I’ll Review Anything: God of War (2018)

Did any one of you guys and gals watch The Game Awards? I did… kinda. I didn’t watch it live because, if experience has taught me anything about the show, it’s half game trailers, a quarter commercials, an eighth devoted to people talking and musical numbers. The rest of the time is devoted to the actual game awards. Sure, the game trailers are cool and all but it’s called The Game Awards! I wanted to see some actual awards be given!

So I waited for the show to be uploaded to YouTube and fast forwarded through the bits I didn’t care for. After an hour (I told you I fast forwarded through the boring bits), I finally got to see the biggest award for the night: Game of the Year. Who won? The latest God of War!

Well, I can’t say I was totally surprised. It had some stiff competition from Red Dead Redemption II, Monster Hunter: World and Marvel’s Spider-Man. No offense to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Celeste but I couldn’t fathom them beating the other four I mentioned earlier. I have heard a lot of great stuff about the new God of War even before it won Game of the Year but my bet was Red Dead Redemption II. Well, since it won, I decided to pick up God of War, a game that I didn’t really plan on picking up since I had a couple of games in my backlog. But, since it won, I had to see what all the hoopla was all about, so I bought it the next day.

Today, I finished God of War. When I say “I finished God of War,” I mean I’ve done almost everything that’s available in the game. I went through and beat all of the available Realms, defeated all of the Valkyries, rescued all of the dragons, opened up all of the Mystical Gateways and even got the final ending. So, from my extended time in Midgard and five of the Nine Realms, does God of War deserve to be Game of the Year? Let’s go see!

For those unfamiliar with God of War, it’s a PlayStation exclusive game that was developed by Sony’s very own Santa Monica Studio. It’s a continuation of the adventures of Kratos, The Ghost of Sparta, who you control in the original God of War games. A couple of decades has passed since Kratos killed all of the Roman Gods and has tried to rebuild his life and away from being the violent killer he was. He even remarried and has a young son named Atreus. Unfortunately, she dies and her dying wish is to have her ashes scattered on the highest peak of all the Nine Realms. Thus, Kratos and Atreus set upon a journey to fulfill that wish, a journey that will have them meet new people and lead them into direct conflict with the Norse Gods.

One of the best things about the new God of War is the unique camera system. Or, rather, how the camera is used in an incredibly different war from all media, be it video game or otherwise. The new God of War generally uses one long shot throughout the entire game. It does cut out at a few moments, such as when Kratos and Atreus transition from the main world into a dark “belly of the beast” area, but you generally don’t notice it. It’s subtle and you might not even notice it but it looks freaking brilliant when you realize what the folks at Santa Monica Studios is doing.

What makes this doubly amazing is the camera does an admirable job of following Kratos as well as the hectic action. You do have full control over the camera but Kratos will always be in the frame and the focus. The only drawback to this is you have to constantly move the camera around to see all the baddies or even the platforms you can use to traverse the massive locations. It never gets too annoying but it can be bothersome, especially in areas with tons of enemies or puzzles where the item you’re looking for can be obscured by the terrain.

Moving around the world is simple enough. Pathways are very visible and the ledges you can climb and jump onto are cleverly marked with symbols that catch your eye. When you can perform an action, the UI will pop out what button you have to press to control it. But while moving around the world is easy, God of War’s map system isn’t particularly helpful. You can see the markers laid out but it’s practically impossible to see the actual pathways you need to use to actually reach those destinations. I may have finished God of War but I generally followed the compass marker and hardly used the map at all to get to the places I wanted to go.

“I knew I should’ve taken a left turn at Veithurgard!”

The controls used for combat is a little bit complicated but uses a unique layout that works for the game. The attack buttons are set on the Right triggers of the PlayStation controller while the face buttons are contextual actions, such as ordering Atreus to fire his bow at enemies or dodging. The directional pad switches weapons. The Left Triggers are used to block attacks or readies Kratos’ axe to be thrown. It takes some time to fully commit this control scheme to muscle memory but, once it does, battles are incredibly fun; just be aware that there is a learning curve.

You’ll need to master these controls as the enemies you’ll be facing off are very different from each other. You’ll have to employ a different strategy against them as they all have different abilities. If you don’t, the Ghost of Sparta will be a real ghost in a matter of minutes. Some of them are airborne so you’ll need to sharpen Kratos’ axe throwing skills to bring them down. Some of them will block your regular attacks so you’ll need to find a way to break their guard. The worst enemy is the one that will avoid every single one of your attacks unless you command Atreus to stun them long enough for your attacks to break through. And even then, they take a long time to go down!

God of War is probably one of the best looking games out there on the Sony PlayStation 4 or any console for that matter. The game hits ridiculous levels of detail in everything. From the backgrounds the character models, God of War looks stunning and everything is almost flawless. The audio design is also really excellent, particularly the voice acting. Extra props to Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic, who portray Kratos and Atreus, respectively, for giving fantastic performances and making me believe that they were actually father and son.

And it’s this relationship between the two protagonists that carry the story. The “macguffin” of the story, Kratos and Atreus fulfilling a woman’s dying wish, makes this a much more personal story. It also allows the former one-dimensional Kratos, the murderous Ghost of Sparta, to have a little more depth to him. It’s not just Kratos that grows throughout the game, though. Atreus also grows up a little throughout the journey. But the best thing is seeing their bond strengthened after time in a rather organic way.

God of War has a lot of awesome going for it but there are some rather nasty issues. The biggest for me is Atreus’ story arc. Without giving any spoilers, let’s just say he goes through a number of mood swings throughout the game, with a couple of them just feeling incredibly fake. That’s not the fault of the voice actor, but more of the writing for the character.

The world is also devoid of people. You do meet some people throughout the journey. There’s Mimir, the “smartest man in the world,” who acts as an adviser to Kratos and Atreus. Brok and Sindri, the dwarven brothers who craft and upgrade your equipment. Finally, there’s the Witch of the Woods, who helps the father and son team at key moments. Notice that none of them are humans? That’s because, besides a few bandits, the world is pretty much dead from some worldwide cataclysm called The Desolation. It seems like a cop out as, not even the heroic Sigurd from Norse mythology, is mentioned, let alone seen. Maybe in the sequel?

Speaking of sequels, God of War strongly hints at a continuation of Kratos and Atreus’ adventures. I wouldn’t mind all that much but this makes for a rather unsatisfying ending. The story does conclude their arc but everything else has a big “to be continued” feeling to it. In fact, I got to God of War’s ending expecting something a little more but I was rather surprised that there was nothing for me to fight after that one big battle.

But back to the original question… does God of War deserve to be 2018’s Game of the Year? It’s not perfect. Even with its issues, however, the game never feels like an unpleasant experience and I had a blast playing through it. God of War has a level of polish that makes it shine above most of the games of the year. It’s definitely a memorable game and will be one of the greatest games of 2018 and this generation of video game consoles.

So, yeah. God of War deserves to be 2018’s Game of the Year. No argument here.

Have you played God of War? Better question: what game should have been 2018’s Game of the Year? Let me know in the comments section below!

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