Boy. It’s been a while hasn’t it, since my last Games We Dig. In the meantime we have gotten a brand new, swank looking website from our God Of Java Megalithic, RoMeincraft has grown beyond anything we could have ever imagined, and soon it’s already time for TIPC2. A lot has happened, quite some time has passed.
After seeing many reviews, videos, boy memes and images, I kind of started getting excited to play God Of War. I pulled the trigger a couple of weeks ago, and it can’t be a surprise that I have not regretted this decision. It did mean that I had to dust off the PS4 and its controller, but there is no harm in that. I still prefer PC over console, but I’m a gamer at heart, which means that a bit of console gaming can be refreshing. In fact, the moment I was “done” with God Of War, I took out that disc and inserted another one. I decided to take advantage of having uncovered my long buried controller aim and started another title that had been waiting for my attention: Horizon Zero Dawn. And since my beloved spouse Caeda is playing this game as well (she has to get back into it, but I’m hogging the console at the moment), there might be a first husband and wife Games We Dig coming up, or a dream team stream.
First of all, a disclaimer. I am a total God Of War virgin. I remember once playing the demo of one, don’t even remember which one, as a kid, but it somehow did not captivate me. Which is weird, because I kind of like badass hack and slash games with a high amount of epicness. I had to get into the story somehow though, because it felt like I started a story of a man with an unbelievable past, and it felt like I had to know which pains he had endured to end up where he was now. So I watched a lengthy story recap of the previous 3 games. While I’m writing this, I realize I maybe regret this decision, because now I played from Kratos’ historical perspective, rather than from Atreus’. Maybe the experience would have been different, unraveling Kratos’ past bit by bit, but in the end I think I’m happy I uncovered it beforehand, to better understand the literal and figurative shackles that once bound the Ghost of Sparta.
The story of the journey
God Of War starts pretty slow, with Kratos laying his wife to rest and cremating her, immediately provoking empathy from the player. I felt for him and for Atreus, and felt like the quest I was given, to bring her ashes to the highest peak of all the realms, was a quest most noble. This was to be a story about perseverance, survival and focus on the task at hand, not a story about revenge, anger, or wrath, like the previous God Of War games have been. Right after that slow start, you encounter some enemies and even sort of a boss, after which you immediately encounter a stranger. A viking looking man covered in Norse tattoos, with a health bar and fierceness worthy of a final boss. The moment you get the impression that he’s not just some dude that you can knock his block off is absolutely hilarious. After all that, it’s time to embark on a journey, because that is what this game is. Some games feel like you are completing a series of levels, some feel like you’re clearing out a map of objectives, but this, this feels like a journey, beginning to end, and everything you do feels equally important.
That brings me to the first, and probably biggest quality of this game: the story and the way it’s told. Storytelling is big in archaeogaming, that is something I learned already in the early days of VALUE. It is something I never really paid attention to, I just … underwent the story. Now I felt like an agent, a witness, a listener, and a participant all at once, because of the different ways you can experience the story. This story is good. It’s really good. It’s actually quite simple, and straightforward, almost as straightforward as “You are imprisoned in this base. You must escape this base. Go.” And yet it’s more, so much more. As so often, it is not the destination but the journey that is most important. Along that journey you encounter various characters, one more quirky than the other, and some more vicious than others. You fight, you craft, you discover and slowly but surely, you bond. Not so much with the NPCs, but with Atreus.
Atreus knows various languages, is eager to know more about his past and that of his father , and has a constant thirst for knowledge in general. If anything, I’d say he’d make an excellent archaeologist. Together with Kratos he uncovers the past of various characters and even entire civilizations that live or used to live in the game, as they travel through various realms, all with very familiar names, that is if you’re familiar with Norse mythology. Slowly you start unraveling more about the gods, the realms they populated and had an everlasting impact on, and most of all their never-ending destructive nature, something Kratos is equally guilty of if you look at his past. His emphasis on the need for change is ever present in the game, and it’s very cool to see how he realizes Atreus might be the key to that change. The moment I learned how important the boy actually is made my hair rise up and made me exclaim the loudest possible mind-is-blown expressions you can ever imagine. God this game is amazing.
That brings me to the second biggest trait this game has to offer: the portrayal of the Norse gods and their mythology. As said in this article from Variety, Odin is not Anthony Hopkins and Thor is not Chris Hemsworth. They are also not a lovey dovey family with some issues, they are gods. They are vain, arrogant, vicious, and each of them have their own agenda, even the ones that have good intentions. This is how they are portrayed in God Of War at least. And because I too want to know how much of that is actually accurate, as well as to know a bit more about Norse Mythology in general, I have enlisted the help of a good friend of mine. Marc, aka Hoogin (yes, from Huginn and Muninn), is a Danish member of our World Of Warcraft guild with whom we’ve become very close friends over the years. He is no historian or archaeologist, but he does know his Norse mythology and is quite passionate about it. On Sunday June 17th he sat besides me and Caeda and told us everything he could cram into what became an incredibly entertaining and laid back streaming session, and we think we could have easily gone on for several hours longer, because there was so much more he wanted to say he told us afterwards. Thanks for sharing your inner viking with us Hoogin, it was an absolute riot.
The game itself
To finish off, I will say a bit about the game’s gameplay and graphics. Since the majority of this review, unlike my usual reviews, is mostly about the historical and/or mythological value of God Of War, I will try to keep it short.
First of all the combat is AMAZING. You feel like an absolute badass, all the time, against anything, even though the game does make a point out of sometimes making you feel not very godlike and stomp you a couple times with some very high damage. You can for example toss your frost axe, aka the Leviathan, towards an enemy, freezing him in the process, running towards him and kick him into a wall after which he disintegrates. That is just one of the many forms of badassery you have at your disposal. You have to respect your enemies though, you need to dodge and even parry, and you have to remember that you always have the help of Atreus. The vocal and emotional synergy that you develop throughout the game, Santa Monica Studio managed to actually translate to combat, which is pretty damn cool. But even without the boy’s help you feel like such a badass, especially after you unlock… hehe, not gonna spoil that for you, it’s too good.
Graphically… well what can I say, we are going towards the end of the life cycle of the PS4, with the PS5 being announced recently. Even though we are not there yet, games look absolutely breathtaking these days on the PS4. Okay, the framerate is locked to 30fps on my regular PS4, but you get used to that, and it will make going back to PC all the better. But boy does everything look amazing. The snowy peaks, the dense and lush forests (especially the witch part), the fiery lava on Muspelheim, the ruins of Alfheim, all of it is such eyecandy you’d get eye diabetes from looking at it. Now that I’m playing Horizon Zero Dawn, I also noticed how good the facial animations are in God Of War, or at least how far we’ve come (ME Andromeda never happened) in portraying the human body and face. Combine that with the epic voice of Christopher Judge (yes, FRIGGIN TEAL’C from Stargate SG1), and you have yourself an absolute masterpiece of character creation.
God Of War is a must play, there is no better way to say it. It is an instant classic and it, along with Cory Barlog and SMS, deserves every bit of praise it has gotten since day one. I quoted ScottFalco’s video as the subtitle of this review, because that review hit home for me. The reason for that is the moment where he says that Bloodborne now finally has a friend to sit next to him on the shelf of “Good PS4 Games”. Of course there are many, many more good titles, but to me, Bloodborne is still my absolute number one, the game I bought my PS4 for, and now it has a buddy to play with.