Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 01/18/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
This is the thing I hate about reboots – the naming schemes. I love franchise reboots for breathing new life into a series or changing direction after it starts to get stale, but for Christ’s sake, don’t repeat names. There’s already a game called Doom. There’s already a game called Star Wars: Battlefront. And there’s already a game called God of War. When Sony announced this new God of War that would focus on Norse mythology rather than Greek, I thought it was cool to see them branch into a new type of mythology even though I’d yet to play any of the games, but that damn name…However, asinine naming scheme aside, I was hesitant about the game’s new direction; it plays VERY differently than the previous six games (seven if you include Betrayal, but all of like eight people played that, so whatever). I have to admit, though, that I was very quickly won over. I see why even my Xbox fanboy friends were singing this game’s praises.
This 2018 game takes place an undetermined amount of time after the events of God of War III. Kratos, having slain the bulk of the Greek pantheon and seeing the devastation his vengeance brought, travels far to the cold north of Scandinavia and seeks to live as a man. There he meets a woman named Faye whom he marries and with whom he has a son named Atreus (although Kratos will have you thinking that his son’s name is simply “Boy”). Though Faye knows that he is, in fact, a god, he keeps this from Atreus, not wanting to burden the boy with the “curse” of being a god. The game starts as Kratos and Atreus are laying Faye to rest. The game never reveals how she died, but her last wish to have her ashes scattered from the highest peak in all the realms. After burning her body, Kratos and Atreus head out on this journey. Cue father/son bonding trip.
The first six games were fixed camera hack and slash gore-fests with twin blades chained to your arms. This one, on the other hand, is a pseudo-open world adventure game with a big axe that you can throw and call back to you. There’s still plenty of action to be had, but if you swapped out Kratos, I wouldn’t have guessed it’s a God of War game at first. Once the story starts to pick up and the lore with the Norse gods comes into play, it starts to feel more like God of War with its general antitheist tone, but it’s a VERY different experience. Honestly, I think I liked God of War III more, but this one is definitely a close #2.
One of the biggest differences with the experience here aside from the obvious genre shift is the massive amount of side quests to do. You’ve got full-blown side quests to do, you’ve got treasure maps to hunt down, you’ve got optional areas to explore, you’ve got collectibles to find, you’ve got optional bosses to slay; it’s a massive game on top of an already pretty big game at least compared to its predecessors. The first six games in the series averaged around 8 hours each, I’d guess whereas this one would probably take between 15 and 20 just for the main story. It can be a bit overwhelming at first if you’ve butt chugged the entire series beforehand as I did, but it’s definitely welcome as you’ll not be left thirsting for more.
Visually, the game looks amazing. It’s definitely one of the best looking games on the PS4 and really showcases the system’s capabilities. You get two performance modes, a resolution mode that will run the game in 4K and target 30 fps and a performance mode that will run the game at 1080p and target 60 fps. I played on PS5, and while there’s no visual boost from PS5, it does improve the performance mode’s frame rate from around 45 fps to a solid 60 fps, so that’s how I played. I tried resolution mode, but it suffers from the same atrocious and weird choppiness that Spider-Man‘s fidelity mode did. Even at 1080p rather than 4K, though, the game looks amazing on my 65″ 4K TV.
The sound design was one area where I was really unsure specifically with the voice acting. They changed the voice actor for Kratos for this game, and I tend to get pretty attached to a specific voice for a character. Fortunately, however, the voice actor they chose was Christopher Judge; once I heard the strong and confident voice of Teal’c (I was a big Stargate SG-1 fan back in the day), I knew I wouldn’t mind. Sure enough, while the voice was noticeably different, it fits very well for a Kratos who is much older, wiser, and haunted by his past. Atreus’s voice acting was top-notch, too, which was another concern of mine; getting solid voice acting for children characters isn’t always easy. Fortunately, it’s been confirmed that Sunny Suljic will be reprising his role as Atreus in the untitled God of War game supposedly releasing later this year. The only real problem I had with the sound design is that the soundtrack choices didn’t always feel quite fitting. The whole soundtrack was good, but some of the songs felt a bit out of place for an ancient Norse world. I’m sure there are many who would disagree with me, but there were a few instances when I found myself thinking, “Huh…That’s an interesting song choice.”
Honestly, this is everything I wanted God of War to be from the beginning of the series. A deep story with top-tier voice acting and brilliant cinematic design and direction, a beautiful world to explore, and rich characters to discover. I may have had a bit more fun with God of War III’s balance of world-building and gratuitous gore, but it can’t be denied that the storytelling and world-building in this entry surpass the rest of the series combined. It’s beautiful, it’s compelling, and I finally understand why the reveal of the sequel last fall made such a splash online. I wasn’t quite as smitten with the game as some of my friends, but it’s definitely on the shortlist of “Absolute Must Play PS4 Games” for me. I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here and how Atreus explores his newfound godhood in the upcoming game.