God of War Review: The Journey of a Lifetime

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Most games aim to simulate a journey; God of War succeeds in actually taking you on one. There were moments following the credits when I'd simply open the world map, look at all of its diverse landmarks, and gape in wonder. "I really went there," thought I. I really did go on this magnificent and emotionally stirring journey, and soon you get to do the same.

God of War has grown up. For the first time, I am able to empathize with Kratos as he partakes in the human experience, truly capable of feeling and displaying emotions beyond the rage and spite which used to define him. Here we find Kratos as a stoically mourning husband and father, bent on fulfilling his deceased wife's last wish. Her desire is for Kratos, and their son Atreus, to deliver and scatter her ashes from the top of the tallest peak in the realms. Thus the father and son leave their once-secluded home, and set off for a great mountain in the distance.

The tales, settings, and gods of Norse mythology form the foundation of Kratos' latest journey, and the realm of Midgard proves to be an incredible, interconnected fantasy-scape. It's enormous, it's beautiful, and it's dangerous. Not since my time playing the first Dark Souls have I been so surprised by and enamored with a game world, nor so impressed by its design.

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I feel compelled to call this an "open world," though Sony was keen to remind me that it's not truly open; rather, they like to call it "wide linear." To once again draw comparison from Dark Souls, players will find that at any given time, many paths are open to them, though there is a critical story path along which you are expertly led.

As you continue to explore, abilities are attained and shortcuts discovered which bring the vast realm of Midgard closer together, and open greater modes of exploration. This is, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding game worlds I've ever had the privilege to explore.

God of War's maturity is nowhere more apparent than in its pacing. Combat, progression, exploration, and narrative all unfold briskly, yet thoughtfully. Combat, for example, starts off as a simple two-combo affair. Basic light and heavy combos give you an opportunity to come to grips with Kratos' new Leviathan Axe, as well as enemy behavior and defensive mechanics, without getting bogged down by input memorization. As you upgrade your axe and discover special rune attacks, your combo repertoire is opened up immensely.

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By the time your skill tree is thoroughly upgraded, combat is an utterly liberating delight. Every skirmish becomes an opportunity to strut your creativity and chain together new attacks in new ways. Truly, a fully upgraded Kratos on the attack offers all of the fluidity, improvisation, and diversity that you'd expect out of a fighting game, and God of War has more than enough challenges to test your combat prowess.

Of course, Kratos isn't alone. Atreus journeys and fights with you every step of the way, and proves to be an incredible partner. Atreus will act with some autonomy, shooting arrows, choking enemies, and jumping in for quick combo finishers. He can also be controlled more directly with manual inputs. Deciding who Atreus should attack, triggering his unique skills at the right time, and taking advantage of his independent attacks and choke-holds will be vital to your success.

Atreus is also invaluable as a fellow explorer. Among the many audio and visual options offered to players is the ability to trigger "Immersive UI," which basically disables all UI. No compass, no enemy indicators, no problem; Atreus will audibly call out enemies who are about to attack, as well as their positions, and will frequently point out important landmarks or chests to you as you explore. If you really want to take this journey with Kratos and his son, and get lost as they do, I highly encourage you to try this mode for a more cinematic experience.

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Atreus and Kratos both have a wide array of new gear and armor to acquire as you progress through the game, and I found that by naturally exploring my surroundings and fighting my way through basic skirmishes, I always had the currency and materials needed to purchase upgrades I needed at any given time. Gear will affect certain abilities and offer new combative opportunities, so you'll want to upgrade regularly. Trust me.

As you near the end-game, beautiful high-level gear will be teased, giving you incredible incentives to stick around after the credits roll and explore the world more thoroughly, and complete some of its more daunting challenges.

Santa Monica has managed to tell an incredibly effective story which prompts legitimate fear, anxiety, excitement, laughter, and even a couple of tears. As Atreus struggles with his own coming of age and coming to grips with his true nature, Kratos struggles to forgive himself for his past and seeks to become a better father. Watching their relationship stagnate, falter, and then eventually grow, is an intimate and powerful experience.

Pay attention to the way Atreus seeks his father's approval and praise after every fight, and listen to Kratos' voice as he addresses his son. Both characters offer incredible performances, and their animations and voice performances are world-class.

The same can be said of every single character you meet in this stunning world. In your time exploring the realms you'll come across gods, witches, dwarves, monsters, elves, and giants, and they all fit into the world organically. It is made very clear that you are the outsider in these realms, and that the goings on between gods and giants are cosmically much more important than your own struggles or presence.

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At every turn God of War manages to dazzle, and instills a profound sense of wonder. I don't understand how Santa Monica was able to tell this entire story in one, unbroken shot without loading screens or cuts. I marvel at the imagination and ingenuity of the artists and designers who crafted this incredible world.

Impossibly large temples of stone and precious metal, brilliantly glowing crystals and magical effects, and technically mind-boggling set-pieces that your brain will struggle to comprehend all suggest a game that would have been impressive on next-generation hardware. Playing on a PS4 Pro, I had so many stop-and-stare moments wherein I sat and wondered how this was happening on a home console.

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I can't wait for all of you to take this journey. It may sound grossly hyperbolic, but I feel perfectly confident in saying that God of War, and the story it tells, belongs alongside many of the greatest works of modern fiction across any medium. It is truly one of the great fantasy adventures of our lifetime, and one that I foresee us all returning to for years to come.

WWG's Score: 5 / 5