There was only one game in recent history that blew my mind in terms of quality, polish, story, and everything, and that was Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. As a Witcher fan, the game impressed me and made me feel so at home. From that point on, I held games up to Witcher 3 in terms of benchmarking of quality.
In the winter of 2018, God of War held a torch up to Witcher 3 and stood side-by-side with it, in terms of polish and overall quality. Though I’ve heard how good it was and how many awards it won, when I played God of War, it absolutely blew. Me. Away. Every step of the way. God of War? More like God of Woah.
Graphics and Sound
I know I usually start with “story” and “gameplay” first in my writing, but I’m going to change it up. This game was nominated for the Best Art category in the 2018 Game Awards, and for good reason, too. This game is breathtaking on all fronts; the art design, graphics, color profile and palette, soundscape, music, voice acting, world design, and scale. Good Lord the scale in this game!
The color palette and design of each area is not only varied, but unique to each region. At the beginning of the game you are in your family cabin with your son, Atreus. It’s snowy and in the woods, so the color scheme is rather dichromatic and cold. The colors truly make me feel the bite of winter with stark whites, blinding robin’s egg blues, and dead wood greys. Once the story starts picking up, and you enter The Witch in the Woods’ realm, that very simple and cold color scheme organically and naturally unfolds into a beautiful and vibrant profile of bright blues, reds and greens.
Each realm stands on its own in their colors, layout, architecture, and scale. For example, the first separate realm you enter is called Alfheim, the realm of the elves. Lavenders, violets, marbles and whites all glisten in this pristine, yet war-torn world. You sail across a deep plum lake towards a structure in the middle with a smooth, marble sheen. There’s the scale again: the structure stretching to the borders of your screen, dwarfing your modest canoe.
The soundscape and soundtrack have both done something very few games have done for me, and that provides memorable music and incredible sound quality. Enemy sounds are all unique in that you can hear exactly which enemy it’s going to be. There are also audio cues as to when they are going to attack, which is very, very handy when there is an enemy behind you and you’re focused on the target at hand. Not to mention, the Leviathan Axe just sounds so freaking cool when you recall it and it clangs off of rocky surfaces as it navigates the environment to your palm, with a satisfying thud against your hand. The deep bass and the sound design of the World Serpent’s language was enough for me to close my eyes and take a moment to enjoy the immersion.
Now, that leaves us with the voice acting. I have noticed that voice-acting quality in video games has diminishing returns, much like animation, anime, cartoons, et cetera. There’s only so much a voice actor can do to convey the emotions, intent, and conflict a character faces in any given scene. In short, voice acting can only take a video game so far.
So, how do developers break that diminished return with their voice actors? Well, the next step would be the lines themselves. If you have amazingly written dialogue with a poor voice-actor, those lines won’t have the life intended. If you have amazing actors or voice-actors with piss-poor dialogue, they can only do so much with the material at hand. When you get the cream of the crop from both parties, then you are left with something special.
2018 has been a special year in terms of performance talent in video games, namely voice actors. God of War is no exception. Not only does the animation of Kratos’ face and posture and subtle gestures he makes thoroughly convey what he’s thinking, but his gruff voice-acting, though seemingly black-and-white, drives the point home that Kratos is here to chew gum or kick ass… and he’s all out of gum.
Then you have Atreus, Kratos’ son. Usually, I find, kid characters voiced by actual kids come off as either ear-piercingly shrill, cringe worthy or just… bad. Atreus is a supreme example of voice-acted children by a kid; he isn’t an Xbox Live 12-year-old “squeaker”, nor are his lines written so flatly and childish that they come off as artificial. The emotion in his voice starkly contrasts that of Kratos’ voice, and it brings a perfect balance, as all things should be.
With these very talented voice actors of not only Kratos and Atreus, but of side characters, such as Mimir, The Witch of the Woods, and the dwarven brothers, Brok and Sindri, the lines have incredible polish, and every word holds weight on the tongue of the speaker, with a drizzle of dark humor modestly sprinkled throughout the story. I loved every. Single. Syllable.
Even though I’m some bizarre-o who loves to play all video games on the hardest difficulty, I’m having an immense amount of fun with God of War. And yes, the “Give me God of War” difficulty is so cruel, so unforgiving, that it is not for the faint of heart. With that mode, you will want to not only familiarize yourself with every combat system, but you will have to master it.
The combat is impactful. The systems are just deep enough to have strategy but not too deep where you neglect things. The world is fun to explore, even with the boat transportation. God of War is a game that simply feels good and is incredibly fun to play. You’re armed with the Leviathan Axe, which has both ranged and melee attacks. Once your axe leaves your hand, you switch to bare-fist combat, pummeling enemies into dust while using your shield to block incoming attacks. You can also parry and use your shield as a weapon. When your rage meter is full you can activate Spartan Rage, where you will be invulnerable and deal mass amounts of damage, roaring like a maniac and tearing apart enemies.
The axe combat starts off pretty bare-bones. At times I was scratching my head, thinking, “Is it literally just this combo over-and-over again?” As I progressed and started unlocking different powers and runes, the game flowered before my eyes. Main and side quests provide the bulk of experience points, with smaller amounts granted through combat.
God of War took Kratos of yore (angry, one-dimensional and angry Kratos), and turned him into something I never expected him to be: a father.
The story starts off with Kratos hanging up his fists against the gods and retreating to his son somewhere in the Nordic Lands. His wife, Atreus’ mother, died. A proud warrior, she gave Kratos the Leviathan Axe and asked for her ashes to be spread on the highest mountain peak of the realm. Thus, you set off on the journey to fulfill that desire.
Without a mother, Atreus needs his father more than ever. Kratos, being an angry person who knows only battle and war, is faced with learning how to be a father. He is gruff, dead-pan, and insensitive to his son, but does so in hopes of training and toughening him up to fight the evils the world will inevitably throw at him. Throughout the story, you see Kratos ever so slightly soften up and truly care for his son. It’s those moments that hit me straight in the feels; a big ol’ angry god who loves his son and will lay down his life for him.
Throughout the story, you come across very lovable NPCs. Notably, there’s the Witch in the Woods, who plays on Kratos’ conscience and is the voice of reason, to a degree. Then comes a thick country-accented dwarf named Brok who is your merchant and blacksmith. Crass, rude-mouthed, and beyond sarcastic, Brok’s character is a stark comparison and comic relief against this game dreary and serious background. In speaking of comic relief dwarves, you then have Brok’s brother, Sidril, an anxious and germaphobic blacksmith who thinks Brok’s blacksmithing ability is sub-par compared to his own, all while Brok returning the sentiment. A very stand-out NPC that I personally love is Mimir, the smartest deity in all the lands, living and dead. His dry sense of humor and sarcastic optimism is a surprising and lovable contrast to the black, whites and greys to Kratos, who is constantly annoyed with all NPCs.
2018 was full of games that begged to be played, from masterful indies, to expansive AAA titles, while also carrying over heavy hitting titles from 2017. It’s no wonder gamers have such a huge backlog in their library. Naturally, it comes down to what to play first. Not only is God of War a game that you need to play period, but it is a game that I feel you should play as soon as possible. I am anxiously anticipating the sequel to this game. In terms of action-adventure narrative, this game set a new bar for me. In all honestly, it goes up there with Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, in the sense that it is a classic that should be played if you enjoy video games as a hobby. It is not necessary to play the other games in the series to follow along with the story.
No content has been cut from the main-game for DLC and nothing felt rushed. It is beyond polished, and it feels good to play. There is an utter sense of satisfaction when you finally get passed a part that requires hours and hours of dying and trying (well, at least if you’re playing Give me God of War mode).
Please, do yourself a favor. Play this game.