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God of War Review in Progress

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There is a lot to take in within the first few hours of God of War. The story, in particular, is a mystery right up until around the half-way point where you finally discover who is who and what is what. Much of the game's opening hours play out like a well-written novel with the mystery around every turn taking the form of new characters, dialogue between Kratos and Atreus and the Norse lore exceptionally hidden around the game.

While I would have loved to share a complete review with you guys on God of War, we only received our review copies on Thursday morning. I immediately went home to boot the game up and even got a good 10 hours into the game and I am still far from finished. I did, however, want to share my review impressions on this exceptional game for the time being before I get to the end of it. We will have a full review coming as soon as possible.

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God of War is not what you remember from the PS2 days and while I thought it would move quite far away from its roots, every so often it felt like what made the series great peeked its head out of this gorgeous game. These are its stellar set pieces with intense quick time events, and its magnificent, larger than life moments that left me in awe. 

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God of War feels like a completely new game, which it is, but it's the magic of how Cory Barlog managed to bring in all the best of God of War into a "reboot" so to say and keep it as God of War-like as possible. Within the first hour of the game, it takes you from a tear-jerking moment to having an intense fist fight with a stranger. Of course, this being God of War, the fist fight resulted in Kratos picking up mountain-sized rocks and slamming it on the annoying man that was getting in his way. Like much of the game's story, the man's identity is woven into the fabric that makes the game so great.

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All you know from the start is that Kratos and his son Atreus set off on a journey to the highest mountain in Midgard to scatter the ashes of their wife and mother. Kratos, being the same god killer we all remember from the past games is trying hard to keep his rage inside and protect his son from the truth of his past. He has mellowed to the point where he can keep a straight face without frowning but when the going gets tough he is not afraid to unleash some anger. Atreus, on the other hand, is a young soul filled with excitement, often too much for Kratos to handle and it shows in the game's dialogue. Kratos keeps his son in line with an iron fist, so bad at times that I gasped as how rude Kratos was to his son. 

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Every parent to themselves I suppose but Kratos is torn between being the strong male figure in his son's life now that he is without a mother and letting his guard down and actually showing some affection towards his son. Part of what makes God of War so engrossing is the bond between the two characters and how it blossoms throughout the game. From teaching him how to hunt to being the kick in the butt when emotion overwhelms him after his first kill. Kratos and Atreus' bond and relationship in God of War is without a doubt one of the deepest and strongest I have experienced since the days of The Last Of Us. Often at times, I felt as if much of the inspiration for the relationship came from Naughty Dog's game, besides the giant ogres and world creatures that Kratos and Atreus meet along the way. 

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Kratos and Atreus are also best partners when it comes to combat too. Atreus starts off with the simple ability to shoot arrows at enemies Kratos is fighting but later on, you can unlock much more like the ability to stun them and pull them to the ground. Exploration and puzzles are also met with a great backstory as Kratos cannot read Norse so Atreus has to translate it all for him. He can also get into spots Kratos cannot to pull down chains and open hatches. While much of this is pretty pre-determined in the game's path, there are quite a number of hidden puzzles and treasures to find along the way too. 

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God of War features a brand new revamped combat system and it works very well. Gone are the days of spamming a few buttons to pull off large combo numbers and welcome to a more tactical and streamlined combat system. With Atreus at his side, Kratos can lock onto enemies and dodge, heavy attack, light attack, toss his Leviathan Axe at them, and parry with a well-timed shield block. This combat system does mean fewer enemies on the screen at a time, but there were some tough arenas to face regardless. 

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The best part about the new combat system is how well it plays out and the Leviathan Axe is the key to unlocking its potential. Tossing the axe at an enemy's head to freeze it in place while pumping some fists into a Draug to get its stun gauge up so you can pull off a lethal kill and then whisking the axe back into your hand and slicing some enemies up along the way was probably the most boring part about the combat. When I say boring, I mean not boring at all. It all got a lot more exciting as I progressed in the game and more skills unlocked. Enemies are also of many varieties and require different approaches. Some enemies cannot be killed with the axe at all so you need to plan accordingly.

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Enemies are also tougher in some parts of the game, sometimes even a few levels higher than Kratos. You can challenge them and die in one hit or come back later. It was always exciting to face them though as it meant a real challenge awaited. Boss fights also benefit from the new combat system but this also means they have been dialled down a bit. If anything, this is my only negative about the game right now as it seems that the boss fights in the new God of War play it safe. There has been nothing exhilarating about them and they lack the magic of the past games where you felt as if you were being challenged by something greater and bigger than you. This is not to say they are not amazing set pieces but they are on the safer side.

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As you advance the game, more abilities will be unlocked by purchasing them with XP earned by killing enemies and completing bounty-like objectives like killing a set number of enemies a certain way. Skills range from powerful new axe attacks like a massive shockwave that knocks enemies back to upgrading the shield attacks and even Atreus' bow attacks that you find later on in the game. 

If you loved the combo system in the past games then do not fear, there are a few you can unlock here too. Atreus also has a range of unlockable skills too that increases his rate of fire for bows, or damage dealt with a stun attack. He even gets magic that is able to summon creatures at his side for a specific attack. The skill system is deep and without a doubt a welcome change in the series. This then goes hand-in-hand with the new gear system which will impress any RPG fan out there.

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The game works on a power level with Kratos levelling this power stat up as you equip, upgrade and find new gear. Yes, this means that you can change the look of Kratos with new gear and each piece you find favours specific stats in the game. If you want to build Kratos into a strength powerhouse then there is gear for that. If you would rather have him attack faster with more defence then there is gear for that too. This then all comes together with the added enchantments that will boost stats even more. These can be unlocked by slotting in items you find into gear that has available slots. 

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Later on in the game, things get detailed as you can equip skills, gear that boosts those skills, and of course gear that boosts the stats that boosts that skill. It is a great way to invest in Kratos rather than just pumping blood into a weapon to unlock a combo. Brok, a Dwarven shopkeeper that follows Kratos around the world, will help you along the way and he is one of the best characters you will meet. A foul mouth and his side comments left me gagging as he really knows how to tell Kratos off. 

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God of War would be nothing without its world and Santa Monica Studios delivered a realm worth exploring. I seldom play with headphones on but I had a feeling it would have added even more detail to the already-exceptional game. I was right. Walking past a stream to hear water trickling on the rocks, flags blowing in the wind, Kratos' footsteps as they transitioned between snow and a puddle and of course the creatures screaming in the distance. We then have the soundtrack that left me with goosebumps throughout the game and those moments when you come face to face with the World Serpent and his voice crackles at your very soul as his deep sound travels across the planet. 

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The sound design alone in God of War deserves every bit of attention it gets as it is on a level of its own. It is all then brought to life with the world itself that is gorgeous at every angle. God of War has always stood above the rest when it comes to visuals and this time there is no doubt that the greatest task at hand was bringing the land of Midgard to life. I often just stood and gazed into the distance at the wonders ahead. The smallest bit of detail like a water stain on the ground looks like it took days to perfect. Not to mention the actual characters and locations in the game that will leave you breathless. I do not want to spoil it but prepare yourself for a visual wonder of the likes you have never seen before. 

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It is also the first God of War to feel open in terms of the scale and freedom of the world. You can revisit almost any location you have seen before and even fast travel to some of them using the World Tree's doorways. This helps as there are a handful of collectables that will tick off a Labour (the game's bounty-like missions) on your list. Other NPCs will also give you side "Favours" to complete which are exciting side quests that take you to a different location completely to do a specific thing, and there is always blocked paths that need a specific item that you can go back and get when you obtain it. 

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The game is all connected by a large lake that you and Atreus sail upon throughout most of the game. This acts as the main mode of getting around faster before you pull up to a dock and explore the realm or area you are in. The world seamlessly strings together perfectly, one of the best parts of the game and how Kratos and Atreus explore each of these stunning environments makes the trip worthwhile. Parkour between the two characters and later on using treasures you find to help get around like an alternative bow that is able to create bridges across gaps with crystals and makes for a challenging mode of exploration that will put your puzzle solving skills to the test. 

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God of War is exceptional. It manages to deliver the things we loved the most about the series while introducing new features and characters that manage to stick with the player and feel so great to experience. Kratos and Atreus are the stars of the game and their relationship being a rocky one, is portrayed extremely well. The combat feels fantastic too and the gear system is a much-needed change to the recipe. While I still have a bit of game to get through, I can highly recommend it so far. I will be sure to get a full review up of the game before it launches on 20 April 2018. If I had to score it now I would give it a:

9.5/10

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