Only a true badass can walk away from power and glory on his own terms in order to care for his son. That’s what Kratos did for Atreus in the 2018 reboot of one of PlayStation’s most defining titles.
In “God of War,” Kratos attempts to put down his dual-wielded death blades to help raise his son to be a tough little nut. His unbelievable and weird crossover from doing battle with gods in the Greek pantheon to those in the Nordic realms was supposed to be a more muted affair, but the old man eventually feels compelled to fight for an entirely new reason now. He’s not out for power or glory, revenge or fame. His entire purpose now is to fight for his son.
That human side of Kratos is what makes “God of War” so compelling. Whereas before Kratos was content with destroying anything and everything in his path, he now has to make choices carefully and approach each situation with Atreus in mind. It’s this more calculated form of Kratos that lends itself so well to the drastic gameplay shift that came with the new title. Yes, the God of War himself is much more mature (or old, aged, wisened — whichever term you prefer), but so is the game.
Instead of a free-flowing, loose camera giving you an overview of your blood meal for the evening, you’ll witness the action in more tightly composed (and controlled) scenery thanks to its over-the-shoulder camera view. It may appear as a simple angle shift at first, but it allows the player to finally feel a sense of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. You can’t see everything within a mile of you, so getting cornered by draugrs is a real sweat-forming worry, as is ensuring Atreus doesn’t fall victim to the terrors of the forest. That seemingly simple change shifted “God of War” from being a game of mindless action to one of tactics and strategy.
“God of War” veterans shouldn’t panic, though. It’s still bloody, gruesome, and chaotic. You still get a smorgasbord of weapons and abilities to cut through hordes of ghastly annoyances (though I’m not sure the axe Kratos prefers now is quite as fun as his more Spartan-esque killing tools), and the biggest battles are still finished with satisfying combos of epic proportions.
Your reward for an unfamiliar vantage point, however, is a story that you feel far more connected to. The vengeful Kratos of old garnered pity, but you’ll find yourself rooting for this new one because he’s finally fighting for the right thing. He’s fighting for something that you would fight for — protecting an adolescent boy as you help fast-track him to the path of manhood for the sake of sheer survival.
That the game is beautiful is a bonus effect of being so close to the action. Seeing the wrinkles on Kratos’ forehead and face does more for emphasizing his struggle than any narrative ever could.
“God of War” is tightly paced, polished, engaging, and fun — and you shouldn’t feel guilty when you eventually find yourself unable to give it a rest.