God of War

When you step into the middle of a franchise, whether it’s written, on screen, or in a video game, you run the risk of not understanding references to past events. Within a couple of minutes of playing God of War, I watched the main character, Kratos, fiddle with his arm wrappings. There was a strong sense of reminiscence, but without having played the earlier games I couldn’t tell what he was remembering.

By the end of the game… I still didn’t know. I had to do some web research before I finally understood: In the first God of War game, Kratos used Blades of Chaos as his weapon. The chains from these blades had seared themselves into his flesh, leaving scars on his forearms.

Fortunately, that was the only unknown element I encountered when playing the current God of War on PS4. Other events in Kratos’ past I either knew from various descriptions I’d seen on the web, or are explained within the game: Kratos, the “Ghost of Sparta”, is a son of Zeus. In a series of adventures he slew most of the Greek Gods, including his own father.

God of War begins in the lands of Norse mythology. Kratos is chopping down a tree to make a funeral pyre for his wife, Faye. Once the ceremony is done, he and his son, Atreus, go on a journey to fulfill Faye’s last request: scatter her ashes from the peak of the tallest mountain in the Realm. God of War takes you on two journeys: the physical road to the mountain, and the emotional path of the father-son relationship.

By the end of the game, I felt satisfied with the story. It had the usual tropes of video games: side characters whose purpose was to give you additional quests; mysterious enemies whose motives you don’t know; emotional beats that are wrapped up a little too neatly; several links to the inevitable sequels. I felt it all made sense in the end.

God of War is an open-world game in the vein of Tomb Raider: Regions become available as you go through the main story, with side quests opening up with each new region. You gain new skills and gear as you progress. Some of the side quests require so much additional gear that you’re not likely to be able to complete them until after you’ve finished the main story.

That leads to my main criticism of the game. The God of War series has a reputation for being punishing, requiring fast reflexes and a good memory for button combinations. I knew my sluggish brain and fingers couldn’t handle that, so I picked the easiest difficulty, dubbed “Tell Me A Story.” I determined that the game had an “old folks” mode before I bought it.

But even in the easy mode, I found the game to quite difficult in spots, including a discouraging boss battle near the beginning of the game. Later in the game, I found encounters that were massively hard; I once innocently stuck my hand in a black blob and was promptly one-shotted by the critter that emerged. Again, I had to resort to web research to learn that Void Tears and Valkyries are meant for characters who had geared and skilled up via completing the main story first.

If you like challenging games, God of War is definitely the game for you. I was disappointed that the game posed such a frustrating challenge for someone who picked the easiest difficulty.

God of War is a gorgeous game. It takes full advantage of the graphics capabilities of the PS4. I understand that the game looks even better in HDR, but to experience that I have to get a PS4 Pro, an HDR-compatible TV, an HDR-compatible receiver, and HDR-compatible HDMI cables. Maybe someday…

Overall verdict: A must-buy for PS4 gamers, provided you can handle game challenges without throwing the controller across the room.

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