Atreus adds an interesting complication to the mix. He acts as your ranged weapon assistant, firing arrows that chip away at and stun enemies. He can also choke them out or set you up for an attack. Any worries of him interfering in the action should be dismissed because you quickly realize he's a valuable asset. He's also somewhat of an interpreter for Kratos as he can read the Runes chiseled throughout the world.
Kratos can block enemy attacks, but that same button is used to activate special maneuvers called Runics, of which you have light and heavy options. The problem is the reliance on using block caused me to fire off Runic attacks by accident. It's not the worst thing in the world, but an ill-timed Runic will force you to wait out its cool-down period. There's also a targeting system in place, but it has a tendency to handcuff.
Then there are the laundry list of combos and skills that can be unlocked using XP, one of the game's many currencies. Both Kratos and Atreus have skill trees, with Kratos doubling down on bare-handed and axe skills. It's overwhelming, and quite honestly, feels like you have too many moves at your disposal. Reliably pulling off some of the combos advertised in the menus takes serious discipline.
If you do reach a point where you're stringing together axe-throw combos, learning stance changes and timing, you're probably really good at fighting games too -- that's the vibe the combat in God of War occasionally gives off. Your skills will undoubtedly grow as you progress and the game can be a decent teacher if you commit and persist.
Thankfully, you don't really need to master any of it, because odds are you'll find your own play style that will gradually get powerful enough as long as you monitor the stats of your armor and upgrade your and Atreus' weapons regularly.
But the game's menu system never felt quite right to me. At the start of my play it was categorically daunting, but eventually I just got used to it. It's not as intuitive as I think it could have been, mostly due to its text-heavy presentation. I spent a lot of time going through different rarities of armor, comparing their stats, cross-referencing them with what I might be able to buy at shops and then making sure I wasn't neglecting any piece within my loadout.
The shops in the game are owned and operated by a pair of Dwarven brothers -- one's a lovable germaphobe and the other is just kind of a dick -- but their stories and presence really add a lot to the overall experience. In fact, there are some surprisingly funny moments in God of War, which is certainly a welcome palate cleanser, between all the, you know, gore and troll killing.
A few small stumbles in the quality-of-life department hardly chip away at what is such an overall satisfying package. This is an unexpectedly massive game. I didn't notice a time counter, but I definitely spent north of 25 hours completing God of War's main campaign, and that's barely scraping the surface of the other explorable areas and side objectives -- of which there are many. You can hunt down treasure, uncover secret areas, perform favors asked of you by the Dwarves, collect artifacts, complete time trials and do even more stuff that I haven't figured out yet.
With the main campaign in my rearview, it's easier to appreciate how much of a colossal logistical and technical nightmare this must have all been to assemble together, not to mention the fact that there's a genuinely compelling story threaded through this universe. Some of it's a wild goose chase, some of it's jaw-dropping and some of it is downright touching.
I knew this game wouldn't be tough to recommend, I'm just genuinely shocked by just how much there is to do in it. This was not the God of War I was expecting and perhaps that's the best part about it.
God of War now sits on a short list of elite PS4 company. It will forever be a challenge to talk about the platform's best without mentioning its name. Truly, this is the type of game that comes along maybe twice a console generation.
The latest from Santa Monica Studio resolidifies God of War as a franchise staple. If you have a PS4 it's an obvious no-brainer, if you have a PS4 Pro it'll shock you with how good it looks (seriously, it's breathtaking) and if you have a friend without Sony's console, let them borrow yours.
- I wish I could "play" more of the cutscenes.
- There's really solid motion capture animation throughout.
- Most of the disguising of the loading in the game is clever, but the fast travel workaround knocks you over the head.
- There really is a discernible weight to this game. Everything feels so heavy. Kratos' Axe, his footsteps, the environments. It's great.
- The "click R3" stun finishers eventually outstay their welcome. I wish they provided more of an incentive to utilize.
- The 4K/HDR PS4 Pro version really is a sight to be seen. HDR does wonders for this game. (You have the choice to favor higher resolution or better frame rate).
- One time my wife walked in during a really intense sequence. I looked at her with her mouth agape and asked "What's up?" to which she replied, "No, nothing, I just kinda can't believe what I'm seeing."
- Don't read any spoilers.
This review was first published April 12, 2018.