God of War (Playstation 4 Review)
In a world of flawed gods and testosterone, there’s no room for weakness. Gods don’t shed a single tear as we send our loved ones to Valhalla and they certainly don’t mourn the imprisoned and corrupted. All that matters in the colosseum of gods is the victor: the triumphant gladiator that emerges with a solitary bead of sweat upon his brown. To prove yourself in this world, and the next, is to shed blood in the name of vengeance, defence, or in anger – well, that’s the impression that God of War gives, at the very least.
After the passing of his wife, Kratos is left to parent Atreus and help him transition into the often remarked “BOY” into a man. Throughout the story Kratos often remarks the old parental adage of “do as I say, not as I do” as he cleaves countless enemies in too. Early on we hear the shock and compassion in Atreus’ voice as he tries to challenge his father on his ideals that soon blossoms into a wonderful back and forth as Atreus learns the true nature of his father. Even when God of War isn’t tackling the nitty gritty of self-defence and mercy, there’s a story to be told about fulfilling the last wish of Atreus’s mother by scattering her ashes from the highest point in the land. Along the way Atreus and Kratos also find a whole host of comedy brevity in Mimir, Brok, and Sindri who season an otherwise dour tale of morals with their quirkiness. At times it’s a fantastic and well throughout story with a fantastic reveal at the end, but it suffers from a little too much bloat, some frustrating contradiction, and far too many slow trudging scenes to really say it’s a perfectly tight package. That being said, it’s definitely a story worth investing in and the departure from Greek mythology to Norse is as refreshing as the soft breeze of Midgard.
Supporting the story is a plethora of additional content that explores most of Midgard that ultimately feels a little lacking. Outside of the Lake of Nine, the areas feel like short narrative stops with needless collectibles tossed in for longevity’s sake. Even if the world itself feels alive, it is terribly short lived and ultimately leads to trudging around the Lake of Nine far more than I would have liked. There are even some realms that are ostensibly locked off for absolutely no reason, they were present on the word table, but noted that Odin had sealed entry to these realms. Whether or not these areas will be developed as DLC remains to be seen, but it did feel like they were deliberately left as bait which is a dire shame considering one of the realms is Asgard.
Thankfully the realms that are present all feel dramatically varied and are a blast to explore throughout the story. Every area boasts a scenic beauty that, at a standstill, is almost unrivalled in the generation. And therein lies the problem “at a standstill”. God of War is a poorly optimised game and there are no two ways about it. On a standard console it will struggle to hit a stable 30FPS and the Pro does not fair much better as it chugs along hoping to hit a stable 60FPS. Players will often have to sacrifice graphic fidelity to get the smoothest, but not flat, performance on a PS4 and the setting may have to be tweaked further for the optimal experience. Furthermore there is a rather frustrating ambient sway attached to the camera that feels unnatural, but it is optional and I absolutely turned it off as soon as I could. It all boils down to a personal preference, but I was definitely let down by a framerate that could be as choppy as the Lake of Nine while playing in 4K.
Although God of War really isn’t about stunning scenery, it was always about the Blades of Chaos and those who were stupid enough to stand in front of them. With a new mythology at its fingertips, God of War replaces the iconic chained blades with a legendary axe that Kratos can chuck and recall much like Thor’s hammer. At first the combat is exhilarating and involving, but as time goes on, and your skills are honed, there is a significant drop off in difficulty. If you choose to pursue additional content and chase after high level armour, very little will stand in your way and the real challenge is ultimately found in staying awake as you whittle down some additional boss health bars that are little too long. However, just like the graphical settings, the difficulty can be adjusted to your preference and has a noticeable impact on enemy health and damage. Either way, by the time you’ve killed your 1,000th enemy and the rather limited kill animations sink in, you’ll be wondering if there is a little more they could have done to keep the gameplay feeling as fresh and invigorating as it did in the opening hours.
This feeling of exhaustion will also carry over when it comes to additional content. There is simply too much to deal with. From the emerald ravens sent by Odin to the treasure maps, you’ll find an almost Metroidvania layout the has you revisiting areas already pillaged in the hopes of finding literal diamonds in the rough of a few more pieces of Hacksilver, a currency in which you are never short of. Out with the additional realms of Musphelheim and Niphelheim, there was never really much joy in returning to these areas as not much had changed, there might be some brevity in the Valkyrie fights you gain access to, but even then those fights starts to grate as you discover they are almost identical sans for one or two unique attacks.
Just like its journey, God of War is full of tremendous highs and lows. The opening hours are wonderfully exciting and it’s just a shame that as you progressed the quality dipped as much as the framerate. Nonetheless, God of War is still a worthy addition to any PS4 collection and we will no doubt be discussing the themes and the directorial choices made throughout the year, especially if they decide to expand on the absolutely engrossing Norse world they have created, as well as the amazing performance put in from the entire cast, right down to Mimir and his tales.