The God of War trilogy was an action packed, over the top, blade-n-chain-toting, blood fest. It was effectively a 3rd person beat-em-up with huge monsters and QTE’s.
This is Assassin's Creed meets Last of Us and, frankly. It’s weird. Every time I settle in to the rhythm of this game I’m suddenly reminded who Kratos is and my brain flickers and says WTF!?!
So, what happened? Well, in short, the open world and survival genres happened.
Let’s start by making something clear. This is a good game; an incredibly well-crafted experience, absolutely beautiful, smooth and technically astounding in so many ways. The world design is wonderful, if not a little old-hat and repetitive in places (I’ll get to that later), the sound and effects are spot on and the animation and camera system are up there with some of the very best. This is a really good game, however, it all just feels so wrong and out of place.
Kratos feels slow and lumbering. The removal of jump is the true antithesis of how far away from its forebears this game is. Much of the side content, like many of the Labors, feel a little bolted on, the crafting feels over designed and cumbersome and the hub world gets pretty dull, despite its cleverly designed intentions.
.Lore and Order
The move in to the realm of the Norse Gods is an interesting one, giving the developers an interesting world of myths, legends and prophecies to mine and some intriguing new characters to discover. However, it does suffer a little from the same issue as the Greek lore; a billion different gods and demigods and how they’re related and who killed who. Although it is certainly interesting, it can get a little confusing following who is who and are they good, bad, neither? Unless you already know a little Norse mythology, this can get quite convoluted and confusing. With that said, it is amazingly well researched, and the various stories are tied together well within the confines of how closely they stick to their source material, while still giving it a little God of War lilt.
.The 9 realms (wait, make that 6)
Midgard is quite a wonderful sight to behold. The introduction to the world and the story is done in a beautiful starting area that takes you through the basics as you teach Atreus, Kratos’s son, how to be a ‘man’. Once you reach the main hub area of Midgard you have a small boat and allowed explore a huge lake that sits aloft a hidden world with the rainbow bridge right in the centre. After completing key segments of the game, the lake level will drop offering the player new places to explore and new ways of getting to places you could not previously reach. This is exceptionally well designed and is often a joy to re-explore. Much of the game takes place in Midgard and so it is different often enough to not become boring. It does however suffer from the fact that fast-travel is only introduced near the very end of the game which means getting around for various side-quests can get very tired and repetitive fast.
Alfheimr was not an overly enjoyable experience for me, I found the layout confusing and trying to be too clever for its own good. The only thing I took away from the area is that, as usual, elves are dicks, and I could now use and activate light bridges… which are definitely an easy way to create progress blocks in certain areas.
Helheim was better, but dull to look at. The level design was more linear in nature, though it ultimately folds back on itself which is nicely done. The scene that shows Baldur (the guy that is constantly trying to kill you) seeing a ghost of himself and his mother is interesting and revealing as you are sneakily climbing around the area and the boat section at the end was very well crafted and a welcome over-the-top moment.
Muspelheim and Niflheim are effectively fighting challenge arenas, each containing a Valkyrie. Muspelheim, is a dull looking lava world with little to see or explore sadly. Niflheim is a little better with a randomized dungeon element (albeit simplistic) and noxious fog that basically gives you a timer to explore the area, bypass the hazards and defeat enemies while collecting mist echoes to unlock special items and craft new weapons and items.
Midgard most assuredly has the standout sections of gameplay and level/world design, from the puzzles to the dragons and the multiple dwarven ruins. One particular quest sees you climbing on and around a huge giant with a chisel through its head and is superbly realized.
There are 3 other locked gateways without explanation. Are they going to be visited in DLC? Are they cut content? It would have been great to see what they would do with Asgard, if they can manage to steer away from the Diablo III style.
Atreus is ultimately an irritating sidekick, he’s useful on occasion but his dialogue and relationship with Kratos gets annoying quickly. The head (I believe it’s intended to be Odin?) that Kratos carries around is a much better and more amusing companion. It is also strange that the player (as Kratos) initiates all the dialogue and events but then he complains and moans at Atreus for wanting to talk to or help people.
The binding gameplay was a nice idea, offering something a little different for what is effectively lock picking gameplay, it is just a shame they didn’t expand on it and use it elsewhere.
The difficulty of enemies feels entirely random, whether it is or not I cannot tell, but there is no clear areas of difficulty which can be frustrating when you initiate a fight only to discover they are several levels higher than you. Also… Revenants are one of the most annoying enemies ever!
The camera system… although it is generally impressive and well implemented I’m not sure I fully understand why it was considered such a big deal by critics etc. It never cuts and is considered single shot, and in movies, this is an impressive feat… but in a game? It isn’t quite as impressive. Due to the fact it’s constantly trying to be clever and keep the mood I frequently found myself fighting for control of the camera’s direction and focus, especially during some of the combat.
.Wait… it’s over?
The ending is abrupt. It doesn’t leave you with a feeling of fulfillment and has no grand payoff really, even if it is a heartwarming end that ties together some unanswered questions. It tempts you to explore but, if you’ve played the game like I did, the only thing left are the Valkyries which are easily dealt with by that point, except the final one. Exploration is very limited by what remains for you to find and gather. It’s a shame, cause otherwise it’s a world I would have happily remained in for a little while longer.
Overall, for me, it’s a disappointing God of War game… but only because it doesn’t feel or behave like a God of War game. No QTE’s, no mashing a button to open a door or bash open a chest… it just feels wrong. But, as I already pointed out, despite this and although it doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking, it doesn't really do anything wrong either and it does it all is oh such a beautiful and polished way, definitely worth the time and pennies.
FYI - all images were taken with God of Wars excellent photo-mode