Five months in to 2018, I was shocked to discover that my front-runner for game of the year is the new Norse-mythology based reboot of God of War. I have to admit that I was not a fan of the original God of War games. While the originals were fun to play, I found the rampant misogyny to be so extremely off-putting that I could never truly get into them (note: I feel the same about Grand Theft Auto). Thankfully, this game is vastly different. In fact the entire premise is based on you respecting your beloved deceased wife’s final wishes, and finding a way to protect and raise your son in his harsh new world.
Almost everything in this game works in such surprising ways that I found myself thinking about it constantly and unable to wait to get my next fix of this unexpected masterpiece. Below, I’ve listed everything I think made the gameplay experience feel so profound along with a few things that could’ve used a little more polish.
What Was Great:
The Father/Son Stuff
Experiencing the evolution of the strained relationship between Kratos and Atreus was the highlight of the game. The game’s creators have clearly grown-up since the early days of the series and it was on full display with the amazingly poignant look at a rage-filled Spartan god who killed his own father trying to connect with his intellectual son and teaching him to strive to be better.
Duh. God of War has always been known for its combat and this game is no exception. At first, combat seems a little thin and clunky while you get used to things and before you are well upgraded. However, once you’ve earned enough XP to grant you all sorts of fun combos and make Atreus properly honor the Kratos family blood-lust lineage, it feels silky smooth and becomes second nature. Additionally, there is phenomenal variety in the types of standard enemies you face throughout your adventure giving you plenty of opportunities to utilize all of your skills instead of just focusing on a few go-to moves.
Just as the combat gets stale, you are introduced to Kratos’ first love – the blades of chaos and everything is suddenly fresh again as there’s an entire new skill tree to unlock and combos to master. As soon as I felt the rush of taking out my first wave of undead hordes with the blades, I knew I would be finishing the game that weekend no matter how long it took. Check out the end of this post for my breakdown of which weapon is the supreme method of death and destruction.
The Quieter Moments
Without the beautiful quiet moments, this game would have a very different message. The more tranquil moments make the violence all the more unsettling and impactful. My personal favorite scene was saving the magical boar that was wounded while trying to teach Atreus to hunt, which brought back memories of saving the trapped elephant in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.
Often times, I found myself waiting at a boat dock for a story to end rather than rushing into the next adventure. At first, Kratos “regales” Atreus with stories that are most often crudely told parables. Then Mimir joins the fray and lends some awesome lore to the mix.
One particular highlight was what seemed like a throwaway scene where Kratos quizzes Atreus on the meaning of port-side and starboard, which then pays off beautifully dozens of hours later when fighting aboard a ship and Atreus is correctly calling out which direction needs attention.
Mimir the Wise Head
Some of the best moments in the game are had thanks to the all-knowing dismembered head you carry with you for the final half or so. Just as Kratos’ Drax-like stories were beginning to get old, Mimir joins the fray to provide much more elegant and enthralling lore. Special bonus points for every time Atreus has to hold the head which made me laugh at just how badly all of this was going to mess up his chances at being any sort of well-adjusted god-adult.
The RPGness of it All
At first I felt overwhelmed by the skill trees, weapons, armors, enchantments, talismans and more that fill up your menus. However, once I got into it, the system is extremely intuitive and lets you really customize things to your play style (I personally loaded up on strength and defense but can imagine a fun play-through where runic is emphasized). There was just enough crafting without actually feeling like it was time-consuming or that you were just being sent on fetch quests.
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more perfect camera than the immersive brilliance of God of War’s seemingly cut-free camera. You remain constantly in the thick of the story which adds to the chaos and almost Saving Private Ryan storming of Normandy like viscerality.
There was very much a Zelda: Breath of the Wild vibe to exploring in this game. There were plenty of “what’s that over there” moments, and I was never disappointed with what I found. While you can’t just go anywhere like Zelda, there was more than enough to explore, and seemingly every nook and cranny featured a treasure chest or lore payoff that was worth the effort. Plus, I felt super cool that I had a basic understanding of Norse mythology thanks to all the Thor movies.
Half of the Ending
The true ending was beautiful and resonated deeply. I poured myself a nice glass of bourbon while preparing to finally scale the highest peak and spread my wife’s ashes with my boy, and it was everything I hoped it would be. Additionally, some amazing revelations that actually made sense happened – your wife was a giant, your son is freaking Loki! Then you finally get home and get some sleep only to see a vision of the god of thunder himself coming to get revenge. You couldn’t ask for a more satisfying conclusion.
What Was Lacking:
The boss battles in God of War are incredible and have a wonderful cinematic feel to them. The only problem is that there aren’t a whole lot of them. Instead, you get a lot of mini-bosses thrown at you in the form of soul-eaters and trolls. While these are cool at first, you quickly tire of smashing a troll’s head in with his own massive weapon by the fifth time or so. For another perspective on how badly the trolls suck check out this article from Kotaku.
The Other Half of the Ending
The Freya stuff after the final battle really didn’t work for me. I listened to an interview with the game’s director where he explains its purpose, but I just couldn’t get over Kratos killing someone to prove a point about how terrible being a god is. The director admitted it wasn’t necessarily Kratos making the right choice, but still it just felt weird.
By the time I completed the main story, Kratos and Atreus were both ready to take down every pantheon of gods in all the realms. Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot for me to do anymore since I tackled a lot of the side-quests during the game. I can continue to complete the challenges in Muspelheim and embark on the weird mist-shrouded realm of Niflheim, but I no longer have areas filled with enemies waiting to be sent to the Helheim by my blades. It’s fun content to jump back to when I need my Midgard fix, but it’s not compelling me to drop everything else like the story did.
Prior to hearing the raves coming from the pre-release reviewers about how much the series has changed, I wasn’t even sure I would play the new God of War. Now I can’t imagine a list of my favorite gaming experiences that excludes it. The perfect harmony of storytelling, emotion, action, and gameplay will stick with me for a long time, and I cannot wait to see what hell Odin foolishly tries to rain down on Kratos and Atreus next.
Keep reading below for my weapon rankings (warning: the same spoiler I warned about in the combat section applies) and some helpful GIFs I made illustrating how awesome your tools of war are.
Ultimate Weapon Battle
Kratos has two of the most unique and destructive weapons at his disposal in this game (to go along with a pretty useful shield). Depending on my mood, I seemed to alternate between which one I loved more, so I thought I’d put the two through a highly scientific 9 point test to determine what is best in life.
The Leviathan Axe is pure power. Imagine Thor’s hammer but with a sharp blade on the end and you have Kratos’ axe. Sure the Blades of Chaos offer a lot more speed, but really the slight breaks in between strikes with your axe are just an example of the gods showing mercy.
Advantage Leviathan Axe
2) Crowd Control
Sometimes you need to quickly stun or clear a path amidst a large group of nearby enemies and the axe is great for that, but sometimes you need to gracefully move among them at breakneck speeds like a ballerina on steroids and only the blades let you do that.
Advantage Blades of Chaos
3) Bad Ass-ness
There’s a certain something to be said about how badass you must look walking into a room with a giant axe, but there’s also a level of lumberjack cosplay going on. Seeing someone walk in with multiple blades attached to chains that catch on fire, though, leaves no room for anything other than this man means business.
4) Medium to Short Distance
Sure the axe can do everything it normally can at any distance, but the lack of speed can really be felt at medium to short distances where you might just get whacked while loading up for your next huge strike. You will never feel you’re about to be overtaken by a group of close enemies with the blades, however. The blades win extra bonus points here for having two methods of using them like a spear with the Scorpion-esque “Get over here” and the even more satisfying sending a flame across the chains to incinerate whatever is unlucky enough to be on the other end.
5) Long Distance
This is probably the easiest category since there is no actual long distance for the blades. Early on, I was worried about being able to control the axe with pinpoint accuracy at long distances in the heat of battle, but by the mid-way point I was sniping baddies with ease and had even learned to compensate for throws that are too long by planning the downward arc.
6) Fun in Combat
The blades of chaos are so frenetic that they liven up any battle. Plus since they appear about 15 or so hours into the game just as using the axe to take down titans has begun to get a little stale, they win out for being the new hotness.
7) Fun Out of Combat
Aside from clearing out some brush, there isn’t a whole lot of utility for the blades outside of fighting. The axe however is constantly helping you solve puzzles and open things. Plus, it’s a blast throwing it at random objects to see what sort of sound and mark it makes.
The bosses are too powerful to get up close and personal with your blades, so I found myself focusing on long distance axe throws while waiting for my runic attacks to recharge. Sometimes the constant throwing and retrieving of the axe almost felt like the slowest version of bullet-hell ever, but it was effective.
Let’s face it, there are something like 6 other God of War games around that have let you experience some version of the blades of chaos, but this is the first game ever letting you wield an even better version of Mjolnir. When I think back to this game I will remember the sights and sounds of that mighty axe cutting down everything in its path more than I will remember my high-speed heroics with the blades.
Advantage Leviathan Axe (5-4)
I was surprised to see the Leviathan Axe edge out the Blades of Chaos 5 to 4, since the blades seemed so fun and special when they were introduced. But then I hopped back into the game I noticed I kept switching back to the axe every time the stakes got more dire, further emphasizing their superiority. While both the axe and the blades belong on any list of the greatest video game weapons of all time, the axe deserves even more glory and mead in the halls of Valhalla.