For the first 10 hours of God of War, I didn't see an instant classic.
I struggled to find the joy in God of War 2018 from the outset. I was a fan of the previous games in the series, but I felt like the puzzles continued to break the fluidity of gameplay and the true depth of the combat was hidden behind hours of arbitrary upgrades and XP walls. I'd go as far to say that I wasn't sure how much I wanted to keep playing in the first half of the game. I love deep, complex action games that take skill and mastery, but with only one weapon with a handful of moves available at one time, I felt like the game spreading itself too thin. There were times when the combat felt genuinely gratifying and mechanically satisfying, but having to stop every five minutes to solve a Nornir chest puzzle or march through another unskippable cutscene was testing my patience. Those weren't the reasons I was playing God of War.
However, by the end of the game, my perception of the game had completely shifted and I wound up loving it. In particular, fully upgrading the blades and axe lent a tremendous amount of complexity to the combat that I had only begun to discover. The Valkyrie fights were, by far, the most enjoyable and challenging portions of the game for me, because I really had to push the mechanics as far as they could go. The Valkyrie armor set was a nice reward, but more of a proud trophy the game allowed me to wear for my efforts.
Muspelheim trials were also exceptionally good for a late-game addition, and it made farming for Valkyrie armor upgrades a bit less painful, because the combat was so much goddamn fun. I found a runic combination for the blades and axe that worked extremely well and fit my playstyle, and combined with the maxed Valkyrie set, allowed enough cooldown for the runics to take an active role in the combat. Suddenly, I had tons of moves at my disposal and a variety of ways to interplay amongst them. Larger hordes of enemies became some of the most fun I've had in an action game, because no matter how challenging it may get, the fundamental joy of hitting demons always feels refreshing and complex.
Slowly, I began to understand why the area layouts were designed the way they were. The Bifrost travel system became less of a bother, because each area was so unique and visually exciting. Someone referred to a lot of GOW's collectables as Metroid in spirit, and that helped me see a bigger picture that I hadn't considered before. I may not love everything about the climbing sections, but the game incentivizing players well enough in spite of that. By the end of the game, I was treasure hunting not because I needed the rewards, necessarily, but because it felt good to play amidst the violent demon hitting. It was a reprieve from the exhaustive combat, not a central focus.
It's no secret that GOW's development was enormously challenging and that most of the game's devoted development time occurred in the last year and a half before the game shipped. That sort of the pressure is felt at times during the game, particularly in its finale, which can't escape a slightly rushed feeling and an visually-thrilling-but-mechanically-underwhelming final boss. However, by the time the game clicked for me in the final third, I had fallen in love with the robust, challenging, complex combat and surprisingly nuanced exploration. Joseph Anderson called the game greater than the sum of its parts, and it took me a while to see it, but I have since come around to that perspective.
God of War is a great game and an important game. It feels like a triumph of the medium and a
for the video game industry. That's not to say it's perfect. There are a couple storytelling beats the game doesn't always hit, the RPG elements still feel halfbaked, and it's pretty clear that the main quest wasn't even finished by the time it needed to be released. However, the further it went, the more the rich combat took precedence over everything and the more I began to actually feel like the god of war. I was enraptured and enthralled by the end of the game, and it left me more excited to play its NG+ mode than just about any game I've ever played. I loved God of War, I expect it to be in regular rotation for me over the next few years, and it's probably my second favorite action game just behind Devil May Cry 5.
If Cory Barlog & Co. can pull a game of this caliber out of 1.5 years of pressured, committed development, imagine what they're capable of with more financial and creative freedom after such a roaring success. Ragnarok can't arrive soon enough.
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