I preordered God of War, received in timely with its release, played it off-and-on for a few days, and stopped. It wasn’t a bad game. It wasn’t a game I disliked. It just wasn’t what I wanted at the time, nor what I expected. It felt like yet another series turned to the open world dark side. And I love open world games, but I do not love every game being open world.
Thankfully, I finally returned to finish God of War and it wasn’t that open world after all.
2018’s God of War is one of those sequel/reboot things. The Greek Kratos, after slaughtering his way through the Greek Gods in God of War 1-3, returns as an older, gruffer, but milder version of his former self. Now he lives in the forest of Norse mythology alongside his boy, Atreus, after the pair recently lost Faye, Kratos’s offscreen romance and the boys mother. They were tasked by Faye to spread her ashes from the highest peak and that is what they set out to do.
The Norse gods do play a role in the story, but they are mostly absent. In their place is the rich lore of the Nine Realms, cross-realm travel, and some marvelous set pieces using dead giants and the World Serpent, Jormungandr.
Owing to videogames borrowing their names, as a kid, I was fascinating by ancient myths and legends. Games like Final Fantasy extensively reference these figures, most often in the names chosen for their powerful summons. Other games more directly borrow. I enjoyed the original run of God of War games because of my interest in Greek and Roman mythology. I have the same enjoyment with the 2018 version. Norse mythology, by its many contrasts to other pantheons, fascinated me as a kid and still does. God of War plays a bit loose with some of the stories, but does so in an effective way to build its own take.
Having Atreus tag along with Kratos helps. He is a source of both wonder and exposition for the game’s lore. Kratos, being a foreigner, has little to no concept of these new gods and monsters, but Atreus was raised by Faye who has an expansive understanding of her own culture’s cosmology.
Atreus also freshens up the series. He provides a softening for Kratos that, frankly, was necessary after the events of the first trilogy. Kratos softens further over the course of the game as he and his son’s relationship changes and matures. It isn’t a story told as well as Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us, but it is a good attempt. It is also a welcome bit of humanization in a story otherwise revolving around immortals murdering one another (and everything else in the world).
Gameplay-wise, this version of God of War continues the series tradition of having excellent action gameplay. This version is a bit more challenging and focuses on fewer but tougher enemies. It is a welcome change from the more arcadey feel of the originals.
With all that in mind, I ultimately thought this God of War was above average but not great. It is definitely a reset from God of War III which hurt this game for me. There are several repeat enemies and the much of the additional boss fights (the Valkyries) that are unique are also optional. The game’s final fight had a big fight feel in comparison to everything else in the game, but I didn’t realize I was so close to finishing the game and it left me feeling a bit hollow. This God of War sets up the rest of the story, but it suffers for it and doesn’t feel like a totally complete arc on its own from a gameplay standpoint. From a story standpoint, the introduction of Atreus and the arc between he and his father is a fantastic and welcome bit of warm to an otherwise edgy and cold series.
In other words, hurry up and give us God of War: Ragnarok already.