God of War Slays Expectations

God of War’s rebirth on Playstation 4 humanises a character built for rage with a considered maturity, that makes embedding an axe into an ogre’s skull more satisfying than ever before.

Years after decimating the Greek gods, Kratos has settled in the land of the Vikings as a now single-father to his son, Atreus. After a violent pop-in from the Norse god Baldur, our Spartan sets off to honour the final wish of his late wife: to scatter her ashes atop the highest peak in the realm.

Set predominantly in Midgard (effectively, Earth) the roughly 20-30 hour campaign is made up of a series of fetch-quests. Can’t break through a Giant’s magically locked door? You’ll have to cut yourself a slice of a dead Giant’s chisel. Sick son? You’ll need to steal the heart of Hell’s gate-keeper to save him.

It’s a disappointingly straight-forward style of cause-and-effect story progression, but in its place, character development is allowed to flourish as the lore of Norse mythology unfolds around you.

Kratos’ limited patience is put to the test and as he battles to become a better father and teacher to Atreus, underpinned by a desire to protect his son from the “curse” of being a God.

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Atreus’ curiosity is the perfect foil to his father’s stubborn dislike for the Greek pantheon (and Gods in general), whose innocence exposes the torment haunting Kratos since murdering his own father, Zeus.

The pair’s journey takes the player to five of the eight realms beyond Midgard. Each is as artistically impressive as the last, packed with colour and their own unique lore, but they are largely linear affairs which pale in comparison to the main realm.

Exploring is encouraged, but not necessary. That being said, the world is so vibrant that it’s easy to get lost scouring every corner for loot as you maniacally open chests big and small. Items you find along the way can help upgrade weapons and armour while experience gained from combat unlocks new techniques to batter enemies via a basic skill-tree system.

Moment to moment combat is as tight as you’d expect. Button mashing isn’t an option as Kratos juggles multiple weapons to deal with everything from projectiles to unblockable, heavy attacks. Hordes of enemies are made more difficult to deal with thanks to the closer camera angle, which leaves players with no view of attacks coming from behind them.  

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While Kratos’s new axe has been getting plenty of attention, his shield is the real star of the show. Combat can be brutal – particularly on higher difficulties – and a perfect parry can be the difference between life and death.

God of War’s toughest fight against the Queen Valkyrie typifies what Sony Santa Monica has been able to achieve. It’s punishing, one-on-one combat that harkens back to the best gaming boss fights built on pattern recognition, reflexes and patience.  

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Even after besting the Queen’s eight Valkyrie underlings, the final fight can take hours to decipher.

Tearing off her wings is one of the most satisfying moments I’ve ever had in gaming and the reason why this installment in the God of War franchise will be remembered in my books as one of the generation’s best games.    

God of War is out now on PS4.

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