Republished on Wednesday, June 1, 2022: We are reducing this review from the archives following the announcement of the June PlayStation Plus game. The original text follows.
God of War: Ascension may be fun, but it shows that Kratos has lost touch with Midas. Sony Santa Monica’s reluctance to experiment with a formula that had already been recycled five or before he left one of PlayStation’s best-known protagonists in a precarious position: was there at least one way back for Ghost of Sparta? As evidenced by this sublime soft reboot of the PlayStation 4, all that was needed was a change of perspective, mythology, and design philosophy. Easy, isn’t it? Read on for our God of War review.
This is a special game and it is obvious from the opening exchanges. A sequel to many years after the Greek trilogy, Kratos is now a father taking refuge in the northern realm of Midgard with his son Atreus. At the beginning of the 25-hour plus story, the two prepare to cremate the ghost of Sparta’s wife. The title allows outrageously articulated character models to reveal their emotions, as the title relies on subtlety for the first time since its inception more than a decade ago.
This is a different kind of God of War - and it’s even better for that. There is a real nuance in Kratos’ character now; he still shows the blind rage of his predecessor, but this is a story of maturation for both him and his eggs. After the events with Zeus, the protagonist learns to become a father. Similarly, his son discovers what it means to be a God, all while the couple travels through several of the nine realms of Norse mythology.
Structured similarly to a modern Tomb Raider title, the game allows you to explore while simultaneously guiding you through its impeccably presented fantastic world. There are a handful of side quests to take on, game-based challenges to complete, and collectible items to collect. All things considered, given the roughly dozens of optional bosses in question, there are over 50 hours of high-quality gaming here - virtually eclipsing the running time of all six previous games combined.
But this is one of those versions that encourages you to play your way. There are mini-puzzles to complete in virtually any environment, but if the dopamine drip of solving them doesn’t work for you, then you’re free to continue - minus the prey, obviously. Speaking of which, for the first time in the franchise, Kratos is deeply customizable, with his armor and ax including numerous slots for you to change the character’s attributes - and even his abilities.
While fans of the action of the old character may oppose the absence of a list of moves similar to Street Fighter, there is a grace for the title fighting system that rekindles the frantic sensation of previous versions - despite the change of perspective . With the camera drawn behind the protagonist, a new quick-turn button is essential - while Atreus will draw your attention to threats that appear in a similar way to the “voices” in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. It is fast, fluid and properly ferocious.
But there are wrinkles in action that are completely new. Kratos can throw his ax, blocking enemies before he can remember. This plus, so small on the surface, is woven into almost every facet of the campaign, as it is used for puzzles, navigation, and more. Similarly, Atreus is assigned its own button message and can be called in during the fight to amaze or attract the attention of antagonists. There are some enemies who can’t even be defeated without the young man’s contribution.
This mechanic helps build the bond between father and son and there is a real arc in the way the relationship between the couple unfolds. While moods change a bit in a hurry in places, character development is more on par with what we expect from a Naughty Dog title - which is a compliment, of course. Impressively, the game balances dark subjects and some rather heavy tones, with a true sense of humor of laughter, thanks to a superb support cast.
And, of course, it looks and sounds great from start to finish. Guerrilla Games may have raised the bar on Horizon: Zero Dawn last year, but God of War is launching its Spartan Rage and raising it higher and higher. This is an absurdly beautiful game that combines hyperrealism with fantasy with a memorable effect. The character models are stunning, but they are undoubtedly surpassed by the remarkable art of the environment. And yes, there are some really amazing plays that punctuate the plot.
Perhaps the most impressive thing is that the game starts like a rocket and rarely takes time to breathe. There are some very minor breaks, and the weird climbing sequence can be scratched in later games, but for the most part it is meticulously paced. The title does a great job of constantly introducing new mechanics, which means there’s always something new to play with before you’re introduced to the next important thing.
And this will extract the completeness from you, as the areas are revised in Metroidvania mode, opening new paths and secrets that could not be accessed before. It’s a wonderfully crafted game that never feels out of place, and its basic story has more than enough surprises to keep you involved for its full duration. With multiple levels of difficulty and a consistent amount of secondary content, this is just as fulfilling as single-player releases.
God of War is a special game. This reimagining of the famous PlayStation franchise raises the series in unexpected ways, without forgetting the basic principles that made Kratos a fan favorite for starters. This is a one-player epic with plenty of secrets and a story that keeps you hooked from start to finish. Although he borrows generously from other great action adventures, his unique struggle and remarkable artistic direction separate him from his immediate colleagues. A truly impressive achievement.
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