God of War (PS4/PS5) | Review – As Great As We Remember?

It’s never been up for debate whether God of War is one of the best games of the PS4 generation. I’ve been hearing praises about it for years, so it was about time to finally go ahead and see for myself. And boy – there’s so much to talk about.

Like all my reviews, I’m going to dissect the game and try to talk about each aspect individually, rate them on THIS 10 point scale and give out my final words in the end. Also, SPOILERS AHEAD. While I’ll try my best not to explicitly mention hard spoilers wherever I can, there will be certain portions I talk about that will give you an idea of what happens in the later game. So maybe skip the Narrative section at least just to be safe.

Gameplay Loop – 8

For the first couple of hours that I spent in the game, I was in awe of its mere existence. I’m not even kidding. The game is at its most interesting when the story beats and mechanics are slowly unraveling themselves. “The boss fight” early on knocked me back on my feet, as I’m sure it did to pretty much everyone who played it. And I think the game remains pretty entertaining and solid for the first 10-12 hours through and through. But then it goes on for 15 more. Between that and there being a lot of side content and exploration I ended up doing, it certainly overstayed the welcome in my experience. It was pretty evident that they were concerned about the game being “too short” for AAA standards, and that leads to choices that I will talk about later. Although, how exactly is the gameplay?

It goes without saying that the photo mode is amazing too.

First of all, the combat is very well built. It would not have been as great of a game if it hadn’t. It’s probably the best example of a combat system that’s both cinematically pleasing and mechanically satisfying. The exploration and puzzles engaged me for the first half, however soon enough one catches on how every puzzle has the “you figure it out in one second but it takes a while to do” problem. You spend a little too much time pulling levers, carrying crystals to put on the other corner of the map, playing around with elevators or contraptions, etc. which act as Artificial Game Lengtheners and really add to the fatigue when they’re repeated beyond a reasonable amount. Despite the flaws, I still had a ton of fun, especially in the first half of the game and I’m not going to let the limp second half sway my opinion enough to forget that.

Narrative – 9

This game is written to appease both returning players who are familiar with the older games and people like me, who have not played a single God of War before. And I think it successfully does that. I never felt left out, even when there were scenes clearly referring to Kratos’ past. It almost felt as if I knew what was being talked about. Besides that, I really enjoyed the initial setup, which also includes my favorite moment from the game. Something happens in the story that leads to Atreus not being with you anymore, and by that time I had gotten used to spamming square occasionally to get his aid during combat. And that’s what lead to this moment, where I pressed square quite instinctively and nothing happened. The feeling of bonding through gameplay was translated to the feeling of loss through gameplay such masterfully, and it was such a strong moment for me personally that I can’t help but give it a +1 for that alone.

Speaking of Atreus, he always makes it seem as if doing side quests is the canon thing to do because of his constant sense of exploration and desire to help others, which was a nice touch. And a lot of those side quests are pretty great too. Especially the one where we follow the story of a son who killed his father. It really adds to the characters’ complexities and reveals more about them as their relationship is put in parallel with the people they’re tracking. I really liked the boat rides as well, which ended up being a nice break from the combat to sit down and listen to interesting stories from Norse mythology. I don’t even want to fathom how much research and understanding was required to write around and add to all these myths, but it’s really impressive. BUT it’s not all dandy and sunflowers with the writing. And now I’m going to list some things I didn’t like.

Definitely, an epic way to start the game.

Characters seem to behave out of place a lot of times, especially in the second half. The biggest example is Atreus transforming into Prince Brat the Annoying as soon as he finds out a certain truth about himself. But hey, “he’s a kid”! Okay, sure – then why does he turn exactly to his old self again when he looks at his image of killing someone previously, with utter disbelief and complete shock – claiming “it wasn’t him”. So he was in a trance? Hmm. Quite convenient but makes sense. BUT THEN he ends up talking about things he was doing in that brat phase and even apologizes to Kratos and other characters for his behavior. So you do remember what you were doing? Make up your mind kid. Not even his journal thing in the menu gives that much insight into what’s going on in this mind, but well – “whatever”. And this problem wasn’t just limited to Atreus. The dwarf brothers who disliked each other became friends all of a sudden? That progression felt completely forced as well. Maybe a mission where one of them gets in trouble and our characters help the other rescue him could have made for a great catalyst. Mimir certainly was the best supporting character and added a lot of value in my opinion, although he often seemed to forget key details until the literal moment they were important in, for some reason.

Speaking of the second half, the pacing was not good at all. Post the ‘event’ that leads the boy unconscious – the sky is thundering, the chilling winds are blowing and even the characters are sure that dark things are about to happen. Shit is about to get real. What happens instead, is that you end up going through even slower, recycled portions for the rest of the game. And then ending just ‘happens. My point of realization came when I was in Hel and the seemingly mighty guardian of the gates of hell I kept hearing about turned out to be yet another recycled troll boss!? But hey, let’s stick to the narrative.

Another thing I found very apparent was there being a little too much of the “simple obstacles having long-winded solutions” and “princess is in another castle” kind of problems in the story. And yes, I completely realize that’s how all games are written because you can’t have a reason for gameplay otherwise, but if it’s repeated too many times it can get a little more ‘obvious’. And it wouldn’t have to if the game had been a little shorter. Trust me, I wouldn’t even have minded this whole regurgitating cycle if I “understood” what it really was that I was doing. I just remember vague things about “you need to go in this world now and you need this item to do that” and it felt as if that was the majority of the story. To start, you had to get this one thing that lets you travel to a realm, then there was this other one that you needed to open up a door to access the other realms, but that wasn’t enough because now you needed one for a specific realm. But wait, now we need an eye too. The story felt padded and incomplete at the same time, and it’s all because the second half failed to live up to the build-up the first one did so incredibly.

I think this is the hardest category to rate for me, personally. So don’t take the number too seriously. The relationship between Kratos and Atreus, and how they, in turn, change each other for the better was the heart of the narrative; so despite my criticisms, I still think it’s one of the best stories told in a game. I hope they improve upon this even more though, which I undoubtedly know they can.

Visuals – 9

The game is bewitching to look at. The attention to detail about a lot of little things is uncanny.  The artwork on the lore scroll cupboards feels genuine. The world looks fascinating and has a lot of visual variety across locations. The continuous shot is a nice touch and looks great when cutscenes and gameplay go seamlessly from one to another – even though I wouldn’t mind fast travel loading screens. The animations are very clean and the lip-sync is never off from what I could notice. I would have given it a 10, if not for one thing that does bother me slightly every now and then – the visual clutter. I don’t know if it’s the result of adding details into textures, going for realistic-ish visuals, or just adding too much stuff in the environments, but it didn’t feel very clean to me a lot of times – in some specific worlds more than others. I don’t want it to seem a bigger issue than it is though, just a minor little thing that only leaves room for improvement in the sequel. Maybe the textures are already better in the PS5 version, which I have not played.

The game sure looks gold.

Mechanics – 8

Getting to the great stuff first, the axe is mind-blowing. I haven’t seen anything like this in a game before and is the most unique aspect of the gameplay to me. The moveset and skills you have with the axe are varied enough as is, but you can also throw it around and recall it at the press of a button – while it hits other enemies on its way back. It can stay lodged into certain traps to uphold them while you use other ways to do combat. Speaking of which, the hand-to-hand combat was given a lot of purpose because of the ability to stun enemies easily, which I really appreciate. The finishing animations reinforced the fusion between cinematic and mechanical gameplay even more. I enjoyed the variety brought in by the runes and talismans, and I hope it’s built upon in the sequels, as it’s a solid foundation. Now to some criticisms I have.

A weapon only rivaled by Thor’s hammer itself.

You only notice this in high difficulties, but the hitboxes are iffy at certain times. Shots that shouldn’t have registered do register and vice versa. However, it’s not bad enough to be a problem or something, just worth pointing out. What I do mind is that a lot of times Kratos has no feedback animation for getting hit. The enemy has its attack animation that brushes you and you get hit. There is no sound or visual feedback, or very little of it, at times, and you notice that half your health is gone. Adding to that, you don’t have ‘i-frames’ (invincibility) while performing the runes. That means that doing a non-cancellable cinematic attack can lead you to take heavy damage or even dying. Until it doesn’t? Because a lot of times the runes DO give you invincibility, and I wish that had been a little clearer too. Speaking of being clearer, I would have appreciated a little bit of vision during the combat. Maybe a dynamic combat camera that scales back, or a manual one like the GTA games that allows you to change how zoomed into the character’s buttocks you want to be.

Aside from the combat, freedom of movement is VERY restricted. You can’t roll or walk into places that seem very accessible visually, and you can’t jump at all. Climbing feels like a chore, and sliding through crevices all the time really takes a little away from exploration. I do understand though that ‘slowing’ portions like these are used as loading screens, allowing for the continuous shot in the game – so it’s not a huge problem for me. Why does kicking chains down make me slide down though?

Challenge – 5

While I have little critiques with every factor in the game, I still think it is pretty solid across all categories – except this one. Was the difficulty balancing an afterthought? I have no idea. There are four difficulty levels, and I couldn’t point my finger to either of them being good enough to be called the intended experience.

Pardon me, but I don’t feel like a god when it takes 25 hits to kill a minion

The Easy mode makes it a breeze to cut through enemies irrespective of the attacks you choose, the weapon you choose, or whether you ignore Atreus altogether. I think that can lead to a worse experience in terms of storytelling too. The Normal is probably the one I would recommend 95% of people to play at, as this doesn’t head into the BS area yet, but even in this you can pretty easily get by without thinking about nuances of the combat and ignoring all variety – and it’s never really energizing or very engaging. The Hard Mode could have been perfect. Certain enemies are immune to your axe, using Atreus actually feels like a necessity and battles really do feel challenging and stimulating. Then what’s the problem? Enemies have at least twice the health they should have had. To put it into context, the first tutorial enemy in Dark Souls takes 2 hits to kill. The first enemy herein takes 16 hits to kill on Hard. So yeah, don’t even get me started on Give Me God of War. I started with that because I always try to start games at the hardest difficulty, and scale down to whatever feels the most challenging while remaining reasonable. I know the game warns you of this, but why can I not change the difficulty mid-game if I chose the Hardest one? There seems to be no reason to do this, but let’s move past that; like I did when restarting from scratch after a while. That difficulty really shows you every crack in the game’s mechanics, is a complete slog to play through, and I would wholeheartedly advise against even trying it. It’s as if the 1st and 4th difficulty settings are just objectively worse ways to experience the game. This would be on the top of my list, about things the sequel should improve.

Variety – 7

I really enjoyed the variety in the combat when I started the game. Your axe has a good amount of combos and skills you can unlock throughout the game. You can use Atreus to aid you. Even though I wish there was a little more craft to it than simply spamming three arrows and waiting for cooldown.  You can throw your axe around and recall it. You can go in Spartan Rage that really makes you “feel” like the God of War. There is a lot of variety in the vistas and sceneries that you run into as well. There’s a new kind of enemy with a different kink just around the next corner – for the first five hours. Once you get past the elf world and beat that boss, I can’t remember any new enemy that was introduced for the remaining 20 hours of the game. I’m sure there was a handful of variations on the existing ones, and maybe some that I’m forgetting – but if I’m left feeling this way – you can probably guess there is a reason for it.

There sure is a lot to do around the world.

And this isn’t limited to the fodder enemies either. I already mentioned the “point of realization” for me, when the mighty guardian of the gates of Hel turned out to be another troll. But it’s hardly the only point where I felt like that, since bosses and mini-bosses kept getting recycled to no end after that point, or at least that’s when I began to take notice. I get that there are technical and budgetary limitations, but that is exactly why this game should have been no longer than 10-15 hours. It spanned around 35 for me, and in that time I faced over 30 bosses or mini-bosses – out of which only 5 were unique experiences, and the rest were an iteration of a troll, ancient, revenant, or elf. I did enjoy some of the Valkyrie fights although they were also pretty similar, but we can make an exception here since they at least had a reason to be, and were also optional. It seemed as if they were putting bosses in places just because ‘it makes sense for a boss fight to be here’ – and I doubt any player would walk away without feeling at least a little worn out.

Mapping – 7

The level design is really impressive for the most part. You open up shortcuts and there is some level of interconnectivity to the world. You can return to places in Metroidvania style where newly gained abilities open up paths that were previously inaccessible. While I do wish it had been a little more seamless with the natural flow of the game and not tacked on, I still enjoyed that aspect. The environments are also full of little details and rich lore. I had a really memorable experience during the first few hours when I was exploring around and ran into a small isle where I fought the underground lizards for the first time. It was a great fight, but what made it even more memorable was that there was a dead Giant right in the middle of the little isle, covering most of it. Fighting around its body and arms gave a different kind of playing field aside from being really cool to look at – and I even took a screenshot there after beating the enemies. And hours later in the game, I ran into a treasure note with a story possibly about some brothers killing a giant. And sketched right there was the very same giant I had found with a treasure marked. It felt amazing to recall something from memory that I’d found in a treasure map, and go back there for the reward.

There be treasure to uncover, boy.

But the mapping certainly has its flaws. After a while, it’s not hard to start noticing that the worlds don’t feel like actual places you’re exploring, but a 3D object maze where you can’t even figure out how to get to places literally in front of you a lot of the times – owing to invisible walls literally everywhere. Some places in the levels felt like they should be accessible by rolling or simple walking, only they weren’t. Other places felt similarly inaccessible, but that’s where you were supposed to go. Getting from one place to another felt like an actual chore and a very sluggish experience. And that includes the fast travel system. Another thing that could’ve been great was the level design getting used in the combat. Using certain traps to kill enemies was implied in a very early section, with a compressing spike ceiling, but never really followed on much. Overall, I still think the level design was really good – but a little less rigidity in exploration and a clearer sense of direction might certainly benefit the next game.

Sound – 10

I can’t praise this whole department enough. The soundtrack was used in just the right places to evoke just the very emotions it wanted out of me. Not to mention how epic the music is, and how the voice-acting performances are phenomenal across the board. Nailed it.

Interface – 7

The dynamic and contextual HUD is great. The compass does what it needs to. So do the prompts during the combat, even though I did find them confusing sometimes since they only told the direction an attack was coming from, and not “when exactly”, so it was easy to roll prematurely and get hit. One thing I wish they had done without, was forced, tacked on RPG mechanics. And I’m not saying they should’ve gotten rid of all of it. The skill tree was fine. I also liked the shiny bulbs you find while boating around, as they’re actual physical entities in the game world and have a permanent, visible advantage. Just like the optional puzzle rewards, which increase permanent health and rage. Those really felt significant when you found them and they actually made a difference in the long run. There was only one talisman slot so it felt like an important decision over which one to equip as well. Even the pommels.

I don’t why this screenshot makes me think of Valyria from Game of Thrones?

What I did not like was the “looter game” stuff. So many different kinds of armors with random stats revolving around them. It felt very bloated and unnecessary. And those armor pieces had an arbitrary “level” to them for some reason, which affected your level as a character. And the worst part about that was that how it affects the gameplay. Enemies take forever to kill if they are a higher level. It also changes whether their attacks are red or yellow (red can’t be parried, yellow can be parried but will stagger on a block), and the fact that you can’t kick them off cliffs if they are a higher level than you. Who knows, maybe the game was glitching because there was literally an invisible wall stopping the enemy. I think it would have been better to just have 1 armor set per world and 2 in Midgard, apart from the dwarf sets. That’s it. According to the wiki, there are 27. Less of them would have made running into those few pieces of armor feel more rewarding and important. It would have also allowed for each of them to have very distinct “builds” or specialties. Like the Muselpheim set increasing damage with a certain ‘fire-based weapon’, and giving you resistance to fire; or say a set that decreases the cooldown for runes to half. That could have been so much more fun and weighty.

Pricing & Performance – 10

I didn’t have any performance issues with the game, and I played it on a base PS4. Apart from the game losing a few frames during very specific rune attacks in the middle of multiple enemies, I never felt any issues. The loading times could have been shorter, but that’s not to blame the game – is it? I also think the game is completely worth the price it goes for – and one of the main games I would recommend buying a Playstation to experience.

Certainly a bang for the buck.

Replay Value – 8

While it’s not the kind of game you’ll feel like picking up again right after you finish, the stuff that NG+ adds definitely makes it worth the visit maybe a year or two later. Hell, even retaining all my abilities from the get-go could make for a much more interesting start to the game. I might revisit it after I have the opportunity to play the previous games in the series, just to see how it is with that added context.

Final Rating: 8.0

God of War is certainly a game of two halves – with the first half being full of interesting characterization, an unraveling combat system, good enemy variety, and locales; and with a second-half that has more of the same, quite literally, making it feel padded and rushed at the same time. And while it’s still among my top-rated games personally, I think it would have been much much higher with a shorter length, and had a more rounded second half – both in terms of gameplay and story. The ending ‘low-key’ felt like it was setting up the next few games more than concluding this one, so I’m sure this was the only the foundation for much better things to come.

    Rating:

4 Stars

 

 

 

 

 

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