God of War Hands-On
It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight long years since the God of War himself – Kratos – concluded his rage filled quest to destroy the gods. Yes, he took the Titans and also most of Greece with them in the process, but Kratos stood tall above his fallen enemies – aka, everyone. Initially, I felt cheated by the open-ended way we left Kratos, a bloody trail leading off into the distance the only thing remaining of him. Over the countless times that I replayed the series, though, it made more and more sense to me that Kratos would survive. A man who was fuelled by pure rage for so long and had delved into the lands of the gods would be able to survive what would seem to be fatal wounds by mortal standards.
Still, the open-ended nature of the finale of the original trilogy left me wanting a follow-up and for many years, I thought I’d never get one. Replaying the first three time and time again sated my lust for video game sex, violence, and screaming bloody murder at the sky, but once you’ve opened Pandora’s Box or murder Zeus for the ninth time, you begin to crave something new.
You can imagine then my absolute glee when I got the message that there was a hands-on session with God of War and I had been tapped by COG to go sit down and see what’s what. Full disclosure here: GoW is one of my personal favorite games/series ever and I tend to dream I’m a Viking (there’s a reason I love Thor). God of War, to me, is the perfect blend of two of my favorite things. Sitting down, gripping that controller, taking a deep breath, and hitting ‘New Game’ only helped reinforce that idea.
The Kratos you meet when God of War opens is not the Kratos you saw last. The rage filled murder monster of old is gone and a bearded and bitter Ghost of Sparta greets you in the opening frames. The grizzled face and tortured eyes of Kratos set the tone for the game, one of the many new facets of the fourth instalment. The tone of the game has changed to match our hero as Kratos tries to teach his young son, Atreus, how to survive in this cruel world. The warrior has to now be a teacher, something he is unfamiliar with. Showing affection, being kind, teaching lessons – these are not the things that Kratos is familiar with and we see him struggle with this new chapter of his life.
“The warrior has to now be a teacher…”
Those tonal changes are mirrored in how the game plays. In short, it has changed dramatically. Don’t worry, there’s still an intense amount of violence to revel in as Kratos hacks, slashes, and rends his way through a horde of foes. The gameplay, however, is much more subdued in contrast to the frenetic pace of the previous entries. An over the shoulder camera and some assists from your son’s bow make the battlefield a much different place than it was in Greece.
Even the way you explore is different. The jump is gone and so the exploration of the world becomes dependent on teamwork with Atreus. The smaller human can clamber where Kratos cannot tread and has to aid his father in getting into many areas. It’s a game style that many will be familiar with if you’ve delved into The Last of Us, but the addition of it to GoW completely changes the way you play and gives a new feel to the game as much as the setting does.
Adding a fourth installment to any franchise is tricky (look at The Phantom Menace or Mass Effect Andromeda) – how will returning to a beloved character for a new story affect players? It’s not enough to just try to engage old fans with a new setup, ask the guys over at DC how well that’s working for them right now. You need to grab your audience, new and old, and make them pay attention. From the opening frames of God of War, they had my attention. Emotional and taut, this wasn’t exactly the Kratos I had been expecting. Even after a couple of hours of wandering around the Scandinavian landscape and battling Draugr and other beasts, that intimate tone never left the game. This wasn’t the Kratos I knew. This is a warrior who had left the carnage behind him and was trying to make a better life for his son, hoping his offspring never had to endure the life he was forced to lead. Even as Kratos teaches his boy the ways of the warrior, there’s an almost begrudging way about it that tells you that he wants more for his son. The emotional connection that grew between me and the most violent of anti-heroes as I continued to play was strange. Welcome, but strange.
The ultimate reason for these hands-on events is to create buzz about a game before its release. I hardly think God of War needs any help flying off the shelves but allow me to do my part: God of War looks amazing! The change in style, tone, and pacing does the series so much good and will pull you back into the world of Kratos and not let you go. The gameplay is fun and familiar, but different enough to feel unique. The plot is a slow burn tale that features all of the best elements of Norse mythology with a unique GoW style spin on them. What I’m getting at is that God of War already has me, hook, line, and sinker.
If you’re a fan of the series, prepare your wallets. If you’re new to the series, prepare your wallets. The emotional levity this game brings to a title known for its violence makes this one of the most well-rounded games I’ve touched in a while. Somehow, a bitter Kratos may be even more appealing than an angry one.
*Impressions from a preview event hosted by Sony*