My dad and I have taken several road trips together over the years, and we’ve been blessed with a great relationship that’s made those trips across the country days upon days of fun. Partly that is because he didn’t have the best relationship with his father growing up and vowed to be a better one. In the outstanding new God of War, former Spartan warrior Kratos is trying to become that kind of better father to his son, making for an exciting, and unexpectedly touching, game.
Picking up years after God of War III, the fourth entry in the series (just called “God of War” for the sake of new players) finds Kratos living a quiet life with a new family, trying to put his violent past as the slaughterer of the entire Greek Pantheon behind him. The game begins with his wife dead of natural causes, her dying wish for him and their kind-hearted young son Atreus to scatter her ashes on the tallest peak in the realm. The problem is, this is the Nine Realms of Norse mythology, and Kratos isn’t on his journey long before some angry deities come gunning for him.
More than fighting monsters, the heart of the game is about Kratos’ relationship with his son. He’s been distant for Atreus’ entire life and has hidden his godly nature from his child as well. Over the course of the game, as they fight trolls, ogres, and more, Atreus will learn from his father how to fight, and Kratos will learn from his son how to be a better man and less like his abusive father, Zeus, whom he killed.
A more reflective tone and the shift in mythology aren’t the only big changes. The original series’ combat has been reworked, from a fixed-camera perspective to the camera following Kratos behind his shoulder a la The Last of Us, making every fight intimate and brutal. His new weapon is the Leviathan Axe, which can be thrown and called back. Atreus is also part of the combat, using arrows to distract and stun enemies. Fighting is fast and tight, controls excellently, and is never boring. Some of the larger boss fights befit the series’ history for jaw-dropping spectacle.
Speaking of, from mountain ranges and giant creatures to the subtle emotions playing across the main characters’ digital faces, God of War is a beautiful game. There are some slight frame hiccups and one or two minor bugs but nothing game-breaking, and, while some of the RPG stat-raising elements and armor variety are nice, they don’t feel like they largely affect gameplay as much as the skill trees and weapon enchantments do.
I could go on and on about this game but just don’t have the space: little details like crabs on the beach, how the game uses the controller rumble to give things a tactile feel, how Kratos will chastise or compliment Atreus’ skills based on how players use him in combat, and the wonderful, affirming correlations between Kratos’ and Atreus’ relationship. Games like this don’t come around often, and when they do, they rightly become the stuff of playable legend.
God of War
Voices by Christopher Judge, Sunny Sujlic, Jeremy Davies, and Danielle Bisutti. PS4. Rated M.