God of War 2018 is one of the most talked games in this generation for good reasons. Most critics and players loved it. It won Game of the Year. It has redefined the already iconic Playstation franchise in a new risky way. However, there is just as strong negativity around this game, especially from the old fans. They think this game is a reboot that is a blatant attempt at pandering The Last of Us crowd 'fake maturity cutscenefest' with slowly walking scripted events. Within these two groups, I am somewhere in between as someone who has played all the older games except for Ascension but has no particular nostalgia toward them.
Regardless, it is no mistaking that God of War 2018 was still an authorial work of someone who made the original games, and it really shows. God of War 2018 is not a reboot, it is a sequel, with the same Kratos. It does not throw away the old games as some might think it does. This is why I believe titling it just "God of War" was a mistake. When I first saw the E3 demo, I thought it was a complete reboot, with a new Kratos, just sharing the same title, which turned out not to be a case. God of War 2018 is a sequel, at least in storywise. If they have titled God of War 4 and inserted some clearer connections to the older games, I feel older fans would have accepted this direction.
My initial impressions during the first few hours were not good. I disliked this direction, and it is not because it was inspired by The Last of Us. God of War has always been inspired by other popular games of its time, as the original was the western attempt at Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden. However, unlike the old games that had enough deviatiosn to separate itself from the inspiration, It is hard to say the earlygame of God of War 2018 did enough to separate itself from The Last of Us. The first act hits all the same bits stolen from The Last of Us, only much much worse. There are exact moments copying the most emotional moments of Joel and Ellie, almost shot to shot, like how Atreus hunting a deer mirrors Joel teaching Ellie how to shoot, and Atreus's first kill and stabbing the troll mirror the ending of the Winter chapter, but there is no resonance because they are unearned. These moments happen in The Last of Us at the emotional height and peak of the second act. These moments occur in God of War in the first hour. It is as if the game is trying too hard without understanding why these mometns actually worked in The Last of Us. It does not help that the kid was just not likable at this point. You do not know at this point their background and their past. It is as if God of War starts at the Fall chapter of The Last of Us.
The story feels like there is a missing prequel that ties between 3 to this reboot. As if God of War 2018 is a sequel to the sequel to God of War 3. How did Kratos live? How did he arrive at Midgard? What happened to the effects of Pandora's Box? All these made me initially think bringing back Kratos was a mistake since it inevitably alienates the old players unable to separate this story from the old games and the writers would have had more creative liberty with the protagonist.
However, as the story continued, the story gets much better and I started to understand why this is a sequel and a continuation of Kratos's story. Best narrative moments in this game only work if you know the events of the old games.
Some old fans like
complained about how God of War was always deep and Kratos was always a deep character and decried how critics are wrong the 2018 game gave the series a new maturity. While I do see some truth to this, I feel they are blinded by nostalgia to acknowledge the series has been schlock. It is true that the first game was an ambitious attempt at adapting the concept of Greek tragedy in modern stability, and even the PSP games had that spirit. However, they kept it going until they became an edgy teenager fanfiction of Greek mythology with the nonsensical premise of killing the entire Greek pantheon, even down to 2 revealing Kratos is Zeus's son. Kratos became an unlikable asshole who just got pissed off and screaming revenge all the time instead of taking him into a new arc or development. At the point of God of War 3, the story was a parody of God of War. So, yes, it makes perfect sense how people saw Kratos was a one-dimensional character that he was and how the 2018 game changed it.
And apparently, there are
, which blows my mind. Even in 3, there was a brief section where Kratos is accompanied by a child just like the 2018 game as a desperate attempt to remedy his sins. It is fitting that Kratos found a new family and settled in, a way to forget his past and guilts. It is a natural progression from Kratos in the old trilogy. This new arc gives him a new arc to explore. I wonder, instead of God of War 4 going in this route, if God of War 2 went this development earlier, like introducing Pandora from GOW3 earlier and had her become a companion as an adopted child throughout the entire game similar to Atreus.
The game also brings back something I loved about God of War 1. How the story felt like a part of the existing mythology. God of War 2018 carefully borrows the elements from the Norse mythology and integrates them to form its own story instead of plastering everything thoughtlessly unlike God of War 3. Only a few selective Norse gods appear as main characters, and I really like it.
Another huge change is the 'perspective'. Older games had a grandeur theatric presentation. The narrator told what the situation, the lore, and the world around Kratos, even Kratos's mind, which makes sense as it is a homage to Greek tragedy. Even when 3 got rid of the narration, it does not feel a departure as it still followed the same sense of epic scale storytelling language the previous games had. If the old games had a macroscopic viewpoint, God of War 2018 has a microscopic viewpoint. Everything in God of War 2018 is in the perspective of Kratos and Atreus. Now, all these grandeur cinematic languages have been replaced with the subtle character animations, the camera movements, and the grounded dialogues. The feeling of theatric is gone, intimacy takes its place. It is so committed to making every aspect of the game to be minuscule and up close to the characters, they even made the entire game as a single continuous shot from the beginning to the ending.
This is enhanced by the amazing presentation and production value. There is a staggering amount of dialogue for the player's action. Like the developers thought everything the player could do and the companions react accordingly. There are jawdropping moments of beauty and scale. My favorite is the introduction of Alfheim, which had a color palette I have not seen in any other game. Journals are written from the perspective of Atreus. Some of the boss fights are even bigger than ever and have seamless cinematic quality done better than God of War 3.
The story does have some problems. One thing I disliked is how the game feels incomplete as if it is mostly about set-ups for the inevitable sequel. There is a subplot in Alfheim that is about how Kratos and Atreus join the war between light elves and dark elves, and it ends with a mystery but it has nothing to do with the main plot. Or how Valkyrie quests end with Odin being responsible for their corruption, but again, it goes nowhere. Even the cliffhanger ending which turns out to be a dream that prophesizes the future event. I rather see them cut from the game entirely and have it a standalone story without unnecessary sequel baits.
Another thing that suffers is the inherent disadvantage of openworld storytelling. God of War is an openworld now. Structurally, God of War is no longer classic Tomb Raider but more Tomb Raider 2013, which makes sense as Cory Balrog has worked on that game. It has the Metroidvania feel to it with unlocking new equipment and abilities allow the player to return to the old areas and unlock new optional dungeons to get new gears. Unlike recent Tomb Raider games that usually do a good job at pacing, God of War has too many fillers that recycle the same assets and locations that stretch the pace of the game. You visit Helheim thrice. And long long stretches of boring fetch quests after fetch quests degrade the game so much that I recommend anyone who plays it the first time to ignore the side quests completely and focus on the main quests.
The benefit of the openworld approach is that the exploration has gotten better, and shoulder view camera works a far better for this. Unlike the old games that had the conventionally designed Zelda dungeons and puzzles. This time, there is a sense that the player is exploring the actual natural grounded environments. This adds to truly striking visual moments in the game with a stronger immersion and the enjoyable dialogues, and I always prefer this over hot garbage platforming and drag easily-breakable crates.
then you should not be surprised when people call you are wearing a nostalgia goggle. I take the axe-throwing mechanical puzzles and even slow-walking dialogue moments that only last 30 seconds at worst over the frustrating parts in the old games any fucking day of the week.
The problem is that the openworld is formulaic. The world never feels alive. I did not find it to be anything that brings a new life to the openworld genre. Although I criticized the frustrating platforming and swimming from the old games, this also means the player movement feels restrictive. You cannot jump. You cannot swim. There are perfectly passable spots the player is unable to go through, and the player has to go around and find another route. There is no branching path to A to B. It is just a linear path with optional areas sprinkled in to give the illusion that the world is open and non-linear. Despite putting a heavier emphasis on the player position in combat and exploration, it is weird how Kratos is even less mobile this time.
It is a good time to talk about the combat now. Just as the story, at first, I did not like it. The combat is weighty and more grounded than the frantic and fast nature of the old games. Kratos and enemies move slower, and each hit is a lot more lethal. I am aware of how many have described how the combat feels Souls-like, it really is not. It is not as deliberate and tactical as Souls games, yet not as frantic and skill-based as likes of God Hand. God of War fills the middle ground between those two, and this is why it is accessible, even for those who do not play character action games. This combat works best during boss fights or fights against a smaller number of enemies.
It took me a while to get the combat system, and the moment that clicked me was the Valkyrie boss fights. Valkyrie fights have been viewed as the best fights in the game, and I agree. These are absolute gameplay highlights and force the player to memorize every boss move or what player move could stun the boss. You have to use the multiple functions behind attacks such as stuns, juggles, petrification, and cancels. It reveals teeth and underlying depth to the combat system, which the normal enemy encounters fail to show. I feel the Platinum-style ranking system for each combat encounter would have motivated the player to be better. If you want a high score, you have to mix up your moves and not use runes, forcing the player to use different combos and attacks. This will not stop players from abusing a few tactics, but it will diverse the combat encounters.
I still prefer the combat in the old games. Unlike the old games, there is a serious lack of verticality due to the lack of jump. Unlike MadWorld and Anarchy Reigns, combat arenas are so bland and rarely anything going on to make the fights interesting. Kratos rarely uses environments other than kicking enemies off from the edge. Even the old God of War games had interesting level designs and traps to make fights different while the 2018 game rarely does this. It gets repetitive fast.
My most hated aspect of the game is how the combat is gear-based. The old games had the player upgrades and levels as well, but now it is now an integral part of the combat as if it is a conventional RPG. You have the money you can spend on shops, resources, items, the levels that determine the challenge of the combat. Higher-level normal enemies are somehow stronger than the main quest bosses and have you killed in one hit. They are placed in ridiculously earlygame and you cannot beat them unless you grind to upgrade your gears. There are even a realm and side quest dedicated to grinding, and I got so bored in this area that I recommend first time players to skip them entirely. If you manage to grind and get higher level gears, every main quest fights become a cakewalk. Even the Valkyries, who provided the player a huge challenge, go down so quickly. The leveling in God of War has no point but makes the game either nonsensically hard or nonsensically easy. I hope God of War 5 to take some notes from God Hand, which has a similar system but allows the player to customize the playstyle instead of just making the player stronger.
Similar to God of War 1, God of War 2018 feels like a solid baseline for the better sequels. There are many unfulfilled aspects of the game that need some improvements. It is good, but not great. I am looking forward to the sequel, but I also hope for a prequel spin-off to fill the missing link between 3 and 4. How Kratos survived and left Greece, and how he settled in Midgard. There is a wealth of content that can make a great story. Maybe the camera could stay in the third person during traversal while returns to the traditional fixed camera in combat. Ready at Dawn is still there, making some throwaway VR games, so I would like to see them doing another God of War game.
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