What God of War(2018) Actually Is
This article will be spoiler filled, and all captures come from my PlayStation/YouTube channel.
As I’m now playing through God of War, for a second time, I can't help but love what Santa Monica studios has developed. The new entry in the flagship series, is a great example of a series maturing and changing, without losing its identity in the process. Everything that made the original games as memorable as they had become, is still here but in different fashion than before. The camera is now tightly above Kratos’ right shoulder the entire game, and manages to never cuts away from what's happening in the game. Even with the changes to gameplay, the soft reboot/sequel adds something the games never had much of before, a strong and compelling narrative. The focus is on Kratos and his son Atreus, on a journey to spread the ashes of Atreus’ late mother Faye. While the scope of the story is much smaller than what has come before, the game is still as epic as any other entry has been. But rather than everything being huge and bombastic, the game takes more time to focus on characters while saving large scale battles and set pieces for more memorable moments in the story. The games main focus is on the relationship between Kratos and Atreus, and the bond between them growing as they face many troubles on the road ahead.
Getting Used to Each Other
Over the course of the roughly 25 hour story, we see the relationship between Kratos and Atreus grow from cold and distant, to reliant and trusting. Creating a true partnership. Along with a much stronger father son bond. We see Atreus and Kratos, grow in both combat and on a personal level as the story progresses. As players level up, both protagonists gain combat abilities, making them more formidable as time goes on. Atreus in particular, grows much more confident and stronger in combat. In turn becoming more and more integral to the gameplay.
The dynamic between the two protagonist’s also works very well in the context of the story. Kratos is a mostly silent more stoic figure, As opposed to the young, curious and talkative personality of Atreus. This works mostly the same way throughout the game, but evolves as you play. Atreus does most of the talking, be it to others or just to express his curiosity, and lack of an inner monologue. Seeing Kratos becoming more patient with Atreus, and the boy in turn maturing over the course of the journey, makes for a very endearing story.
Specific encounters in the game help to elevate the feelings the story aims to evoke. Such as when hunting a boar, Kratos loses sight of Atreus, as he runs ahead to give chase through what turns out to be a maze shrouded in smoke. I personally couldn’t help but feel anxious in this situation, as Kratos was yelling for Atreus and he would call back, while being berated by an (at the moment) unknown woman. I found myself running into dead ends over and over as I was becoming less worried about where I was, and more invested in finding Atreus, in fear that he would succumb to harm if I took too long. There are many encounters in the game similar to this but none stuck with me as much as this specific scene did.
Similar to the relationships that built the stories of The Last Of Us and Logan, (which I referenced in my previous article before the game released) the rest of the story, wouldn't work without the growth between our two protagonists. While this isn't a new storytelling format, it added more depth to a returning character. Who for the most part, had been nearly one dimensional until now.
The narrative was so strongly built around this relationship, that later, when Kratos must go on a separate journey to Helheim without Atreus for approximately two hours(maybe less I didn’t keep an exact track of time) I really missed having him around. Simple things such as the way the camera would pan around Kratos when he opens a door, and Atreus would rush out ahead of him, or seeing the boy in awe of his surroundings, questioning everything he sees, were hard to get used to not seeing and made the journey feel like it was missing something. The combat even feels adversely affected by the boys absence. By this time in the game, commanding Atreus in battle had become second nature and without his support, combat also felt like something was missing during this section.
Before this we see Kratos trying to (literally) reach out to Atreus, but always stops himself before he can. As you progress through the story, Kratos will protect the boy without a second thought, but can’t bring himself to embrace Atreus otherwise. One of the few times he does, is when they send a lantern into the sky in honor of Faye(and once again later, but that’s to do with the ending, which I wont get into.) This, among other moments in the journey, help build emotional story beats the series has never seen before.
Different, But Not Unrecognizable
Outside of the excellent addition of a well crafted, and excellently delivered narrative, the rest of the game shines just as much. As I said earlier, everything that made the original games so great, is still just as well implemented in this entry. The cinematography once again, makes the combat and narrative, feel much more personal. As smaller as the game feels, the larger set pieces still feel astounding to play, and never begin to feel out of place. The combat also feels as refined as ever, but different enough to truly feel distinct. With a greater emphasis, on timing and spacing, as well as dodging. Rather than focusing on combos and filling meters.
The First Part of the Opening Fight With The Stranger
As for the cinematography outside of combat, the entire game is told through one long unbroken shot. Similar to films such as Birdman and Gravity, (both films actually directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, as well having the same cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki.) the single shot style makes for a strong immersion technique. With the camera never cutting, it was honestly hard to put the game down , because there was never a time I wanted to stop the story.
But when the game does slow down, its still well worth your time. Aside from the resources you can gather to craft new armor, and the extra “favors” (read side missions.) you can undertake, exploration was always a welcome diversion. Some of my favorite parts of the game occur during the moments you find yourself just exploring. Moments such as riding in the boat while Kratos tells pretty straight forward, and boring stories to Atreus, or later when Mimir teaches the boy of Norse mythology, are just genuinely fun moments to experience. Exploration can also lead to finding tough enemies, that can’t be tackled until after you have crafted better armor or simply level up your skill tree. The game world isn’t huge but its layered with routes that won’t open on your first pass, and chests that are unobtainable without the correct upgrades. All these factors work to make the inevitable back tracking less of a drag, by making it necessary to be aware of your surrounding.
Kratos' Storytelling, Pales in Comparison to Mimir's.
With all of these changes put together, Santa Monica has managed to breath new life into in a series that had become stale. While not every decision the game makes is perfect. God of War shows that with enough care and dedication, changes can happen without losing the core of what the experience always was. As it is both a great starting point for new fans, as well as a welcome surprise to those returning,the new direction the series took without completely rebooting the franchise paid off better than I ever would have thought a new entry could have.