Holy shit. I just went through an experience. It was a pretty damn awesome experience. Sony is showing that it does single-person games like nobody else. Both my favorite and second-favorite games of last year (Persona 5 and Horizon: Zero Dawn, respectively) were Playstation exclusive. In the age when you have companies like EA saying that single player isn’t what people want anymore, Sony is showing them just how wrong they are. It’s pretty great stuff. And thus we get a game that isn’t a reboot, but an actual sequel to one of the greatest franchises of all time. But this is a game all its own, and while it isn’t perfect, it is so fucking awesome. Let’s talk about it.
The first things to know about this game is that it is NOT for the uninvested in this franchise. If you aren’t aware of what happened in the previous entries of the game, you are going to be SO lost. Everything from where Kratos gets his unbelievable strength to why he is so dead-set on not telling his son the truth about what he is and where he comes from will fly right over your head if you don’t know what happened. And the game doesn’t exactly help that. There is no true exposition dump, but given how the game is set up with one of the most marketed mechanics, maybe that’s for the best.
Next, a lot of people have said that this game is riffing pretty hard on The Last of Us, and I would be lying if I said that I can’t see the influence. But there are some pretty clear places where it differs from the other game. Lastly, this game controls VERY differently than any God of War game up to this point, so if that’s a deal-breaker for you, then you’d best give this a pass. The older entries were all about fast-pacing and combo build-up. This game is about strategic combat and good use of power-ups. There are even moments where you have some Dark Souls peek in. But it also fits with how this game is designed.
The plot of this game is where you have Old Man Kratos (yeah, it feels like an Old Man Logan kinda story) in Norse mythology land. After the events of the previous game (which they never really say what happened. Like, how did Kratos get there? How did he survive stabbing himself with the Blade of Olympus? Who is Atreus’ mother?), he has fled Greece and the utter destruction he left in his wake and started a family in this new land. Having met a woman, fallen in love, and had a child, some unknown event happened and the mother died. The plot of this game is pretty simple. Kratos and his son Atreus are taking the mother’s ashes to the highest peak in all of the Nine Realms. But as with anything associated with Kratos, what stars as something simple becomes something very complicated.
What do I love about this game? There are a lot of things. For starters, while I wasn’t expecting the slower pace in combat, I got into step and began to see things more strategically. You start with the Leviathan Axe, shield, and your bare fists. But over time, you gain a new weapon. One that should be familiar to everyone who played the previous entries. The moment when it revealed that you get your old standard back, I was giddy as a school girl. The nostalgia factor was palpable.
Which brings me to the next thing I love. This game knows what franchise it’s in. There are moments, a lot of moments where Atreus is talking about the crazy things that his father is doing and making it sound like this is such a crazy thing, and you’re thinking “oh kiddo, I’ve faced worse. A lot worse.” This game does a good job putting you in the seat of being Old Man Kratos, partly because of how this story is told.
They did change the voice actor for Kratos, and it isn’t the worst pick. This guy is actually what I think of when I imagine Kratos as an old man. The deeper voice is pretty alright. Which made it annoying when there is a scene in Hel and you have this other guy doing the voice of a younger Kratos who appears in flashback. Why? It totally would have worked to have this dude be the person who voiced Kratos as an old man. Why not have the older version for a scene referencing what happened in Greece before? Kind of an homage. They had the same voiceover for Zeus, so I just don’t get it.
Next up, I love the characters. Everyone you meet in this game has so much personality. What’s more, it’s pretty great to see Atreus being all youthful and nice with people, while his father is still the ultimate prick. Part of why the voice change works is because this guy is still such an asshole! He got the Kratos character down to a fault! It’s pretty great stuff. Which brings me to Atreus. I like this kid. For the most part. For the first two thirds of the game, this character is a nice contrast to the cold, dark, violent mannerisms of his father. His kindness and optimism, and the way he talks about how his mother was a lot like that, makes me really come to care for him. It makes a scene later when he is horribly sick and potentially dying that much more impactful. That being said, in the last third of this game, they give this kid a HUGE character shift after the truth about his existence gets known that just bugs me. He does eventually come around, but for a while there the little bastard was downright insufferable. Props to the voice acting for Atreus. The kid they got for this was on point.
But don’t go thinking that Kratos is just a stick in the mud the whole time. This guy has some real character development. It is pretty awesome seeing how his character grows over the course of the narrative from a stern asshole, to a loving father who genuinely does care for his son and wants to do right by him. I feel his compassion there as he talks with Atreus and more and more becomes a loving and outgoing father. At least as much as his Spartan nature allows him to be.
I’ve spent a lot of this talking about the story stuff, but for those who read my site, you know that the story is the thing I care for most. If that sucks, it doesn’t matter how the rest of the game is. Let’s talk about some of the other stuff.
This game is GORGEOUS! I have a basic bitch PS4, and it looks absolutely stunning. The visuals are a cut above. It’s not Uncharted 4 levels of detail, but it is still downright fantastic. I love this game’s visual design so much. Some of the Nine Realms aren’t especially interesting, but when this game shines, it really blows me away.
One thing that I am surprised they didn’t get very well was the sound design. The soundtrack for this game is really…forgettable. It doesn’t stick with me the way any of the other games have. I can still hum some of the tunes from God of War III pretty clearly, but not this game. In fact, there is a very large amount of quiet time where you are just listening to the environment. It’s kinda nice. But then the music that does kick in, it lacks a certain amount of punch.
All in all, this game is damn-near a masterpiece. It’s one of the most engaging narratives I’ve played in a VERY long time. A lot like Uncharted 4, it feels like a logical extent of the story, and while there are a few things holding it back, it’s pretty damn great all the same. And this is the FIRST of the PS4 exclusive games this year. Sony is really coming out swinging this year, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.
9 out of 10