Third-person hack’n slashes are not a comfort game genre for me, the mechanics are ofte a bit too execution heavy for my taste and they are seldom varied enough. That said, I’ve enjoyed just about every God of War game that has been released. I think I’ve finished each one except for God of War 3, there aren’t many long running game series I’ve been that loyal to. They’ve often delivered extremely satisfying combat and amazing scenes were you battle gigantic monsters and beings.
I was interested in this game from when it was released, because of the connection to norse mythology. There are some great stories to take inspiration from and I also liked the prospect of the dynamic between Kratos and his son. When the game released I have fond memories of all the “Boy!” memes that flooded the internet and I heard great things about the game. Still, as it often goes, I have not had time to play it until now. I decided to make it this years summer vacation game and it has been a mixed bag with some really nice highs and some dissapointments with some decent gameplay inbetween.
First thing that struck me as curious was that the game had suprisingly little emphasis on combat. All the God of War games that I can remember had a very heavy focus on combat and felt more like arcade games. This was much more of an action/adventure game with quite large doses of exploration, narrative and puzzles. If I would have to guess I would say that I spent maybe 25% of the game time actually fighting? Most of the time I was running around exploring the world.
Second thing that stuck out was how well written the characters were. The narrative was the number one reason for me to want to play the game through. I loved the dynamic between Kratos and his son Atreus, how their relationship constantly shifted and how it affected how Atreus would act in combat. Truly a wonderful story of a single parent trying to raise their child after a tragedy. At the beginning Atreus is really unsure of himself and is extremely respectful towards his father, but as they discover the world together, meet new people and defeat new challenges, his demeanor change with time.
I had some difficulties getting into the combat. At the beginning I died quite a few times so I decided to lower the difficulty level one step, playing on normal. After the first hurdles and when you could start using equipment and skills to optimize your strategy I got comfortable with it. I did get tiresome after while though, when you’ve seen the same combination of enemy a few too many times it becomes more of a chore to push through than something actually enjoyable. I think I would’ve wanted the games main story to end slightly sooner, maybe removing one of the dungeons or making some of them shorter. At the end I was only in it for the story.
The progression system was pretty cool. You have a lot to play around with. Experience to buy skills and upgrade your special moves, silver to buy equipment that give you stat boosts and enhancements that you can slot into equipment. It felt like an interesting enough system that you got rewarded enough for interacting with it. Although I had a hard time figuring out excactly what the stat increases were worth too me.
The boss fights were probably the most dissapointing part of the game. I was expecting to face off against some of the greats in the Norse pantheon but I didn’t feel like that fantasy was fullfilled. There are some really epic fights, especially one against a dragon, but they did not have the proper narrative weight that is often associated with taking down gods in God of War. Most bosses were variants of each other and there were few that were memorable at all. You handle them pretty similiar to how you handled normal enemies. As I mentioned before, would’ve liked a somewhat shorter games with less content repetition and a more balanced expectation from the game for what I would be facing.
Continuing on a similar thought, hitting stuff as Kratos feels kinda awkward. Sometimes he is super duper strong, and sometimes his hits feels very mediocre. Just bashing a monster and getting no visual reaction from it other than small *thuds*, health bar decreasing and a small visual effect. Often not enough of selling the fantasy of you being a super strong god that is killing random undead. Combat feels best when performing gory finishes or when battling really squishy enemies so that you would clear a small army with relative ease. That felt more appropriate to how Kratos should be able to perform.
Last thing to note: Exploration. The exploration gameplay was really excellent. There were a lot of variation on things to look out for in the environment. When looking around for secrets or bonus content, there were always something to find. I’m not a completionist player so I didn’t do too much of the extra content, but the world felt very big because of it. I especially liked the treasure maps, which gave you a written hint and a stylised screenshot of a location where you would find your treasures, and also the rune chests, which were chests with three runes attached to it that you needed to find in connection to the chest and deactivate them to open it.
So to sum it up: Great characters, great exploration gameplay, decent combat but with somewhat dissapointing bosses. Noteworthy is that I might’ve missed something big since I didn’t do much of the optional content, but I never force myself to do stuff like that when I feel done with the game.