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God of War Review Roundup: A Surprisingly Touching Epic

We're getting closer to the official release of the latest entry in the God of War series, and gamers are itching to take the rage-driven Kratos out on another violent adventure. However in this new PlayStation 4 exclusive, simply called God of War, we discover that the titular god now has a son and has grown a little kinder and gentler (but not much).

Now that we've gotten closer to the release date, the game's embargo has ended and full reviews are coming out, adding to the early hands-on pieces that were based on a mere three-hour taste of the game. Not only are critics enamored with how God of War tells the story of Kratos and his son Atreus, but they're also head-over-heels on the game's still-impeccable mechanics.

Tom's Guide

Tom's Guide editor Sherri L. Smith lavished praise on God of War for its gorgeous world, excellent AI-assistant and how the series has evolved and matured.

"I started playing by myself, but quickly had an audience of my coworkers oohing and ahhing at the action. By then, I had unlocked enough moves on the skill tree for both Atreus and Kratos that combat looked like a beautiful ballet." — Sherri L. Smith, Tom's Guide

The Good

"Developer Santa Monica Studio has definitely matured in the way it tackles violence. The colors are richer, and the textures more detailed, especially when you're playing on the PlayStation 4 Pro on a 65-inch Samsung television. I started playing by myself, but quickly had an audience of my coworkers oohing and ahhing at the action. By then, I had unlocked enough moves on the skill tree for both Atreus and Kratos that combat looked like a beautiful ballet."

"Ultimately, Atreus is the evolution of the smart AI-assistant dynamic we praised in BioShock Infinite with Booker and Elizabeth. Similar to Elizabeth, Atreus' relationship with his father drives the story. However, in combat, Atreus takes things a step further than what you saw in BioShock, thanks to his dynamic combat skills. There was never a time when I worried that he wouldn't be there to provide ample support. And even when I'm not directing where his arrows should go, he's a competent-enough companion that can hold his own."

"God of War has come a long way. The series began as a bloody good romp through the Greek pantheon with a devil-may-care attitude, and it slowly fleshed out the torment of a man turned god. The latest iteration of the franchise takes that legacy and expands upon it brilliantly, delivering a mature story that allows Kratos to grow up."

The Bad

"A few graphical stutters."

Newsweek

Mo Mozuch from Newsweek is happy to see Kratos back, and is even happier to see that the demigod is changing now that he's a father.  but acknowledges that this isn't the same rage monster of old. Instead, he finds a more restrained being, which carries over into the combat.

The Good

"The combat difficulty, even on 'normal,' is in a wonderful sweet spot. Enemies scale nicely and you are not simply a meat grinder by game's end. Killing tough foes yields rare crafting materials, an added incentive that keeps you engaged in fights even if you’re dying over and over."

"Capturing authentic childhood runs the risk of making a one-dimensional character that is immature, grating and obvious. But the writing, and Sunny Suljic’s acting, succeed in this difficult task. You care about Atreus and, by extension, are concerned about Kratos. A real tension drives the game as you worry what would happen if the worst befell Atreus. It’s clear Kratos worries about the same."

The Bad

"Navigating God of War isn’t always easy, though. Because you can only dock the boats at certain locations, I desperately hugged shorelines chasing waypoints (the map doesn’t zoom in far enough to provide much help, either). This creates a massive amount of ludonarrative dissonance in that you, a nigh invincible Greek god of war, cannot hop out into ankle-deep water and jog up a beach or hoist yourself over a fallen log."

"One tiny complaint: health pickups in battle. I felt I died a lot because of a delay between when I hit circle and when Kratos knelt to get the health."

Polygon

Over at Polygon, Chris Plante reveled in the leaps made in emotional storytelling in this chapter of the God of War series, and notes how the combat stays true to the roots of the original games.

For all the changes to tone and ethos, this is still a God of War game, and you can feel that in the joy of the combat. — Chris Plante, Polygon

The Good

"God of War is awesome at times, in the true sense of the word, but its heart lives in the small ways this man and this boy are building and unbuilding their relationship."

"For all the changes to tone and ethos, this is still a God of War game, and you can feel that in the joy of the combat. Kratos doesn’t punch; he pulverizes. He moves like a boxer, shoulders set, legs grapevining back and forth. The way his ax zips into an enemy’s skull, then back to his hand, is so smooth and natural that it’s easy to overlook how challenging it must have been to animate such a thing."

"There are no load screens. From the opening frame, through the credits and beyond, the camera lingers behind Kratos, the story proceeding in real time. God of War takes place in one shot."

The Bad

"By journey’s end, of course, the fate of the world is at play — baby, bathwater — at which point God of War is thoroughly spiced with the gristle of Game of Thrones. Ice zombies, a skeuomorphic tabletop map, some occasionally stilted dialogue about the history of powerful family legacies that had hitherto been mentioned only in passing. The game’s one glaring weakness is this occasional mimicry of the iconography established by George R.R. Martin and his fantasy forebears."

IGN

IGN's Jonathon Dornbush echoes the above sentiments, praising God of War for how well it tells its father-son story, and how this complexity is completely new to the franchise. He also talks about the game's single-camera shot style, which makes the game feel intimate.

"I have audibly said 'wow' and sighed at the beauty of God of War." — Jonathon Dornbush, IGN

The Good

"Other games have tackled parent-child relationships, but I can’t remember a father-son dynamic so successfully developed and used to ground a fantastical adventure. This depth and complexity is something entirely new to Kratos, and this new God of War transforms him from the previous games’ flat embodiment of the bloodthirsty warrior cliche into someone who can stand shoulder to shoulder with some of my favorite protagonists in recent media."

"At some of the most tense and heartbreaking moments, the camera never leaves Kratos’ mindstate. You’re forced to sit with him – sometimes in silence, sometimes in anguish as a haunting choir echoes around him, and sometimes in relief – through every second of it. That intimacy makes those emotions all the more real and impactful. It’s made Kratos relatable enough that I’ve been caught audibly referring to Atreus as 'my son' several times since the opening hours.

"I have audibly said 'wow' and sighed at the beauty of God of War. The texture of grassy hills in the distance feel real, light dances dazzlingly off of shinier surfaces, and every gnarled monster I have fought conveys such a sense of decay as to instill terror in me. Even the sky looks nearly photo-realistic."

"The feel of throwing and recalling the Leviathan Axe is So. Damn. Satisfying."

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Kotaku

Kotaku's Chris Kohler enjoyed God of War, but has some bones to pick with the changes made to how the game looks, specifically, its camera angles and teeny tiny text.

"I don’t know if the entire God of War staff had some sort of Super Lasik surgery as a team bonding exercise or what, but the text in this game’s menus is too small for me to read while sitting 8 feet away from a 42-inch television." — Chris Kohler, Kotaku

The Good

"So right from the get-go, the game offers up a unique, quite fun, style of melee combat that you’ve got to learn."

"I haven’t done everything, but with about 20 hours invested into the main story (it’s pretty big), it seems like there’s another 20 to go, easily. I feel the game drawing me back, even though I’ve seen all the big revelations, because the combat is just so much fun and the interstitial conversations are so funny."

The Bad

"In the new God of War, this signature look is no more: The camera is positioned over Kratos’ right shoulder, and you control it (and thus his positioning) with the right stick, like so many other third-person action games. While this does work well to enable a more deliberate, less arcadey combat style, it also saps the series’ ability to show off that sort of cinematic spectacle, replacing it with something that looks a lot more like many other triple-A third-person action games."

"I don’t know if the entire God of War staff had some sort of Super Lasik surgery as a team bonding exercise or what, but the text in this game’s menus is too small for me to read while sitting 8 feet away from a 42-inch television."

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The Verge

The Good

"One of the most remarkable aspects of the game is how this story, and the relationship between father and son, are so tightly interwoven with the gameplay. Everything feels like it’s there for a reason. As Atreus gains confidence and continues to learn from watching his father, he naturally becomes more proficient in battle. The boy talks quite a bit, not only providing historical details on the mystical world around you, but also giving hints at what you need to do next."

"The game itself, meanwhile, feels much more robust and varied than in the past. Older God of War games fit squarely into the hack-and-slash genre. The core action involved slicing up huge swaths of foes and racking up massive combos, with the occasional puzzle and boss fight to mix things up. These elements still exist in the new game, but with a much better balance."

"God of War is the kind of lush, expensive single-player experience that has become increasingly rare in a world where online, service-heavy titles have come to dominate blockbuster games. It feels singular in its purpose, and it pulls it off magnificently."

The Bad

"There are some minor nitpicks — the narrative’s heavy use of magical MacGuffins, a needlessly complex loot system, and an over-reliance on particularly gruesome kills — but they do little to detract from the overall experience."