Action game almost perfect


Perry Continente,

“God of War” is nothing if not brave. Santa Monica Studios has dramatically reimagined its most famous IP on almost every level shifting the gameplay, narrative, tone, focus and characters to a point where the final product bears little resemblance to its forbearers.

These changes are by and large for the better leading to what is possibly the best game in the series.

One of the biggest changes to the series, is the way the narrative plays out, ditching the power fantasy of the previous games for a more character driven and introspective take. The game centers around Kratos, a god of war who previously butchered his way through the entirety of the Greek pantheon, settled down with a new family before the death of his wife sends both he and his son, Atreus, on a journey to scatter his wife’s ashes.

This journey puts the duo on a collision course with the many deities of Norse Mythology while also requiring the duo grow closer together as father and son. It is in these quiet moments that “God of War’s” story shines, and allows its myriad of complex, relatable characters to shine. The stunning score and visual design, which is surprisingly colorful, adds to this feeling of wonder.

In terms of gameplay “God of War” is significantly altered from the original games, rather than focusing on the angry Spartan zipping around the battlefield slaughtering everything that moves, the new title sees a much more scaled back battle system in addition to its pseudo open world gameplay.

The camera is pulled in tight and movement is slowed, emphasizing strategy and positioning rather than blind aggression. Especially early on, the combat feels as inspired by “Dark Souls” and “Zelda” as it does “Devil May Cry” or “Bayonetta.”

This is something of a double-edged sword, as the combat, pulling from such disparate styles, feels somewhat clunky and restrictive in the early game before really opening up later in the game.

While at the end of the day the combat is great, those first few hours feel very restrictive and simplistic, which is unfortunate as they belie the mechanical depth and strategic complexity present in the final acts of the game.

The one element of the combat that is entirely disappointing, however, is the boss design. Bosses are either humanoid encounters resembling boss fights in “Devil May Cry” or “Bayonetta” minus the technical complexity, large bosses that are visually interesting but mechanically lacking or, more frequently, recycled content.

The majority of the bosses are in the form of repeated fights with trolls and elementals with only the barest difference in mechanics. One boss in particular, was built up as a major threat only to be a palette swapped and slightly different troll.

Enemy variety in general is lacking with humanoid enemies roughly the size of our hero being the main threat with little differentiation. This combined with uninspired and repetitive battle arenas, minus a few stand out set pieces, gives the otherwise excellent combat a feeling of sameness that grates over the 20-hour adventure.

These flaws, while significant, are not game ruining. “God of War” is one of the best games of the year and a must play for fans of action games or narratives in interactive media.