Kratos goes down as one of the most iconic characters in video games. If you consider yourself a gamer, you know who he is—even if you have never played a God of War game. As a platform mascot, Kratos does not share the same kind of fame that characters like Nathan Drake or Crash Bandicoot do. He is rather infamous due to his high level of rage and anger at the Greek gods. Back in those days, Kratos wasn’t exactly a likeable or relatable character.
Cory Barlog and his team at Santa Monica Studios have decided to change that with this addition to the series. This entry acts as a fresh start not only for Kratos, but for us too. Players are invited to enter the series at this point if they wish to do so. The game builds off of the reputation of the character and goes from there. You do not need to play the previous games to understand the weight of the events that take place in God of War 4.
Spiritual Content: The God of War series has always been built around ancient mythology, and this one is no different. Players take control of a demigod named Kratos who once wiped out the entire pantheon of ancient Greece. Pantheons in the God of War games are not treated as actual belief, and more like folklore and fantasy. God of War 4 takes place in the world of Norse mythology, in which their gods are living and breathing beings. Their manifestations are rooted in the ways of the ancient culture of Norsemen and women.
Given the fantasy theme, magic usage is frequent. The use of teleporters and traveling beyond realms are a big part of the story and lore of the game. Gameplay involves the use of runes and enchantments that grant the player magical abilities and stats that are meant to aid them in combat.
Other spiritual themes include the presence of a witch who performs spells and concoctions which fall into the category of witchcraft and black magic. Some examples include the healing of an illness, and bringing both an animal and also severed head back to life.
Violence: This series has become infamous for the main character violently killing various gods and monsters in gruesome fashion—God of War 4 is no different. Players take control of Kratos and use his axe to slash through enemies. When foes are stunned, players have to option to get in close for a brutal kill. These usually involve stomping out small creatures or ripping out the lower jaw of certain enemies, for example. There are too many instance of this kind of violence to describe in great detail here, but most of them are completely optional except on the bigger enemies and bosses. Upon death, the bodies fade away no matter how they are subdued.
There are multiple fights in which we see Kratos engaging in hand to hand combat, pounding his enemy into the ground in a bloody mess. In addition, a scene takes place where Kratos breaks the neck of an enemy with his bare hands. On other occasions, we see Kratos driving his axe deep into the bodies of his enemies as well. Kratos cuts the head of a character to free him from a tree that his body has become imprisoned in. From that point on, he carries the severed head of a character who is eventually revived; they then talk to and interact with our main characters.
Language/Crude Humor: There is a dwarven blacksmith that players will visit often. His comments are usually negative and crude, involving the use of swear words. The words “f**k” and “a**hole” are used multiple times within these conversations.
Alcohol/Drug Use: Kratos finds a bottle of wine. He shares it with his son who is still quite a few years away from the legal drinking age from our current time period.
Sexual Content/Nudity: There is actually no sexual content or nudity in God of War 4, but it is worth pointing that out here since the previous entries to the series are known for it. Previous games have been known to include naked/bare chested women and a “sex” mini-game that usually took place of screen. That is no longer the case.
Positive Content: God of War 4 is a story of redemption. It is the story of a man who has done so much wrong in his past and has tried all he can to escape it, and with that comes the raising of a son. In this story, we that Kratos is a single parent and wants his son to be a much better person than he could ever be. That sounds like a much more relatable and likeable character than the Kratos we once knew, right?
Santa Monica Studios not only aimed to drastically change the character of God of War 4, but the way we think of the franchise entirely. The combat does still involve fighting hordes of enemies in some kind of open area, but it feels less button-mashy. The previous games usually took place in massive set pieces with a fixed camera angle so the eyes of players could draw to the scene. This fixed camera angle also played into the combat and zoom out for players to see every enemy in the arena.
Now with the camera placed at Kratos’s shoulder, all of that has changed. The developers took notes from games like Dark Souls and Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and emphasize the use of blocking, parrying, and dodging. This type of combat forces players to think of every move they make, and God of War is no different. Offensively, Kratos must rely on his Leviathan Axe to take down his enemies. The ability to throw the axe takes care of ranged combat, and it can be recalled just like Thor does with Mjolnir in the comics and movies. One aspect of the combat that has not changed is that all of Kratos’s abilities can be upgraded.
Various “Runic” abilities also add to the strategy that this type of combat encourages. At first, I was not a fan of how closed in the camera is and then realized I get hit from behind all the time in Dark Souls too. However, to counteract that problem, we can listen for Atreus to let us know when an enemy is about to attack, and pay attention to on-screen indicators. The son of Kratos is also a helpful hand in battle with his arrows being available for use against enemies at the push of the button. He will also learn new skills and become much more useful as the game moves on.
There is plenty of adventure in this action-adventure. Collectibles and artifacts found throughout the realms greatly extend the gameplay beyond the story. The exploration feels akin to the newest Tomb Raider games, meaning that the world is not entirely free to roam, and that there are many dungeons and areas that become convenient distractions from the story. Side quests actually make an appearance to add to the distraction. Many of them offer greater rewards and upgrades that you won’t see if you decide to stick to the story.
More inspiration was drawn from AC:Origins as God of War has a loot system—a first for the franchise. God of War is much less loot heavy, meaning many types of armor, enchantments, and runic abilities are only found in chests rather than the body of an enemy. In addition, we get to purchase and upgrade some of these things through a pair of dwarven blacksmith brothers that assist Kratos and Atreus throughout their journey.
With much less loot and upgradable gear, we get a spin on a recently popular style of action-adventure. Rather than having an experience level, we have what I would consider a gear level. Kratos grows stronger based on the armor, abilities, and the upgrades you will attach to them. You still get experience points, but they act as currency to gain new combos and addition attacks for our protagonists. This system encourages players to specialize in the stats they care about the most. My version of Kratos might be better at Runic attacks and cooldowns while someone else’s might be stronger in vitality and defense. I enjoyed this loadout-like system because it never made me feel too overpowered, and every enemy brought a challenge to the end.
So, what drives all of this exploration and combat? This story is unlike any I have ever played in a video game. It takes place many years after the open ended finale of God of War 3. Kratos has since made his way to the Nordic parts of the world, now with a wife that has recently passed away and a child he must raise on his own. Their goal is to fulfill the mother’s last wish and take her ashes up to the tallest mountain in all the realms.
Players get to walk with Kratos and Atreus through every conversation, argument, laugh, and tear that they share. Both of them grieve their loved one’s passing and interact with each other in different ways that anyone can relate to whether you’ve been a father or son, or have lost someone. We see Kratos slowly break his silence as Atreus’s child-like innocence turns into the bravery of a young warrior. I have not seen character development between two characters like this since The Last of Us. I would be lying if I tried to say I didn’t shed a few tears on multiple occasions—especially since my own relationship with my father and grief exist in the same breadth of each other.
Aside from our protagonists, God of War has a handful of great supporting characters. Two dwarven blacksmith brothers play a role in upgrading your gear while providing some comic relief at the same time; one is uptight while the other has a foul mouth on him. I always looked forward to visiting them because they act as a way to tell players what is going on in the world around them. Another character I enjoyed having around was Mimir, a character who becomes a major addition to the journey. He adds more comic relief and banter between Kratos and Atreus while assisting in sharing more lore and building the world around the player as they progress.
This may be a bold statement, but this is one of the best looking game on the platform whether you own a PS4 Pro or not. Even so, the graphics and visual fidelity were never the hook even in advertising. The entire story of the game is designed to take place in one camera shot. The camera never cuts to any cutscene or even event that takes place in another part of the world. The moments where it really shows off are in some of the important fight scenes. This method has likely been used in film, but never a video game. The exception occurs when the game is paused to equip gear or the player is defeated.
God of War is a near perfect video game in just about every aspect, but there is one issue with which I take umbrage: it is the pacing in the first chunk of the game. The first moments are so high-octane and powerful that the pace drops quickly when our heroes must stray from their path and go to the first realm. I feel that this happens more than a few times in the story. The characters make comments about being “almost there,” and then something would come along or happen that needed to be handled before we could move forward with the journey. These are obvious moments designed to slow down the pace, but that first section dragged on the most.
Even with my personal grievance, God of War sets a standard that other video games will likely follow. I feel like I’m repeating my past reviews by saying the characters and story are outstanding, but this is God of War I’m talking about after all. This is a self-contained story within a franchise that has always been known to show off its grand scale. This smaller scoped approach also lends itself well by making locations memorable. Every interaction and fight that Kratos and Atreus experience also becomes personal with the use and close range of the camera. When you finally decide to pick up God of War, it’s much more than a video game you won’t forget—you won’t want to put it down even after you’re done.
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The Bottom Line
God of War has one of the greatest stories ever told in a video game, filled with moments that will never be forgotten. This is a "mic drop" that creates a high standard for future releases.