God of War on PS5 is backwards compatibility done right

God of War PS5
(Image credit: Santa Monica Studio)

Compared to the Xbox Series X, backwards compatibility on the PS5 has been just OK so far. Some games, like Ghost of Tsushima, have benefitted from the 10.28 teraflops of processing power in Sony's bulky console. Others, like Bloodborne, simply load fast, but don’t put the graphics grunt to good use. 

But patches that optimize some of the best PS4 games for the PS5 have started to creep out of Sony’s woodwork. Notably, they include Nioh 2 Remastered, which my colleague Marshall Honorof enjoyed, as well as God of War. I’ll focus on the latter, which just happens to be one of my favorite games of all time.  

I first played God of War a few months after its April 2018 release date on a standard PS4. At 1080p resolution, and 30 frames per second at best, Santa Monica Studio’s soft reboot of the God of War series still looked fantastic. It also delivered brutal, kinetic and frenetic action, and told a wonderful father-and-son tale. 

I was so enraptured by the game — after finishing it, I thought about it for days — that I was rather forgiving of the fact that my poor PS4 sounded like a jet trying to take off while running it. And I accepted that I was running God of War at 1080p on a 4K TV, even if the upscaler on my TV is pretty good. 

But going back to God of War a year or so later, it became clear that the PS4 was being pushed to its limits. After seeing Red Dead Redemption 2 run at 4K on my Xbox One X, I wished God of War could do the same. 

The PS4 Pro can run at a 4K checkerboard resolution without tanking the frame rate. But even then it, God of War ran only at 30 fps. You could get a higher frame rate, but not a steady 60 fps, if you dropped the resolution down to 1080p and sacrificed some of the graphical sharpness and clarity. 

Invoking PS5 power

PS5 God of War

(Image credit: Sony)

Enter the PS5. I first installed God of War on my PS5 as soon as I got the system set up, and was pleased to see that the console offered PS4 Pro performance and resolution options in the settings. That’s all thanks to the PS5's backwards compatibility, which can emulate the PS4 Pro’s performance. But it didn’t deliver the 4K, 60 fps experience that Sony pinned to the PS5’s mast.

However, the new PS5 update for God of War changes that. While you can’t get a native 4K resolution image, you do get checkerboard 4K running at what felt like a locked 60 fps.

It’s properly glorious; a serious game-changer. All of the stunning details that Santa Monica Studio put into the environments, characters and textures of God of War were sharp and clear.

Navigating the world, as well as burying the Leviathan axe deep into the torso of a draugr, feels wonderful at 60 fps. Sure, it’s not quite the 120 fps gaming that the PS5 can provide in some games. But it’s a huge step up from the base PS4 experience.

In fact, I’d argue that if I hadn't played God of War before, I’d actually wait to play it on Sony’s new hardware, even though finding where to buy the PS5 is a deeply frustrating pursuit. And yes, I’m fully aware that I've previously declared you don’t need a PS5 or Xbox Series X yet.

More of this please, Sony

PS5 DualSense controller

(Image credit: Future)

This God of War update is also promising news for PS5 backwards compatibility in general. While you can play a whole suite of PS4 games on the new hardware, including a curated selection through the PS Plus Collection, they aren't optimized for the PS5.

Yet if other PlayStation-centric developers follow in Santa Monica Studio's footsteps, then we could see that change. I’m really hoping for an optimized version of Horizon Zero Dawn, so I can see its beautiful post, post-apocalyptic environments in full 4K, 60 fps glory.

But more than that, I want a 60 fps version of Bloodborne. At 4K/60 fps, I think From Software’s dark and brutal Victorian-esque horror game will take on a new, gory life. (And a lack of dropped frames could also help me not die pitifully to a New Game+ Father Gascoigne.)

Naturally, I’d still rather see Sony push its studios and developers to bring out more exclusive PS5 games. But optimizations of stellar last-gen games sprinkle some rather lovely icing on what’s already a promising gaming cake.

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.