Kratos is back after a five year absence, in a game that is not-actually-a-reboot of the franchise. It’s certainly a very different sort of God of War, drawing on the current trend of games trying to tell a good story. There’s a slower pace this time, introducing a God of War who is rejecting the god and war parts of his life.
Despite initial trailers, this is not a hack-and-slash take on The Last of Us. Sure, there’s the dual themes of loss and family; but it approaches the story from a different perspective. Aaron Kaufman, Senior Online Community Strategist & Marketing Producer at Sony Interactive Entertainment America LLC, explained that it’s about Kratos rediscovering his humanity while teaching his son – Atreus – about being a god.
The (roughly) three hour demo of God of War starts at the very beginning; complete with the Skyrim not-actually-a-cutscene intro. In fact, the first couple of hours have a very Skyrim feel to the environments. That’s not to say that this is the fault of the developers, but rather that there really isn’t really much to see in Scandinavia in the winter.
Fortunately, things pick up and more colour is introduced to the palette as the game progresses. Sadly, the demo ended just as the environments changed to show more vibrant colours. It would have been nice to be able to explore areas that are more than just rocks and snow.
Controls are somewhat run of the mill for a third person view game. Kratos is free to explore his limited environment, and the camera has been unlocked to allow for more dynamic movement and a more immersive game.
Combat is the kind of rhythm based approach that we’ve come to expect from modern action games. There’s a bit of Marvel’s Thor feel to the use of the Leviathan Axe, as Kratos is able to throw and recall it at will. Doing damage as the axe impales enemies and as it comes flying back to his hand. It’s very satisfying to seemingly hurl the axe at nothing and then summon it into a row of neatly lined draugr.
Kratos has also taken a page out of Captain America’s book with his new shield. It can’t be thrown, and instead serves as a valuable method for avoiding damage. A well timed block also temporarily stuns enemies; leaving them open for slower and more powerful attacks.
The real innovation to combat in God of War comes from the use of the kid Atreus, who is capable of using his bow to distract and disrupt enemies. He doesn’t do much damage, and is pretty much useless in boss fights; but the mechanic is meant to prevent Kratos from being overwhelmed by enemies. Especially since the giant sweeping attacks from the Blades of Chaos are no longer there.
This is a far more measured and tactical Kratos. One that requires far more planning and situational awareness to win fights. There’s a sense of rhythm to the combat – reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series – punishing those that simply button mash, and rewarding well timed shield blocks with openings for more powerful attacks.
Atreus pulls double duty in this aspect; acting as audible warning against attacks from behind, while being able to contribute with his bow. The boy’s arrows do minute amounts of damage, but are capable of disrupting enemy attacks and preventing them from landing. Unlike other games, the player has some measure of control over Atreus’ bow as it’s triggered by a button press. Timing is, after all, everything in combat.
With all that said, your real reason for wanting to play this new God of War is the story; which is kind of an odd thing to say about this sort of game. No matter how true it might be.
SIE Santa Monica Studio has taken its time in creating a game with more emotional weight to it. There’s a bit of a Logan feel to the story; with a retired Kratos having to make one last journey with a kid that will almost certainly replace him at the end (not that the demo was long enough to be sure of that last part).
There are also plenty of easter eggs for those who want to dig further into the Norse mythology that has been adopted. It’s difficult to tell if these little hidden tablets of knowledge foreshadow anything, but it was nice to have something for those who happen to like myths and legends.
What we have here isn’t exactly a complete reboot of the God of War series. While the tone and setting is certainly very different, it still has the same vengeful god-slayer with anger management issues that we know and love. If anything, this is the developers exploring new aspects of the character that we’ve never seen before. Which is precisely what is needed to keep people interested in a long running franchise.