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After finally finishing Elden Ring last week, I found myself struggling to decide what to play next. Notable new releases are pretty scarce at the minute, so I opted to jump back into an old favorite and ultimately settled on 2018's God of War (via backwards compatibility on PS5).
I decided to replay the PS4 reimaging of the classic PlayStation action series for two reasons. Firstly, the game turns four years old this month, and social media has been flooded with commemorative posts which got me itching for another playthrough. Secondly, its sequel, God of War Ragnarok, is currently scheduled to release later this year and I wanted to refamiliarize myself with the first game’s story in anticipation of its launch.
God of War also received a PS5 performance boost when the console launched in November 2020, which was a further incentive for a second playthrough as I’d only previously played it on PS4.
I have fond memories of playing God of War for the first time four years ago but was worried it may have aged a bit over the past few years. However, quite remarkably the passage of time hasn't impacted this special game one bit. In fact, in 2022, God of War now plays better than ever.
God of War could be PlayStation’s magnum opus
I definitely don’t consider myself a huge fan of the original God of War games released during the PS2 and PS3 generations. I always found the core gameplay repetitive, and Kratos an uninspired protagonist. Yet this 2018 soft reboot of the series fixes just about all of these problems.
The primary way it does this is by making you actually care about Kratos and his personal struggles. No longer just an angry bald dude with a penchant for extremely violent beatdowns, in 2018's God of War, Kratos is a conflicted father trying to raise his son, Atreus, and fulfill an obligation to his deceased wife.
The way the relationship between Kratos and Atreus develops over the course of the game's 30-hour campaign is surprisingly moving, if a little predictable at times. Even if you can see the final destination coming, their bond still gives the game's narrative a compelling core that all the previous God of War games sorely lacked.
Of course, the God of War reboot is not all about a complex father-son relationship. There’s still a very healthy dose of cinematic, and expectedly brutal, combat. I’d probably argue that early game fights are pretty repetitive, but once you’ve unlocked a few abilities and start squaring off against more challenging foes things get significantly more interesting. Plus, throwing the Leviathan Axe and then recalling it with a single button press just never gets old.
Previous God of War games offered a smattering of unlockable weapons and upgrades, but the latest God of War gives you such a constant stream of new equipment and additional combat moves that at first, it's actually a little overwhelming. However, once you've wrapped your head around the various upgrade menus and collectible currencies, this sprinkling of RPG elements proves to be a natural fit for the series.
I appreciate the efforts of developer Santa Monica Studio to finally give Kratos a meaningful character arc. And the frequent unlocks and upgrades keep combat engaging across the entire game, but what really makes God of War such a joy to play is its exploration. It's not an open-world game, but each new area is teeming with secrets to uncover. From hidden treasure chests and environmental puzzles to small side quests that serve as fun little distractions, God of War always gives players a reason to stop and poke around a bit.
The switch to a setting inspired by Norse mythology is another aspect that I greatly appreciate in God of War. Granted this is likely in large part because I just saw Robert Egger’s The Northman in theatres, so I’m riding a bit of a Norse wave right now. The franchise’s greek mythology roots still have their merits, but give me Odin over Zeus any day.
God of War plays best on PS5
God of War has not received the full native PS5 port treatment ala Ghost of Tsushima: Director's Cut or Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, but the game has received a performance boost that makes the PS5 the definitive place to play it, on a console at least (I've not played its apparently very good PC port)
On PS5 you can enjoy God of War in a rock-solid 60 fps and what a world of difference this framerate leap makes. A higher framerate is always my preferred method of play, but in an action-heavy game like God of War, it really is a game-changing upgrade. Fights have a fluidly that they lack on PS4, and even when the screen gets crowded with all manner of monstrous foes I’ve yet to notice any dips.
It is a shame that none of the unique features of the PS5 DualSense controller are utilized by God of War. The DualSense’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers seem almost tailor-made for replicating the feeling of throwing the Leviathan Axe, but I suppose that’s a sensation we’re going to have to wait for the sequel to experience. Speaking of which…
I need God of War Ragnarok now
Like most PlayStation fans, I was already very excited about the release of God of War Ragnarok, which is reportedly still on track for later this year. But the process of replaying its predecessor is making the wait almost unbearable.
Thankfully, I never really dipped my toe into God of War’s most challenging post-game content the first time around. For some reason, I originally skipped the boss battles against the nine Valkyries, so I’m looking forward to taking them on once I’ve reached the end of my second playthrough. I hear they can be just as tough as any of the bosses I faced in Elden Ring, so they should fill some time until Ragnarok's release.
Interestingly, it’s already been confirmed that God of War Ragnarok will close off the “Norse arc”. That’s definitely got me even more excited for God of War Ragnarok, and I give serious kudos to the creative team for being confident enough to end this story as a duology rather than opting for the more common trilogy. Of course, maybe they didn't have a choice, post-Ragnarok will there even be any Norse gods left for Kratos to kill?
God of War’s creative director Cory Barlog recently posted a short video on social media that both acknowledged the game's four-year anniversary, but also teased that our next look at Ragnarok will be worth the wait. If I was excited to see more before, after reliving Kratos and Atreus's first adventure, my anticipation is now reaching godly levels.