The video game industry tends to hit its stride around the 4 to 5 year mark of a console generation. Since the PS4 launched in February of 2014, we are now beginning to see its peaks. God of War may be the first of the many great games to come in the next 2 to 3 years.
In what is now becoming a kind of corporate identity – the new God of War shifts the top down hack-and-slash style of the previous God of War entries in favor of a closer camera perspective. It seems like the success of games like The Last of Us may have encouraged many first party studios to introspect their existing franchises to bring a more realistic and mature experience.
This is a welcome change to the God of War franchise, a series that saw the formula fatigue quite a bit with the mulled reception of the previous entry God of War: Ascension. Cory Barlog and Santa Monica studio instead brings a captivating tale (by video game standards) of Kratos and his son, Atreus, navigating an unfamiliar Norse region.
Back during the first announcement at E3 2016, the decision to step away from Greek mythology to adopt Norse mythology was a curious, albeit an exciting one. Having grown up watching Disney’s Hercules as well as being exposed several Greek myths growing up with names like Zeus, Hades, and Hydra being familiar, the God of War series had felt comfortable in terms of world building.
Overall, the game does a great job celebrating the Norse mythos. In fact, for the uninterested, the heavy use of unfamiliar terms and names like Jötenheim, Jörmungandr, and Tyr may be off-putting and make the story harder to remember in the end. But to those slightly interested, I believe the game has done a great job introducing the deep lore of Norse mythology, one that now I see has heavily influenced a variety of western culture including the Lord of the Rings series and Marvel comics.
One thing that the game does exceptionally well is its combat design. The relatively sparse weapon options are well supported by a variety of runes that adjust Kratos’s attacks. The use of Atreus in combat feels deliberate and genuinely helpful. And unlike many Naughty Dog games, the lack of true stealth sections as well the fact that Kratos is in fact a god, makes he’s powerful nature and inhumane platforming abilities more believable. (Although the climbing sections where Kratos scales cliffs that protrude out seems ridiculous even by god standards).
Time will tell if this game is remembered as a classic. I do think that the story will fail to resonate as strongly with players who have yet to become fathers. I have noticed that many of the game’s reviewers have praised the writer’s handling of the parental dynamic, one that I am sure Barlog was able to leverage from first hand experience of being a relatively young father. Still, even for myself (who is not a father yet), the story succeeded in delivering a balanced and believable tale of parents who are struggling to communicate properly to their children and how lessons are sometimes taught by the children.
As Barlog says, the story is one of identity – how do we define ourselves. Are we defined by who our parents are? Are we defined by our actions?
I hope that the next God of War is not too far in the horizon. With the engine built and the AAA game industry largely unable to produce iterative games as it was a norm during the PS2 era, I hope Santa Monica studios breaks this trend as they have many other trends with this game (lack of DLC and loot boxes). A 2020 or early 2021 PS4 sequel would be an exciting way to end this console generation and this chapter of Kratos’s story.