Great, but a bit overrated and easily the worst of the series
Upon the release of the original God of War, it was met with massive critical acclaim, but was it justified? God of War was released very late in the Playstation 2’s lifetime and in some ways, definitely feels like one of those late cycle console games that pushes a system, though not in the same way as its sequel that would arrive two years later.
The game begins with the main character Kratos, seemingly somber, jumping off a cliff to his death. It’s at this point that the game flashes back to three weeks earlier and the remainder of the game leads up to this opening. This style of opening a game has started to become somewhat common now and back then it was essentially “new”. As far as action/adventure games go, God of War is some of the best you can get in the genre. Compared to the absolute best efforts in videogame storytelling such as Heavy Rain, Indigo Prophecy, Metal Gear Solid series, Bioshock series, Silent Hill 2, Star Wars:Knights of The Old Republic, Final Fantasy series, Enslaved:Odyssey to The West, Heavenly Sword, Alan Wake, Mass Effect Series, etc…
Some might say that it would be unfair to compare the caliber of storytelling in God of War to any of the other games I just mentioned, but considering that it has more story in it as well as a bigger focus on story than most hack n’ slash or action/adventure games, I have to weigh the story more heavily than I might in say Devil May Cry or something.
Despite the un-remarkability of God of War’s story, its simplicity, and less than stellar dialogue and voice acting at certain points, the story still manages to be engaging in a surprising way. This tale of a pissed off mortal going after revenge on Ares, the Greek god of war, is enthralling not because of its plot, but because of the storytelling itself. Most of the exposition is conveyed through narration. It lends to the game a feeling of a pure, classic story. Without this crucial narrative element, God of War’s story would crumble.
Luckily, this is first and foremost an action game. God of War’s combat is beautiful. There is a certain elegance to it. The combat is incredibly fluid and satisfying. Seeing Kratos stab his now signature blades through a minotaur’s mouth is brutally satisfying. Combat is neither simple nor complex. It strikes a nice balance by having simple to execute moves and combos, but mixing it in with a variety of enemies that require different strategies and approaches to take down. Repetition is further broken apart by puzzle solving. You end up doing a lot more puzzle solving here than you would expect from a game of the genre, but the puzzles serve as nice ways to break up the pacing of the combat and surprisingly, the puzzles are actually difficult. My first time through, I had to use a guide several times because I had no idea what I was supposed to do. God of War has intelligently designed puzzles that sadly get masked by combat, which is what most people see this is at first glance. A button masher. There is also some depth within stringing together different combos which works in tandem with the animation. The fluidly animating blades of chaos seamlessly transition to each move naturally. It’s this fluidity and responsiveness that lends to God of War a crack-like nature. It rarely, if ever, gets repetitive which is a major problem within the genre.You never feel as though the game is treating you unfairly. If you die, it is your fault for not experimenting with your combat style. Though it may look it, God of War is most certainly not a button masher unless being played on the easiest difficulty setting. Earlier, I brought up the term “brutally satisfying”. Why? That’s because God of War is a violent game filled with blood and gore at every encounter. Greek mythology is recognized as being extremely brutal and filled with sex. In this respect, God of War does justice to its source material well, however, considering the major technological advancements since the release of this game, its violence no longer has the same impact as it once did. This does lessen the level of satisfaction you will get out of combat, but rest assured, it is still one of the best combat engines around to date. There is a reason they haven’t messed with it much over the entire series for a reason. Aside from the standard weapon Kratos starts off with he has access to one sub weapon called the Blade of Artemis as well as magic abilities that range from shooting lightning bolts, to summon lightning strikes, to paralyzing enemies in stone, to unleashing “the army of hades”(souls that fly around attacking enemies for you).
All these weapons and magic abilities can be upgraded with red orbs which are obtained from killing enemies and opening certain chests. You can also upgrade your magic and health meters by opening special chests that will contain either a phoenix feather or a gorgon eye. Collect enough to upgrade either meter(gorgon eyes increase health while phoenix feathers increase magic). This upgrade system is where God of War’s first big flaw starts to show. You will find yourself at the beginning upgrading the Blades of Chaos as your main priority and ignoring everything else. This is partly because the Blades of Chaos are such excellent weapons that you don’t want to use anything and partly because most of the other combat enhancers simply aren’t as effective or useful. It is both a testament to the quality of the main blades and a testament to the lack of quality of everything else in combat.
A big part of God of War is its soundtrack. The orchestrated soundtrack is complementary to the experience, adding ambiance when exploring while also pumping you up for brutality when fights kick in. Each track fits perfectly with whatever is happening in the game. It is all contextually sound and lends to the game an epic feel that few other soundtracks can lay claim to. It’s also a soundtrack worth listening to outside the confines of the game, especially the main God of War theme.
God of War also makes use of quick time events and while it was not the first game to use quick time events, it was the one that popularized them and to this day, the God of War series arguably still handles quick events the best. Quick time events either pop up during combat with regular enemies. After having weakened an enemy to a certain point, they will be stunned with a circle above their heads, at which point you can initiate said quick time event. QTE’s also come into play during the boss battles. It’s a shame that there are only 3 boss fights because they are so well done here. As far as boss battles are concerned, Shadow of The Colossus and the God of War series rank up there as the best examples of how to do them correctly.
Visually speaking, the game looks ugly. Sure, some may cry foul and say it’s unfair to judge the visuals of a last generation game, but I still say they’re ugly. The problem isn’t so much in the environments as it is in the character models that have god awful texturing to them and embarrassingly low polygon counts. I can’t help but be reminded of a cartoon every time I see these low-poly character models. I never understood why this game’s graphics were raised so heavily. Even then, there were better-looking PS2 games. Far better. The environments on the other hand look surprisingly good for a game of this age and on such limiting hardware. It likely has to do with the art direction and the brilliant level design. The environments in God of War are all seamlessly connected with no real loading times except for one 6-second instance while exploring an area. It also feels organic. Each environment has a completely different look and layout to it that is brilliantly woven together with the rest of the environments. There is lso a sense of scale and wonder rarely seen in the genre. Honestly, the level design is one of the most under-rated aspects of the entire franchise.
All is not top notch though. As I already mentioned the lack of useful secondary weapons and magic items. I also already mentioned the ugly graphics. Aside from those issues, God of War’s other faults are fairly minor. Occasionally throughout the game, quick time events refused to start up for me. It is a design flaw that I was quite shocked to see in what is an overall polished product. There are moments in which an enemy is stunned, but a QTE cannot be initiated unless your character is in an absolutely pixel perfect position. It got very frustrating pressing circle, expecting to finish off an enemy only to miss the grab and have the enemy attack me. The game is also short. A first play-through can be managed in less than 8 hours. It is not a total loss at least. This length prevents the game from having pacing issues or feeling like it drags on for too long. Lastly, the jumping mechanics feel stiff. There is some platforming to be had here and you may very well mess up due to the game’s stiff, imprecise jumping mechanics rather than your input or skill. I was also slightly fed up with pandora’s temple taking up such a large portion of the game, lending to the proceedings a somewhat “samey” feel as you explore the temple.
Overall, God of War is a tight, satisfying action a game pulled together by a compelling narrative and additive soundtrack, only to be let down by minor issues such as useless weapons and magic and stiff jumping mechanics. It may not deserve quite the praise it has gotten. It has lost its impact due to aging, but the game is so well-designed that the core brutality which was initially instrumental to the combat losing its luster doesn’t hurt the game as much as it normally would.