This first version of this review was almost finished when my computer went for a scheduled shutdown, and the blog backend, which doesn’t autosave, took everything with it*. It’s all for the better, because this one will be newer, bolder, fresher – as fresh as a review of the new PC port of God of War – released four years after its console debut – can be.
Kratos, our main character, is a Spartan and a god, and also a standard bald muscleman with a ridiculous right lightning tattoo that makes all the White Scars jealous. However, he traded in his spiky 2005 beard for a long and bushy one, and his attitude has mellowed out a little while he was living with his wife and son in the Scandinavian forests. However, he is a god still, and simply moving somewhere he hasn’t slaughtered half the pantheon yet can’t keep Kratos out of trouble forever. Now, he must embark on a journey with his son, no matter how not ready they may be.
God of War grows up
Now, while writing the previous review, I had left a YouTube tab open with a full walkthrough of God of War III. I had used it to check the camera position in the previous game. After the whole shutdown fiasco, I booted back up to see if the draft was really gone (it was) and then, for some reason, clicked on the walkthrough tab and watched a bit of an animated cutscene, which made me curious about who was narrating it, so rewound the vid a little.
Boom, here’s Aphrodite, gyrating in bed in front of Kratos to give her bare breasts and ass equal air time. Once the exposition (in more ways than one) was done, our growly man was given the option to have sex with the goddess. This lead lead to a QTE sex mini-game – a staple of the series dating back to 2005. The main action happened off screen, with the camera resting on two of Aphrodite’s girlfriends who get so so turned on by spectating Kratos’ coital skill that they go to town on each other.
Then the view switches back to Kratos standing at the foot of the bed as Asphrodie spews a swarm of red experience point orbs for a sex well done.
So, all of that stuff aimed at the pleasure centers of the perennially fifteen? Gone. God of War is now mature in the real sense. The main theme of the game is family, and a story is of a distant father and son traveling together and both learning a lot about being a better person. It just wouldn’t work with gratuitous nudity and silly sex QTEs that treats women as horny XP chests.
And we’re all better for it, because the story is good. While you might question pacing and how long certain issues take to resolve, it’s good to be on the road with Kratos and Atreus. It’s good to meet the small supporting cast, all of whom also have issues to do with family and/or parenthood. This is good, this is purposeful and touching.
The God of War isn’t devoid of mirth, either. A lot of it comes from young Atreus’ reactions to the world or him riffing on his dad’s gruff demeanor. A great deal is provided by later companions as well. What’s more, the game is absolutely devoid of the Marvel-esque fear of being serious. There’s no need to “defuse” somber moments with shitty jokes, no soybants born out of anxiety that the audience will call sincerity cringe.
QTEing some gameplay sacred cows
But I don’t have a good toolset for describing story beats and the depth of them, so just take my word for it. I am equipped to say that the fixed camera angle – as witnessed in the walkthrough mentioned before – is gone, and so are other Devil May Cry-isms like the hit counter or the orbs. In fact, health now exist as crystals you have to manually crush to heal.
The game is thus made more deliberate, asking you to keep a cool head amidst the chaos. This is borne out by some of the ability unlocks in the skill tree that aren’t just passive “your axe strikes better now.” At every point, you and Kratos are asked to be more calculating and precise as you slaughter you way through hordes of draugr, hel-reavers, and worse. While the unsubtle approach will still work, you gain a lot more if you try to fully engage with the systems.
In fact, after finishing out the skill trees and getting the best armor ( comes in chest, torso, vambraces, all with three enhancement slots per), talismans (only one can be worn at a time), and weapon pommels, you can potentially be swimming in tools. Yes, a lot of gear just passively increases your abilities (like health, power cooldowns, defense, and so on), but many also grant powers that activate under certain conditions or can be fired off manually.
It stuff like using last second deflects (with Kratos collapsible shield) to bounce ranged fire at the attacker (this is a skill), last-second dodges putting the enemy in slow-mo (it’s a talisman) or summoning healing circles that make your attacks uninterruptible (another talisman).
So there are many combinations you can try out and see what suits you in the end. And even if you’re a broke-brain dummy like me who was always gunning for the best looking armor above all other considerations, you’ll still end up as a power house that can boost itself by being very deliberate in your battles. In a way, this mirror’s both Krato’s path to controlling his temper in battle and the advice he constantly gives Atreus about thinking instead of blindly rushing ahead. Beautiful!
Oh, and Atreus also plays his own supporting role in the fights, and what he does can tweaked via equipment and upgrades as well.
I won’t harp on the battle too much – they’re fun – so I’ll finish this section off with two complaints:
- God of War sorely lacks in execution animations. It feels like each enemy type has one per, and when you kill upwards of 400 draugr (not an exageration, I have completed a minor quest that tracked it) and 250 hel-reavers, you see a lot of executions. And ripping a Viking zombie apart with your bare hands gets old even if you do it lengthwise.
- Nearly all bosses and minibosses in the game are trolls and ogres. This, we feel, is an issue of someone being stingy with the budget (thanks, capitalism), and forcing devs to rely on reskins (if even those). It absolutely drags, especially considering the “one execution animation per” thing. At least they try to do one or two trolls with unique powers, but ogres all the same all the time, and if you’ve seen Kratos hook the ogre by the jaw with his axe to bring it down and then hack the mouth apart once, you’ve seen it a million times.
Also, someone on the design team really though that executions involving mouth stuff are the grossest thing imaginable, and it might have just work if not for repetition numbing us to it.
This game was financed by Midgard Chamber of Tourism
Aside from fighting, you navigate the semi-open world (some of it is gated by mere plot progression, other by powers you get from said progression), smashing and opening infinite chests – now that’s the true God of War legacy. Some chests are hidden or require puzzle solving to open, and it’s fine. The puzzles aren’t too difficult, but they’re hard enough to make you feel good about yourself for solving them. The only downside is that the plot-progression-power-dependant barriers have an extremely game-ly look, and take you out of the generally cool environments.
Oh, and there’s also bits of lore and other such treats scattered around. Most of them involve Atreus because Kratos can’t read runes, so the boy has to translate for him. This is a smart and organic way to make him useful, because white Kratos is a warrior par excellence, he’s not much else (and sex isn’t a thing anymore). Thus, God of War generally has a very nice way of slotting Atreus into the proceedings as the more magical of the two, where his intellect can solve things Kratos’ muscle and violence can’t.
All of the stuff (except the barriers mentioned above) looks great from both level design and visual capability angles. I’m sure that the few lucky people with modern GPUs snatched from the snapping jaws of rabid bitcoiners will have an even better time than I did. After all, the environments are good and invite exploration, the art (especially the Norse-inspired Giant shrines) is evocative, and the gear designs hit more often than they don’t.
Plus, as far as game hub areas go, the one in God of War has the most interesting approach to evolving during the game – there’s nothing so humdrum as buying upgrades for the hospital wing for ol’ Kratos, and the plot-mandated changes are always big.
The audio does its part as well, though I can’t say I was terribly impressed by the music. I know at least one old fart who has it on vinyl, but I don’t think I’ll remember any of it. However, even if God of War doesn’t produce bangers in the way that Transistor, Red Alert 2, or Deus Ex did (I swear I’ve played games less than 10 years old), it is in no way shabby. The quality holds true for both clamor of battle and voice acting, and I won’t hear a bad word about it. The actors are chosen well and the audio cues serve you well.
Oh, and God of War is eminently playable with mouse and keyboard. I would know, I did it. I’d say that the bigger issue is forgetting how many tools you have at hand. Not that the game is more difficult for it, but you feel kinda bad about it, and I think the game would if remembered it all… but hey, that might just be a Me problem.
God of War is quality port of a quality game and I welcome its steps on the PC shores. I never expected to play a God of War game in my life, even if the plot (killed Greek gods) intrigued me. But there I was, offered a review code full month before the release, and I was smitten – both by the game and the generous window I had to finish it. 35 hours later, all I can say is “worth it”.
*It turned out that it had saved it, but by that point I had already written this review, and I consider it to be better anyway.