I’ve got a confession to make: I liked God of War III. For all its graphical achievements, expert sense of scale, and perfectly refined gameplay, the story ultimately left me cold. After delivering what could be the greatest first boss battle in video game history, God of War III tells a convoluted, at times half assed tale of Kratos finally getting his revenge against literally all of the Greek Gods. It was wondrous, exciting, and filled to the brim with awe inspiring moments that still look mighty impressive for a game released nearly a decade ago. Alas, not many could see how the franchise could go on after such an emphatic conclusion with such finality.
It took a while, but Sony’s Santa Monica Studio has delivered something truly special. God of War is easily on of the best games I have ever played, delivering a story that is emotional, morally complex, and always compelling. It humanizes and humbles the god killing, machismo figure of Kratos into a vulnerable, damaged man who is endlessly regretful of his past. Topped off with gameplay that feels natural and oh-so right and perfect, the sequel no one asked for is the game everyone must absolutely play.
I dare not give away plot details or surprises, but God of War’s story is something of achievement. Taking place after the events of the third installment, Kratos now resides in Norse mythology, raising his son Atreus after his mother passes away. Her dying wish? To have her ashes scattered upon the highest peal of all the nine realms. And that’s essentially the gist of it. No personal vendettas, or bloodthirsty revenge quests. This is a deeply personal affair that is to be carried out by father and son, and the dynamic between Kratos and Atreus is the true heart of this game. Though it wouldn’t be the first time Kratos is looked at as a father figure, his relationship with Atreus is incredibly well realized with their naturally done interactions with each other. Predictably, Kratos is a stern, hardened parental figure who teaches discipline above aggression, a trait that he once lacked with reckless abandon. One might have a sense of déjà vu from The Last of Us, given the dominant father/child dynamic within both games, but where The Last of Us depicted a relationship done through circumstance, God of War’s father/son story depicts one made out of reluctance. Atreus is rambunctious and endlessly wonderous about the world he is seeing for the first time. His hefty and book-smart knowledge of Norse mythology is met with childlike awe and installment, seeing those fables in the flesh. The very character of Atreus gives the game a sense of wonder, something that I felt was sorely lacking in God of War III. There is an entire world to be explored in God of War, and it encourages you to lose yourself in its packed, detailed and gloriously beautiful open world.
This game is not without its faults, though. There is no such thing as a perfect games, especially when dealt the passage of time. There a few tedious puzzles that are essentially simplified to “place this here” or “push this lever until thing happens”. It is a little nitpicky, mind you, but for a game that prides itself in its realism and its organic means of storytelling, it can stick out like a sore thumb.
Other than that, God of War is a video game marvel in almost every sense. With pitch perfect gameplay and controls that feel like an extension of yourself, graphics that constantly amazes the player, and a story that is both intimate and spectacularly epic at once, this is the best game I’ve played since Breath of the Wild. God of War is that sequel/reboot that Halo 4 wished it was. It gives a gaming icon a purpose, something to strive for and protect, making this preposterous character of Kratos into a tangible, sympathetic tragedy of a man.