I don't do these for games I didn't want to like. If I know I won't like a game, I don't play it, and if I wanted to like a game but don't, then I end up even more gravely disappointed. Such is the case with God of War 2018. I've only ever done this style of impressions thread on Reddit twice before, with Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix, and Devil May Cry 3. In Short, God of War has many merits; the great production values, cinematic presentation, top-notch animations outstanding character dynamics, rigorous, bass endorsed sound design, jaw-dropping environments, a scintillating color palette and a near endless creativity. Yet, all of this becomes null from the disjointed, dysfunctional gameplay.
I bought the game Day 1, and beat it on Balanced. At the time, I liked it for a little while, but the game dragged on for me at the end and I became anxious to just complete it already. By the time the game ended, I was lukewarm on it and basically just forgot about it. Whilst looking for other games to play on my Ps4 because all I play on it are Sekiro and Resident Evil 4, with Furi thrown in there for good measure, I decided to give this game another try and see what it has to offer in terms of mechanics. I play all my games with headphones as close to my TV as comfortably possible, so I judge all my games from the same baseline.
First off, I want to re-iterate that I wanted to like this game, and I have given it more than its fair share of chances. I also realize that while the gameplay may not meet my standard par, the more abstract features of the game are excellent and deserve their praise. However, I will be focusing solely on mechanics since I have a bias for pure gameplay.
When we think of gameplay, most people think combat. The reason for this is because combat is the most involved form of gameplay, and as such, combat can quite literally make or break a game, even if everything else is fine. This is due to the nature of the interactivity, which is different from the passive nature of watching a bad movie. You can forgive a bad movie for wasting your precious, passive time, but bad combat is hard to forgive because it's interactive, and inherently more investing from the player. Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about my biggest gripe with the game:
Combat in this game is quite literally a mess, but why? Well, it's an amalgam of different gameplay facets that do not mesh well together. I played this second playthrough on New Game+ and on Challenge mode and the cracks make their name on this difficulty. I see many people say this game was inspired by Dark Souls, but was that really a good idea? Does everything have to be like Dark Souls? I like the Soulsborne games, but definitely not for their combat. Their combat meets par, and that's it, but it works because the entire game was designed with its mechanics in mind, just like how in Resident Evil 4 the camera is positioned more crudely than in GoW, but it functions because the enemies were designed to accomodate the camera. You never feel like you're fighting the systems in these games, but it always feels that way in GoW.
Movement – Kratos has weak mobility options in the game. He has a dodge and a roll, of which will be spammed pretty much constantly while avoiding fray in the battlefield. That's not a good implementation of side-step movement because it's not psychological game design. The feeling of a well-timed button press is unprecedented (in games, ofc), but in GoW, you will hammer buttons non-stop at the expense of no reward other than 'the encounter is done, pat yourself on the back'. I don't like this because the encounters themselves don't feel rewarding during battle, and as such, I only feel relief when the battle is over. The game loves to make the player 'feel' powerful from the cool animations and things like Spartan Rage, but these are just a strong coat of paint on a faulty core.
Positioning – Going back to Movement for a bit, Kratos also has a skill from with the back dodge R1 the sends him further back while throwing the axe. This can be considered a mobility option, but it doesn't work because positioning in this game is non-existent so BOTH you and the ENEMY have move assist. The enemy can start an animation from 6 meters away, and suddenly slide all the way to Kratos like the arena turned into a hockey ring. This completely negates the importance of positioning in action games and is another reason why this game needs a gameplay overhaul for the sequel.
Camera – I'm no stranger to bad camera angles as long as they're accommodated for the encounter designs. Do you know what GoW's accommodation is? Some arrows in the bottom of the screen. I cannot believe people defend this because this is quite literally amateur combat design. The developers themselves don't even know what they want the player to focus on.
Identity – This games lacks an identity of its own in the gameplay. You look at other great action games and one can immediately deduce what their purpose for existing is; it's quite philosophical. Bayonetta – Dodge offset; Devil May Cry – Combo Showcase; Vanquish – movement and cancels; Nioh – Stances and Ki Flux, etc.. GoW's purpose is…. to tell an interactive story. In terms of gampelay, it has no purpose. It feels like the devs got together and focused on what some trendy gameplay facets are popular in AAA gaming and decided to put those in their game and hope it would mesh, whilst keeping their cinematic vision in tact.
Difficulty Design – The faulty systems in place that create a disjointed combat. Let me provide an example of a game that is even harder, yet is still a replayable masterpiece that I've sunk 1000hrs into. This game is Ninja Gaiden 2 on Master Ninja difficulty. That game is a literal to-do list of how NOT to design difficulty, but even in the wake of that, I still find myself coming back to the game ON THAT DIFFICULTY over and over again. Why? Because the game's systems are so focused, so efficient, that I can't help but play it. In fact, I feel like the unfairness actually gives the game a certain charm, due to its unpredictability keeping the combat dynamic absolutely timeless. Even though that game has the balls to stack the deck against you every chance it can, it knows your deck is strong enough to handle it. GoW has no such deck. This is why the higher difficulties are an exercise in arduousness. I'm not giving NG2 a pass for being poorly designed difficulty, I'm giving it a pass because its systems are so good that it can afford to be unfair, and even benefit from it at times. GoW has no such luxury. GoW 2's higher difficulties need to focus on FLOW before anything else, as that is much more important for this kind of experience.
Enemy Design – in terms of visual designs, they are incredible, but in terms of function, they all behave the same. They are all tackled so similarly, that it becomes a formality. Not to mention the lack of variety in the enemy designs. I don't mind a lack of variety as long as the A.I. present the qualities necessary in present to carry the lack of variety, but they don't. Revenants are the one enemy in the game that dared to do something different, and people seem to hate them. Goes to show that devs just can't win sometimes.
All in all, this game gets many things right. Its animations are stellar, the world design and environments are unmatched, the color palette is vibrant, sound design is phenomenal, character dynamics are interesting, the dialogue is outstanding (it's a SCRIPT!), and many, many more great things about the game. Unfortunately, for someone like me who values gameplay above everything, I could not get into this game even though I really wanted to. The disjointed mish-mash of different, contradicting ideas end up creating a mess that I have to clean.
I hope the sequel improves on the gameplay, because this series can truly be more than just a great script and great environments, it can be a great game, too, and that's what I wish to see for the next installment.
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