Unless you’ve been living under a rock since late April, you’ve likely heard at least some of the massive deluge of praise that God of War has received. Let me add my own belated contribution. It is a beautiful and moving character piece. It is a taught, violent action adventure. It is mature in the actual sense of the word, and not just the boobs-and-blood sense of the word. In short, it is a masterpiece.
The story opens on an older and bearded Kratos chopping down a tree with a golden handprint on it. We shortly learn that these trees were specially marked by his late wife to be used for her funeral pyre. Their son Atreus helps to build and light the pyre as well. This event frames and foreshadows the interactions between Kratos and Atreus throughout the game. Kratos has been largely absent in Atreus’ life, hoping to insulate him from the knowledge of his father’s sordid and violent past. Needless to say, this doesn’t really work out.
The story revolves around mature and complicated themes such as coming to grips with one’s past and what that means for who you are now; when or if it is appropriate to use violence; who determines who is deserving of death or punishment. The violence in the game is visceral, but the game also makes you consider the consequences of your actions. There are instances in the game when Kratos seems almost apologetic toward the enemies he’s defeated. The camera doesn’t cut away once the monster is downed. You see the follow up, you experience the regret along with Kratos. It’s an interesting and, in my opinion, very effective choice in cinematography and direction.
Another aspect I’d like to praise are the side quests. Each of the Favors, as they are called in the game, contributes to the story, deepening and advancing the relationship between Kratos and Atreus. Really, the whole game is about the growth of those two, together and separately. One piece of advice if you plan on playing the game (very light spoilers): do the favors for the dwarves as they become available. I waited until after the main story, and without getting too spoilery, some of the side quest dialogue felt incongruous after the full story plays out. (end spoilers)
Some may ask if you need to have played previous games in the series to enjoy this one, and to that I’ll answer a definitive ‘no’. I had never played the earlier entries, and I was still able to feel the emotional beats that are predicated on the events prior to the start of this one. Enough context is given through Kratos’ expression and through dialogue with other characters to know that he has regret over what he has done and is trying to move on. There is probably more depth in a couple places if you’ve experienced the other games, but they are by no means necessary.
God of War is the game that finally pushed me over the edge to buy a PS4, and it was worth it. Honestly, I’d probably buy the system just for this game. Well, maybe this and Horizon Zero Dawn, but between those two, they more than justify the purchase. Now I just have to wait impatiently for them to announce and release a sequel….