bells in a timely manner. Some of these were pretty challenging, but again, they never felt impossible.
Another frequent use of the axe was to freeze gears in place. For instance, Kratos pulls a chain to open a gate, but the moment he lets go of the chain, the gate closes. In this instance, there would be an exposed gear that controls the gate. So, you do the actions to open the gate, then before letting go, throw the axe at the gear to freeze it. This keeps the gate open so that Kratos can walk through. There are also death traps that use the same principle. Where you need to figure out was to freeze to make passage of the trap easier.
I know I’ve mentioned several times about throwing your axe, but I haven’t said how you get your axe back. It’s quite simple really, you call for it. A simple press of the triangle button calls your axe back to you. The further away you left your axe, the longer it takes to come back to you. There was one time where I had thrown it to get through an area, and just forgot about it. So I get to a fight and don’t have it. I call it, and it took a good 3-5 seconds to get back to me, as it was traveling through the locations I had been. It’s a small thing, but it really adds to the immersion of the game. Once I was on a mountain top, and intentionally left it at the bottom of the mountain. I called it, and watched it travel all the way to me.
It’s a bit simplistic to say the game looks good, or is pretty. We’re at a point with hardware where most games should “look pretty.” The key is what is done with those graphics, also known as art direction. In God of War, great detail was put into the designs. Each of the different realms you may travel to have their own look and feel to them. Then also, different sections of Midgard have distinct looks to them. If I’m travel home, it feels different than if I’m heading towards the mountain. One dungeon type area is different than another type area. There’s not a point in the game when traveling to an unexplored area where you think you’ve seen all of these graphical assets before.
I don’t really have any big complaints. The game felt like it ended a little quickly, but that’s more likely chalked up to just wanting the story to continue because I was really wrapped up in the story. Credits started appearing on screen and I was like, wait, was that it? That can’t be it. This and this just happened. What about so and so? But nope, Kratos and the Boy return to just continue with helping people in the realms. And it’s not a bad ending. It’s just I didn’t want it to end.
I’ve seen many people state how emotional the game was for them as fathers. I’m not a father, and the story is still pretty emotional. There are quiet moments between Kratos and Atreus that are masterfully done. Without Kratos’ inner monologue being narrated, you can tell exactly what he is thinking in those moments. The inner struggle of how to deal with his son, for whom he is solely responsible for now. It’s just a masterwork in story telling.
With that, I encourage you to give God of War a chance. Even if you don’t think you’d be good at the combat, there are difficulty levels to make it easier for you. I played on “Give Me A Story,” designed for those that are more concerned with the story, rather than the challenge of making it through.