Walking along the streets of Oxford, you’d often see buses driving by, many with advertisements for some new movie or product plastered along their sides. In April 2018 however, it was Sony’s latest Playstation exclusive, Santa Monica’s God of War that had pride of place on those advertisements. It was there for months, and looked so enticing – the cool blues of the water, the mounting towering behind protagonist Kratos and his son, Atreus, as they stood on their boat, looking ahead to adventure. I really, really wanted to dive in. However, in 2018 I was still working hard at finishing up my degree (so I tell myself), and I already had a pretty hefty gaming backlog to work my way through. It just didn’t feel like the right time to commit myself to this game that was, as many critics at the time and since have claimed, a masterpiece. I had only had limited experience with the God of War series before this reboot launched on PS4 – I had played the HD remaster of the original on my Playstation Vita and had started the second game which, while fun, hadn’t quite hooked me enough. I felt like it was destined to be one of those series where I could appreciate how much other people loved it, but it just wasn’t going to be something I would get that into.
Then, after university, I started playing Dragon Quest XI on my PS4. It was a charming game – its old school graphical style and gameplay really scratched that RPG itch that I’d been feeling. I was really enjoying it. But then I moved to Japan before I completed it and started work. My gaming time was drastically reduced. Dragon Quest XI was already a long game, but having it stretched out over a period of months left me feeling really drained when I finally got to the end. I really enjoyed the game, but I don’t look back on it with the same fondness I would’ve expected to. It left me feeling a little bit like I didn’t want to play any more games for a little while in fact. Then, one day while I was just looking in the DVD/gaming store near me, I spotted God of War on sale. The price was the lowest I’d seen, and, having heard such great things about it, I decided to pick it up. I took it home and, over the next few weekends, smashed through the storyline.
I think in part because of the fatigue I had from playing such a long game before God of War, I wasn’t massively inclined to thoroughly explore the world, instead opting to barrel through the story – and what a story indeed. The game’s tackling of immensely relatable themes such as parent-child relationships has earned it a place in many gamers’ hearts, just as the raw, tactile action excited them. The move from the Greek mythology of the previous games in the series to the Norse pantheon allowed for a fresh start with the characters, and for gamers, opening up a whole new world of possibilities to be explored. The worlds that Kratos and his son explore on their journey are stunning – undoubtedly one of the most beautiful games of the previous generation, both in terms of raw graphical fidelity and in terms of art design. Seeing the pink and purple skies of Alfheim after exploring the tranquil blues of Midgard is breathtaking, and the mythological creatures such as the world serpent and the tortoise under which the Witch of the Woods builds her house are brilliantly evocative and inspire the imagination.
I’ve recently picked the game back up on PS5, and this time I’m taking things more slowly. Whereas before I went full throttle on the main storyline, I’ve been exploring other areas more thoroughly this time around, and honestly, it’s like a whole new experience. For anyone who’s played the game properly, it might sound almost ridiculous to hear how much I’d missed in my first playthrough, but it was only two days ago that I came across my first of the three dragons I can free along my journey. It’s a testament to how much love the creators have for this game and how much trust they have in the player to leave this kind of content out of the main story and instead leave it for you to find through exploration. Often, when a sidequest like this is introduced in games, one of the main quest missions will introduce it, but here it was left for the player to find for themselves. It truly underlines that unending sense of awe and magic that you feel as you explore this world.
God of War stands as one of Sony’s crowning achievements of the PS4 generation, and in fact, one of the best games they’ve ever released period. Its gameplay is visceral – the combat weighty, the tense boss fights leave you on the edge of your seat – and the world is awe-inspiring. Spending time with the game again over the last few days has allowed me to see a whole other side to a game that I already thought was brilliant, and only deepened my love for this story of Kratos and his son as they aim to fulfil his wife’s dying wish. God of War is a must play, and if you own a PS4 or PS5 and haven’t given this game your time yet, you are sorely missing out.