After three canonical episodes, two spin-offs and a prologue, the God of War saga seemed to have come full circle. From the PS2 to the PS4, via the PS3, the PSP and the PSVita, Kratos has already travelled quite a bit. But the career of the Ghost of Sparta, based mainly on deserved success, could not come to an end, as the bald warrior had become a muse in the eyes of Sony and an icon for players.
This is why he begins a second chapter of his virtual life with an episode soberly named God of War. No numbering, the same title as the one it all started with: in short, this God of War, exclusive to PS4 and optimized for the Pro, is indeed starting a new beginning. After having emptied Olympus of its most worthy representatives, we are heading for northern mythology.
In the eyes of many, mostly those who are the most fervent admirers of the early Kratos massacres, the farewell to Greece may sound like a heart-breaking farewell, legitimizing certain natural fears. Santa Monica decided to take a chance on the upheaval. Because it’s continuity – Kratos kills Zeus, his father, at the end of God of War III – and for a reason of opportunity: this GOW allows the studio to inscribe more and more its hero in the pantheon of those who mark the spirits by making the daring choice not to erase anything.
For while the universe has changed completely, Kratos has remained the same. This is evidenced by the handful of scars strewn across her bruised body, a sign that they have embraced eternity. He wanted to taste a golden retreat in the remote lands of Midgard, thinking himself safe from his condition of God, which he rejects and hides. He had even rebuilt his life by starting a new family. A friable and ephemeral happiness: the adventure he has so much wanted to avoid, because he has already lived through so much, starts with a tree he has pruned. Tree designated by his wife to honour his death on the highest peak of the Nine Kingdoms.
Father of a son named Atreus, he finds himself willingly or unwillingly in the spotlight overnight when a mysterious tattooed individual comes to visit him. He has to be accountable again. The tranquility it deserves is then over.
The forward flight thus proposed by God of War revolves around a skillfully maintained rhythm, with posed moments rubbing shoulders with the strong sequences so dear to the series. Never before has a video game played so well as a balancing act between the melancholy emanating from Kratos, a tired gruff hero, and the epic coming out of the acts of bravery necessary for his survival. One would even dare the epic melancholy neologism to qualify this experience, which takes up the guts as one tears out those of the opponents standing on the new Way of the Cross.
“Don’t be sorry, be… better– Emmanuel Mactos
The plot also rests on the increasingly fragile shoulders of the hero for whom the present has become darker, the future is uncertain and the past is never really over. Torn apart by demons from another life, Kratos must also learn how to be a responsible father. A burden giving birth in turn to moments of palpable emotions when the hard training fades away behind the blood tie and the love that flows from it. Overwhelmed by the weight of his previous actions, Kratos has no choice but to raise his head. Whatever it takes. Over and over again. Accepting each other to accept the other. The duty to set an example, too.
There is naturally some The Last of Us in this God of War , in this case this propensity to create a duet on the screen, a duet that exchanges, confronts itself. But moving forward together because moving backwards means giving up and dying. “Don’t be sorry, be… better“: a punchline a father wouldn’t tell his son. Except when his name is Kratos. That a game wouldn’t blow the player’s mind. Except when it’s called God of War.
Above all, God of War is therefore a great narrative success, touching just right. We feel sorry for the Phantom of Sparta. Probably because we knew him from before. But also, and above all, because Santa Monica provides an intimatewriting work, making the casting go through all the emotions while the tears have no time to dry. A state of emergency that carries a masterful epic, where the destiny of each person is undoubtedly linked to that of others. A story with Gods, selfish vengeance, mourning, burdens that never end, monsters, enchantment, contemplation.
It must also be recognized that God of War is a visual jewel showing a hardware mastery like no other. If some of them still remember the slap from God of War III on PlayStation 3, then they won’t be able to recover from the uppercut sent by this new opus entirely made in sequence shot (technical genius). This is even truer for the beneficiaries of HDR, a technology shown here at its best, making even the slightest touches of colour shine in the greyish daily life of Kratos and the snowy environments of Scandinavian folklore.
We’ll not forget to highlight the incredibly fine textures, the cleanliness of the rendering, the richness of the details (those armors that would deserve the Oscar for the best 2018 costumes), the solidity of the engine and the effects that flood the retina with pleasure and spoil it. There are so many top demo moments that we can’t remember a single one. No doubt to have : this God of War is the most beautiful game of the PS4, honorary title until then held by Horizon : Zero Dawn. All wrapped up in a soundtrack orchestrated with a masterful hand, fed by the instrumental flights that press when necessary.
On the gameplay side, a lot has changed in this God of War. But let the fans of the first hour be reassured : the essence of the franchise is preserved, a little inexplicably with regard to the global evolution of the formula. It’s more of a reinvention: we go from beat them all to an experience that focuses on the action/adventure genre tinted with RPG. There’s also this TPS-style shoulder-mounted camera view.
A choice that brings the player closer to the action in battles that have lost nothing of their exacerbated violence (cuckoo the gory executions as we like them). It is not always easy to read, so much so that visual indicators – colored arrows – or sound indicators – the kid’s voice – are mandatory to signal an enemy off-camera.
But still, the combat part has been worked on enough to offer depth, due to the variety of the bestiary, the clever use of fire and ice elements, the choices in terms of equipment or the number of combos available (to be unlocked thanks to experience points). If the first confrontations let augur the worst, very quickly, one realizes thatthere is matter to draw from the pleasure of the pugilates, ferocious, nervous and requiring sometimes a little dexterity(no, it is not Dark Souls). A report otherwise assured by the whole range of means available to Kratos to occire his opponents. This allows everyone to find their own style in the art of covering decorations with blood. Special mention to the axe that can be swung at any time to bring distance.
The elements inherent in the NGN domain are operated in small steps. There is not enough to say that God of War is a pure role-playing game. And, at the same time, the original essence is not drowned out. A real feat that brings back happy memories from the first trilogy. They can take the form of small, well-defined winks – old-fashioned gestures that have been repeated a thousand times – or more explicit things such as gentle riddles or the cutting up of the adventure, consisting first of multiple encounters with strong-mouthed NPCs.
The RPG is mostly about equipment, customizable in terms of armor and gems governing the characteristics and level of Kratos. But don’t expect to be flooded with loot and spend your life in the interface tinkering with every detail. Santa Monica didn’t want to focus her God of War too much on that for fear of following the current trends that we’re frankly starting to get bored of.
In addition, the title, divided into semi-open areas, struts around with some rather orgiastic content: the main campaign is supported by side quests, exploration, twisted optional bosses (really twisted) and special items to pick up. So that when it’s over, it’s just beginning. Start again, one might say, since we’re talking about Kratos, an anti-hero who’s seen others. It’s up to the players to see others in turn.
God of War is available on PS4.
Indicative note : 5/5
Carried by a hardware mastery that allows him to shine brightly and benefiting from a heritage that he does not wish to refuse, God of war is a masterful achievement. Santa Monica manages to play on the affect of a hero that we will always love, no matter the monsters, sometimes internal, that he must face. It doesn’t matter who surrounds him, loves him, helps him, betrays him. God of War is first of all this happiness to find a hero born on PS2 and become an instant legend.
God of War is then proof that a license can indeed awaken after reaching already high peaks. Still surprising after so many years. A feat all the more commendable as the developers have managed to preserve the global spirit while reinventing the gameplay to impose themselves in a new genre, within a new universe.
God of War is finally the assurance of being marked for a long time while Santa Monica took five years to develop the game, it will take at least as much to draw a definitive line on the memories it will bring back today. I hear tomorrow’s another day. For Kratos, tomorrow is another fight.
- A masterful adventure
- Unparalleled beauty on PS4
- Reinvention, preserved essence
- We want it on PC
- And Xbox One
- And Switch