Like quite a number of people, I was excited yet a little skeptical when Sony announced a new installment to the venerable God of War series. Was Santa Monica Studios going to roll out the same game but in a different skin? I got to be among the first in the world to find out, getting some personal hands-on time with Santa Monica Studios’ God of War and the amount of excitement I feel is right now is hard to explain. Although I only got to play the first three hours of this installment (for now), it’s given me plenty to talk about.
The game is beautiful. Even more so in 4K. I got to play the first 3 hours of the game on a PS4 Pro, on a 4K screen to boot, and I swear my gameplay went over 3 hours because I was just in awe of how beautifully crafted this game’s environments are. Even character designs are insanely beautiful; Kratos’ amber eyes blaze every time he’s in frame, Atreus’ blue eyes shine. All the scars and hair strands and freckles are rendered so well. The change in camera angle from wide cinematic angles to a more traditional third-person view isn’t awkward at all. In fact, it is the best decision they could have made because it allows for far greater immersion. Big props to the design team for making everything just so beautiful. I can not say that enough.
Kratos has given up his chain-blades and now he fights with the most epic of axes, the Leviathan Axe. It acts a bit like Thor’s hammer in the Marvel Universe — you can slice through enemies with it or you can throw it at them and have it boomerang back to you, and if you do it just right it’ll deal double-damage and hit multiple enemies. You can upgrade it and equip runes for an extra kick as you progress, increasing its deadliness. You can also unlock combos in the grand God of War tradition. I’m not sure if we will get access to other weapons, at this point I can only assume that we’ll get a magical head like we did with Medusa’s, from what I’ve seen in a trailer snippet.
Atreus is a whole new adition to the God of War system. He is Kratos’ son and mentee, and is your support throughout your adventure in the Norse forests. Throughout my sessopm, I found that he is in no way a nuisance. He doesn’t get in your way, his health-bar is non-existent (as far as I can tell) but he can be captured by enemy Draugr and there I do believe he can be harmed. My instincts didn’t let me put that to the test, however. Atreus can distract enemies with his bow and arrow or keep them at bay by jumping on their back and strangle them with his bowstring. Their interplay reminds you forcibly of Joel and Ellie’s in The Last of Us but is different enough to stand on its own.
Within those first three hours, I got to watch a few early interactions between Kratos and Atreus first-hand. I must say that I never thought a God of War game could make me feel the way I did. One cutscene, made famous when it released as an early trailer, is when Atreus successfully hunts his first deer. If I wasn’t surrounded by other people and trying to keep it professional, I know for a fact I would have teared up. Kratos, now a single-parent, learns to be a father and a human again as he protects Atreus from the dangers that await them and at the same time, keeps his infamous rage in check. The old Norse gods find out about Kratos’ presence in their land and keep a wary eye on him, but I’m sure there will be plenty of godly battles along the way. My only question is: how different will Kratos’ interactions be with these unfamiliar gods?
The team at Santa Monica Studios really used this last 5 years to give what we the fans had been asking for and so far, it’s pretty spot-on. We didn’t want another game about an angry, vengeful Kratos killing more Greek gods – so now we’ve been given a new mythology, a new storyline and a whole new kind of Kratos: a god, a human, a father; Norse myth instead of Greeco-Roman, protection rather than vengeance. How far this father-son relationship will go, I can not say for sure, we will have to wait to find out.
The author is based in Malaysia and attended a media only God of War preview event held by Sony in Singapore.