A stunning adventure that actually makes you care for Kratos.
The first two God of War games established the franchises popularity all the way back in the Playstation 2 days, while we were gifted with another great entry in God of War III on the PS3. With that release in 2010, it was difficult to see where they could take the franchise without butchering it to the anger of long-time fans. There were a few extra entries, including the disappointing God of War: Ascension with its odd multiplayer mechanics, as well as a few better received PSP releases over the years. But all in all it felt like we'd seen the best that God of War had to offer.
Roll on to 2018 and Sony releases God of War for the Playstation 4, developed by long running series developers SIE Santa Monica Studio. The lack of a four or any subtitle next to the name might have some thinking that this is a reimagining of Kratos and the franchise as a whole, but God of War 2018 is in fact a sequel to God of War III, in more ways than just story. While story knowledge from past entries is beneficial, it's not essential to your enjoyment of this hack and slash romp through Norse mythology. Story usually just played a part in giving Kratos an excuse to bring down giants, gods and all manner of creatures, but in this God of War story is at the very heart of the adventure.
The story is set many years after the events of God of War III, with Kratos having met his second wife Faye and the two having a child, named Atreus while living in ancient Norway. Upon her death, Faye asked that her ashes be scattered at the highest peak and without going into any deep spoilers here, begins a story that's full of action, dramatic moments and dare I say emotion. After all, past games were never exactly known for being emotional rollercoasters (unless that emotion was non-stop rage). God of War's story touches on secrets kept hidden, dark pasts and of course the stunning lore of Norse mythology, which is handled so wonderfully throughout.
It's not just in story that things have changed. God of War features an over the shoulder camera view (drastically different from past games) and a somewhat reworked combat system. It starts slow, feeling almost stripped back with few moves at Kratos's disposal as he wields his axe in anger. However after a time much of what made the original games such a thrill to play shines through as Kratos gains access to new powers, moves and much more. Even Atreus plays an important role in combat, with the ability to shoot arrows and other such spells to help Kratos take down all manner of grizzly creatures. He too can be upgrades to be an even more useful ally on your adventure.
One new drastic change is the ability to upgrade equipment and weaponry. Kratos and Atreus can both be given new armour with its own benefits and perks. Weaponry and armour can be modified with a gem system and armour is varied enough that some combat challenges require you to think out your outfit for the best chance of survival. It provides a good reason for going out of your way of the main path and tackling some of the fun side-stories and challenges you'll come across. The only downside I feel is that some of the legendary armour can only be earned through a lot of grinding which isn't necessarily fun. It's the first time such an armour system as been added to a God of War game and while it doesn't always hit the mark, it does add a nice degree of variety to the world.
The story of God of War is focused on six of the nine realms of Norse mythology, all of which are a visual delight to adventure through. Visually there are some spectacular sights throughout the journey, most of which I wouldn't go spoiling here. The same can be said for some of the more cinematic moments, one battle early on left me on the edge of my seat and wanting more. In the midst of battle performance can take a hit but it's nothing that won't hurt your enjoyment of God of War's deep combat system, that said I played on a standard PS4 so results might be better on a PS4 Pro. The only other small knock I have against God of War is the sometimes difficult to handle map system which while I eventually got use to it, can feel confusing at first. More control over the map would have helped I feel. Thankfully an in-game compass helps you to find some of the games more difficult to find locations, so it's not a large issue.
I think the best thing I can say about 2018's God of War is that it actually made me care about Kratos, something none of the past games ever did. The relationship between Kratos and his son is a difficult one at times, but so wonderfully acted by both voice actors that you can't help but care for the two and appreciate the smaller moments scattered throughout. The fact that they were able to build such a worthwhile story, whilst keeping the strong established mechanics of God of War is quite a wonderful achievement indeed.