Last week I said I would never be able to review God Of War in the traditional sense and this has proven to be the case. The game rewards being played at a slow pace as you get to experience the Norse Mythology tinged setting. It is a stark contrast from previous games and no more is this apparent than in the change in personality of the antihero Kratos himself. The Spartan who ascended to be the God Of War is older, greyer and more mature much like the audience who grew up with him.
The first obvious change to the older games comes in the pacing of the gameplay and the story. In the previous games, you started and 100mph and only got faster as you fought your way through legions of Greek gods and monsters. In the old games, your motivation was very much revenge and you attacked these monsters with that feeling. You tore into them with your blades of chaos moving from one brutal conquest to the next. Fast forward to this God Of War and Kratos has a much more sombre and slow-paced initial task.
Without spoilers, this quest sets the tone of the whole game. Rather than the ball of anger he used to be, Kratos comes across as much more passive aggressive now. He bottles up his rage and unleashes it on his terms rather than not being able or willing to control it. When you are playing it makes him seem far more deadly than ever as he plods around the new landscape getting grumpier and more sombre. In fact, it makes people of a certain age look back at themselves as they play it.
When most people were younger, they were more impulsive, did stupid things and more than likely lost their temper more easily. Kratos is no different from the anger and attitude towards women he showed in the original games, he has matured into the definitive grumpy old man. Everything annoys him especially other people. Sitting here in my mid-thirties, Kratos and I suddenly share a lot in common.
When you are younger you seem to have endless amounts of energy and can throw yourself into any situation and come out unscathed. This experience is just like the combat in the old games. You threw yourself against the Hydra in the first game, then against Ares and of course, in the third game you threw caution to the wind and didn’t care about the collateral damage as you climbed the titan to attack Olympus. Now you are older, wiser and more experienced and this translates into the fighting mechanics. Rather than hack and slash and hoping to land killer combos, now you are far more considered and precise with your actions. You pick where to throw your axe, you measure each hammer blow and you hide behind your shield when you need to. Only when you release your Spartan rage do you let loose and go wading in with kicks and punches with more abandon, yet these moments as far less frequent than before and certainly not the norm. Perhaps having your son as a constant companion has calmed Kratos down?
Kratos’ son Atreus is your constant companion throughout the game and Kratos seems determined that his son learns from the mistakes he has made. He is always chastising and telling the ‘boy’ he is not ready as poor Artreus makes another rash and foolhardy decision in battle. It is hypocritical and rich coming from the Kratos we know from the other games but rings true to parenthood. You are often telling your children to do as you say not as you do and so it is the same with Kratos. He has a journey to go on and his son, not being ready is just another hindrance on the way. The fact that the player can see how vital Artreus is in combat and puzzle solving just further reinforces Kratos’ status as a grumpy old man, set in his ways, who just wants to be left alone. But with the help of Artreus, you can see him soften as the game proceeds. Nowhere more so than when the game opens up at the lake of the nine section.
In this section, you are given the choice to continue the story or do some exploring. If you explore here on you small rowing boat Kratos tells Artreus simple stories like the hare and the tortoise and other simple ones that try to teach Artreus simple life lessons. It is a very successful tactic for making you care in the game and works as well as if not better than Joel and Ellie’s relationship in The Last Of Us. It stirs the feelings that fathers can have with their own sons and raises the game up a level for us.
In fact, I would like to see a female perspective on this game and what it is about it that makes it so good for them. For men, the game seems designed for someone in their mid to late thirties with a son. It echoes the feelings they have in their own lives as they slow down from their wilder years, think back at some of the stupid things they have done and try to be a good role model. All the while they think they still have the skills and experience to be dangerous. In Kratos case, of course, he still has these talents and in God Of War, he gets to pit them against a whole new set of deadly and more human enemies than before. Gone are the skyscraper-sized battles with mythical beasts to be replaced with personal and brutal fistfights on your own level it gives a greater sense of immersion if not for the spectators watching the game. I just would like to see what female gamers get out of this great game compared to me. In any case, it is a game that needs to be played, not watched and is one of the very best I have played.
Get it here. God of War (PS4)